If you like your history served up in chronological courses when touring Jerusalem, the place to begin is the City of David, where the capital’s most ancient remains have been unearthed.
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Or, if you wonder how much of Jerusalem’s three-to-four millennia yarns of yore you can take, you may want to keep the City of David for an extra day’s adventure. And an adventure it can be, especially if you include the 45-minute-long slosh through the ancient Hezekiah’s Tunnel – in summer, just the ticket to get out of the sun, but in winter, good if you love wading through thigh-high cold water.
The City of David is located just down the hill from the Old City’s Dung Gate, which is adjacent to the Western Wall plaza. You can tour on your own, or call ahead and sign up for a guided tour. As soon as you’ve bought your ticket, you’ll step back some 3,000 years as you cross a suspended walkway over ruins of what some scholars believe was David’s palace.
This is the place to recall David’s historic indiscretion – looking down from his rooftop to a rooftop below where he saw the beautiful Bathsheba performing her ablutions, leading to a tragedy of truly biblical proportions. Check out 2 Samuel, chapters 11 and 12 for the full story. A magnificent view awaits you, too, minus the bathing beauty, from the observation point of the valleys that embrace the city, which inspired King David, certainly in one of his loftier moments, to write: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so Lord surrounds his people” (Psalms 125:2).
After viewing a 3-D movie about the city, you’ll see more fascinating legacies of the First Temple period, including a wall that may have been part of the biblical “stronghold of Zion” (2 Sam. 5:7) and the site where a clay seal was discovered mentioning the name of Jeremiah’s scribe, Gemariah son of Shafan (Jer. 36:10).
Jerusalem’s water system, one of the most sophisticated in the ancient world, is next, where down in Warren’s Shaft you can learn how Jerusalem got its water, and, just as importantly, kept it [the water] from its enemies. You’ll see walls so massive the archaeologists who excavated them felt “gigantic” didn’t do them justice, dubbing them “Cyclopean” instead.
Moving on to a highlight of the visit is the above-mentioned slosh through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, dug some 2,700 years ago by the eponymous king to protect the city’s water supply from an expected Assyrian assault. For landlubbers, there’s a dry walk through a Canaanite water channel. Next comes the Siloam Pool, famed in the New Testament as the place where Jesus healed a blind man (John 9:7) and in Jewish history as the site of ritual ablutions before ascending to the Temple. Your visit can end here, or you can continue through a newly opened underground walk along an ancient street that ends at Robinson’s Arch in the Southern Wall Archaeological Park near the Western Wall.
The City of David has abbreviated hours on Fridays and on Saturdays; on Saturdays it is only partially open and there is no entry fee. For more information: www.cityofdavid.org; 02-626-8700.