The top five ancient landmarks in JerusalemIn a region known for being one of the first in which early humans settled after leaving Africa, and in a city populated continuously since before the advent of written history, antiquity can be a tricky concept to pin down.
In a region known for being one of the first in which early humans settled after leaving Africa, and in a city populated continuously since before the advent of written history, antiquity can be a tricky concept to pin down. Jerusalem's most postcard-worthy landmarks, despite their venerable air, are hardly the oldest things in the city: the Second Temple's remaining Western Wall has stood for a respectable 2000 years, the Dome of the Rock 1400, and the walls of the Old City are practically upstarts at a relatively paltry 400-odd years of age. Jerusalem has been peopled for far longer than that, and even the very earliest generations of Jerusalemites left traces of themselves behind. For everything that's old, beside it or beneath it is something that's truly ancient.
So where can budding antiquarians find these Chalcolithic, Paleolithic and otherwise ancient Jerusalem relics that make the Western Wall seem new? Read on.
The Broad Wall
For the traveler who knows their Bible, the Broad Wall is a special thrill. The excavated remnants of a massive fortress wall that once enclosed the entire city, the Broad Wall is a relic of the reign of First Temple-era Judean King Hezekiah, who wisely fortified Jerusalem after seeing the destruction wreaked by the Assyrians on the northern kingdom of Israel.
The wall is a rare physical corroboration of a Biblical account: Isaiah, historical fuss par excellence, devotes a few choice words in his eponymous Biblical tome to lambasting Hezekiah's construction of the wall (to be fair, the king did apparently use stone from destroyed citizens' houses during the construction, the remains of which can be seen at the wall's base, even today, in the Jewish Quarter).
City of David
What's now called "the Old City" would, 2500 years ago, have been called "the New City" - and in the time of King David, it would have been called "that grassy area over on the next hill." Jerusalem's true Old City is the archaeological site now known as the City of David.
Nothing has actually been found that definitively ties the site to the Davidic monarchy, but the Ophel ridge just outside the Old City's walls is incontrovertibly the site of the original fortified settlement of Jerusalem that the Israelites captured from the Jebusites. Naturally, the history goes even deeper: finds in the City of David have been dated all the way back to the Chalcolithic period.
A bucolic kibbutz on the outskirts of town today known mostly as a great spot for a wedding, or for a panoramic jacuzzi, Ramat Rachel also sits atop one of the richer troves of Biblical-era artifacts in Jerusalem.
Excavations have been ongoing for decades, with many impressive (and enigmatic) discoveries made - some of which can be viewed in the kibbutz's lovely gardens.
The name says it all: Bible Hill. Though this hilltop near Emek Refaim is fairly explicitly referenced in the Bible (thus the name), its charms are more botanical than historical: as one of the few patches of undeveloped land in urban Jerusalem, the slopes of the hill are carpeted in a dense profusion of wildflowers during the spring and fall.
And the view, which affords a panorama of the entire city and the still Biblical-seeming countryside beyond, is not to be missed.
Paleolithic excavations in the German Colony
The first humanoid residents of Jerusalem were not even homo sapiens. Rather, the people who eked out a living nearly one million years ago along what is now trendy Emek Refaim Street were homo erectus, the first homo genus to leave Africa and (possibly) the first to control fire.
Homo erectus Jerusalemites may not have left behind a rich corpus of written work like their eventual descendants - indeed, it's not even known whether the species had developed a true language - but they did leave behind a whole lot of their tools. Which they used to hunt elephants. Yes, things have changed a bit in the Holy City over the years.
Several tours of ancient and otherwise old Jerusalem landmarks can be booked directly from GoJerusalem.com, including the Jerusalem Experience Customized Tour, the Classic Old City Half Day Tour, the Sandemans Holy City Tour, the Jerusalem Jewish Heritage Tour and the Luxury Private Car Jerusalem Tour.
Special thanks to Joel Haber aka Fun Joel, Israel Tour Guide in training for his help in the production of this article.
Broad Wall image courtesy of Ian W Scott from Flickr under a Creative Commons license. Givat HaTanakh image courtesy of zeevveez from Flickr under a Creative Commons license. Ramat Rachel image courtesy of Avishai Teicher via the PikiWiki - Israel free image collection project. German Colony dig image courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
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