Western Wall Tunnel Excavations
The Temple Mount has been home to two Temples: King Solomon's, 825 BCE and Ezra's, 352 BCE. During the Roman era, King Herod, 18 BCE, renovated, reinforced and expanded the Temple and its area. The Western Wall is one of the four retaining walls surrounding the Temple Mount. When the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, the Western Wall was left standing. Over the next 1,900 years, even during the most dangerous times, Jews would risk their lives and property to make their way to the Wall. Throughout the mille nnia, the Wall remained a place where Jews would come to pour their hearts out to G-d. As the centuries passed, most of the Wall was eventually covered over by homes, rubble and refuse. In some ways, it was as if the Wall was as hidden and unseen as the Jewish people in their own land. In the 1967 Six Day War, Israel retook the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. The govern ment opened up the entire length of the Western Wall as a religious site and also for archaeological study. Where it was not possi ble to expose the Wall completely, tunnels were dug to allow people to tour this fascinating window into our history. Wall Facts: Full length of the Western Wall - 488 meters (1601 ft.). The Wall can be divided into 4 sections:
1) The Southern Wall area Remains of Robinson's Arch approximately 80 meters (262 ft.) long.
2) The Kotel Plaza 80 meters (262 ft.), where people come to pray. Once called the "Wailing Wall", the Western Wall of the Temple Mount is referred to in Hebrew as the "Kotel", the "Wall." The Western Wall Plaza has been opened since 1967 to all people as a place of prayer and study. The varied actions and accents around us each call for our attention, but let us move through the crowd and examine the Wall itself. 3) The Western Wall Tunnel 320 meters (1,050 ft.), originally explored by two British archaeologists: Charles Wilson, in 1864, and Charles Warren, in 1867-1870. Robinson's Arch
4) An aqueduct Found near the northern part of the Wall, the aqueduct was used during the time of the Maccabbees, about 150 BCE. At first glance, it looks like a single wall, but closer examination reveals that it is actually made up of three distinct la yers: • At the top are smallish uniform stones, attributed to repair work financed by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1866.
• There is much speculation as to when the layers of medium-sized stones were added. • Estimates range from the Omayad and Abbasid Moslems to the Crusader period. • Beneath that are the larger Herodian Stones. Close to the bottom, these stones become more uniform and complete, clearly displaying the classic "boss" or frame around each stone, a trademark of Herodian building. • The picture to the right shows how stones from inside the tunnel are perfectly preserved by remaining underground for thousands of years. Note how we can clearly see the small offset of each row. Every stone is slightly set back from the stone below it. This gives the viewer the illusion of a perfectly straight wall. If the stones were exactly aligned, the wall would appear to be leaning forward.
Western Tunnels Today, continuing restoration work has revealed a series of underground vaults and arches that formed a platform supporting t he
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Today, continuing restoration work has revealed a series of underground vaults and arches that formed a platform supporting t he buildings above the Tunnels. When Saladin defeated the Crusaders in 1187, he embarked on a plan to build mosques and schools, and to give people greater access to the Temple Mount. Until that time, the existing city was lower than the Temple Mount. S aladin raised the level of the city to the level of the Temple Mount through the construction of a series of arches and vaults. The area where we are was part of that underground support system. With the city above, areas like this were sealed off and used as wa ter cisterns and for storage.
We walk slowly into an area known as the Secret Passage. Its name comes from a medieval legend of an underground walkway used by King David. The king could use it to travel unseen from his palace at the Citadel (west of here) to the Temple Mount. That legend was wrong. We now know that the citadel was actually a Crusader castle and that these vaults originated with the Arabs in the late 12th century C.E. This vault system was built to raise the level of the city and allow Moslem residents direct access to the Temple Mount. The space under the vaults was locked off in sections and turned into water cisterns.
This bridge also supported an aqueduct that brought water to the Temple for use in the daily service. This was a remarkable e ngineering feat as the water source in Hebron many kilometers away is only slightly higher than the Temple Mount. According to Josephus, the Jews themselves were forced to destroy this bridge during the war against the Romans in order to m ake it more difficult for their legions to reach the Temple. Later, in 132 C.E., during the reign of the Roman tyrant Hadrian, Jerusalem was tragically transformed into a center of pagan worship and renamed Aelia Capitolina.
