Israeli archaeologists have unveiled the results of large-scale excavations that lend unprecedented insight into the transformation of Jerusalem around the time of its destruction during the Second Temple period more than 2,000 years ago.
The discoveries — including massive portions of the Western Wall unseen for 1,700 years and an ancient Roman theater — were made in excavations conducted during the past two years in Jerusalem’s Old City. The findings were disclosed last week at a press conference held by the Israel Antiquity Authority (IAA) beneath Wilson’s Arch in the Western Wall Tunnels.
The newly revealed eight stone courses of the Western Wall had been hidden beneath 26 feet of earth and were perfectly preserved after being excavated. The Roman theater contains approximately 200
seats and, according to archaeologists, required a “great deal” of investment in its construction.
One of the most significant aspects of the discoveries is that they exhibit “the cultural change that Jerusalem underwent around the Second Temple period, when Jerusalem was a Jewish city with Jewish culture, which after the destruction turned into a Roman city with Roman culture,” IAA archaeologist Tehillah Lieberman told JNS.org.
“The Romans needed different buildings,” she said. “They had different structures with different uses … the focus and the center of the city had to change, and that’s what we see in Wilson’s Arch. We see how the street from the Second Temple was dismantled and in its place a Roman theater-like structure was built facing its back to Temple Mount, and this tells us the story of what happened to Jerusalem after the destruction.”
Israel Hasson, director-general of the IAA, said the findings “enhance the importance of expanding the archaeological excavations in this region” in order to unveil ancient Jerusalem.
The excavation project was initiated with the intention of accurately dating Wilson’s Arch, which is believed to be the only structure from the Temple Mount compound of the Second Temple period that remains intact today.
The arch, which stands above the Western Wall’s foundations, is named after 19th-century explorer Charles William Wilson, who identified it in 1864. It is constructed from enormous stones and is the only remaining arch from a series of similar arches that formed a large bridge leading up to the Temple Mount compound from the west.
Lieberman believes the future holds discoveries that could date even earlier than “everything that has been exposed up until now,” speculating that artifacts from the First Temple period could be found. JN