A ruined and destroyed quarter, that was what greeted those that arrived in the quarter immediately after the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. The State of Israel decides that the site is of great historical importance and since it has never been excavated, any restoration of a building or public space in the Jewish Quarter will be accompanied by an archaeological excavation first. Professor Nahman Avigad received the task. The excavation, which lasted several seasons, revealed sections of a large and massive structure that only after much discussion in the excavation team was it decided to call the finding – fortification of Jerusalem from the First Temple period.
In the basement of a building in the heart of the quarter are the remains of an ancient fortification system. The amazing system “imprisoned” in the small cellar is one of the most impressive testimonies of the size and strength of Jerusalem during the First Temple period.
In fact we have fortifications from two periods: the foundations of a tower from the wall of Jerusalem from the time of the First Temple and next to it the Hasmonean tower from the time of the Second Temple. The first tower is probably the corner of a gate tower that was preserved from the end of the First Temple period, also known as the Israelite period, hence the name “The Israelite Tower”. The height of the tower is 8 meters and the thickness of its walls is about 4 meters. It was built of large hard fieldstones (similar to the stones of the broad wall), whereas the courses of the corner were built of roughly hewn stones. The tower’s stones are arranged in the form of ‘Petin Head’, a very typical building style for the First Temple period.
Thanks to the degree of preservation and quality of the building, the tower is an impressive and unique architectural “monument”.
The tower protected Jerusalem during the conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. In the excavations, the researchers found remains of ashes and soot indicating that a fire raged here. It does not take much imagination to guess that this fire could have occurred when the Babylonian army broke through the city … as described in the Bible in the Book of Kings: “And was burnt the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem and every big house burnt in fire, Jerusalem surrounding wall shattered”. The remains of charred wood and arrowheads were found in the layer of ash, evidence of the battle that took place here. The arrows are made of iron, with a flat head of the type that was common in the Judean army. The second type of arrow was bronze, polygon shaped and was used by foreign armies, known as Scythians. Despite the size of the tower, it did not fulfill its mission and the Babylonians succeeded in conquering the city and destroying it.
Next to the Israeli tower, there is an additional fortification dating to the days of the Hasmoneans, who apparently decided on the need to thicken the fortification in order to cope with the dangers. This tower is 9 meters wide and is built of ashlar stones with margins typical of the Hasmonean buildings. It seems that when the Hasmoneans came to fortify the city, they restored ancient fortifications and integrated them into the new defensive wall. This is how they used the remnants of the “Israeli tower” and attached to it a wall with a defensive tower protruding from the wall. A shared floor indicates that the Hasmoneans adapted the fortification to their needs.
Thus, in one basement of the Jewish Quarter, above which a completely modern residential building is built, on the foundations of the buildings of the Jewish Quarter that was destroyed in 1948, two ancient periods and two wars are joined together. The Babylonian War, in which the First Temple was destroyed and the city was destroyed, the roman war in which the Second Temple was destroyed, and the city was destroyed.