Jerusalem's district planning council was on Sunday set to rule on a controversial museum project that archaeologists claim would destroy valuable ancient structures beneath the Old City.
The new museum is planned for the concourse beside the Western Wall of the Temple Mount – Judaism's holiest site.
But a group of archaeologists who have petitioned the council says the new building, designed by architect Ada Karmi, would damage an ancient Roman road, flanked by rare and elaborate columns, that runs beneath the planned construction.
They say that if Jewish relics were under threat, the project would never have been allowed.
"It is impossible to exaggerate the cultural damage and the harm to antiquities that would result if the road is encased by the new building's foundation pillars," the archaeologists wrote in a petition to the planning council.
"It is difficult to escape the feeling that the fact that this find does not belong to Judaism's golden age is aiding the authorities in their decision to enclose it beneath the proposed structure."
Karmi's plans would preserve the Roman relics, which the public would be able to view from a basement gallery beneath the new building. But the group of archaeologists, which includes several members of Israel's UNESCO committee, says that this solution ignores the possibility of developing a unique historical site.
"The plans would destroy the chance to create a continuous passage of road over 200 meters long – originally a colonnade – which could serve as a foundation stone for researchers and students of Jerusalem's history, as well as to tourists and the general public," the archaeologists wrote.
In response to the petition, Shmuel Rabinovitch, the Western Wall's rabbi, said the new building would be essential in providing services to the increasing number of visitors to the site. Far from damaging fragile ruins, the new structures would ensure their preservation, he said.
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