Digging History

Ancient fortress discovery may solve one of Jerusalem's great archaeological mysteries

Remains of the citadel and tower (Photographic credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority).

Remains of the citadel and tower (Photographic credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority).

Archaeologists in Israel believe they have found the remains of an ancient Greek fortification used to control the Temple in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago.

The citadel was recently uncovered during archaeological excavations in a parking lot at the City of David, which is in the Jerusalem Walls National Park.

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The Greek fortifications, known as the Acra, were built during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes to control the city and monitor activity in the Temple. However, the Acra’s exact location has been one of Jerusalem’s great archaeological mysteries, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"It has been an open question in the archaeology of Jerusalem," Excavation Director Doron Ben-Ami told FoxNews.com. "For hundreds of years scholars, archaeologists and historians have been looking for the location of this Acra and many, many different locations have been suggested."

Now the parking lot has revealed its incredible secret. “This sensational discovery allows us for the first time to reconstruct the layout of the settlement in the city,” wrote excavation directors Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, in a statement released by the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The new archaeological finds indicate the establishment of a well-fortified stronghold that was constructed on the high bedrock cliff overlooking the steep slopes of the City of David hill.”

The stronghold, they added, controlled all means of approach to the Temple atop the Temple Mount, and cut the Temple off from the southern parts of the city.

Excavators now believe that they have exposed evidence of the Acra on Jerusalem’s City of David hill – a section of massive wall, a base of a tower and a glacis, or sloping defensive embankment, which is built of soil, stone and plaster.

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A host of artifacts, including lead sling shots, bronze arrowheads and ballista stones stamped with the trident symbolizing Antiochus IV Epiphanes have been discovered during the excavations. Other items include coins and wine jars, according to the excavation directors.

“The numerous coins ranging in date from the reign of Antiochus IV to that of Antiochus VII and the large number of wine jars (amphorae) that were imported from the Aegean region to Jerusalem, which were discovered at the site, provide evidence of the citadel’s chronology, as well as the non-Jewish identity of its inhabitants.”

The temple was liberated from Greek rule by the Hasmoneans in 164 B.C.

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