Puzzling Subterranean Chambers Discovered at Jerusalem's Western Wall

Puzzling Subterranean Chambers Discovered at Jerusalem's Western Wall

Three 2,000-year-old subterranean chambers have been found by students excavating at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The actual purpose of these underground rooms is perplexing archaeologists.

Jerusalem’s Old City, with its 30 centuries of historical significance for three of the world's major religions, has revealed many artifact-loaded archaeological layers since the mid-19th century. In recent years, excavations at the Ophel Archeological Garden below the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount represent 2,500 years of Jerusalem's history in “25 layers of ruins” from the structures of successive rulers, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs .

The ancient staircase and the Hulda Gate , through which worshippers entered the Second Temple compound, and the ruins of the 7th century Muslim period royal palaces are among the city’s archaeological treasures. The City of David Archeological Park has the ancient city’s main water source, Gihon Springs , and the remains of Canaanite and Israelite citadels too. And now the first subterranean living space has been discovered.

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Dr. Barak Monnickendam-Givon at the subterranean system. ( Shai Halevi/IAA )

Painstakingly Hand Hewn in Solid Bedrock

Chiseled by hand out of solid bedrock with tools including iron hammers, the new archaeological site is located near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City . Dating to a time before the city’s fall in 70 AD, the purpose of a subterranean complex of three rooms remains unclear. However, Israeli archaeologists do know that the underground spaces were created in the Second Temple-era and the complex is called “the first evidence of everyday life gone underground in Jerusalem,” in a JPost article.

Co-directors of the Israel Antiquity Authority (IAA), Dr. Barak Monnickendam-Givon and Tehila Sadiel, said in a press release on Tuesday that this “unique finding” was made by students of a pre-military preparatory program working in cooperation with the IAA. This is the first time a subterranean system has been uncovered adjacent to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, but they are at a loss trying to explain why such great architectural efforts and investment of resources had been expended in hewing three underground rooms in hard bedrock.

Jerusalem’s Western Wall - A Prime Subterranean Location

The Western Wall is almost half a kilometer long, and the Western Wall Tunnels allow visitors to walk through ancient and subterranean spaces interacting with rare archaeological features such as stone arches, water wells, and an aqueduct that ends at the Strouthion Pool . Located beneath a large white mosaic floor in a 1,400-year-old Byzantine/Umayyad building in the “Beit Strauss” complex, this former soup kitchen is now an entrance lobby to the Western Wall Tunnels .

Monnickendam-Givon said the three subterranean rooms occupy different floors and were connected by stairs. They measure 2.5 meters x 4 meters (8.2 ft. x 13.1 ft.), 2.5 meters x 2.5 meters (8.2 ft. x 8.2 ft.), and the third is yet to be excavated but is approximately the same size as the second. The archaeologists say the subterranean system was created in a “prime location” and it might have been part of a much larger public structure that has since been destroyed.

Excavation and conversation work under the Jerusalem Old City's 'Beit Straus' complex, May 2020. ( Shai HaLevi/Israel Antiquities Authority )

Prehistoric Purification Rituals Under Lantern Light

Before the excavation had been completed it was considered that perhaps the niches hewn into the bedrock, which are aesthetically similar to graves of that period, were for holding the dead, but Monnickendam-Givon said that this was unlikely because ancient Jewish traditions prohibited burials within the city walls. In a The Times of Israel article, excavation co-director Dr. Monnickendam-Givon speculates that the three rooms may have been a “basement pantry, living space, or even a place to hide during raids.”

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Monnickendam-Givon emphasizes that many contemporary ritual baths and graves had been hewn out of rock in this era, but that these three rooms are the “first evidence” of a living space with doorjambs, carved lantern niches, and shelves for storage, all chiseled into solid bedrock. Archaeologists also discovered oil lamps , clay cooking vessels, a stone mug, and a piece of qalal - a water holding basin linked with Jewish purification rituals.

