On the Road to Jerusalem’s Historical Past: A Field Trip to the City of David and Ramat Rachel

Posted by on Feb 9, 2015

On the Road to Jerusalem’s Historical Past: A Field Trip to the City of David and Ramat Rachel

The Medieval poet Alain de Lille once coined the famous sentiment “A thousand roads leads men forever to Rome”. If Rome once reflected glory to the ancient world, Jerusalem has dazzled the world for millennia with its eternal past tied to the religious roots of the Jews, Christians and Muslims. It has been conquered, destroyed and rebuilt time and again, and every layer of its ground tells a different story of it´s past.


On the Road to Jerusalem

Millions of people over thousands of years have travelled on foot on the roads that lead to Jerusalem. In antiquity the main road to Jerusalem ran in a S-N direction along the top of a plateau forming the backbone of ancient Canaan. It begins in the Beer Sheba valley, ascends up the Judean hill through Hebron and then into Bethlehem, before intersecting with Jerusalem.  Fortunately, for the 2014-5 group of international students, the roads to Jerusalem have developed during the last 100 years and TAU could provide comfortable shuttle service via Highway 1, while being served Dr. Omer Sergi´s road reflections about archaeology, science and Indiana Jones.

Heading to the old city of Jerusalem

Archaeology in Jerusalem

Our tour began with a breathtaking overlook of the Kidron Valley from the Beit Hatzofeh lookout point. The viewer is immediately struck by the low position of the biblical City of David in comparison with the Old City of Jerusalem. Above the Iron Age IIb tombs, you can see Byzantine houses that are still in use; This more than anything illustrates the many problems archaeologists face when they excavate in Jerusalem.

Archaeology in Jerusalem

The City has had almost a continuous occupation, thus severely reducing the area available for excavation. Then, too, the city was destroyed a number of times, with new cities built on top of the ruins and often made from material of those ruins. The piling up of debris and rubble, in some places about 30 m (100 ft) deep, has obscured the early contours of the site and made the interpretation of the excavated evidence a precarious task.


Stepped Stone Structure

After battling our way through streams of tourists and loud tour guides, we stepped down to the City of David to behold the massive stone structure. The monumental wall are shrouded in mystery and fiercely debated over. Is it the remains of an immense substructure of terrace walls on which the Jebusties built a fortress, or is it the upper part the remains of a Hasmonite structure? No matter the answer, the silversteins of Israel spark debate.

Is it the remains of an immense substructure of terrace walls on which the Jebusties built a fortress

The Water System of Jerusalem

After passing through Byzantine walls, we descended into a tunnel leading to the water system of Jerusalem. As we were walking through the underground passageway towards the Gihon Spring, we made a stopover to inspect the shaft wall discovered by Charles Warren in 1867.  The Gihon Spring was the city´s main source of water supply. The surrounding walls protected the spring and the passageway. The shaft wall Would have enabled the inhabitants to draw water without going outside the protective walls. But when was the shaft made? Recent excavations conducted by Ronny Reich have proven that the shaft wall is a natural geological crack in the bedrock. The Gihon Spring walls are still visible and testify to an elaborate system of fortifications and underground system of tunnels.

The Jerusalem Water System

Ramat Rachel

Our next mission was to illuminate the secrets of Ramhat Rachel, a site near Jerusalem mentioned by Jeremiah as a place suitable for raising firesignals to warn of advancing enemies. The remains of the palace of Ramat Rachel is situated on a hill of obvious strategic importance. It has a bird’s eye view of the Bethlehem – Jerusalem road and has the potential to prevent the free movement of military forces and supplies along this route. To attack Jerusalem from the south, any army would first have to occupy Ramat Rachel. As you overlook the valley the words of Jeremiah echo: “Take shelter you sons of Benjamin, away from Jerusalem. Blow the horn in Tekoa. Light a fire signal over Beth-haccher´em! For a calamity looms from the north, a great disaster” (Jer. 6.1).

Ramat Rachel

Garden of Ramat Rachel

The Study of ancient pollen grains have revealed that this rugged wilderness once was adorned with an exquisite garden, with winding paths that were well irrigated. Various kinds of trees, including nut and fruit trees, as well as spice plants and flowers seem to have surrounded the palace courtyard. Large remains of animal bones testify to the delightful banquets held in the courtyard of Ramat Rachel, probably similar to the one that King Ahasuerus held in Sushan and that are mentioned in the book of Esther 1:1-5.

Garden of Ramat Rachel

As my fellow comrades departed to Tel Aviv for a relaxing Shabbat, I entered through the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem. My adventure had only just begun. More about that another time.

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