Adjacent to the Western Wall is a spectacular Davidson Center which is an archeological park in its beauty. The park holds archaeological finds from different periods: the First and Second Temples; Byzantine period; Early Muslim period; Crusaders, and more. But the most exciting finds are The city wall from the days of the First Temple, the stairs leading up to the Temple, the original street from the days of the Second Temple, shops, mikvahs, and more.
Davidson Center – is a museum within the archeological park with presentations and exhibits related to finds at the site. In addition you can watch a video about the pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the 2nd Temple. In addition, a virtual model with your virtual tour guide will take you on a journey through time to the days of the Second Temple.
Some More About Davidson Center
The Davidson Center Archaeological Park is an archeological site that extends north of Jerusalem, at the foot of the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, and includes the Davidson Center Museum. The archaeological park has ancient and late archaeological finds, from the Bronze Age about 5,000 years ago; to finds from the Ottoman period about 100 years ago. The main importance of the garden is the abundance of buildings and finds from the Second Temple period displayed on their site.
Some Historical Background About the Davidson Center
The British archaeologist Charles Warren, who worked in Jerusalem in the 1860s, was the first to dig in the area. The Ottoman government banned Warren from openly digging on or around the Temple Mount, claiming that it would harm the holy site of Islam, so he was forced to make his way through tunnels and underground shafts. Despite the difficulties, Warren’s findings and good documentation are used by scholars to this day. British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon excavated the site in the 1960s when Old Jerusalem was under Jordanian control. The innovations of this excavation mainly affected the nearby City of David, and no significant finds were found in the Davidson Archaeological Park area. By the way, here is a link to their website!
Excavations In Davidson Center Area Under the Israeli Rule
In February 1968, after 19 years of Jordanian rule, Israeli archaeologists were allowed to excavate in and around the Old City for the first time. Due to political and religious sensitivities, digging on the Temple Mount itself was impossible. So it was decided to focus the excavation effort around the mountain, assuming that the archaeological finds there would also be rich.
Prof. Benjamin Mazar of the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been appointed Chief Archaeologist for excavating the area adjacent to the Temple Mount to the south. The excavation lasted more than ten years! And became one of the largest archeological sites known to the State of Israel. In their publications, archaeologists called their study “Temple Mount excavations” even though the mountain itself was not excavated. The excavation and its many findings aroused great interest in the academic community and the general public.
More Excavations by Israeli Archaeologists
In 1988, about ten years after the end of the first excavation season, Eilat Mazar (the granddaughter of Benjamin Mazar) led another excavation in the eastern part of the excavation site, at the foot of the Hulda Gates. Then, in the mid-1990s and until 2001, archaeologists Roni Reich, Yaakov Bilig, and Yuval Baruch deepened the excavations in the area of the Western Wall and the Southern Wall.
Reich and Bilig uncovered the entire length of Herodian Street, while Baruch and Reich conducted excavations in the area of the Third Umayyad Palace, and in the plaza near Dung Gate. Sections of the Roman Cardo Street were exposed in these excavations. Roni Reich and Yuval Baruch also dug in the area near the triangular gate (Hulda Gate) and next to the southeast corner of the Temple Mount. In 2000, Baruch and Reich completed the excavation of the Roman bathhouse in Zanti, opposite the Robinson Arch.
Division of Davidson Center Archaeological Park Into Different Areas
Archaeological excavation is inherently destructive, often forcing the excavation’s director to decide the fate of an archaeological layer for preservation or demolition to uncover a possible layer beneath it. In the Davidson Center, the decisions were particularly difficult, as this area of Jerusalem has been inhabited almost continuously for the past 3,000 years, and finds in each stratum have been important and rare. Then in the end, it was decided to divide the area into historical complexes, based on an archaeological survey and previous excavations, and to dig in each of them only to the appropriate layer:
- Second Temple Complex – The area adjacent to the Western Wall will be excavated up to the Second Temple period, about two thousand years ago.
- The Byzantine Compound – the area adjacent to the eastern half of the southern wall will display mainly finds from the Byzantine period, about 1,500 years ago.
- Early Muslim Period Complex – The area adjacent to the western half of the Southern Wall will focus on the Early Muslim period, about 1,300 years ago.
- It was also decided to leave finds of particular interest from other periods in the complexes. For example, a Roman toilet from the days of Aelia Capitolina was left in the Muslim compound; A building from the Roman period was left in the Second Temple complex; In the Byzantine compound, the Famous Hulda steps from the Second Temple period were left are displayed.
Davidson Center: The Second Temple Complex
Previous excavations at the Archaeological Park have shown that the area adjacent to the southern wall’s encounter with the Western Wall is rich in finds from the Second Temple period. Due to this, it was decided to deepen the excavations at the site up to this layer while dismantling all the finds from later layers. The decision also canceled the deepening of the excavations until the days of the First Temple or for earlier periods.