Notice the openings in the stonework of the ceiling. Ancient water cistern People would lower vessels into a water supply directly under their houses. When the Second Temple was still standing, a huge bridge connected the upper city of Jerusalem to the Temple Mount. It was an easy walk across the bridge from the upper city of Jerusalem to the Temple.
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At that time, the Romans rebuilt the bridge on the earlier foundations, using two parallel arches for support instead of the one original arch. The remains of the first bridge and some of the earlier stones that had been left in place since the original destruction were used in the construction of the second bridge. Wilson's Arch, which is connected to the Western Wall, and a few others that have distinctive Herodian style, are believed to be the remains of the original bridge.
Here, close to Wilson's Arch, is the "Hall of the Hasmoneans." It was "discovered" by Charles Warren during his excavation work in the late 1860s. Impressed by its beauty, Warren named the room the "Hall of the Freemasons." Archaeologists believe that this building was used much earlier, during the reign of the Hasmoneans, for some public function. This is one of the few remains of the magnificent buildings from the Second Temple Period. The hall is part of a group of buildings from the Second Temple era, which are located next to the Temple Mount. The room has uniquely dressed stones. Such craftsmanship is the mark of the Herodian period. If you look a little closer, you can see the decorative cornice and the capitals that originally ran all around the room. In the center of the room, you'll see a Corinthian pillar. During the Middle Ages the full pillar was brought into the room to support the ceiling, which had been damaged during the course of time and needed support. We also see a Mikveh, which was supplied with water from a subterranean spring. Some feel the presence of the Mikveh indicates that the room may have been used by the Cohanim (priests) as part of their performance of the Temple service. There are a number of ballisticae that were launched by the Romans during their attack on Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and later against the Bar Kochba rebellion in 132 C.E. Beyond Wilson's Arch, the Large Hall, a large chamber with four wings in the form of a four-armed cross, supported by four enormous pillars. This room was not built by Christians. It probably dates to the Ayyubid (1187-1250 AD) or Mameluke (1250-1517 AD) period. Considered to be part of a Mamluk period construction as the substructure of a Muslim religious school (madrasa) built above it. The area was cleared of debris and a large water cistern was removed, revealing the Herodian Western Wall in its full glory.
We stop to listen to Bernice explain the structural changes of the temple mount over many generations with the aid of a computerized model of the Herodian Second Temple which lights up perimeters and raises and lowers different significant features.
The Largest Stone You are now standing in front of what many feel is the largest building stone ever used in world history. It's part of a row of stones in the Western Wall known as the Master Course. Length: 12.5 meters / 41 ft Depth: 3.5-4.5 m /11.5ft-15 ft Height: 3.5m /11.5 ft. Weight: Over 500 metric tons. What is truly amazing is that today's best cranes can only lift 250 tons.
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only lift 250 tons.
What are the rectangular holes along the wall? Answer: Upon first discovering these rectangular holes in the Huge Stone, archaeologists were puzzled. Further excavation revealed small slabs of stone protruding from the holes, and their purpose became obvious. Prior to the 12th century, when this area was used as cisterns, the holes were drilled into the Western Wall. The slabs protruding from the holes acted as stabilizers for the plaster lining of the cistern. There are those who feel that the thickness of the overlaid material is such that it was part of an actual building, as opposed to simple waterproofing. Many Jews were understandably upset upon learning that the holy Western Wall of the Temple Mount had been defaced for a building project, but that was standard behavior of each new conqueror. Note that the Israeli government went to great lengths to respect the needs of those living above the tunnel. The structural integrity of their buildings and basements was maintained through an elaborate system of concrete and steel supports. These supports were cantilevered so none of the steel beams actually touches the Western Wall, out of respect for the sanctity of the Wall. It is no easy task to cater to the variety of sensitivities of Jerusalem's inhabitants. Why the smaller stones just above the huge stone? The fury poured out upon the Temple by the Romans resulted in the destruction of most structures associated with the Temple Mount. Miraculously, the Western Wall, by and large, remained intact - damaged - but intact. Chisel marks found along the top of this stone are mute evidence of the Roman demolition efforts. They came this far - and then they gave up. Their attempts to topple the wall were unsuccessful. This is history. We're standing right where it happened. When the Arabs built their mosque on the Temple Mount, they found the Western Wall in its damaged condition. Their building projects included restoring the walls of the Temple Mount.
