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Jerusalem Archaeological Park
Jerusalem Archaeological Park Review
Overlooked by many casual visitors, the site still often referred to as the Western and Southern Wall Excavations, or the Ophel, was a historical gold mine for Israeli archaeologists in the 1970s and '80s. Interesting Byzantine and early Arab structures came to light, but by far the most dramatic and monumental finds were from the Herodian period, the late 1st century BC. Walk down to the high corner facing you. King Herod the Great rebuilt the Second Temple on the exact site of its predecessor, where the Dome of the Rock now stands. He expanded the sacred enclosure by constructing a massive, shoebox-shaped retaining wall on the slopes of the hill, the biblical Mt. Moriah. The inside was filled with thousands of tons of rubble to create the huge plaza, the size of 27 football fields, still known today as the Temple Mount. The great stones near the corner, with their signature precision-cut borders, are not held together with mortar; their sheer weight gives the structure its stability. The original wall would have been at least one-third higher than it is today.
Exposed to the left of the corner is the white pavement of an impressive main street and commercial area from the Second Temple period. The protrusion left of the corner and high above your head is known as Robinson's Arch. Named for a 19th-century American explorer, it is a remnant of a monumental bridge to the Temple Mount which was reached by a staircase from the street where you now stand: look for the ancient steps. The square-cut building stones heaped on the street came from the top of the original wall, dramatic evidence of the Roman destruction of AD 70.
Return to the higher level by way of the wooden steps and turn left (east). Fifty yards over, a modern spiral staircase descends below present ground level to a partially reconstructed labyrinth of Byzantine dwellings, mosaics and all; from here you reemerge outside the present city walls. Alternatively, go straight, passing through the city wall by a small arched gate. The broad, impressive Southern Steps on your left, a good part of it original, once brought hordes of Jewish pilgrims through the now-blocked southern gates of the Temple Mount. The rock-hewn ritual baths near the bottom of the steps were used for the purification rites once demanded of Jews before they entered the sacred temple precincts. (On Friday, this section of the site closes at noon April through September, and at 11 am October through March.) The low-rise, air-conditioned Davidson Visitors Center (on your right as you enter the site) offers visual aids, some artifacts, two interesting videos (which continuously alternate between English and Hebrew), and toilet facilities. It's a good place to start your visit if you're on your own. Allow 30 minutes for the center and another 40 for the site.
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