Text size

Israel Antiquities Authority researchers h ave re-exposed a stretch of road in Jerusalem dating to the Second Temple period that is believed to have been used by pilgrims on their ascent to the Temple. Existence of the 40-meter segment of road, cleared over the past few months to open it to visitors, has been known of for more than a century.

The excavation is taking place in the neighborhood of Silwan near the Siloam Spring.

According to the dig director, Prof. Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, this was Jerusalem's main street, by which pilgrims ascended from the southern part of the ancient town, where the Pool of Siloam was located.

"There is practically no doubt that this was the focus of pilgrim traffic. We know this both from Jewish and Christian sources. The Pool of Siloam provided water for hundreds of people simultaneously and could be used for purification before ascending to the Temple Mount.

From the Pool of Siloam, the road continued for 600 meters to the Temple Mount. Although only two meters of the street's width have so far been excavated, it is believed to have stretched eight meters across.

The excavation is taking place in a limited area, because the land on one side belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, and on the other to the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust. Neither of these bodies permits excavation on their property. Another excavation of the same road system was halted by order of the High Court of Justice in January 2008 following a petition by Palestinian residents of Silwan, who claimed the dig was undermining the foundations of their homes.

The road now uncovered opens a window onto the Second Temple period, one of the most opulent in the city's history. Jerusalem in those days, with a population of some 25,000, was considered a regional metropolis. Reich says that number doubled during the pilgrimage festivals.

The large and meticulously carved stones that paved the street reveal a high level of workmanship. The street ascends in alternating wide and narrow steps, a style known from other sites.