The huge stones from the top of the Western Wall were lying literally at their feet, exactly where they had fallen so many centuries before. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, many of the original stones from the Kotel were put back in their place. Some areas, such as this directly above the Huge Stone, required additional patchwork and smaller stones were added. Why put such massive stones so high up? The stones underneath the Master Course are smaller. The Wall was built without any mortar or cement. The massive stones of the Master Course were used to stabilize the Wall. It was such an effective method that, throughout history, the Wall withstood disastrous earthquakes. The Tunnel: From the eastern end of the "Cruciform Hall" begins a long, narrow tunnel, excavated by Israel's Ministry of Religious Affairs. It is known as "The Tunnel," although originally this was an open promenade along the entire length of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.
Warren's Gate: We now come to an area that was once one of the major entrances to the Temple Mount. Today it is referred to as Warren's Gate, after 19th century British archaeologist Charles Warren, who conducted extensive explorations of the Wall in 1867. Warren's Gate is one of the four entrance gates from the Western Wall to the Temple Mount from the Second Temple period. Opposite the Foundation Stone, is the traditional site from which the world was created, which is the site of the Holy of Holies. A long tunnel exposes a section of the entire length of the Western Wall. The tunnel passes through medieval structures adjoining the wall, which structures were built in order to support the row of Muslim buildings, which form the western facade of the Temple Mount Plaza above.
The stones are the original paving stones from the Herodian Street that ran parallel to the Western Wall. The street has a slight incline running from north to south. The higher part is Mount Moriah. The street itself is the result of some impressive engineering. The original topography was much steeper than the existing street. To counteract this, the Western Wall was first built on the bedrock. Then dirt was brought in to fill in the area. After that, the floor was put in place, leaving the slight incline you see today.
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Holy of Holies: ... a table strewn with prayer books. We come upon a quiet, modest area, lit by candles. You feel yourself growing even quieter, welcoming the hush that surrounds the area, curiously hopeful... We realize we are now directly across from the Holy of Holies… In this place in the tunnels we are that much closer to the most holy spot on earth. In our time, the passage to that place has been covered over. But the power of the connection remains. You may notice that the stone in the middle of the archway is moist. It is almost as if G-d softly weeps in sympathy with those who pray in this place.
Know that your prayers will echo with the prayers of all those who have passed this way before. You are following in the footsteps of an ancient yet eternal people. The custom on placing a note in the cracks of the Western Wall, began with the story of Rav Chaim David Azulai, the Chida. It is a centuries -old tradition to place notes into The Wall. The tradition of doing so starts back in the 18 th century when Azulai asked his teacher, Orh Hachaim, the master Kabbalist, if he should move from Morocco to Israel. Orh Hachaim gave his approval but asked him to do for him one thing, to put a note that he gave him into the Western Wall. As it was a note from his rabbi, Azulai wanted to keep it safe, and sewed it into the lining of his jacket to be sure not to lose it. He packed his belongings and started his journey to Israel. When Azulai arrived to Israel he encountered some difficulties, experiencing loneliness and anonymity. In Morocco he had been a widely respected teacher and had many friends, but in Israel he felt like a stranger. Nevertheless, he continued going to the synagogue to learn the Torah, but forgot about the promise he made to his Rabbi. One day, while walking home from the synagogue, he remembered his teacher’s note. He came home and unstitched the note from his jacket, and went to The Western Wall to put it into one of the cracks, as his teacher requested. The next day Azulai went as usual to the synagogue. That day someone had a question in Jewish Law – which was found in the same chapter of law that Azulai was studying, thus he was able to answer the question immediately. Seeing this, another person asked Azulai a different question, which he was also able to answer. In a short time, the word has spread about Azulai’s abilities, and he once again enjoyed the recognition he had in Morocco. When a local rabbi asked about the reason Azulai’s fortune had turned for the better, Azulai didn’t know what the reason was. After the local rabbi forced Azulai to think harder if anything unusual had happen to him lately, Azulai told him about the note his teacher gave him to put in The Wall. With a little urging, the rabbi convinced Azulai to go to The Wall and retrieve the note to see what was written inside. The note said: “Dear G-D please let my student Azulai become successful in Israel”. Azulai went on to become one of the greatest sages of his time, and is known today by the acronym, the “chida”. Today people put notes into the Western Wall every single day. It is the belief that the divine presence rests on the Western Wall more than other places. Furthermore, the Talmud, a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs and history, teaches that all prayers ascend to heaven through Jerusalem. Writing a prayer on a piece of paper and sticking it in The Wall, is like having a continual prayer linked to the prime source.