Oil lamps were discovered in the subterranean chambers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. ( Yaniv Berman/IAA )

This is the first time that a subterranean complex has been discovered near Jerusalem’s Western Wall and the lead archaeologists reminds us that we have to understand that 2,000 years ago – like today – it was customary to use stones to build in Jerusalem. He concluded that “The wealth of finds being discovered in the dig gives us a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of the residents of the ancient city.”


Dig near Jerusalem's Western Wall yields 'puzzling' chambers

JERUSALEM — Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday exhibited a recently uncovered, unusual series of 2,000-year-old chambers carved out of the bedrock beneath the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority’s excavations are uncovering new sections of a sprawling network of ancient subterranean passageways running alongside a contested Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, while the compound is the third-holiest site in Islam. It was the site of two Jewish temples in antiquity and today is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

Archaeologists began excavating a large, late Byzantine building located around 35 metres (120 feet) from the base of the wall last year. Beneath the plain white mosaic tiled floor of the monumental structure, they discovered a series of small chambers hewn out of the bedrock. Fragments of clay oil lamps and limestone cups helped date the subterranean rooms to around 2,000 years ago.

Lead archaeologist Barak Monnickendam-Givon said the “very huge investment in rock cut installation work” below ground had never been found before in the ancient city and was “very puzzling.” It remains unclear what the tiny chambers were used for.

The underground archaeological excavation is taking place about six or seven meters (20 feet) beneath the modern street level of the Western Wall plaza.


Dig near Jerusalem’s Western Wall yields ‘puzzling’ chambers

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday exhibited a recently uncovered, unusual series of 2,000-year-old chambers carved out of the bedrock beneath the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority’s excavations are uncovering new sections of a sprawling network of ancient subterranean passageways running alongside a contested Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, while the compound is the third-holiest site in Islam. It was the site of two Jewish temples in antiquity and today is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

Archaeologists began excavating a large, late Byzantine building located around 35 meters (120 feet) from the base of the wall last year. Beneath the plain white mosaic tiled floor of the monumental structure, they discovered a series of small chambers hewn out of the bedrock. Fragments of clay oil lamps and limestone cups helped date the subterranean rooms to around 2,000 years ago.

Lead archaeologist Barak Monnickendam-Givon said the “very huge investment in rock cut installation work” below ground had never been found before in the ancient city and was “very puzzling.” It remains unclear what the tiny chambers were used for.

The underground archaeological excavation is taking place about six or seven meters (20 feet) beneath the modern street level of the Western Wall plaza.

Researchers hope the discovery of common items, such as bone and ceramic fragments, will help shed light on daily life in Jerusalem before its destruction by Rome in 70 A.D.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.


Dig near Jerusalem's Western Wall yields 'puzzling' chambers

JERUSALEM — Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday exhibited a recently uncovered, unusual series of 2,000-year-old chambers carved out of the bedrock beneath the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority’s excavations are uncovering new sections of a sprawling network of ancient subterranean passageways running alongside a contested Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, while the compound is the third-holiest site in Islam. It was the site of two Jewish temples in antiquity and today is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

Archaeologists began excavating a large, late Byzantine building located around 35 metres (120 feet) from the base of the wall last year. Beneath the plain white mosaic tiled floor of the monumental structure, they discovered a series of small chambers hewn out of the bedrock. Fragments of clay oil lamps and limestone cups helped date the subterranean rooms to around 2,000 years ago.

Lead archaeologist Barak Monnickendam-Givon said the “very huge investment in rock cut installation work” below ground had never been found before in the ancient city and was “very puzzling.” It remains unclear what the tiny chambers were used for.

The underground archaeological excavation is taking place about six or seven meters (20 feet) beneath the modern street level of the Western Wall plaza.


Dig near Jerusalem's Western Wall yields 'puzzling' chambers

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday exhibited a recently uncovered, unusual series of 2,000-year-old chambers carved out of the bedrock beneath the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority's excavations are uncovering new sections of a sprawling network of ancient subterranean passageways running alongside a contested Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, while the compound is the third-holiest site in Islam. It was the site of two Jewish temples in antiquity and today is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

Archaeologists began excavating a large, late Byzantine building located around 35 meters (120 feet) from the base of the wall last year. Beneath the plain white mosaic tiled floor of the monumental structure, they discovered a series of small chambers hewn out of the bedrock. Fragments of clay oil lamps and limestone cups helped date the subterranean rooms to around 2,000 years ago.

