City of David

The City of David – Where Jerusalem began

When we say "the Old City of Jerusalem" we picture the Jaffa gates, the ramparts, The Holy Sepulcher Church, Via Dolorosa, etc. But the walls of what we know now as "the Old City" are actually not so old – they were build in the 16th century A.D., when Jerusalem was took over by Ottoman Turks and ruled by Suleiman the Magnificent.

Let's go deeper in history – to the tenth century B.C.  This was the time when King David conquered the city of Jebus from Jebusites tribe, renamed it to Jerusalem and established it as the first capital of the United Kingdom of Israel. For the first time the twelve tribes of Israel are unified to one state. Just imagine, this was 3000(!) years ago. Two and a half centuries before Rome was even founded! 

The real ancient Jerusalem – the City of David – is located just outside the Old City Walls, 5 minutes walk from the Dung Gate.

City of david
Modern view from the hilltop
Now it is a museum and an archaeological site. More archaeological delegations have worked here than in all the rest of Israel, and still only 20% of it has been explored! It all began with Charles Warren, a British archaeologist who wanted to perform excavations on the Temple Mountain, but the Ottoman authorities banned them. Then Warren settled nearby and tried to secretly dig underground tunnels to reach the Temple Mount. When the Turks discovered this, they kicked the delegation off the city. 

And then Charles Warren thought: "If you want to find an ancient city, search for the water". Jerusalem is located in the desert, and the only natural source of water here is the Gihon Spring which fills the Pool of Siloam ("Shiloah" in Hebrew). Here is it – an ideal place for a city – a hill bounded from both side by deep natural valleys, defending it from enemies; land suitable for agriculture and a source of water. The team started to dig on the hill, and their efforts were rewarded.

A good story always have twists, changes of focus, a stereo-effect. The tour of "Biblical Jerusalem in the City of David" is exactly this. Here we are in the beginning of our 3-hour tour – standing at the observation deck, looking down at the valley and seeing by our own eyes how Charles Warren got to his conclusions. Now Kidron Valley and Tyropoeon Valley surrounding the hill are not so deep as they were in the times of King David, but they are still clearly visible. Then the tour continues with a 3D-movie showing the conquest of the city by the King David's army and building of ancient Jerusalem. 

Warren's Shaft. Photo credit – the City of David's archives, photo by Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
At this point of time someone would surely ask: "Where is the Temple?". It was not there yet, the First Temple was built by Solomon, the son of David, at the hill adjacent to the king's palace.

We are entering the archaeological site at the top of the hill, called the "Large Stone Structure" – presumably this was the palace of King David himself, but this is not 100% proved. One of the exhibits found here is the capital of a column – every Israeli knows its image on a 5-shekel coin.

The capital and the 5-shekel coin

The high-society houses are located near the palace. We can even see an ancient toilet – a stove with a hole, an incredible luxury at that era.

Luxury toilet in high-society house

Archaeologists have found here a lot of personal clay stamps which the country officials and the merchants used to seal the documents.

An ancient seal with document (Photo from the museum's archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our guide Michal is carrying a small book with bookmarks – it is the Old Testament. Some names found on the stamps are mentioned in the Bible, in the Book of Jeremiah – we know that they were officials in 7-6 century B.C. A living quote from the Bible just blows my mind!

The colored lights at the Pool of Siloam
And finally – the Pool the Siloam, a source of water – a source of life. Protected by walls and tunnels to solve the everlasting dilemma of ancient cities – the most easily defendable place is at the top, but the water is downhill. Now Jerusalem is not using Siloam as a main source of water anymore. Already in the Second Temple period the city grew up to the extent it had to find alternative water sources.

In the King Hezekiah's tunnel. Photo credit – the museum archives, author Leah Neeman.
The culmination of the program – walking through King Hezekiah's tunnel, a part of 2000-year old drainage system. The flowing water in the tunnel is 70 cm high – do not forget to wear suitable shoes and clothes for entering the water. I came unprepared, wearing new leather shoes, and, unfortunately, had to skip this experience and follow the dry Canaan tunnel instead. Such a pity that the museum did not put a bucket of flip-flops at the entrance. A dryer machine in the end of the route would also be handy, although in Israeli summer sun the clothes get dry in no time.

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The Biblical Jerusalem tour in the City of David takes place almost every day (except Shabbat) in English and Hebrew – you may check the schedule and book tickets here. The best way to park is at the First Station complex (the old train station turned into a culinary and entertainment cluster) – there are free shuttle buses running every 20 minutes from the First Station parking lot to the Old City, stopping at the entrance of City of David. 


15 Comments

  • Skye

    05.06.2017

    Looks like a great experience and a very comprehensive tour. It really looks like one of those bucket list historic destinations and you would definitely need a guide to talk you through the history. Love your photos.

    Reply
    • Elena Nemets

      05.06.2017

      Thanks! I agree, without a guide, it’s just a pile of stones!

      Reply
  • Jade Mortimer

    05.06.2017

    it must have been so interesting to see this! the water looks fun too!

    Reply
  • Kevan

    05.06.2017

    I've always been fascinated by history, and it is hard to get more historic than this.  Looks like a great tour.  I would love to be able to visit this one day.

    Reply
    • Elena Nemets

      06.06.2017

      Oh, yes, Jerusalem as a whole is a living history.

      Reply
  • Nina

    05.06.2017

    Gosh this looks incredible. The Biblical Jerusalem tour is definitely something that I would love. 

    Reply
  • STACEY SANDLIN

    06.06.2017

    Wow looks incredibe and so much history! I would love to vist and I think for sure it a place where you nee a giude to get the most of our visit! To bad you didnt have the right shoes ..but the experince looks great! 

     

    Reply
    • Elena Nemets

      06.06.2017

      Without a guide any archaeological site is just a pile of stones…

      Reply
  • Bethanny Sudibyo

    06.06.2017

    Wow! This looks like an amazing experience! I've never took a tour like this, but I hope I can in the future. It would be awesome to learn more about Jerusalem. Thanks for letting me know such tours exist.

    Reply
  • Brianna

    08.06.2017

    As a Christian, I think a tour like this would be utterly fascinating! I'm looking forward to reading more about your trip in Israel!

    Reply
    • Elena Nemets

      08.06.2017

      I think any Christian should visit Jerusalem at least once – seeing Via Dolorosa or the Garden of Gethsemany in a real life is a mind-blowing experience.

      Reply
  • Nathan

    08.06.2017

    Wow! This looks amazing. I would love to visit. The kids splashing in the tunnel look like they're having so much fun. 

    Reply
  • Cristina Luisa

    10.06.2017

    What an excellent historical background of the "Old City" of Jerusalem. I never knew it was the city of David. And what fascinating relics! That old, make-shift toilet is better than many places I've gone! Lol. Israel has recently piqued my interest due to the vegan culture in Tel Aviv. After reading this well-written  and researched article, I'm sold! 

    Reply
    • Elena Nemets

      12.06.2017

      Thanks, Cristina! I live in Israel and think it is a terrific place to visit, both Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem!

      Reply
  • melody pittman

    10.06.2017

    Thanks so much for the indepth info on visiting Jerusalem. I know it will be in my future travels and this is very helpful. Amazing how old eveyrhting is… I cannot wait!

    Schedule

    Reply

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