Continuing along the Tunnel: At some point, a plaster covering was placed over the Herodian stones. A fish-tail pattern was stamped into the plaster, and one can even see signs of ancient graffiti.
Developing a proper water supply system has always been a challenge for the Jerusalem area. Throughout the centuries different aqueducts, pools and cisterns have been made to divert, channel and maintain water for the city and the Temple. First, there is an ancient Hasmonean Water Cistern. Next, a Hasmonean aqueduct that brought water to the cistern near and under the Temple. And finally, the "Struthion Pool," which dates back to Herod's time. Herodian Street and intersection : We leave the cistern area, and are delighted with the full beauty of the Herodian Street. This originally was a promenade that ran the full length of the Western Wall. Notice the well-planned and paved stones of the flooring. During the rainy season the gutter in front of us channeled water into the Hasmonean Cistern, which was used by Herod. During good weather people would stroll along the wall with the guardrail running along the open pool of the cistern. They were also able to stroll west, away from the Western Wall. The two pillars on the left date back to the Second Temple. When this area was excavated, they found additional pillars behind these two. Most archaeologists take this as evidence that a major street ran perpendicular to and away from the Wall, toward the west. It may have been a market or some other public gathering area. When the Mamelukes took over Jerusalem, they simply incorporated these structures into their own buildings, as did those regimes who followed.
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The Quarry When archaeologists discovered this quarry, they immediately saw that the stones being carved out matched the average size of those of the Western Wall. Originally, historians believed that the Herodian stones were quarried from Zedekiah's Cave, north of the Old City. Now, however, excavations have found that Herod's expansion of the Temple Mount area continued much farther north than originally believed. That, plus the discovery of this quarry, led historians to conclude that the majority of the stones of the Western Wall were taken from this area. The stones were quarried in the following manner: First, they chiselled a small area and put a small piece of wood in the groove. Second, water was poured onto the wood, which caused it to expand and made a further crack in the stone. Third, this process was repeated on four sides; then the stone was carefully rolled to its designated location. Fourth, after the stone was in place, it was carefully dressed by chiseling a border around the boss, which was then smoothed and flattened.
Aqueduct & Struthion Pool
Continuing along, we come to an ancient Hasmonian aqueduct. The tunnel shifts and turns, bordered by a channel of water-worn bedrock made smooth by centuries of water flow. The tunnel shifts and turns and, at last, covered by a large stone arch, we come to a reservoir pool called "Struthion," which means "lark," being that it was one of the smaller public pools in Jerusalem during the Herodian period. The northern side of the aqueduct after the Struthion Pool is not accessible to exploration, being cut off by the convent. With this we come to the end of the excavations. The excavators originally wanted to exit via these steps from the time of Hadrian, but due to political pressures, this exit had to be abandoned for another accessed by the recently cut tunnel to the right. Archaeologists were able to connect the Western Wall and aqueduct tunnels nine years ago. Since that time, the Tunnel tours have been hoping to allow people to exit the tunnels from here, instead of having to return all the way back to the beginning of the tour. However, this request was repeatedly denied by the Moslem religious authority. Logistically, this severely limited the number of people who come through the tunnels since most places on the tour are only large enough for one-way traffic. Three years ago, construction began to open a small tunnel leading up to the Via Dolorosa. In September 1996 the exit was opened, enabling thousands of additional tourists access to the Tunnels. Because our tour was so late at night and the exit comes out in the middle of the Muslim quarter we were required to go back to the entrance.
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