The Chambers of Secrets: Newly excavated structures from Second Temple-era to be revealed to public in Jerusalem
It was built around 20–30 CE and the structure is believed to have stood along a street leading up to the Temple Mount
By ILANIT CHERNICK
In a magnificent revelation, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have completed excavations on one of the most fascinating buildings from the Second Temple period in Jerusalem.
“Part of the structure, to the west of Wilson’s Arch and the Temple Mount, was discovered and documented by Charles Warren in the nineteenth century, followed by various archaeologists in the twentieth century,” the Western Wall Heritage Foundation explained in a statement. “Now that its excavation is complete, we know that it contained two identical magnificent chambers with an elaborate fountain between them.”
The walls of the halls and the fountain were decorated with a sculpted cornice-bearing pilasters, otherwise known as flat supporting pillars, which were also topped with Corinthian capitals.
“The decorative style of the structure is typical of opulent Second Temple-period architecture,” the IAA said.
The new route through these chambers will be accessible to the public from early August – at the start of the Jewish month of Elul.
Describing the fascinating finds, IAA excavation director Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolach said that these chambers are without a doubt, “one of the most magnificent public structures from the Second Temple period that has ever been uncovered outside the Temple Mount walls in Jerusalem.”
According to Weksler-Bdolach, it was built around 20–30 CE and the structure is believed to have stood along a street leading up to the Temple Mount.
“[It] was used for public functions [and] it may even have been the city council building where important dignitaries were received before entering the Temple compound and the Temple Mount,” she said.
Weksler-Bdolach said that those visiting can now “envision” its opulence.
“The two side chambers served as ornate reception rooms and between them was a magnificent fountain with water gushing out from lead pipes incorporated in the midst of the Corinthian capitals protruding from the wall,” she explained.
Weksler-Bdolach also highlighted that the excavation also uncovered the original massive stone slabs with which the ancient building was paved.
“The archaeologists believe that the guest rooms, which were also used for dining, contained wooden reclining sofas that have not been preserved,” she added.
She pointed out that reclining dining rooms were common in the Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman worlds from the fifth century BCE to the third to fourth centuries CE.
“They are known in the archaeological record from private homes, palaces, temples, synagogue complexes and civilian compounds,” Weksler-Bdolach continued. “Dining or feasting while reclining is mentioned as early as the Book of Amos – in the first half of the eighth century BCE – when the prophet rebukes the people of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel.”
Prior to the Second Temple’s destruction, Weksler-Bdolach said that extensive changes were made throughout the area included alterations to the structure, which was divided into three separate chambers.
“In one of the chambers, a stepped pool was installed that was used as a ritual bath,” she said.
Adding to this, Shachar Puni, an architect for the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Conservation Department emphasized that the new route will provide “a better understanding of the complex and important site… while emphasizing the extent of this magnificent structure.”
“It creates a new visitors’ route that passes through the ancient building and leads to the spacious compound at the foot of Wilson’s Arch (one of the bridges leading to the Temple Mount),” Puni said.
For Western Wall Heritage Foundation chairman Mordechai Soli Eliav, this revelation is very exciting.
“Visitors will view fascinating finds and walk for the first time along the entire route among Second Temple-period remains that illustrate the complexity of Jewish life in Jerusalem between the Hasmonean and the Roman periods,” he concluded.