Lead archaeologist Barak Monnickendam-Givon said the “very huge investment in rock cut installation work” below ground had never been found before in the ancient city and was “very puzzling.” It remains unclear what the tiny chambers were used for.

The underground archaeological excavation is taking place about six or seven meters (20 feet) beneath the modern street level of the Western Wall plaza.


Hidden underground chambers unearthed near Israel's Western Wall

It's not clear why ancient people dug up these chambers, but evidence suggests they used them in everyday life.

Archaeologists recently uncovered three ancient subterranean chambers carved in the bedrock beneath the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.

The 2,000-year-old chambers, consisting of an open courtyard and two rooms, were carved on top of one another and connected by hewn staircases. Inside the chambers, archaeologists discovered clay cooking vessels, cores of oil lamps, a stone mug and a piece of a qalal, or a large stone basin that was used to hold water for rituals, according to a statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

At the entrance to the chambers, the archeologists also found a long carving for shelves and depressions for door hinges and bolts, as well as round, square and triangular niches carved into the walls, some of which could have been used to place oil-lamps in.

These findings likely mean that these chambers were used daily, according to the statement. But it's not clear what they were actually used for. "Perhaps, it served as a pantry for an overhead structure that didn't survive, or as a hewn space" for living underground, Mordechai Eliav, the director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, said in the statement.

"We're asking ourselves what was the function of this very complex rock-cut system?" co-director of the excavation Barak Monnickendam-Givon said in an accompanying video. People could have lived in these underground chambers or stored food or groceries there for possibly another long-gone building above it. "Another possibility is that this system was used for hiding during the siege on Jerusalem 2000 years ago when the roman legions conquered the city," he said.

The subterranean chambers were hidden beneath the white mosaic floor of a public building that was created around 1,400 years ago during the Byzantine period. The building was renovated about 1,250 years ago, during the Abbasid period, according to the statement. In the 11th century, the building was destroyed and the subterranean chambers, along with other finds, were buried and stayed hidden for centuries.

These chambers were found in the "Beit Strauss" complex, beneath the entrance lobby to the Western Wall Tunnels, which helped the builders of the wall support its massive weight. (The tunnels also contained channels that supplied water to the Second Temple, according to Atlas Obscura).


Underground Chambers full of Artifacts Found at Jerusalem’s Western Wall

An exciting discovery of underground chambers has taken place at the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in all of Judaism. One of the unique things about living in an area that has been settled for thousands of years is that sometimes you find structures which have been built on top of other, other constructions. The most recent example of this phenomenon happened recently in Jerusalem.

Last year, Israeli archaeologists started excavating a large building that was erected late in the Byzantine era (roughly the 4th to the 14th centuries), according to a report from the Associated Press. The building is located in Western Wall Plaza, about 30 meters from the Wall itself. The building had a plain, white mosaic tiled floor, and when the archaeologists started looking underneath it, they found a series of small chambers had been carved into the bedrock on which the building sits.

Some of the underground chambers at the western wall contained pieces of oil lamps and other items which helped the team date the find the rooms are around 2,000 years old. Barak Monnickendam-Givon, the lead archaeologist on the project, remarked that they had never seen such extensive underground development in the city, and that the team didn’t know what purpose the tiny chambers may have served.

Tehila Sadiel, an archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, works at an excavation at a subterranean system hewn in the bedrock beneath a 1400-year-old building near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 19, 2020. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

The rooms are very close – only 120 feet away – to the holy site that Jews know as the Temple Mount and that Muslims call Haram al-Sharif. The site is the holiest place in the city to Jews, and the third-holiest to followers of Islam according to Smithsonian magazine. The Temple Mount has been a significant religious site to the Greeks, Romans, English, Crusaders, Byzantines, Babylonians, Israelites, and Ottomans, all of whom, along with several other ancient civilizations, have fought to take it over and hold it at various points in time.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the Israel Antiquities Authority released a statement saying the discovery was a complex with two rooms and a courtyard, and had been hidden underneath the building where they were discovered for approximately 1,400 years.

