Israel Travel Blog


Jerusalem Southern Wall Excavation

Since the 1960s excavations in the area of the south-west side of Temple Mount in Jerusalem have uncovered remarkable remains from the Second Temple (516 BC-70 AD) which stood on Temple Mount. Part of these excavations included what would have been the southern retaining wall of Temple Mount. The Southern Wall Excavation Site is accessed from the Dung Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Just past the gate is an archaeological park which includes the Southern Wall, the Southern Wall Museum and a Visitors Center.The Second Temple was originally built in 516 BC but was drastically altered and expanded under Herod the Great from 37 BC to 4 BC. It was during this reconstruction that the southern side of Temple Mount was fortified. The southern retaining wall of Temple Mount would have risen 32 meters above street level and run for a length of 281 m. The Temple and almost all of the Temple Mount structures were destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish Revolt of 66 AD-70 AD.Herodian StreetRunning the length of the wall would have been a paved street lined with stores. Along the wall remains were uncovered of an 8 meter wide street now known as the Herodian Street. When the Herodian Street was discovered it was cleared of a mountain of rubble that had accumulated over the almost 2,000 years since the temple’s destruction. On one side of the ancient Herodian Street the massive Temple Mount Southern Wall rises 32 meters and on the other side of the street a wall was uncovered with openings where there would have been stores. Here pilgrims could buy offerings to sacrifice in the temple and also visit the money changes. It may have been here in these stores that Jesus “cleared the temple courts of people selling cattle, sheep, doves and people sitting at tables exchanging money” (John 2:1322). As the Roman’s set about destroying the temple in 70 AD they would have toppled down massive stones onto this street. Above the stores we can see the remains of the base of a staircase.Robinson ArchHalfway up the side of the Southern Wall are the remains of the Robinson Arch (named after the researcher who discovered the arch in 1838). The arch was part of a large bridge structure which allowed access from the lower city to the Temple Mount. The arch was part of a 13 m wide and 19 m high walkway giving pilgrims access from the Herodian Street up a wide flight of stairs to the south-western Temple Mount entrance. This would have been one of three such bridge walkways into the temple. Only the small section of the arch attached to the Southern Wall and the base of the staircase have survived.Trumpeting PlaceOn the southwest corner of the Southern Wall a large slab of stone was found inscribed with the Hebrew words meaning: to the trumpeting place to proclaim. This could refer to the place where a priest would stand on the walls and blow a trumpet to announce the approaching Shabbat. The stone may have been thrown down from the temple walls during the destruction.Ritual BathsWhile excavating the Southern Wall many ritual baths (mikvah) were found. The baths are located close to the walls and were built according to Jewish laws. The baths would have been used by thousands of pilgrims to purify themselves before they entered the temple.Later Structures at the Southern WallThe Al-Aqsa Mosque was built in 705 AD and stands along the inside of the Southern Wall; you can see the mosque’s distinctive silver dome above the wall. Along the Southern Wall it is possible to see the remains of several structures from the later Arab Period including a number of Umayyad Palaces.
Par Petal Mashraki

Caesarea’s Ancient Underwater Harbor

The archaeological treasures of Caesarea have long been a popular tourist attraction. There is the ancient Roman amphitheatre and the remains of Herod’s city as well as structures from several other eras. However since 1976 sea excavations have been ongoing to uncover the ancient harbors of successive eras. The earliest was the Hellenistic town of Straton’s Tower followed by King Herod’s Sebastos port built for the city of Maritima and then the Roman, Byzantine, early Arab and Crusader harbors. Arial views of Caesarea clearly show the remains of man-made harbors beneath the translucent water. In discovering the sunken harbor the main sources of information were the writings of Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and the Roman architect Vitruvius.Herod created the port as a stop on the trade route bringing precious goods to Rome. The port took about 12 years to construct (22-10BC) and was the largest and most modern artificial harbor in the Roman Empire. Maritima soon became the economic, commercial and political center of the country. Herod’s harbor offered an enclosed area of 20 hectares where boats could anchor. This area comprised three basins. The inner basin was dug inland and today the basin is silted up and mostly covered with grass. The only reminder of where the inner basin was is a circular tower which was probably from the earlier Hellenistic fortifications. The intermediate basin was built on top of the kurkar ridge, it was a natural bay and Herod’s engineers added piers which provided more docking area.To build the open sea basin materials were imported and two large breakwaters were constructed. This was innovative at the time and the breakwaters were the first of their kind. One breakwater formed a large arc about 500 meters long and 60cm wide at its base. At regular intervals a quay on the inner rim offered space for docking ships. There was probably a promenade and warehouses along the length of this sea wall. The largest tower, Drusion, stood where the Citadel stands today and may have been used as a lighthouse. A straight, shorter breakwater formed the enclosing northern side of the harbor. Between the two breakwaters there was an opening for ships to enter and twin towers marked the entrance on either side. A platform would have once connected the two towers and been designed to carry sculptures.So what caused the demise of this modern wonder of the 1st century? Soon after its completion the harbor foundations began to sink. It is thought that a geological fault line may have had something to do with it, or an earthquake, tsunami, the weight of the structures or the instability of the sand seabed. Many ships were wrecked due to the sunken breakwaters and several sunken anchors are testament to the development of anchors over the years. The sunken harbor provides a phenomenal diving area where four tracks have been created marking a route connecting 28 points of interest beneath the water.
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UNESCO Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel

