Old City Odds ‘n Ends 2011-2012 — PHOTOS & UPDATES

In this installment, a mixed bag of assorted curiosities: the odd hole in the ground and other things noticed in passing, out and about around the Old City. No headline stuff here, but hopefully a few things of interest…

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Hezekiah’s Pool, follow-up report:

For background, see my previous reports on recent work at the site in June and August 2011. The impressive clean-up effort, which went down and exposed the floor of the pool, was supposed to be coupled with a drainage project to prevent the place from returning to its former state as an eyesore and health hazard. In November, after our first respectable rain in Jerusalem, I got curious and went to have a look: The photo below shows the southern end of the pool once again filling with rainwater, A corrugated plastic conduit was in evidence; I presume its intended function was for pumping water out, but it looked as if it had come loose from its moorings and floated free. Anyway, it was not getting the job done.

Southern end of Hezekiah’s Pool, Nov. 2011, looking southeast.

One by-product of the rain, however, was to further clear the floor of dust, providing a better look at the surface. The photo below shows a section of the pool’s floor near the western edge. It’s clearly a pavement of small, flat stones set in a matrix of reddish looking plaster. Any guesses as to the age of this floor? Does anyone know, from written sources, when the pool was last used as a public water source?

Exposed floor of Hezekiah’s Pool, Nov. 2011

On January 1st I was back for a look (but without my camera). This was after our second serious rainfall of the season, over Christmas weekend, and the pool was a bit fuller. On this occasion I observed a lone workman in waders mucking about (literally) in the stagnant water in the southern end. I don’t know what his specific objective was, but, again, if they intend to pump the pool, they ought to get on with it!

Hezekiah’s Pool, looking SE. MARCH 2012.

UPDATE:  By March 2012 (above photo), the lake had grown considerably. I checked in June and it was dry.

UPDATE / October 2012:  See HERE for a more recent post — a surprising new development…

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Repairs at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

The southernmost of the two canopies (top), viewed from the parvis, SEP-2011

Visitors to the Old City these days may notice two large, white, tent-like canopy structures covering the buildings on the east side of the entrance courtyard (parvis), and over the adjacent roof areas to the north. This is not exactly news, since I first noticed this installation last Easter! At first I thought this covering must be connected to this story from three years ago about the precarious condition of the Ethiopian monastery on the church’s roof and of all its associated chapels. (I subsequently learned, from someone who would know, that story was greatly overblown — much ado about nothing: the issue seems to have been the state of the monk’s rather primitive plastered huts which, needless to say, are not “up to code”.) That’s not what th e canopy is about, though.

The two canopies viewed from the SW, JUL 2011. The northernmost canopy stands at a higher level, covering a separate roof area

Fr. Alexander

To get the actual story on this, I consulted my friend Fr. Alexander, an Orthodox monk who lives on the Mount of Olives and frequents the library of the Ecole Biblique, where I live and work. Digging into this, I was reminded that there is always — always — something new to learn about the Holy Sepulchre complex! It seems there is a small roof-top chapel up there belonging to the Greek Orthodox which is being completely rebuilt, known as the Chapel of St. Abraham. But, its a chapel no one ever sees — and no one would ever guess was there! To give me a glimpse of it, Fr. Alexander took me through the labyrinthine Greek Patriarchate compound and up to the roof of the church structures on the west side of the parvis, near the bell-tower (the Greeks in fact control most of the church’s roof areas). Looking across to the east, the low-vaulted roof of this obscure chapel is visible on the other side:

The chapel viewed from the west, across the parvis

The chapel is dedicated to, yes, that Abraham, the progenitor and patriarch of the Book of Genesis. Father Alexander says it has only one fixed, liturgical function: it is the site of a special mass for the Feast of the Twelve Apostles, to whom one of the altars inside would be dedicated; the annual feast falls in June/July. Jerusalem being Jerusalem, it should not be surprising that nearby is yet another chapel, this one dedicated to Melchizedek, the “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High” whom Abraham encounters and receives a blessing from in Gen. 14.

The eastern (upper) roof areas of the church, looking west. Building materials were being stockpiled on the roof deck (AUG 2011)

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Solomon’s Quarries: something’s going on in there…

Put up a tall screening fence and some people (like me!) will just naturally try to find a way to peek through it — or over it! And, start digging a hole in the bedrock beneath Jerusalem’s Old City wall, and you’ve definitely got my attention! Several weeks ago I first noticed this fenced-off area along the northern wall of the Old City. Someone had obligingly pried apart two of the sheet-metal panels, revealing a considerable passage being opened through the bedrock beneath the city wall. The location is east of Damascus Gate and about 250 feet east of the entrance to Solomon’s Quarries. Later, I came back with my camera to record the scene:

Construction of an eastern, emergency exit from Solomon’s Quarries. DEC 2011

There, in an angle of the city wall (and the underlying rock scarp), a pre-existing opening (marked by a now-defunct metal frame) was being extended downward. Moreover, markings spray-painted on the scarp suggested that a sizeable cut was to be made in the bedrock, to further enlarge this passage. I realized that all this must connect with one of the eastern  rooms of the Solomon’s Quarries complex, as indeed it does. This was confirmed by the attendant at the SQ entrance kiosk, who said an “emergency exit” was being constructed.

