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Ruins shed new light on Roman Jerusalem

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a 2nd-century terraced street and bathhouse that provide vital clues about the layout of Roman Jerusalem.
Labourers work at archeological dig in Jerusalem's Old City
Laborers work at the site of an archaeological dig in the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem's Old City on Thursday.Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a 2nd-century terraced street and bathhouse that provide vital clues about the layout of Roman Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said the 90-foot (30-meter) alley was used by the Romans to link the central Cardo thoroughfare with a bathhouse and with a bridge to the Temple Mount, once the site of Jerusalem’s ancient Jewish temple.

“We find bits of Roman road all the time, but this discovery helped us piece together a picture of Roman Jerusalem,” Jon Seligman, Jerusalem regional archaeologist, told Reuters at the site. “It was a real ‘eureka’ moment.”

The Romans razed the second Jewish temple during the sacking of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 but later built a colony in the area and called it Aelia Capitolina.

Archaeologists say the street is remarkably well-preserved. After clearing away mounds of earth, workers are painstakingly restoring the alley, which runs between walls of ashlar stone and is paved with large flagstones.

The remains of the street, which now runs below a sewage channel and offices belonging to the chief rabbi of the Western Wall remnant of the temple compound, will form part of Jerusalem’s Western Wall tunnel tours for tourists.

Archaeologists also discovered the outside wall of a large building, which they believe is a Roman bathhouse because of the latrines outside and pipes that appear to have operated an underfloor heating system.

They will start excavation on that site shortly.

The Antiquities Authority said the discovery of the alley, a stone’s throw from the Western Wall, may add weight to the theory that the Temple Mount complex was a focal point of Roman life even after the destruction of the temple itself.

The complex is also revered by Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and houses Islam’s third-holiest mosque, making it Jerusalem’s most contested site and giving it a pivotal role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Seligman said the newly discovered alley once led to an important bridge over a ravine known during the time of Jesus as the Valley of the Cheesemakers.