An American tourist was arrested last week after spending the night in Zedekiah’s Cave, also known as Solomon’s Quarries, which lies under the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
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Last Thursday afternoon, when the site was open to the public, the 19-year-old entered the cave carrying a backpack. When closing time came, he hid in one of the crevices of the cave and the security people did not notice him as they checked the site before closing. He was there overnight and started digging in various sections of the cave, apparently seeking to find some of the treasures that various legends say have been buried there over the centuries.
While the cave is usually closed on Fridays, last Friday it was opened to do some development work. The workers found the tourist in the cave covered with mud, his backpack full of stones and shards that he’d dug up from the floor of the cave. He was handed over to police and his findings were confiscated.
During questioning the young man could not explain his motives for what he did. Police said he apparently has emotional problems and may have contracted the so-called Jerusalem Syndrome, a phenomenon involving religious obsessions or other psychosis-like experiences seemingly triggered in some people by visiting Jerusalem. He was released and has since left the country.
Zedekiah’s Cave is a remnant of what was the largest quarry in Jerusalem that dates back to at least Second Temple times. It covers some nine dunams (two and a quarter acres), with an entrance between the Old City’s Damascus Gate and Herod’s Gate. Over the years a number of legends and traditions have sprung up involving the cave. The Jewish tradition is that King Zedekiah tried to flee through the cave during the destruction of the First Temple.
A later Muslim tradition identifies the cave as “the cave of Korah,” the place where the biblical Korah and his allies were swallowed up by the earth when they tried to revolt against Moses.
In 1968 a resident of the Old City claimed that his grandfather had hidden three crates of gold coins in the cave before the War of Independence. He asked permission to search for the crates using signs his grandfather had left him and promised in return to give three-quarters of the treasure to the authorities. He was given permission to search but found nothing.
The cave also serves as a ceremonial site for the Freemasons from the 1920s to this day. The Freemasons revere the place, believing it to have been the site from which the stones for the First Temple were quarried. Since the 1980s the cave is operated by the East Jerusalem Development Corporation as a tourist site, and events are held there from time to time.