The latest addition to the list of UNESCO sites in Israel are the caves on Mount Carmel which were honored in 2012 for their outstanding universal value as significant sites of human evolution. The caves show the longest sequences of human inhabitation in the region – up to half a million years of human evolution. Dating back to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic Ages, 500,000 BP ago, the sites were occupied by the Mousterian culture (250,000-45,000BP) and the Natufian culture (15,000-11,500BP).Mount Carmel, Carmel grand mall.The sites are unique in demonstrating the existence of both the Neanderthals and the Early Anatomically Modern Humans within the same Paleolithic framework. This makes the sites invaluable in research into human evolution. The caves have universal value as a central site of Natufian culture and shed light on the transition from nomadic Paleolithic life to hunter-gatherer settlements of the Neolithic life.Archaeological findings show the various adaptations made in the move towards agricultural life and animal husbandry. The Nahal Me’arot/Wadi al-Mughara cluster of caves is located on the western slopes of the Mount Carmel range along the south side of the Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara valley. They include the caves of Tabun (Oven Cave), Jamal, el-Wadi (Stream Cave), and Skhul. The site covers 54 hectares and the archaeological findings represent cultural deposits of human life covering a duration of about 500,000 years. There is evidence of Natufian burials as well as stone structures and terraced agricultural areas. Excavations uncovered artifacts, skeletal material, and fossils.Luckily the caves and their surroundings have preserved their integrity, they are intact and have not been damaged (except for graffiti in the Skhul Cave and trees grown around a water pumping station) or removed. Pollen traces and sea sand found in the caves indicate a warm climate in the region at one time and another layer of clay and silt indicates the colder climate during a period of glaciers. In the Tabun Cave, the remains of a female Neanderthal were found dating back to c. 120,000 years ago. Findings of a variety of types of flint, hand-axes, and arrowheads indicate the hunting and farming methods and the way these methods changed over time. Excavation of the sites began more than 90 years ago; findings have confirmed the site’s authenticity and yielded insight into the early human culture, biology, and lifestyle. Further archaeological investigation continues and more remarkable discoveries are predicted.
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UNESCO Site: Biblical Tels – Megiddo, Hazor, Beer Sheva

Tels are prehistoric settlement mounds predominantly found in the Middle East. Megiddo, Hazor and Beer Sheva are three of 200 such Tels in Israel, which contain significant remains of cities which have Biblical connections. Excavation has found large multi-layered settlements which existed over the course of several millennia. The locations were probably chosen as settlement sites due to their strategic positions along important trade routes and because of the available water supplies. The three Tels are referred to as “Biblical Tels” as they appear in the Old Testament Bible.In 2005 UNESCO declared these mounds as having outstanding universal value according to three criteria: 1. The Tels show an interchange of ideas and values between the east and west through trading, this can be seen in the many styles of building including those of Egypt and Syria. 2. The Tels offer a rare insight into living conditions and lifestyle of the Canaan cities of the Bronze Age and the Biblical cities of the Iron Age. 3. The development of Levant (Israel, Lebanon, Syria and eastern Turkey) urban development evident in the Tels had a great impact of future historic developments in the region. 4. Having been mentioned in the Bible the three Tels have spiritual and religious universal value.The findings at these Tels show us that there was a centralized authority which controlled the important trade routes through the region. Thankfully the remains at each site have retained their integrity and have been left untouched for centuries. Over the course of time the Tels have become conical shaped mounds with a flat top. The Tels show evidence of sophisticated, geographically responsive, engineering in the ancient underground water systems designed to bring water to the cities.Tel Hazor is located in northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee and boasts one of the best examples of ancient ramparts in the Middle East. The ramparts enclosed the city with 9 meter high walls and there were two monumental gates. Its late Bronze Age palaces and temples stand out as some of the best in the Levant and the most complex in Israel. Excavation began at Tel Hazor in 1928 and later in the 1950s the well known archaeologist Yigan Yadin led further excavations; in 1990 work was once again resumed on the site. A six chambered stone gate was found which can be attributed to the time of King Solomon. The complex water system involved a 30 meter descending tunnel and a cave with a vaulted corridor. As with the other two Tels, Tel Hazor held an important position at a major ancient cross road.Tel Megiddo is just 50km southwest of Tel Hazor at the northern point of the Qishon River and has an unparalleled number of temples in its early Bronze Age temple compound, which shows that there was a continuity in the ritual activity on the Tel. the mound was the site of a powerful Canaan settlement which controlled the Via Maria,a route connecting Egypt with Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia. Megiddo is referred to as Armageddon in the New Testament. The site was first excavated in 1903-5, then again in 1925-39 and again in the 1960s – 70s. Archaeologists uncovered around 30 different cities built one on top of the other on at least 20 levels. Another major archaeological finds was an 80 meter long aqueduct which brought water from a spring at the foot of the mound up a vertical shaft to supply the city with fresh water.Tel Beer Sheva is in southern Israel near the Negev Desert and the archaeological findings show an elaborate, oval-shaped and walled, Iron Age town plan unparalleled in the Levant. The well planned town has a central square and an underwater drainage system as well as a well 69 meter below the ground. Excavation of Tel Beer Sheva only began in the 1960s. They discovered the remains of a 9th century Judahite settlement which continued into the 8th century until it was destroyed by a fire during the Assyrian campaign. Among the remains is the Governor’s Palace with three long halls and several ancillary rooms.
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