City of David

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David. (2 Samuel 5:6-7)

Today, the City of David referred to in the biblical text is an archaeological site and national park that is a must-see for any visitor to Jerusalem. It lies along the spine of a narrow ridge just south of the Temple Mount, a short walk from the Western Wall through the Dung Gate.

The City of David (circled) in a scale model of ancient Jerusalem. It stood alone on that ridge during David's time. His palace, yet to be excavated, is at the north end of the city. Solomon extended the walls north of the palace and built the First Temple atop Mount Moriah, known since as the Temple Mount.

The City of David (circled) in a scale model of ancient Jerusalem. It stood alone on that ridge during David’s time. His palace, yet to be excavated, is at the north end of the city. Solomon extended the walls north of the palace and built the First Temple atop Mount Moriah, known since as the Temple Mount.

The site appears to have been permanently settled by Canaanites as early as the 3rd millennium BCE. The 3,800 year old Spring Citadel is a Canaanite fortress built outside the eastern wall to protect the Gihon Spring, the city’s main source of water. This is the largest known Canaanite fortress in Israel, with walls 23 feet thick surrounding the spring. It is believed to be the “fortress of Zion” taken by David to conquer the city in 1004 BCE. It was only discovered in 1995 and opened to the public in 2014 after 17 years of excavation.

King David made the city his capital and proceeded to unite the people of Israel for the first time. David’s son King Solomon extended the city to include the Temple Mount and built the First Temple there.

City of David archaeological park, Jerusalem - This is how it looks today, more or less, excavations are on-going.

City of David archaeological park, Jerusalem – This is how it looks today, more or less, excavations are on-going.

Begin the tour of the City of David at the visitor center, where you can view a 16-minute, 3-D film showing the city as it looked in its prime. Then, if you’re not claustrophobic, explore the tunnels of the city.

There’s the Canaanite tunnel, which most archaeologists date to the 18th century BCE, around the same time the Spring Fortress and other fortifications were built.

Warren’s Shaft, discovered in the 19th century by Sir Charles Warren, is a 40-foot vertical piece of the Canaanite water system that may have been used by David’s army to enter the city.

Hezekiah’s tunnel, also known as the Tunnel of Siloam or Shiloh, is a later addition
built in the early 8th century BCE on the orders of King Hezekiah. Its purpose was to join the Gihon Spring to the city, so it would have an internal water source during the Assyrian siege.

Water still runs through this tunnel today, about 2 feet deep. If you don’t mind wading, it’s a fascinating walk. So sophisticated were their calculations, diggers started on either end and met within millimeters of each other in the middle. You can still see in the tunnel where they marked the meeting point. The tunnel connects the Gihon Spring, which lies outside the city walls, to the Siloam Pool inside the walls. In the winter, we usually bypass this tunnel because the water is quite cold and can be too deep.

wading through Hezekiah's Tunnel - cityofdavid.org.il

wading through Hezekiah’s Tunnel – cityofdavid.org.il

Yet another tunnel, newly opened, the Pilgrim’s Tunnel leads from the City of David to the Davidson Center, which is just south of the Western Wall Plaza. This tunnel was dug during the Herodian Period in the 1st century BCE as a drainage channel to capture water flowing off the surrounding mountains. Water was directed away from the grand Herodian Road, which formed the ceiling of the tunnel, and into the Siloam Pool. Pilgrims from all over Israel would stop at the pool to cleanse themselves before walking the Herodian Road up to the Temple (by now, the 2nd Temple). The Herodian Road is under excavation but visitors today can walk the same route under ground through the tunnel.

The City of David is not a large area but touring the site involves quite a lot of stairs up and down and tunnels require some ducking in places.

There is a parking lot on-site.

Jerusalem Underground – Western Wall Tunnels

Western Wall Prayer Plaza, Jerusalem

As the ancient remains closest in proximity to the last temple, the Western Wall in Jerusalem is the most important holy site for Jews. It’s the western retaining wall to the Temple Mount, upon which the Temple once stood. The temple itself was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

The Western Wall is generally known as the 200-foot long expanse presiding over the open-air Prayer Plaza. But another 1050 feet of wall extends to the north of the plaza beneath streets and buildings in the Muslim Quarter. Excavation of the area began in the mid-19th century but was limited by Ottoman rulers. Excavation started up again in earnest after Israel took control of the Old City in 1967 and continues still today.

Tunnel tours explore the buried section of the Wall, as well as original steps that lead from the city level up to the Temple Mount, Roman streets, 2nd-Temple era dwellings and ancient cisterns. A section of wall within the tunnels known as Opposite Foundation Stone is especially sacred. It is traditionally held to be the point closest to the heart of the Temple, the Holy of Holies. 

