The remains of Jerusalem’s Western Wall—some 2,000 years old—yielded some incredible architectural discoveries in the 19th century. Recently, impressive new sections of the Wall Tunnels have been revealed, for display to the public, in an archeological excavation by the Jerusalem’s Western Wall Foundation and Israel Antiquities Authority.
Built around A.D. 20–30, the tunnels consist of two large elaborate chambers, connected by a central passage and fountain, which, it’s speculated, once served to welcome guests to the city—perhaps even important dignitaries—during the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
“This is without doubt one of the most magnificent public building from the Second Temple period that has ever been uncovered outside the Temple Mount walls in Jerusalem,” said Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolach, excavation director with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“Visitors to the site can now envisage the opulence of the place: the two side chambers served as ornate reception rooms and between them was a magnificent fountain with water gushing out from lead pipes incorporated in the midst of the Corinthian capitals protruding from the wall.”
The excavation uncovered the original wall’s massive stone slabs, and those which paved the ancient building. The researchers believe that these guest chambers once would have contained wooden reclining sofas, which were not preserved, and the rooms were also used for dining.
“Reclining dining rooms were common in the Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman worlds from the fifth century [B.C.] to the third–fourth centuries [A.D.],” said Dr. Weksler-Bdolach. “They are known in the archaeological record from private homes, palaces, temples, synagogue complexes and civilian compounds.”
The two elaborate chambers are identical and feature arched ceilings and a pillar. The fountain is adorned with pilasters (flat pillar-like structures adjoining a wall) crowned with Corinthian capitals. The site also contains a stepped “ritual bath”—which was installed during the late Second Temple period, along with other extensive changes, prior to the temple’s destruction. The “decorative style of the building is typical of opulent Second Temple-period architecture,” the Israel Antiquities Authority stated in a press release on July 8.
The tunnels were discovered and documented in the 19th century by Charles Warren, who was followed by various archaeologists in the 20th century.
The newly installed visitor’s route runs through the building, leading to the spacious compound at the base of Wilson’s Arch (a bridge leading to the Temple Mount), providing guests “a better understanding of the complex and important site known as the Western Wall Tunnels, while emphasizing the extent of this magnificent building,” stated Shachar Puni, an architect with the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Conservation Department.
He adds, “By making the route accessible and opening it to the public, visitors are introduced to one of the most fascinating and impressive sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.”