Israeli archaeologists’ recent discovery near the former Temple complex sheds light on Jerusalem’s ancient history.
Israeli archeologists digging in Jerusalem’s Old City have recently uncovered large portions of the Western Wall that have been hidden for 1,700 years under an eight-meter layer of earth.
These eight stone courses, which serve as the lower tiers of the wall and which were completely preserved, are built of massive stones and are outstanding in the quality of their construction.
After the removal of the layer of soil by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the archaeologists were surprised to discover that it covered the remnants of an extraordinary theater-like structure from the Roman period, confirming historical writings that describe a theater near the Temple Mount.
The stone courses and the remnants of the theater were presented at a press conference on Monday beneath Wilson’s Arch in the Western Wall Tunnels.
Validating Historical Records
Researchers believe that a great deal was invested in the construction of the theater, which contained approximately 200 seats.
From the very beginning of archaeological research in Jerusalem over 150 years ago, scholars have been seeking the public buildings mentioned in historical sources, and particularly theater-like structures. Descriptions of these building are found in written sources from the Second Temple period such as Josephus Flavius, and in sources from the period following the destruction of the Second Temple, when Jerusalem became the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina.
Many theories were advanced as to the location of these complexes, but they were without archaeological foundation, until this latest discovery.
Wilson’s Arch is the only intact, visible structure remaining from the Temple Mount compound of the Second Temple period. The arch, built of enormous stones, is the last of a series of such arches that once constituted a gigantic bridge leading to the Temple Mount from the west.
The arch stands high above the foundations of the Western Wall, and it served, among other purposes, as a passageway for people entering the Temple Mount compound and the Temple. A huge aqueduct also passed over the arch.
A Sensational Find
“From a research perspective, this is a sensational find. The discovery was a real surprise,” site excavators Dr. Joe Uziel, Tehillah Lieberman and Dr. Avi Solomon said. “When we started excavating, our goal was to date Wilson’s Arch. We did not imagine that a window would open for us onto the mystery of Jerusalem’s lost theater. Like much of archaeological research, the expectation is that a certain thing will be found, but at the end of the process other findings, surprising and thought-provoking, are unearthed.”
They said the findings are “thrilling discoveries that contribute to our understanding of Jerusalem. But the discovery of the theater-like structure is the real drama.”
The theater is a relatively small structure compared to known Roman theaters such as the ones at Caesarea, Bet She’an and Bet Guvrin. This fact, in addition to its location under a roofed space lead the researchers to suggest that it is a theater-like structure of the type known in the Roman world as an odeon. In most cases, such structures were used for acoustic performances.
Alternatively, this may have been a structure known as a bouleuterion, the building where the city council met.
Interestingly, the archaeologists believe the theater was never used. A number of findings at the site indicate this, among them a staircase that was never completely hewn. It is clear that great effort was invested in the building’s construction but oddly, it was abandoned before it was put to use. The reasons for this are unknown, but they may have been connected to a significant historical event, perhaps the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 130-135; construction of the building may have been abandoned when the revolt broke out. Evidence of unfinished buildings from this period has been uncovered in the past in the area.
Numerous Unique Findings
Numerous findings have been unearthed in the excavations beneath Wilson’s Arch, some of which are unique, including pottery vessels, coins, architectural and architectural elements.
Researchers used advanced methods from various fields to uncover remains invisible to the naked eye, but observable through a microscope. This enabled conclusions at a level of precision that would have been impossible in the past, transforming the findings at Wilson’s Arch into pioneering, cutting-edge micro-archaeological research.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western Wall, noted that “time after time the amazing archaeological findings allow our generation to actually touch the ancient history of our people and Jewish heritage and its deep connection to Jerusalem. We have a great deal of archaeological work ahead and I am certain that the deeper we dig, the earlier the periods we will reach, further anchoring the profound connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and to Jerusalem.”
By: World Israel News Staff