First Temple Period Palace Discovered Under The Heart Of Old Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have announced the discovery of several dozen stone artifacts that date back to the First Temple Period, over 2500 years ago. They were found in a historic part of Jerusalem and it is believed that they are the remains of a palace. The stones from this First Temple Period palace are helping researchers to better understand how Jerusalem recovered after the brutal Assyrian siege .

The stones were unearthed by archaeologists, as part of excavations at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, located on a hill that overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem . It was here that the British colonial governors administered the region from 1918 until 1948. The excavations were part of an effort to protect any artifacts and remains in the area before the planned construction of a visitor center on the same site.

The uncovering of the capitals as they were found in the ground at the Jerusalem excavation site. (Shai Halevi / Israel Antiquities Authority)

The uncovering of the capitals as they were found in the ground at the Jerusalem excavation site. (Shai Halevi / Israel Antiquities Authority )

Limestone Proto-Aeolian Capitals

The excavated First Temple Period palace artifacts were carved out of soft limestone. The IAA stated “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,” according to Israel Hayom . Yaakov Billig, Director of the IAA excavation, states this is the first “discovery of scaled-down models of the giant Proto-Aeolian capitals, of the kind found thus far in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel,” according to Israel Hayom.

Haaretz reports that the “capitals uncovered show palm tree motif typical of Kingdom of Judah.” It is possible that some of the elaborately carved stones were placed above a gate leading to a building.  Other stones appear to have come from windows. Based on the style of the design and their location it appears that they were part of a monumental and ornately decorated structure, likely a palace.

Evidence Of Jerusalem’s Growth After The Last Assyrian Siege

The unearthed stones date to the First Temple period. This was the period in Jerusalem from 1000 to 586 BC. It began when King David founded his kingdom and included the reign of Solomon. Haaretz reports that the structure “was likely built in the early seventh century B.C.E. in King Hezekiah’s time, after Jerusalem had survived a siege by the Assyrians.” The Assyrian siege of Jerusalem took place in 701 BC. Moreover, the Kingdom of Judah survived after the Assyrian siege, unlike the northern Kingdom of Israel which was totally destroyed by the Assyrians. Yaakov Billig believes that this “indicates the restoration of Jerusalem after the Assyrian siege of the city in 701 BCE, during the reign of King Hezekiah ” reports Israel Hayom .

One of the finely carved baluster columns, likely from an ancient window, found at the excavation site. (Shai Halevi / Israel Antiquities Authority)

One of the finely carved baluster columns, likely from an ancient window, found at the excavation site. (Shai Halevi / Israel Antiquities Authority )

Billig told the Jewish Press that “The level of workmanship on these capitals is the best seen to date, and the degree of preservation of the items is rare.”  Mysteriously, the stone columns were found deliberately buried, carefully laid upon each other. The director of the excavation told the Jewish Press that “At this point it is still difficult to say who hid the capitals in the way they were discovered, and why he did so.”

It appears that the decorated stone artifacts and capitals are all that is left of the original palace. The rest of the structure was probably destroyed in the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem (586 BC), after which most of the defeated elite were deported to Babylonia. Useful carved or hewn stones were likely reused to construct other buildings.

Questions About A First Temple Period Palace

This discovery and others, such as the recent unearthing of an administrative center on the hill of Arnona, are revealing more about the history of Jerusalem after the Assyrian siege. Billig is quoted by Israel Hayom that the latest column discovery “attests to a new revival in the city and the partial settlement beyond the city walls after the Assyrian siege.” It appears that after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Assyrians the people of city built many magnificent buildings beyond the ruined city’s walls, in clear defiance of the Assyrians. This shows their level of confidence and their belief that the enemy was not going to return, which is an important insight.

No evidence has been uncovered to reveal the identity of those who lived in what must have been a magnificent structure overlooking the City of David. The IAA in a statement quoted by Israel Hayom theorizes on who lived in the palace: “Was it one of the kings of Judah, or was it perhaps a Jerusalemite family of nobility and wealth during the First Temple period?” Clearly whoever lived there was wealthy and this indicates that Jerusalem rapidly recovered from the terrible Assyrian siege of 701 BC. The remains of the palace will be displayed to the public, and a conference is planned to discuss the historical importance of these artifacts.

Top image: Director of the Jerusalem Promenade excavation Yaakov Billig with the unearthed capitals that likely were part of a First Temple Period palace.            Source: Yoli Shwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

By Ed Whelan

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