This map was created by Fr. Vincent of the Ecole Biblique in the early 20th century. Markup shows the present entrance and the area of the new work.

Solomon’s Quarries aka Zedekiah’s Cave

For those who may not be familiar with this place, Solomon’s Quarries, aka Zedekiah’s Cave, is an impresive series of interconnected galleries cut out of the bedrock and stretching over 650 feet beneath the Old City. Both of the common names are traditional: “Zedekiah’s Cave”, the name used by Jews, reflects an old legend — but seen already in the Talmud — about the escape of the last king of Judah from Jerusalem, fleeing the Babylonians. “Solomon’s Quarries” is a bit more accurate — they are in fact quarries, but mostly, or perhaps entirely, from the Roman period. Rediscovered in modern times by James Barclay in the 1850s, the Quarries have been repeatedly opened to visitors and then closed again over the years. Since about 2007 they have been consistently open, under the management of the East Jerusalem Development Corp., a joint, government-owned entity of the Jerusalem municipality and the State of Israel.

A few days after the above-mentioned discovery, I noticed workmen in a different location removing the blocking from the edge of the Quarries’ original, ancient opening. This got my attention, of course, but — again I was without my camera (I know, I should just splurge and get a camera-phone.) When I returned the next day, they had done what they were after, the insertion of a large conduit for the passage of cables and probably other connections. (By the way, restroom facilities have already been installed inside, near the existing entrance.) What I saw was this:

Facade of Solomon’s Quarries. At right, the modern entrance. Red line: the original, ancient opening.

The present-day visitors’ entrance is the green-gated opening at right. Also, I have traced in red the outline of the original opening which has been mostly blocked for many centuries. Many visitors would not realize how wide the ancient opening was, nor how tall — the original bedrock floor lies many, many meters below today’s ground level. One more picture: Three days ago, at twilight, I was passing and noticed light emanating from the new access: I could just make out, inside, the lines of a built structure; the kiosk man said it was a stairway being constructed at the new exit. We’ll see…

New construction inside Solomon’s Quarries, JAN 2012

Taken together, these changes suggest a push by the site’s operators to increase the number of visitors, and, I suspect, Jewish visitors in particular. For one thing, in addition to being a tourist destination (although under-visited), in recent years the place has become more and more popular as a venue for local, private (read: Jewish*) events. However, neither Israel’s Jewish populace nor Jewish visitors to the country typically walk in, or into — even a little bit — Arab East Jerusalem. (Other tour/pilgrim groups do, no problem.) Therefore, one other major addition, just completed, is quite telling: There is now, just off the main street (Sultan Suleiman St.) a brand-new, controlled drop-off/ parking/ pick-up area for tour buses, complete with an electric gate, tire-spikes, and retractable “Swiss border-posts”, (as I call them). The area is exclusively for the use of groups of visitors to the Quarries, since the barriers are controlled remotely from the SQ entrance kiosk (I was curious, and asked). This is simply not the kind of infrastructure applied to purely touristic sites. [*NOTE: A friend has taken me to task for the above “Jewish” comment. All I know is what my “radar” tells me. If anyone can document to me that the space is being rented out for events to members of the Arab community — even once, I will gladly amend my interpretation. And, see below…]

The deed is done: The bedrock has been cut away to enlarge the opening and a tunnel of heavy steel I-beams starts to take shape. MARCH 2012.

UPDATE: In their April 2012 newsletter, the Emek Shaveh organization mentions the on-going development work at “Zedekiah’s Cave”, which they characterize as

one of the main sites in the old city that the authorities have targeted for development. … The Antiquities Authority has recently approved the excavation of an artificial entrance to serve as an emergency exit – a requirement for turning the cave into a banquet hall. The Jerusalem Development Authority is investing an enormous effort to promote tourism in the northern part of the Old City, and Zedekiah’s cave is a central site for realizing that goal. The cave is located at a spot that is rarely visited by Israelis, but which is known as a business and residential center for the city’s Palestinian residents. The best way to preserve the cave and the local fabric of life would be to avoid holding events at the site and definitely to refrain from carving new entrances. But the Antiquities Authority has not opposed the new use and has even backed the project. Zedekiah’s Cave, like other archeological sites in Silwan and the Old City, is viewed as an asset for reinforcing Israeli control of Jerusalem at the expense of the needs of the residents, while also damaging archeological treasures.

