When Ancient is New

City of David
Have you ever gone along with a group(family, friend, spouse) and agreed to do some activity, only to find it was a GREAT activity?

Such was my experience with visiting the City of David (see entrance in above photo, with Arab neighborhood of Silwan in the background; there is a valley between the entrance center and the neighborhood that one can’t see in the photo).

All I heard prior to our visit was:

  1. Our legs were going to get wet.
  2. We needed to take our flashlights to Israel just for this tour.

Because my daughter did not want to go through the wet part, called Hezekiah’s tunnel (nor did 3/4 of our tour group), I didn’t even experience the wet, flashlight section.

Getting back to the beginning, here’s what we saw even before we entered that harp entrance:
mural outside City of DavidCity of David mural, 2
There is some archaeological dig going on behind that mural. The mural on the right shows up again at the end of our tour, as it represents how the ancient Siloam pool may have looked.

At the beginning of our tour our guide, Oren, pointed to the walls around the “Ir HaAtika”, as the ancient walled section of Jerusalem is called and said: “For the purposes of this tour, those walls are new.” Indeed, they were built by the Ottomans a mere 500 years ago. Oren was an articulate, knowledgeable, enthusiastic guide, as was our tour guide of the day before, who led us on a tour of Herod’s western wall of the 2nd Temple. Oren spoke English well and knew Tanakh and biblical archeology.

Here’s Oren showing us a drawing found in this area, one similar to that on the 5 shekel coin:
Underneath us in that photo is what archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar deemed to be David’s Palace. This discovery took place in 2005, a mere 3 years ago. I first learned about this discovery while working on Prof. Gary Rendsburg’s Bible and History course.
Oren told us how British archaeologists in the early twentieth century dug up a lot of this area, but they did not discover the palace Dr. Mazar found. They did, however, jumble up many of the layers of history, making the job of current archaeologists all the more difficult. Also, the city is on a hill, so many of the precious “trash” of the centuries rolled down into the valley, all mixed up instead of in nice layers as archaeologists would prefer.

concrete walls of building
A tourist building about the City of David was supposed to be built here. However, all that got built were those concrete walls, because an archaeologist was sent in to inspect before the building could receive a building permit. The permit was never issued, and more digs are going on in this area.

plaque from City of David
Here’s the plaque inside this room. I would have liked to photograph the English as well, but Oren had put his book bag on top of it. Loosely translated, the first sentence says Prof. Roni Reich in 1995 started excavating the Gihon Spring area here. (Anyone who cares to translate the rest, feel free! I’ll add it). The Gihon Spring is key; this whole area was developed over 3000 years ago because there was water here. The plaque ends with this quote from Samuel 2 5:8

וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, כָּל-מַכֵּה יְבֻסִי וְיִגַּע בַּצִּנּוֹר

Basically, the way King David conquered the Jebusite city situated on this hill was by attacking the water source. Tsinor may mean water source and may refer to the Gihon Spring.

Warren\'s Shaft
Above is Warren’s Shaft, discovered in the 1860’s. I wrote about Charles Warren previously. It used to be thought that this was the ancient spring from which the city’s inhabitants got water, by dropping their buckets down this shaft to retrieve water. Now this whole theory is debunked, with archaeologists believing this is just a natural fissure in the rock.

Finally, we get to the fun part: Hezekiah’s tunnel. Why was this tunnel built? As you may recall, David conquered the city from the Jebusites by capturing the water source. So when the Assyrian king threatened the Kingdom of Judah in 700 BCE, the smart thing to do was to protect the water source by diverting the water with a tunnel, called Hezekiah’s tunnel.

canaanite tunnel
My daughter and I didn’t go through the wet section, which my son said was a lot of fun. You can see from maps that the water tunnel was built in a twisty, turny way, with two sets of diggers working at two ends and then managing to meet in the middle.

Instead, we traveled through what is referred to as the Canaanite Channel. She declared it ‘squooshy’, and I asked her if she knows the meaning of the word claustrophobia.


at the bottom of the hill of City of David
Here’s where we came out. Notice how far down the hill we are from where we started. Click on the photo to see larger detail. Towards the top of the photo, where building meets sky, you can see the walls of the “Old” City (that you now know as new).

The tour guide then led us to what may have been the Siloam Pool, a pool that gathered water from the Gihon Spring. We also saw some steps from a little before the Roman period, that alternated wide step, short step, wide step, short step. The wide steps were so donkeys could climb up along with people.


Siloam mural
At right is a detail from Siloam pool mural at the end of our tour.

The tour was fun for adults and kids alike, as there was a lot to see and learn and fun passageways in which to traverse. To see if any of you are still with me, I’ll leave you with Oren’s quiz:

  1. What did 98% of people do (for a living) in the times of David?
  2. What do 60% of people do today (what motion with his hands did Oren make for this question)?

 City of David website

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11 thoughts on “When Ancient is New

  • My friend is the Director-of-something-or-other at Ir David, and every now and then she takes us to the places where they made their most recent exciting discoveries. That place never ceases to amaze. The only downside is the hike back up in the Mideastern heat:)

  • Baila, it helps to have spoiled American kids. Then when they beg you to pay the few shekels for the shuttle back up the hill, you can justify your own ride by “well, the kids were just too pooped to walk up on their own…”

    ID, thanks for guessing. I’ll wait a day or two before I say anything else on my questions.

  • I wish I knew you were thinking about going through the tunnel – I would have urged you to go. If you are interested I have an article about 2 different forms of radiation dating giving a time for the carving of the tunnel that neatly fits with the idea it was carved during King Hezekiah’s time.

    When I lived in Jerusalem for 3 months, the guide on the municipal free tour I took every weekend would begin by pointing to the walls of the Old City and say “These walls were erected the day before yesterday, in 1538 by Suleiman the Magnificent.”

  • >I would have urged you to go
    It was really up to the daughter. For that same reason, (being mom), I didn’t get to swim in the Dead Sea, and I kept having to run to the bathroom with a little person every time we sat down to a nice meal somewhere.

    >an article about 2 different forms of radiation dating
    Sure, I’ll read that! Thanks.

  • Jack, I didn’t realize Hezekiah’s tunnel was around way back then.
    ID, you are again the winner. The 98% was farmers, the gesture for today was typing.

    Lion of Zion, I’m curious what’s new for you.
    And on enlarging pics…I have to decide that in advance. If I don’t want the pic enlarged, I crop it to exactly the size I want before uploading it. I don’t want people to have to download the large size if I don’t need to use the large size. But if I know in advance that I want to show two sizes, I upload the larger size. Then I can choose the WordPress option for medium or for thumbnail.

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