The extraordinary remains of the wall of Jerusalem from the SecondTemple period (second century BCE-70 CE) and the remains of a city wall from the Byzantine period (324-640 CE) which was built on top of it have been uncovered in an extensive excavation on Mount Zion. Archaeologist Yehiel Zelinger of the Israel Antiquities Authority has been directing the dig for the past year and a half, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and with financial support provided by the Ir David (City of David) Foundation.
The project is being implemented as part of the master plan for the Jerusalem City Wall National Park, with the aim of preserving the region around the Old City of Jerusalem as an open area for tourism. In the future, the remains of the ancient city walls will be incorporated in a promenade that will encircle the southern side of Mount Zion and will continue along the northern bank of Gai Ben Hinnom and terminate in the City of David.
The lines of the wall that delineate Mount Zion from the west and the south were first discovered and excavated at the end of the nineteenth century (1894-1897) by the Palestine Exploration Fund, under the direction of the archaeologist Frederick Jones Bliss and his architect assistant, Archibald Dickie. The work methods they employed involved the excavation of shafts that were linked by subterranean tunnels which ran along the outer face of the city walls.
Over the years, the shafts and tunnels filled up with soil and, last year, archeologists were unsuccessful in determining the location of the century-old excavations. By cross-referencing the plans of the old excavation with updated maps of the area, Zelinger located the British expedition's tunnel, finding 'souvenirs' such as a laborer’s shoe, the top of a gas light used to illuminate the tunnels, as well as beer and wine bottle fragments from 120 years ago.
According to Yehiel Zelinger, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Having located the two city walls on Mount Zioncorroborates our theory regarding the expansion of the city toward the south during these two periods, when Jerusalem reached its largest size.
In the Second Temple period the city, with the temple at its center, was a focal point for Jewish pilgrimage from all over the ancient world and in the Byzantine period it attracted Christian pilgrims who came in the footsteps of the story of the life and death of their messiah. The exposure of the Hasmonean city wall and the line of fortifications from the Byzantine period, which is dated 400 years later and is right on top of the former, prove that this is the most advantageous topographic location for the defense of the city. The artifacts indicate that in spite of the fact that the builders of the Byzantine wall were unaware of the existence of the wall from the time of the Second Temple they constructed their wall precisely along the same route. The fact that after 2,100 years the remains of the first city wall were preserved to a height of three meters is amazing. This is one of the most beautiful and complete sections of construction in the Hasmonean building style to be found in Jerusalem”.