In this illustration of the Temple Mount before the Temple was destroyed, the modern prayer plaza lies between the two arches and the tunnel follows the buried section of the wall to the north of the far arch.

Tunnel tours begin on the north side of the Western Wall Plaza and end near the 1st Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa.

Accessible Jerusalem – 5 Wheelchair-friendly Routes in the Old City

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem, Israel

Occasionally we get a call in the office for special needs travel, most often to Israel. This is not an area of expertise for us; there are companies and organizations out there that specialize in tours for travelers with disabilities. We can, however pass on information about the recent and ongoing work done in Israel to make more and more sites accessible to travelers with mobility, vision and hearing challenges.

Much of the Old City of Jerusalem is accessible by wheelchair by a specially developed wheelchair friendly route. In general, the Old City has a lot of slopes and stairs but with the proper map, these can mostly be avoided and a full experience of the Old City can be had. The Israel Ministry of Tourism has published a brochure detailing five different accessible tours in the Old City:

Tower of David, Jerusalem Citadel

Tower of David, Jerusalem Citadel

Tomb of David, Jerusalem, Israel

Tomb of David, Jerusalem, Israel

1. From Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate – This tour enters at the Jaffa Gate, proceeds to the Citadel and David’s Tower, which houses the Museum of the History of Jerusalem. From the museum, proceed to Christ Church and on to the Armenian Quarter and exit at Zion Gate. Outside the gate, visit David’s Tomb and the 19th-century Dormition Abbey. You get a good taste of the historical scope and diversity of Jerusalem on this tour; and the museum visit provides context for the city’s complex timeline.

Cardo Mural, Jerusalem Old City, Israel

Cardo Mural, Jerusalem Old City, Israel

2. The Jewish Quarter – This tour begins at the Zion Gate and ends at the Jewish Quarter Defenders Memorial. The Jewish Quarter was developed as such beginning in the 14th century and throughout the 400 years of Ottoman rule. Sites on this route include Hurva Square and Hurva Synagogue, a modern structure built on the site of previously destroyed synagogues; the 13th-century Ramban Synagogue; the Roman Cardo; the excavated remains of the Broad Wall, built 2700 years ago to defend against Assyrian invasion; the Ariel Center for Jerusalem in the First Temple Period, with exhibits on biblical Jerusalem; and the Burnt House, remains of a house destroyed by the Romans, along with the entire city, in 70CE.

Western Wall Plaza, Jerusalem Old City, Israel

Western Wall Plaza, Jerusalem Old City, Israel

3. Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period – From the Western Wall Plaza to the Davidson Center Archaeological Park, this tour explores remains around the Temple Mount – the Western Wall, the western support wall of the 2nd Temple, all that remains of the Temple after the Roman destruction, the holiest site in Judaism; Western Wall Tunnels, underground water cisterns and storage spaces from which you can see the massive foundation stones of the Western Wall; Davidson Center Archaeological Park, with remains going back to the 1st Temple period.

Dome of the Rock, Haram al Sharif, Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock, Haram al Sharif, Jerusalem

Al Aqsa Mosque, Haram al Sharif, Jerusalem

Al Aqsa Mosque, Haram al Sharif, Jerusalem

4. The Temple Mount Compound – Starting at the Dung Gate, this tour proceeds across the Western Wall Plaza up to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount Plaza was built by Herod in the 1st century BCE as part of his expansion of the Temple, which stood on the mount. The temple was destroyed in 70CE but the plaza remained. When the Muslims came in the 7th century, they already revered Jerusalem as a holy city and the mount in particular, which they call Haram al-Shariff (Noble Sanctuary). Islamic tradition tells that Muhammad took a Night Journey with the angel Gabriel from Mecca to the farthest mosque (al-aqsa) and from there ascended to Heaven. Jerusalem was identified as the location of the farthest mosque and the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque were built in commemoration. Some consider the Foundation Stone inside the Dome of the Rock to be the exact spot where Muhammad stood and it is believed by Jews to be the place where creation began. Non-Muslims are not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque, but even from the outside, they are beautiful and quite worth a visit.

Via Dolorosa, Old City Jerusalem, Israel

Via Dolorosa, Old City Jerusalem, Israel

Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel

Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel

5. The Via Dolorosa – This tour begins at the Lion’s Gate and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Just inside the gate are two important Christian sites: St. Anne’s Church, a beautiful example of Crusader architecture marking the traditional birthplace of Mary, named for her mother, Anne; and the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the crippled man. From there, a short walk leads to the start of the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus walked from his judgement to his crucifixion. The Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) is divided into 9 stations of the cross, each marking a notable event along the way. Inside the Holy Sepulchre there are 5 more stations, for a total of 14.

These are only very brief descriptions of accessible Old City tours. Click here for complete itineraries from the Israel Ministry of Tourism. For accessible tours in other areas of Israel, click here.

www.yallatours.com