Seeing the City of David
The first time I travelled to Israel was in 2005 on a tour with my church from Calvary Chapel York. I had anticipated coming to Israel all my life. When I was younger I wanted to study at the Hebrew University. Unfortunately, those plans never materialized. In 2000 my home church in the states planned a trip and Gloria and I were going, but the Intifada cancelled our plans. Needless to say, by 2005 (our next opportunity to go) I was chomping at the bit, and tops on my list was seeing the City of David. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that a tour of the City of David wasn’t even on our list of sites to see! Seeing the City of David would have to wait until my next visit in 2006. As evidenced by my first tour in 2005, the City of David has not always been considered a “must see” site. But things have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Archaeological excavations have continued to uncover dramatic finds, such as what some believe to be David’s palace (known as the “Large Stone Strucuture”), and the Canaanite tower that protected Jerusalem’s main water supply–the Gihon Spring.
On my recent visit (2015), I was impressed how seeing the City of David is becoming a more enjoyable and tourist-friendly experience. I was fortunate enough to visit Israel in 2005, twice in 2006 and again in 2007, 2008, and 2009. However, my current visit in February-March of 2015 was my first time back in 6 years. As everyone who is interested in Israel and the Bible knows, new discoveries are constantly being made. But one of the things that impresses me is how Israel continues to develop many of its sites, like the City of David, and make it a more informative and pleasant experience. This post is about the changes I have noticed between my earlier visits to the City of David, and my recent visit in 2015, as well as things you can expect to see and experience at the City of David.
Seeing the City of David: The Large Stone Structure
When I first visited the City of David in March 2006, Eilat Mazar was only a year into excavating what she, and others, now believe to be David’s palace. Today as you enter the City of David, you descend a few stairs to a platform that houses a ticket office, gift shop, bathrooms, and a small store. Underneath the platform are the results of Mazar’s excavation which can be accessed by a stairway that takes you down to the “Large Stone Structure.” Obviously, none of this was there when I first visited the City of David in 2006. Above is a photo I took of the excavation that was then in progress.
Today, not only can you descend the stairs to see the Large Stone Structure (which was also possible in some of my earlier trips), but there is a display of a few other significant findings. One of the most significant is an ornate Proto-Aeolic capital (The one at the site is a reproduction. The original is in the Israel Museum.). This capital was not found by Mazar, but by Kathleen Kenyon years earlier. However, it was one of the pieces of evidence that led Mazar to believe there was an Israelite palace in the area she ended up excavating. The result, of course, was the uncovering of the Large Stone Structure. Archaeologists are still debating whether this building dates to 1200 B.C. and, thus, to the Jebusite occupation, or to 1000 B.C. to the time of David. Either way it is clearly an old building and an important one.
Further confirmation of the significance of this building occurred with the discovery of two bullae that are from ministers in the court of King Zedekiah (the last King of Judah). Horovitz (City of David: The Story of Ancient Jerusalem) gives the following details: “The ‘Large Stone Structure’ remained standing until the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E., as proven by pottery from the sixth century B.C.E. discovered at the site. A surprising find amidst the structure’s large stones delineated the time-frame in which the structure was destroyed. This was a bulla, a clay seal impression used for sealing scrolled documents written on parchment or papyrus, belonging to a high-ranking minister of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah. The minister’s name was Jehucal the son of Shelemiah…” (p. 117). Jehucal is mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3. Another bulla was subsequently discovered with the name Gedaliahu the son of Pashhur, another individual in the court of Zedekiah who is also mentioned in the book of Jeremiah (Jer. 38:1).
Seeing the City of David: The Canaanite Tower
The newest, and most dramatically altered, area in the City of David since my last visit, is the presentation of the ancient Canaanite walls and tower that protected the Gihon Spring. Archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have been excavating this area (near the bottom of the eastern hill where the Gihon Spring bubbles to the surface) since 1995. Over the years, as I observed this excavation I was excited about what would be learned. The Gihon was the main water source of ancient Jerusalem, but it is situated in a difficult place for an ancient city. For the protection of the city, the walls had to be built higher up the slope, but this meant the Gihon was exposed. This is fine during peaceful times, but during times of siege, this was a great problem. Along with tunnels carved out of the rock, the Canaanites built a large tower that came out from the city walls and enclosed the Gihon. This tower is usually called the “Spring Tower,” or “Pool Tower.” The drawing in the upper right is one artist’s conception of what the Spring Tower may have looked like.
What impressed me the most on my recent visit was how the vicinity around the Spring Tower has been transformed into a tourist friendly, and more informative area, than in my past visits. There are now two movies that run offering explanations of the area in Canaanite times and later, as well as offering visuals of what the Tower would have looked like.
For more information on the Spring Tower, or Pool Tower as it is also known. Click on the following link: https://lukechandler.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/15-year-excavation-completed-at-jerusalem-gihon-spring-video/ Also, see the video link at the bottom of this article.
Seeing the City of David: Other Attractions
Of course a must on anyone’s list when seeing the City of David is Hezekiah’s tunnel. Hezekiah’s tunnel is the next stop after the Canaanite Tower. Exiting the tunnel brings one out at the steps of the ancient Pool of Siloam (John 9:7). One of the other new attractions that was not available on my last trip in 2009 is the tunnel that can be followed underneath the City of David, leading one all the way up to the base of the Temple Mount. There are actually two tunnels. The entrance to both is just outside Hezekiah’s tunnel. One tunnel shows the ancient street that existed in the time of Jesus that led from the Siloam Pool all the way to the Temple Mount. However, only a small portion of this street has been excavated. If you want to go all the way to the Temple Mount, you must enter the second tunnel which is actually a drainage system that goes underneath the ancient street. Our guide jokingly referred to it as the “sewer tour,” which is, in fact, what its purpose was in the 1st century.
Besides exiting through Hezekiah’s tunnel, one can also opt to take the “dry” tunnel (which is an ancient Canaanite tunnel–I know, yet another tunnel!). The exit from the Canaanite tunnel actually brings you out in the middle of the ancient city near some of the ancient walls on the eastern slope of Jerusalem. A little further down the slope you can see the remains of what is believed to be the tombs of the Judean kings. One is even speculated to be King David’s tomb.
If you’ve never been to the City of David, hopefully this brief post will whet your appetite for seeing its many interesting discoveries. If you’ve been to the City of David, but it has been a few years, I think you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was about the continuing progress being made regarding both new discoveries and the tourist-friendly environment.
(For those who would like more information on the City of David, I have included a few links below that I have found helpful.)
Here is a brief video introducing the City of David: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KShWyvHYyvM
To watch a short video on the excavation of the ancient Canaanite Fortress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDRDjOxFSuc
Link to the City of David: http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/en/tours/city-david/city-david-tours-biblical-jerusalem