The Herodian Street:
The most prominent find in the Second Temple complex is a cobbled street adjacent to the Western Wall. The street served as part of the Temple Mount complex during the Temple period, from which visitors and pilgrims could access the western entrances of the Temple Mount. Along the street, next to the Western Wall, a row of shops was exposed that probably served as a market selling offerings, sacrifices, or other ritual items related to the work of the temple.
The continuation of the cobbled street to the south was discovered in 2007 on the slopes of the City of David, near the Shiloah Pool from the Second Temple period. This discovery shows that the street was a continuous axis, which connected the Temple Mount to the south of the city, and allowed a convenient and quick passage for visitors and pilgrims to various sites in the city.
Parts of the street were discovered by Charles Warren in the 19th century, and Benjamin Mazar revealed other parts of it, but it was Roni Reich who exposed the street almost its entire length in this section – 75 meters. The width of the street is about eight meters, and it is bounded on both sides by high curbs. The street was completely covered with a pile of Western Wall stones, which were thrown from above by the Romans during the destruction of Jerusalem after the Great Revolt in 70. Reich cleared most of the stones and moved them elsewhere to the Archaeological Park. The shops were found to be almost destroyed, and the remains of the ashes, which indicate the fire that raged in them, are still visible (as of 2008) on their walls.
Recent Finds Under the Herodian Street
Roni Reich and Yaakov Bilig also dug a small section under the paving stones of the street and took out 15 different coins. The last coin was minted by Pontius Pilate. Hence the street is paved afterward. The paving stones, discovered when they were not worn, testified that the street was out of use not long after its construction was completed. This discovery contradicted the hitherto accepted assumption that the street was built relatively early by King Herod and was therefore called ‘Herodian Street’ by the diggers.
It is now customary to date the street to the days of his great-grandchild, Agrippa II. The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus said that in the days of the Roman commissioner Albinus (62-64 CE); who operated under Agrippa, the streets of Jerusalem began to be paved with white stone, due to the severe unemployment that befell the city upon completion of the Temple Mount.
Due to the impact of the Western Wall stones on the street, some paving stones cracked, and some dropped into the underground drainage ditches. One of the paving stones that were not destroyed, but was discovered at its site, is a manhole cover that connects to a drainage ditch. The stone, about half a meter long and half a meter wide, has two triangular depressions in the center, to which an iron ring was probably attached, which made it possible to lift it from the floor. This finding corresponds to what is described in the Mishnah, Tractate Midot (Chapter 3, Mishnah C), which tells about the Second Temple and its dimensions:
“On the floor beneath at that corner there was a place a cubit square on which was a marble slab with a ring fixed in it, and through this they used to go down to the pit to clean it out.“Mishna, Middot 3:3
To the Trumpeting Place Inscription
The Trumpeting Place inscription is an inscribed stone from the 1st century CE discovered in 1968 by Benjamin Mazar in his early excavations of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The stone, showing just two complete words written in the Square Hebrew alphabet, was carved above a wide depression cut into the inner face of the stone. The first word is translated as “to the place,” and the second word is “of trumpeting” or “of blowing,” giving the phrase “To the Trumpeting Place.”
The following words of the inscription are cut off. The third word (…לה), which is incomplete, has been interpreted as either “declare” or “distinguish,” giving either: “to d[eclare (the Sabbath)]” or “to d[istinguish (between the sacred and the profane)],” where the words in square brackets represent scholarly conjecture.
It is believed to be a directional sign for the priests who blew a trumpet announcing the beginning and end of the Shabbat in the Second Temple period. Furthermore, it is thought to have fallen from the southwest corner of the Temple Mount to the street below before its discovery. It has been connected to a passage in Josephus’s The Jewish War (IV, ix, 12) in which he describes a part of the Temple:
“the point where it was custom for one of the priests to stand and to give notice, by sound of trumpet, in the afternoon of the approach, and on the following evening of the close, of every seventh day”.Josephus’s The Jewish War (IV, ix, 12)
Davidson Center: Robinson’s Arch
Robinson’s Arch is the name given to a monumental staircase carried by an unusually wide stone arch, which once stood at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. It was built as part of the expansion of the Second Temple initiated by Herod the Great at the end of the 1st century BCE. Recent findings suggest that it may not have been completed until at least 20 years after his death.
The massive stone span was constructed along with the retaining walls of the Temple Mount. It carried traffic up from ancient Jerusalem’s Lower Market area and over the Tyropoeon street to the Royal Stoa complex on the esplanade of the Mount. The overpass was destroyed during the First Jewish–Roman War, only a few decades after its completion.
Biblical Scholar Edward Robinson
The arch is named after Biblical scholar Edward Robinson who identified its remnants in 1838. Robinson published his findings in his landmark work Biblical Researches in Palestine, in which he drew the connection with a bridge described in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War, concluding that its existence proves the antiquity of the Walls of Jerusalem.
