The never-before-excavated area is situated behind the Western Wall police station, adjacent to the plaza where millions of worshipers and tourists come each year to visit the Western Wall and Temple Mount.
The new archaeological find uncovers a missing link in the ancient water system, known as the "Lower Aqueduct." This system channeled water from Solomon’s Pools near Bethlehem (located several miles south of Jerusalem) directly to the national focal point of Jewish worship - the Temple Mount.
Solomon’s pools, situated just north of the modern Jewish town of Efrat, cover an area of about 7 acres and can hold three million gallons of water. A lengthy aqueduct conveyed the water from the lowest pool through Bethlehem, across the Gihon valley, along the western slope of the Tyropoeon valley, and into the cisterns underneath the Temple Mount. Today, the water from the pools reaches only Bethlehem due to the destruction of the aqueducts.
Current plans for the partition wall will leave Solomon’s Pools outside the area of Jewish sovereignty.
The plastered hewn-stone mikva (ritual bath) unearthed at the excavation is from the Second Temple period. It was originally situated in the foundation level of a private home during the time of the Second Temple. The ritual bath was damaged at a later date when the bedrock cliff opposite it was hewn into a vertical wall that rose up to a maximum height of about thirty feet.
The most extensive remains of the period are those of a Roman-Byzantine colonnaded street – the Eastern Cardo. Included in that area is a covered stoa, a row of shops and several artifacts.
The street appears on a 6th century map known as the Medaba Map and is known as the Eastern Cardo or the Valley Cardo. The lavish colonnaded street began at the Damascus Gate in the north and led south, running the length of the channel in the Tyropoeon Valley. Sections of this street were revealed in the past in the northern part of the Old City, at a depth of about four meters (12 feet) below the pavement. The full eleven-meter (33 foot) width of the original road was exposed in the present excavation for the first time.
“The street was paved with large flagstones that were set in place diagonally, in the customary method of the Roman world, which was probably meant to prevent wagons from slipping,” Shlomit Wexler-Bdolah, the director of the excavations, explained. She added that a drainage system was installed below the flagstones.
To the west of the street was a covered stoa that was six meters wide, and beyond it was a row of shops set inside cells whose walls were hewn out of the bedrock cliff. A large base of a magnificent corner column has just been exposed in the eastern side of the street and may be part of a building that stood there, or an intersection with an entrance to the road that runs to the east.
The Antiquities Authority is carrying out the excavations of the 80 by 200 foot area west of the Western Wall at the request of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. The area will soon be the site of the Western Wall Heritage Center.