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Tours of Western Wall tunnels show new underground area in Jerusalem


Christian pilgrims visit Jerusalem in order to trace Jesus’ last steps along the Via Dolorosa. Muslims are to venerate the Dome of the Rock. Jews can insert prayers into the cracks of the Western Wall.

Some do both.

Travelers will now have an alternative option when they visit Jerusalem in December. You can experience the Old City from underground, as it was 2,000 years ago.

An underground building

After an excavation lasting more than 150 year, the public will be able to see a buried structure built around A.D. 20, which was discovered in 2012.

This subterranean structure is just steps away from the Western Wall. It is a retaining wall located on the west side of Temple Mount. The Western Wall is considered the holiest place in Judaism.

Today only about 10% remains of the original Western Wall. The majority are hidden behind constructions in Old City’s Muslim Quarter and below the ground.

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It is also a top tourist attraction in Israel. In 2019, it attracted 12,000,000 visitors, according to Eyal Karlin, Israel Ministry of Tourism’s North American tourism commissioner.

Excavated areas date back to the Second Temple period, built in the sixth century B.C. Herod, the Great, who ruled Jerusalem for 37-34 B.C. later extended it. A.D. 70 saw the destruction of the temple by Romans.

Wilson’s Arch is where the new chambers are found. The archway was once used to support a bridge that led to the Second Temple.

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Here are some things travelers should see

Carlin said that to get to the new areas visitors must descend stairs, which are like going through time.

Carlin said, “When you dig deep you can literally descend through history.” Each layer is representative of different periods in history.

One portion of the steps that were used to access the new excavations.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

“You go down to the Ottoman period, the Muslim period, the Crusader period … all the way down to the Herodian period,” he said, referencing the reign of King Herod and his heirs, from 37 B.C. From 37 B.C. to 73 C.E.

The hallway connecting the chambers of an ancient underground structure is strengthened by support beams.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Although archeologists believed that one chamber was present, excavations revealed a second identical room separated by a courtyard.

Shlomit-Weksler-Bdolah said that the building could have been used as a building for city council meetings in a press release released by the Israel Ministry of Tourism. The excavated area was described by her as “one of most spectacular public buildings dating from the Second Temple period ever uncovered.”

Two chambers were discovered in a structure outside of the Western Wall.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Carlin said that historians think the chambers served as reception rooms for wealthy guests, dignitaries and high priesthood members.

These rooms may have also been used as places to eat. According to Weksler–Bdolah, archaeologists think that these rooms used to have reclining couches, which allowed people to eat lying down as it was in Roman, Hellenistic, and Greek eras.

“It’s very opulent — these were big chambers with big decorative elements of water flowing,” said Carlin. “It displays the affluence of that area at the time … and the people who were greeted there.”

This is the second chamber excavated, and it has arched stone ceilings.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

A small, ritual purification reservoir, known as a mikvah by archeologists, was found in the Second Temple. It is believed that this pool was used by priests before they visited it.

He said that those are steps leading down to the pool which, “usually” would have been filled with water from springs.

The steps lead to the mikvah (purification pool), which was added years later than the excavation building.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Carlin stated that the mikvah would not be accessible to the general public. The Pool of Siloam is about one-third of a mile from the public. This is also the pool in which Jesus, according to the Gospel of John and the Christian Bible, was said that he restored sight to blind men. 

Eyal Karlin from the Israel Ministry of Tourism stated that the room with mikvah was part of an elite gateway into the Second Temple.

Israel Antiquities Authority

Carlin said that visitors could see the foundation stones for the Western Wall beyond the baths. The stones are hugeSome can weigh up to 250 tonnes.

Jerusalem, at least in part, is a city that was built upon top of other cities. An article in the Journal states that existing buildings were transformed into basements and underground living spaces to allow for new construction. The Times of Israel.

Hallways had ornate pilasters or ornamental columns that were decorated with Corinthian capitals and water pipes.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Parts of underground buildings were therefore found intact. Carlin stated that decorative elements were “found whole.” Carlin stated that although parts were chipped, the pieces we saw were intact.

Carlin stated that although excavations are still ongoing in Jerusalem many of them don’t allow tours.

“There is great excitement because [this area]”It is open to all,” he stated. “It also sheds light upon what life was like back in that most crucial period for the Jewish People.”

The new region is worth a visit

Guided tours can be booked by the Tourist Information Office to show visitors the underground area. Western Wall Heritage FoundationThe Western Wall is managed by a non-profit government body called.

Carlin said that instead of being scheduled in August, the opening was changed to match Hannukah’s celebrations.

Outside the Western Wall (or “Wailing Wall”), are the ornate remnants of the structure. This term has fallen out of favour as it is perceived as a joke about the grief of the Jewish community over the loss.

Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

That’s good timing in many ways, he said.

“If everything goes according to plan this week or early next week, and our government approves the reentry of tourists to Israel … that will actually coincide when the majority of the world can … travel to Israel.”