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