September 6, 2020
An artist's rendering of the royal estate's balcony that stood where today's Jerusalem Promenade stretches. (Shalom Kveller, City of David Archives)
A rare collection of several dozen adorned architectural stone artifacts, dated to the First Temple period, which together were part of a magnificent structure, was discovered in the Israel Antiquities Authority's excavations in the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, where past British governors of the Land of Israel resided until 1948. The dig was conducted head of the establishment of a visitor center on the promenade.
Director of the Jerusalem Promenade excavation Yaakov Billig with the unearthed capitals.
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 palace features of the First Temple period.
The unveiled collection includes three complete medium-size stone capitals and items from lavish window frames, incorporating balustrades composed of stylish columns on which a series of Proto-Aeolian style tiny capitals were affixed.
The uncovering of the capitals. (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)
According to Yaakov Billig, Director of the IAA excavation, "this is a very exciting discovery. It's a first-time discovery of scaled-down models of the giant Proto-Aeolian capitals, of the kind found thus far in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, where they were incorporated above the royal palace gates. The level of workmanship on these capitals is the best seen to date, and the degree of preservation of the items is rare."
Two of the three column capitals were found buried neatly, one on top of the other. "At this point it is still difficult to say who hid the capitals in the way they were discovered, and why he did so, but there is no doubt that this is one of the mysteries at this unique site, to which we will try to offer a solution," Billig said.
One of the baluster columns of an ancient window. (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)
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 thereabout. The remains of the building were demolished and dismantled for secondary use.
Billig believes the magnificent structure — built in the period between King Hezekiah and King Josiah — indicates the restoration of Jerusalem after the Assyrian siege of the city in 701 BCE, during the reign of King Hezekiah — a siege which the city barely survived.
"This discovery, along with the palace previously uncovered in Ramat Rachel and the administrative center recently uncovered by the IAA on the slopes of Arnona, attests to a new revival in the city and the partial settlement beyond the city walls after the Assyrian siege. We excavated villas, mansions and government buildings in the area outside the walls of the city. This testifies to the relief felt by the city's residents and the recovery of Jerusalem's development after the Assyrian threat was over," Billig proposes.
Mini capitals that stood at the top of the baluster columns in the villa's window. (Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority)
The excavations were funded by the Ministry of Tourism, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ir David Foundation (Elad).
The findings were unveiled to the public on Thursday in a festive event in the City of David's Jerusalem Walls National Park, which was attended by Culture Minister Hili Tropper, Chief Archaeologist for the IAA's Jerusalem region, Dr. Yuval Baruch, and Chairman of the Ir David Foundation, David Be'eri.
The findings will be on display in an exhibition at the City of David over the next few days, and an account of their significance will be given online at the Megalim Conference, to be held this coming Tuesday on the City of David website.