This Sukkot, if you can’t actually make a festival pilgrimage to Jerusalem, you can do so virtually, via the City of David website and educational videos that take you back to the time of King David and the First Temple Period and include the latest, stunning archeological discoveries in Jerusalem.
The Jewish Press recently spoke with Doron Spielman, an oleh from Detroit and vice president of the City of David Foundation, to find out what’s new in the ancient city.
The Jewish Press: First, what exactly is the City of David?
Spielman: Many people erroneously believe the Jerusalem of Biblical times was centered within the walls of the Old City. In fact, the seat of government and the palaces of King David and King Shlomo were located to the immediate south of the Temple Mount, opposite the Dung Gate, in the Kidron Valley. That area today is known as the City of David.
What’s the purpose of the City of David Foundation?
Since 1986, we’ve been working to uncover the ancient site of the City of David via archeological digs in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority. As excavations are completed, the area is opened to tourism to further deepen visitors’ understanding of Jerusalem’s monumental past.
In essence, we are endeavoring to bring the Bible to life. We are working to restore the fallen sukkah of David – meaning, the Kingdom of David. The first step in doing that is to make people recognize how glorious the dynasty of David was. When people visit the site, they are overwhelmed by the history and grandeur of Jewish life in Jerusalem in Biblical times.
Trekking through the ancient tunnels and standing beside the immense archeological discoveries is very often a life-changing experience. This awakening leads to a yearning that our former Jewish greatness be restored.
In Israel, people are familiar with the advertising for Ir David showing children happily splashing in a natural pool. Is that the ancient Shiloach Pool where water was drawn for the Simchat Beit HaSho’evah celebration when the Beit HaMikdash stood?
In ancient times, the Gichon Spring flowed into the Shiloach Pool. In later times, the Byzantines diverted the water and built another pool, directly next to the original pool, some 20 meters away. The pool in the photograph with the children is the Byzantine pool.
The Gichon Spring is the same as it was in the time of the Bible. It was Jerusalem’s main source of water and is mentioned many times in the Tanach. It was actually the site of King Shlomo’s coronation (I Kings 1:35, 45).
Ir David Foundation excavations led to the breathtaking restoration of the Hezekiah Tunnel and Warren’s Shaft, vital parts of the city’s ancient water system. We are currently in the process of restoring Pilgrimage Road, on which the waters of the Gichon Spring were carried to the Temple in the festive Sukkot-time water libation ceremony.
Digging through the rocky mountainside is a slow and careful undertaking, but hopefully it will be opened to the public in two to three years.
What is the latest archeological discovery?
At the beginning of September, we revealed the discovery of ornate column capitals from a royal mansion dating back to the times of the kings of Judah.
Experts agree that the beautiful capitals are the most impressive discovered to date. These stone artifacts are made of soft limestone, with decorative carvings, and among them are capitals of various sizes in the architectural style known as “Proto-Aeolian” – one of the most significant royal building features of the First Temple period and one of the visual symbols of the era.
The importance of this artistic motif as a symbol representing the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel inspired the Bank of Israel to choose it as the image that adorns the five-shekel coin of the State of Israel. Unlike the capitals, which were discovered preserved in excellent condition, the rest of the building was destroyed, probably in the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE or thereabouts.
Amazingly, there are still people who try to deny the connection of the Jewish people to ancient Jerusalem. Thank G-d, after a visit to Ir David and its surroundings, their ridiculous contentions are shattered.