Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists have unearthed what may have been a 2,000-year-old city council building — a few hundred meters from its modern counterpart — during continuing excavations under Jerusalem’s Old City.
The grand structure is a new feature on the revamped Western Wall Tunnels Tour, which allows tourists to visit the millennia-old city that exists in a time warp under today’s thriving capital.
“This is, without doubt, one of the most magnificent public buildings from the Second Temple period that has ever been uncovered outside the Temple Mount walls in Jerusalem,” said excavation director Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolach in an IAA press release on Thursday.
Built circa 20 CE, the Roman-era structure stood off a main drag leading to the Temple Mount and was used as a triclinium, or dining room, for notable members of society on their way to worship, according to the IAA release. Originally constructed with an ornate water fountain and decorative Corinthian capitals, the striking edifice underwent a series of structural changes in its 50 years of use prior to the 70 CE destruction of the Second Temple, Weksler-Bdolach as reported in The Times of Israel.
The massive structure will soon be open to the public as part of the Western Wall Tunnels Tour, which has been rejigged to create different paths and experiences, based on several new routes that cut through thousands of years of history, through today’s modern use of part of the tunnels as prayer and event halls.
According to Weksler-Bdolach, originally archaeologists had thought the “city hall” was constructed during the earlier Hasmonean period. Located to the west of Wilson’s Arch, just off the prayer pavilion for men at the Western Wall, one of the chambers was discovered and documented in the 19th century by Charles Warren. Other archaeologists also studied the room in the 20th century.
Mordechai Soli Eliav, chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, says, “It is exciting to reveal such a magnificent structure from the Second Temple period while we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and pray for its restoration.”
(ToI & agencies’ inputs based)