With Jerusalem bustling with visitors - Israelis and tourists alike - who have come to take part in the Passover festivities, one of the sites they won't want to miss is Zedekiah's Cave.
Run by the East Jerusalem Development Co., with the participation of the Municipality of Jerusalem, the Ministry of Tourism, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem Foundation, the cave dates back to the days of the First Temple period, at least some 2,500 years ago. Much larger now than it was then, it runs under the Moslem Quarter of the Old City, from near Damascus Gate (Shaar Shechem) to Via Dolorosa, not far from the Temple Mount. Some historians say it once reached all the way to the Temple Mount; it is now blocked off by tremendous boulders.
King Zedikiah (Tzidkiyahu), the last of the kings of the First Temple period Jewish state, used the cave to escape towards Jericho from the conquering Babylonians, who later caught, tortured and killed him.
The cave begins just to the north of Damascus Gate, and runs for 320 meters (1,050 feet, nearly 1/5 of a mile), with a total area of some 9,000 square meters (over 2.2 acres). It was used during many different periods as a quarry - its stones were used for Temple Mount structures, the clock tower that stood at Jaffa Gate for several years at the turn of last century, and more - and is now the largest man-made cave in Israel. The ceiling and walls are clearly sliced where rock cutters of the ages removed stone of various sizes.
Zedekiah's Cave is mentioned by Josephus Flavius, as well as in the Talmud (Eruvin 61b), the Medrash (Tanchuma Bamidbar 1,9), and the commentator Rashi.
After the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel liberated the Old City from the Jordanians, Israel cleaned the cave and opened it for visitors. It was closed for a period during the first intifada, but was reopened in 2006.
Once available only for group visits, Zedekiah's Cave can now be accessed by individuals throughout the day. Some visitors walk atop the Old City walls - another Old City attraction - from Jaffa Gate to Damascus Gate, descending into yet another attraction, the Roman Square, and from there walk to the cave.
Other sites in the Old City include the Archaeological Gardens, adjacent to the Western Wall and Temple Mount, and the state-of-the-art Davidson Center, near Dung Gate. For information on tours and hours, call 02-627-7550, or send email to Davidson@pami.co.il.