Larger view of the site. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

The rooms were carved from the rock at different levels and connected via carved stairways. There are niches cut into the walls which likely acted as storage space, shelves, lantern holders, and even door jambs. Monnickendam-Givon pointed out that when the chambers were first carved out of the native rock, they were quite close to what used to be the civic center of old Jerusalem. His team believes that the street was only a few meters away, and acted as the thoroughfare connecting the city with Temple Mount.

Tehila Sadiel shows a ceramic dating to the Umayyad period (7th-8th century CE), discovered at a subterranean system hewn in the bedrock beneath a 1400-year-old building near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

The uncovered rooms are a rare scrap of ancient Jerusalem, most of which was destroyed in 70 AD by Roman troops who were tasked with putting an end to the first Jewish Revolt. A few decades after the revolt was quashed, the Romans began rebuilding the city to their own tastes.

Artifacts found in the underground chambers at the Western Wall dating to the Jewish Second Temple period (6th century BCE-1st century CE). (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Precious relic of an older time notwithstanding, the researchers are puzzled by what the rooms may have been used for. A variety of artifacts were found in the chambers, but so far not enough to help researchers form a strong theory about whether it was originally living space, storage, or something else.

Chambers carved out of bedrock, such as these, are very unusual for that place and time. Most inhabitants lived in houses built of stone blocks, not carved out solid stone. The archaeologists are also hoping to learn more about the Byzantine building that was constructed on top of the complex. Although they do know that it collapsed after an earthquake early in the 11th century, they don’t know much else about it, not even whether it was a public building of some kind or a religious building.

The team will be doing a careful study of the artifacts they found in the hidden rooms of the underground chamber at the western wall, in hope that they will shed more light not only on the find itself, but also on what life was like in Jerusalem prior to the Romans’ occupation.


Dig near Jerusalem’s Western Wall yields ‘puzzling’ chambers

Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday exhibited a recently uncovered, unusual series of 2,000-year-old chambers carved out of the bedrock beneath the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority’s excavations are uncovering new sections of a sprawling network of ancient subterranean passageways running alongside a contested Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, while the compound is the third-holiest site in Islam. It was the site of two Jewish temples in antiquity and today is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

Archaeologists began excavating a large, late Byzantine building located around 35 meters (120 feet) from the base of the wall last year. Beneath the plain white mosaic tiled floor of the monumental structure, they discovered a series of small chambers hewn out of the bedrock. Fragments of clay oil lamps and limestone cups helped date the subterranean rooms to around 2,000 years ago.

Lead archaeologist Barak Monnickendam-Givon said the “very huge investment in rock cut installation work” below ground had never been found before in the ancient city and was “very puzzling.” It remains unclear what the tiny chambers were used for.

The underground archaeological excavation is taking place about six or seven meters (20 feet) beneath the modern street level of the Western Wall plaza.

Researchers hope the discovery of common items, such as bone and ceramic fragments, will help shed light on daily life in Jerusalem before its destruction by Rome in 70 A.D.

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Coin from 2nd Temple Mount era found during Tower of David conservation

In the midst of one of the most comprehensive conservation projects currently taking place in Israel, archeologists in Jerusalem&rsquos Old City discovered a Tyre coin, believed to have been used to pay the Temple tax by pilgrims making their way to the Temple for Passover, Shavuot or Sukkot.

The ancient coin was found inside a box of artifacts originally excavated in the 1980s, when the last conservation project took place at the site. The box was somehow lost and only discovered recently as part of a well-needed conservation project currently taking place at the Tower of David Museum.

The box included the rare silver coin, called a &ldquoTyre shekel,&rdquo which was used during the Second Temple Period and produced in the ancient city of Tyre, where Tyrian shekels were minted from 125 BCE until the outbreak of the Great Revolt in 66 CE.


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Watch the video: Hidden Third Temple Chambers Discovered by Western Wall