“If I forget thee, o Jerusalem…”
So reads the famous psalm, but you might think that we had forgotten Jerusalem, given that here we were over three months into the course and yet to visit the country’s capital; holy city for three of the world’s largest religions; a place which apparently 3.5 billion people (I imagine the figure has been extrapolated from a statistically appropriate sample) would like to visit at least once in their lifetime.
Finally, however, the day was here, and it was with a certain amount of excitement that we ascended route 1 into the Judean mountains and entered the city limits. This is a city with so much historical and religious significance that I think around 13 of our 80 field trips will be spent here. It is certainly a place which we will have to become very familiar with in our future lives as tour guides. And here it all begins.
This excitement was supplemented by a certain amount of nostalgia as we began the day looking over the city from the Haas Promenade viewpoint in East Talpiot. Many years ago, I spent four months living next to this promenade in a place called Kiriat Moriah (I was excited to note that our guide even pointed it out!) while a participant on the Jewish Agency’s leadership training programme for youth leaders from the Diaspora. I have many fond memories of philosophical conversations shared on this promenade while gazing over the tranquil landscape of Jerusalem. Indeed, from this vantage point, the city is extremely calm, belying the many religious, political and economic tensions that are ever-present here.
With our guide’s assistance we surveyed the view before us and identified key points of interest; some we would visit today, many we would visit in the future.
From the promenade we journeyed to the limits of the Old City and circled the walls before descending into the City of David. This site (Ir David, in Hebrew) showcases the archaeological remains of the city of Jerusalem at the time of the First Temple, which mostly was outside what are now the Old City walls. The ruins are on a slope running down from the Temple Mount which was the ritual and probably also governmental centre.
Our guide had assured us that this would be the most complex field trip of the course and he fulfilled his promise by taking us through the historiography of the many archaeological digs on the site; with each new dig more was uncovered, shattering previous theories and establishing new ones.
After a short break with a rather cheesy but cute and certainly informative 3D film about the site we continued down past various sites of significance (and their historiography). We noted signs of the Babylonian destruction and heard the story of the discovery of around 50 bullae in one of the digs. These bullae are clay seals for documents; two of them contained names of senior officials mentioned in the book of Jeremiah. It was one of the most significant finds in the whole of the country; corroborating some of the biblical narrative.
We continued into a tunnel in the rock leading to an ancient reservoir watched over by a large guard tower. The current thinking is that these structures are from the pre-Judean rule over Jerusalem and were used to channel water from a nearby spring closer to the city where it could be protected and used for its inhabitants. We wandered through a further tunnel which was probably used to take the water to irrigate crops before heading out of the site. As this field trip was focused only on the First Temple period, we left some of the site for a return visit.
After a lunch stop in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City we continued our exploration of the First Temple period, stopping to see part of the large 7 metre wide ‘broad wall‘ that was built (according to the bible, by the King Hezekiah) to fortify the city against eastern imperial advances. It was at this time that the city walls expanded to include areas which are now the Jewish and Armenian quarters; prior to this archaeologists believe this area was inhabited by refugees from the northern Kingdom of Israel which had been laid waste by the Babylonians and indeed one can see remains of buildings which lie outside the wall.
We continued, entering a building which contains in its basement the unearthed remains of a gate tower from this northern wall; this was the cities most vulnerable point and indeed it seems that it may have been where the Babylonian’s made their eventual breach as Babylonian arrow heads were found in the excavations.
From this Israelite gate tower we popped across the street to the Ariel Centre which has a few small exhibits related to the First Temple period together with an engaging film giving an overall summary and a model envisaging what the city looked like in this early time. The visit to the centre takes about an hour, is guided by its in house team and I think provides a very good overview of the period, for those interested.
With the First Temple era now witnessed in the flesh (or rather, the stone), and delightfully summarised, we returned home, with many more visits to Jerusalem to look forward to in the future.