Solomon's Quarries. The completed exit, NOV 2012

Solomon’s Quarries. The completed exit, NOV 2012

The newly completed exit, NOV 2012

The newly completed exit, NOV 2012

UPDATE / November 2012:  The following two articles (and summary tags) appeared side-by-side in the Haaretz print edition, 11 Nov. 2012: (1) “Ultra-right party goes underground – to convene in Old City cave [Solomon’s Quarries]” : Around 100 members attend convention of splinter party whose platform asserts that Jordan is the Palestinian state. AND (2) Mahmoud’ can’t get table at an Israeli eatery, but ‘Tamir’ canA popular restaurant in Rishon Letzion has been accused of racism after an Arab couple claimed they could only make a reservation using Jewish names. These articles, either separately or taken together, don’t prove anything, of course. Still, I can’t help thinking they provide some kind of window into how things work in this country. You decide…

* * *

Another recommended resource:  It’s encouraging that other folks are constantly monitoring some of these issues. The people at Emek Shaveh are always issuing reports and e-books on the problematic excavation and development sites in and around the Old City.

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Picture Quiz:

The following picture was taken just outside the entrance to Solomon’s Quarries. The question is: What (in Jerusalem’s ancient architectural history) does this remind you of?

PICTURE QUIZ: What does it remind you of?

* * *

Not exactly New Years resolutions, these are a few posts I hope to tackle in coming months, as time allows. So, stay tuned…

The Disappearing Dome of the Rock

A visit to ancient Gibeon (el-Jib)

Digging beneath ‘Jerusalem’s Oldest Church’ (hint: It’s much older than we thought, and not originally a church)

The necessary nuances of history: A Guiding Moment

Beneath Jerusalem’s Redeemer Church: Archaeological finds to be opened to visitors

Light in the depths of the Holy Sepulcher: A Reflection

Do Owls Bring Bad Luck? An ancient legend comes home to roost in modern Israel

Jerusalem’s Ramadan Cannon: the rest of the story

and more…

This entry was posted in Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Hezekiah's Pool, Israel-Palestine Scene, Jerusalem Antiquities and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Old City Odds ‘n Ends 2011-2012 — PHOTOS & UPDATES

  1. Urban von Wahlde says:

    Absolutely fascinating! Great Stuff, Tom! Thank you for posting all these items.

  2. Joe A. says:

    I’ll take a guess at the picture:

    1) the fallen stones from the Temple Mount on the Herodian street at the southwest corner; or, more specifically
    2) the one of those same stones that fell into the drainage canal discovered by Warren and recently opened to tourists.

    Fantastic article all around, Tom!

    Joe A.

    • Tom Powers says:


      Joe, hi! YES, that’s exactly what I had in mind! Obviously, you’ve been doing your homework! About the original stones (there are two like this, wedged in the drain channel): What I did not realize myself until recently is that they came down NOT in the DEstruction of the Temple Mount in 70 AD, but in its CONstruction — specifically the building of Robinson’s Arch, which was directly overhead. They in fact are special, wedge-shaped stones called in architecture “voissoirs”. The scenario: The arch and drain were both under construction at the same time; the stones slipped out of place or otherwise got loose (expletive deleted!), fell, and wedged in the still-open, rock-hewn bottom part of the channel; they were then incorporated INTO the vaulting OVER the channel, and that construction was finally covered with a couple of meters of earthen fill and wound up beneath the Herodian street, out of sight. In short: evidence of a construction accident 2,000 years ago! That’s what the archaeologists have pieced together.

      Anyway, I saw this scene in passing and it just “clicked”, visually. Workers set the stone up there to get it out of the way, I guess, since it’s now on the ground. One face is inscribed with the names of donors to the “national park” around the city walls. (Interestingly, the block is designed to sit at an angle like that, on one of its edges.)

  3. Al Sandalow says:

    >Beneath Jerusalem’s Redeemer Church

    OK, I want to hear about this.

  4. Tom Powers says:

    RE: Chapel of Abraham @ CHS: This came in from a reader by e-mail, with implied consent to post as a comment. It is very interesting (including the link given), and information which I did not have. (BTW, all comments are vetted (by me) before being posted, so do not hesitate to throw in your ‘two cents’ worth!)

    “Dear Tom, thank you for your enlightening blog on the web which I follow and enjoy regularly, having lived and studied in Jerusalem from 2003-2009 and now being back in Germany…

    I enjoyed reading your recent post on the Chapels of Abraham and Melchisedek. And I wondered why you did no mention a small detail that might be especially interesting for your protestant readers:

    Actually, the “Chapel of Abraham” ist the only Chapel within the Holy Sepulchre compound that might rightfully be used for purposes of worship by protestants, i.e. anglicans. The right to do so was granted to the Anglican church in 1885, and the chapel is still being used by them from time to time.

    I had the joy of being part of such a service led by an anglican clergyman from Jerusalem during my stay in Jerusalem some years ago and was able to take some pictures of the beautiful (however not very ancient) paintings within the chapel (the Binding of Isaac, Abrahams encounter with Melchizede and others)…

    You can find some more information on the history and special status of the chapel of Abraham on the web via Google. One that describes some details of the chapel can be found here: http://gospel-anglican.blogspot.com/2008/12/abrahams-way-to-catholic-church.html

    Maybe you would like to add some of that information to your post – unless you had good reasons not to, which is why I decided to ask you via mail and not via a comment on your web page…

    Thank you again for your great work!

    Dr. Guido Baltes

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