In a stunning discovery, archaeologists in Jerusalem have uncovered a new section of the Western Wall that has been hidden for 1,700 years.
Recent excavations at the holy site, which were announced Monday, revealed eight stone courses, or horizontal layers of stones, buried under 26 feet of earth. The completely preserved stone courses are constructed from massive stones and were discovered in Jerusalem’s Western Wall tunnels.
The Western Wall is part of an ancient retaining wall supporting the Temple Mount where the Jewish First and Second Temples once stood.
When experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority removed the soil, they were stunned to discover the remains of a theater-like structure that dates to the Roman period. The theater corresponds to historical records that describe a theater near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
The finds were made beneath Wilson’s Arch, a structure at the Northern end of the Western Wall plaza that was once part of a huge bridge leading to the Temple Mount.
“From a research perspective, this is a sensational find,” said site excavators Dr. Joe Uziel, Tehillah Lieberman and Dr. Avi Solomon, in a statement. “The discovery was a real surprise.”
When excavations began at the site, the archaeologists’ goal was to date Wilson’s Arch, but they uncovered much more. “We did not imagine that a window would open for us onto the mystery of Jerusalem’s lost theater,” the excavators added. “Like much of archaeological research, the expectation is that a certain thing will be found, but at the end of the process other findings, surprising and thought-provoking, are unearthed.”
The theater, which contained approximately 200 seats, may have been designed as what the Romans referred to as an “odeon” typically used for acoustic performances. Experts also believe that the structure may have been built for the city council of Roman Jerusalem.
Intriguingly, however, archaeologists believe that the theater was not actually used. This theory is supported by a staircase that was never hewn, which indicates that it was abandoned before being put to use. Archaeologists think that the theater may be one of a number of buildings in ancient Jerusalem that were left unfinished as a result of the Bar Kochba revolt by Jews against the Roman Empire in the second century A.D.
Other items discovered in the excavation beneath Wilson’s Arch include pottery and coins.
Experts are thrilled by the latest discovery. “This is indeed one of the most important findings in all my 30 years at the Western Wall Heritage Foundation,” said Western Wall Heritage Foundation Director Mordechai Eliav, in the statement. “The uncovering, for the first time after some 1,700 years, of these stones from lower courses of the Western Wall is very exciting,” he added.
“Time after time the amazing archaeological findings allow our generation to actually touch the ancient history of our people and Jewish heritage and its deep connection to Jerusalem,” noted Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy places “Each finding thrills me to new and powerful heights.”
The Temple Mount, which now houses the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is also one of the holiest sites in Islam.
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