During the second half of the 20th century, excavations revealed its purpose and the extent of its associated structures. Today the considerable surviving portions of the ancient overpass complex may be viewed by the public within the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. As it is adjacent to Jerusalem’s Western Wall worship area, a portion is used by some groups as a place of prayer.
The Mikvahs(Jewish Ritual Baths)
Roni Reich and Yuval Baruch divided the mikvahs in this area into two periods: mikvahs from the period that preceded the expansion of the Temple Mount by Herod and those built later. They based their work mainly on an impressive mikveh dug by them under the threshold of the triangular gate (the Eastern Hulda Gate). In addition to the mikvahs, a rock-hewn system of water canals and pipes was well preserved, providing non-pumped water to the mikvahs, probably through nearby aqueducts.
Remains From the Roman Period
During excavations of Mazar to the west and near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, a building from the Byzantine period was exposed in good condition. The early phase of the four-room building dates back to the Roman period. Remains of five round kilns, paved with fragments of bricks and shingles bearing the imprints of the Tenth Legion, Fretensis, were discovered in it.
According to the excavators, the use of bricks produced by the Tenth Legion, Fretensis, and especially the finding of a clay seal with a Latin inscription on the floor of the building indicate that the building was used by soldiers of the Tenth Legion. A military bread seal was discovered on the floor of the building. The body shape of the seal is rectangular, cut trapezoidal, and a ring is placed on its back. Most of the ring, which has three ridges, is missing. The inscription PRIM, engraved inside a rectangular frame, is engraved on the seal.
How Can We Interpret the Name on the Seal?
Two options for interpreting the name on the seal in front of us were offered: The simple option to decode the address is a name, PRIM (US), a common Latin name in this period. In this case, it is likely the baker’s name. Since the inscription, PRIM (US), can also be interpreted as an adjective – in other words, “First” Stiebel suggested that it was possible and the item left its mark on loaves of bread of the finest quality, the first – the panis primus, one consumed by the higher ranks of the Legion.
The archaeologists Mazar and Ben Dov unveiled a magnificent Roman bathhouse in this compound. The excavation of this building was completed in 2000 by Dr. Yuval Baruch on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Baruch and Reich estimated that the bathhouse is from the Byzantine period and was built on the remains of a Roman bathhouse. This street was first built in the Roman period and continued to be used until the eighth century CE.
Davidson Center: The Byzantine Neighborhood
The second compound in Davidson Center Archaeological Park shows the remains of a Christian neighborhood from the Byzantine period, whose inhabitants lived on the ruins of a Jewish neighborhood from the Second Temple period. The neighborhood was densely built at the end of the fourth century in the eastern part of the Ophel and included churches, a monastery, a hostel, workshops, shops, and residences. The finds are rich in mosaic floors, some of which have geometric decorations. This neighborhood seems to have been destroyed by the Persian occupation in 614 and not restored.
Across the southern retaining wall of this compound are huge stairs, which date to the days of the Second Temple, and are identified as ‘Hulda Stairs.’ This name refers to the gates to which the stairs led and were called ‘Hulda Gates.’ The stairs were uncovered by Benjamin Mazar, and some have been restored to allow safe walking on them. The width of the stairs is not uniform but is made alternately, one comprehensive step and one narrow step.
Other staircases from the Second Temple period discovered in the area and even in the city of David were similarly designed. Archaeologist Roni Reich, who uncovered the continuation of the cobbled stepped street in the City of David, which also continues there accordingly, argues that this is probably a style that was common at the time and was designed to allow for a more comfortable ascent. In the middle of the stairs stood a mikvah complex similar to the one excavated near Robinson’s Arch. These mikvahs were also used by the pilgrims to ensure that only pure people entered the 2nd Temple holy grounds.
Davidson Center: Early Muslim Period Compound
The Umayyad Palaces: One of the relatively late archaeological strata in Davidson Center archaeological park is found from the Early Muslim period, dated to the seventh century. Benjamin Mazar uncovered in his excavations four huge palaces, which were dated and attributed to the Caliph El Walid, the first of the Umayyad dynasty (705-715 CE).
The palaces, which cover the entire area of the Davidson Center (including the prayer plaza at the Western Wall), were each built around a courtyard (not covered), and together they formed a governmental area of the Umayyads. The complex, dedicated to the early Muslim period, shows the remains of only one of the four palaces (‘Palace 2’ in the numbering of Benjamin Mazar), which is a small bridge connected between its roof and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Some of the palace walls were built using two stones from the walls of the Temple Mount, which were scattered in the area after the destruction.
The palace included many rooms around the courtyard, towering two or three stories high. A courtyard stretched around the courtyard, the pillars today represented in the area by thin cypress trees. The researchers assume that the palaces were destroyed in an earthquake in the middle of the eighth century, known as the ‘seventh noise’, and were not restored. Following the destruction, the place was abandoned, and most of the palace stones were used a few hundred years later to build a new fortification line by the Fatimid rulers of Jerusalem.