Dig Uncovers Ancient Jerusalem Street Depicted on Byzantine Map

Archaeologists in Jerusalem have discovered an ancient street which confirms the accuracy of a 1,500-year-old map, the Antiquities Authority said yesterday.

The Madaba Map, depicted in a mosaic floor of a church in Madaba, Jordan, shows Jerusalem as it was in the Byzantine period, between the 4th and the 7th centuries. According to the map, the main entrance to the city was from the west, through a large gate at the start of a wide central street.

A number of finds backing up the map's accuracy have been unearthed before, but archaeologists could never access the suspected area of the main gate because of heavy pedestrian traffic.

However, infrastructure work that was begun recently by the Jerusalem Development Authority near the Jaffa Gate finally allowed the archaeologists access under the road.

At a depth of over four meters under the present street level they found a number of large paving stones, which they say prove the existence of an important street. The archaeologists believe the thoroughfare's route largely corresponds to the present day one, and say that the Jaffa Gate today stands near where the gate was in Byzantine times.

"Jerusalem has been explored for 150 years but there have never been excavations in this particular area," said site director Dr. Ofer Sion yesterday. "This is the first time we could start digging down. We knew we needed to find the street, and we waited for the pick-axe to hit a stone. When we heard a stony sound and uncovered half a pavement tile, we realized we were on an ancient street."

"It's nice to see that today's David Street, a bustling market route, pretty much preserves the route of another bustling street, 1,500 years its senior," Sion said. David street is the main covered market which descends from the Jaffa Gate square toward the Temple Mount.

The cracked paving stones are about one meter long each, the archaeologists said. Next to them, the team found the remains of a sidewalk and a row of columns, evidence of the street's prestige from the prosperous days of Byzantine Jerusalem.

The archaeologists believe the street was the main entrance to the city and linked various important sites, like the Holy Sepulcher, the markets and residential areas.

Despite the finds, the street will be covered up again once work on it is complete.