Roma building exposed in City of David
Roma building exposed in City of David Israel news photo: (Skyview/IAA)

A spacious edifice from the Roman period (3 CE), uncovered in an ongoing dig across from Jerusalem's Old City, has provided new evidence that the City of David in the Jewish capital was not immune to Roman settlement. 

The building, apparently a mansion that belonged to a wealthy individual, was recently exposed in excavations in the Givati Car Park in the City of David's Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. The dig, underwritten by the City of David Foundation is being carried out on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority.

IAA excavation director Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and fellow archaeologist Yana Tchekhanovets estimated in a statement that the building covered an area of approximately 1,000 square meters (a quarter of an acre). "In the center of it was a large open courtyard surrounded by columns," Ben-Ami said. "Galleries were spread out between the rows of columns and the rooms that flanked the courtyard. The wings of the building rose to a height of two stories and were covered with tile roofs."

'Urban Mansion'

Ben-Ami commented that the building, despite its size an opulence, apparently was used originally as a private residence.

“The closest contemporary parallels to this structure are located in sites of the second-fourth century CE that were excavated in Syria. Edifices such as these are “urban mansions” from the Roman period that were discovered in Antioch, Apamea and Palmyra, he said.

He added that the find was especially significant in that it negates the current belief among scholars that the City of David hill remained outside the area of Roman settlement at the time of the Aelia Capitolina. That school of thought, said Ben-Ami, "is no longer valid."

A large quantity of fresco fragments was discovered in the collapsed ruins, from which the excavators deduced that some of the walls of the rooms were treated with plaster and decorated with colorful paintings. The painted designs that adorned the plastered walls consisted mostly of geometric and floral motifs.

The Roman character of the building was obvious from its architectural richness and floor plan, as well as from the artifacts that were discovered among its ruins, Ben-Ami noted.

Among those finds was an elegant marble figurine in the image of a boxer and a stunning gold earring inlaid with pearls and precious stones, both of which made worldwide headlines.

Evidence of 4th Century Earthquake

Architectural elements such as columns and capitals, as well as mosaics and the large amount of fresco fragments that were used in the rooms of the second story were discovered among the ruins of the building, which may have collapsed due to an earthquake.

The coins that were discovered among the ruins and on the floors in particular provided the first evidence that the demise of the building might be dated to the tremors. The coins were dated to circa 360 CE.

"It seems that what we have here is archaeological evidence of the results of the earthquake that struck our region in 363 CE," Ben-Ami said.