You won’t believe what’s hidden under Jerusalem. A fascinating millennia-old subterranean world of tunnels, caves, aqueducts, plazas, and even a church are exciting evidence from an iota of the city of eternity’s history. Come on a tour through the depths of the earth, under 21st century Jerusalem
Many cities in the world boast mysterious and interesting subterranean complexes that attract adventure seekers and history buffs. Jerusalem, being an ancient city, has also been blessed with an abundance of subterranean sites, some better known than others.
The Entrance to the Warren Shaft System
Jerusalem’s subterranean world is comprised of two types of sites: those that were quarried or intentionally built underground, and others that used to be at ground level but are now deep under the modern city due to the repeated ruin and destruction throughout history that the city endured. This article offers an in-depth tour, pun intended, of worlds hidden deep under the surface of modern-day Jerusalem.
The ancient water system in the City of David: This is a hidden and sheltered subterranean water system under the holy city of Jerusalem, within the City of David National Park. This monumental system, excavated about 3,800 years ago by the Canaanites-Jebusites residing in Jerusalem, was used to connect the fortressed city with the Gihon Spring, which was the only source of water available around Jerusalem.
One thousand years later, at the height of the Kingdom of Judah’s Israelite Period, King Hezekiah’s laborers dug a 582-yard long tunnel that channeled the Gihon Spring waters to the Pool of Siloam, which was built within the walls in the ancient city’s central ravine. You can now visit the entire water system and enjoy a unique experience – walking through flowing water, in Hezekiah’s Tunnel, by flashlight.
Following in the steps of the Second Temple Period pilgrims: After the Israelite Period, in the time of the Second Temple, Jerusalem grew a great deal, and according to historical sources, it became one of the most resplendent cities in the ancient world.
Thousands of pilgrims flocked to Jerusalem on holy days, the Second Temple as their destination. An exciting subterranean path connecting the Pool of Siloam with the Western Wall, at the foot of the Temple Mount, was recently exposed in Jerusalem. You can now walk through the Jerusalem of the Second Temple era on a 765-yard long underground path – from the Pool of Siloam in the southern City of David to the Davidson Center Archeological Park and to the Western Wall plaza. See up close the city’s prestige and grandeur during King Herod’s reign in the Roman period, about 2,000 years ago.
Facing the Holy of Holies in the Western Wall Tunnel
The Western Wall Tunnels: A remarkable and awe-inspiring subterranean world that also belongs to the Second Temple era has recently been revealed to visitors, in the northern corner of the Western Wall plaza, under the houses of the Moslem Quarter. Years of destruction and construction next to the Temple Mount buried the city deep beneath the present. Subterranean guided tours will take you along the length of the Western Wall, but including the underneathunderground part of it. The several hundred yard long path exits onto the Via Dolorosa, and will introduce visitors to an ancient and magnificent world of palatial construction, coupled with engaging explanations about the customs of ancient Jerusalem residents and the city’s character during the days of the Second Temple.
Hasmonean Aqueduct Tunnel on the ridge of Armon Hanatziv (Government Governor House): An unforgettable subterranean adventure. During Jerusalem’s heyday, it required a lot of water, which could not be found in the city. To meet this vital need, aqueducts were built to channel water to Jerusalem from large natural springs south of the city, around Bethlehem.
The lower aqueduct, which led water to the Temple Mount, crossed the highest ridge of Armon Hanatziv through an excavated 437-yard long tunnel. You can tour the entire length of the excavated tunnel by flashlight and be dazzled by the superb construction quality and the original plaster that has survived here for more than 2,000 years.
The Hasmonean Aqueduct in Armon Hanatziv
Zedekiah’s Cave (also known as Solomon’s Quarries): A small and unassuming opening can be found at the northern part of the Old City, next to Nablus Gate, and whoever enters it is surprised to find themselves in an enormous cave, more than 2.2 acres large.
Some of the most important Jerusalem researchers searched for this mysterious and picturesque place, until it was accidentally discovered in 1854 by Dr. James Turner Barclay, who went looking for his lost dog. The gigantic cave sparked the imagination of researchers, and it was quickly named Zedekiah’s Cave, since it is associated with the tragic story of King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.
Accoridng to tradition, the king tried to escape the Babylonian conquerors through the tunnel, but they caught him as he emerged from the cave, blinded him, and led him to Babylon, where he was imprisoned for life. But the truth is that the cave is actually a huge quarry for Jerusalem building stones, which masons used throughout most of the city’s historical periods. Captain Charles Warren, Jerusalem’s famous archeologist, conducted the founding gathering of the Freemasons movement in the Holy Land in this cave, in 1868. Additional areas and galleries totaling an area of almost 1.2 acres were recently discovered inside the cave.
: 0n the northern end of the Via Dolorosa, near the first station, lies the Ecce Homo Convent of the Sisters of Zion. The modest opening, visible from the side of the street, does not allude to the rich subterranean world that lies beneath.
Through the small convent, you enter an ancient Roman Jerusalem site from the second century C.E. The path crosses the large Roman floor tiles (a style called Lithostrotos, meaning “pavement”) and along ancient water pools, one of which is the Strouthion Pool, found in the northern area of the Western Wall Tunnels, right next to the street exit. To wrap up a fascinating tour of life during the Roman Period in Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem’s Roman name) don’t miss the impressive Roman Square under Nablus Gate.
Mary’s Tomb at the Church of the Assumption: Located in the Kidron Valley, next to Gethsemane, lies one of the oldest, most beautiful and impeccable churches in Jerusalem. This Crusader church, which according to Christian tradition is where St. Mary, Mother of Jesus, is buried.
The church is resplendently built from Jerusalem stone and lies in its full glory in the ancient level of the Kidron Stream, found deep under modern-day street level. To reach the church’s outdoor plaza, you need to go down a large stairwell, from which a dim and mysterious stairwell descends into the belly of the earth – to Mary’s Tomb and to the dark galleries infused with the fragrance of frankincense.
This does not conclude Jerusalem’s subterranean wonders. Other great destinations include Nicanor Cave, an ancient cave in the botanical garden at Mount Scopus, the Well of Souls, a natural cave located under the Foundation Stone inside the Dome of the Rock at the top of the Temple Mount, the Burnt House and Herodian Quarter under the Jewish Quarter, and more. See these sites during an extended and leisurely visit to Jerusalem.