1800-Year-Old Roman Era Theater Found at Jerusalem’s Western Wall

What seems to be a long-lost ancient Roman Theater has been unearthed next to Jerusalem’s Western Wall. The archaeological dig under Wilson’s Arch also revealed eight previously unknown layers of Western Wall stones.

Roman Amphitheater Hidden for More than 1,700 Years

A team of Israeli archaeologists have unearthed what they speculate may have been an ancient Roman amphitheater that hasn’t seen the light of day in more than 1,700 years as Phys Org reported . Excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority are currently taking place underneath Wilson’s Arch , which stands next to the holy site in the heart of the Old City. Wilson’s Arch, built of immense stones, is the last of a series of such arches that once constituted a vast bridge leading to the Temple Mount from the west. It is the only undamaged visible structure remaining from the Temple Mount compound of the Second Temple period.

Wilson’s Arch, gives entry to the Temple Mount on the western section of the plaza. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The team was hoping to find artifacts that would help them date Wilson’s Arch , but during the dig they unexpectedly came across the buried theater. “The discovery was a real surprise,” site excavators Joe Uziel, Tehillah Lieberman and Avi Solomon said in a statement . “We did not imagine that a window would open for us onto the mystery of Jerusalem’s lost theater. What’s very exciting about this amazing structure is that we totally didn’t expect to find it here,” Uziel told CNN .

Dr. Joe Uziel, Excavation Director, standing on steps of the amphitheater (Image: Israel Antiquities)

Theater-Like Structure Couldn’t Have Held More than 200 People

“This is a relatively small structure compared to known Roman theaters (such as at Caesarea, Bet She’an and Bet Guvrin). This fact, in addition to its location under a roofed space – in this case under Wilson’s Arch – leads us to suggest that this is a theater-like structure of the type known in the Roman world as an odeon. In most cases, such structures were used for acoustic performances. Alternatively, this may have been a structure known as a bouleuterion – the building where the city council met, in this case the council of the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina – Roman Jerusalem,” the archaeologist said as CNN reported . “It’s probably the most important archaeological site in the country, the first public structure from the Roman period of Jerusalem,” Yuval Baruch, chief Jerusalem architect at the Israel Antiquities Authority, told AFP . “It’s a theater-like structure that held 200 people,” he added.

Archaeologist Tehillah Lieberman on unfinished steps (Image: Israel Antiquities)

The Amphitheater Wasn’t Completed

However, it’s unlikely that performers or politicians ever used the amphitheater. Several signs, such as an uncut staircase and unfinished carvings, suggest that it was abandoned before its inaugural performance. It’s not yet clear why the amphitheater wasn’t completed, but it’s possible that the Bar Kokhba Revolt , when the Jews rebelled against the Romans, had something to do with the theater’s unfinished circumstances, the archaeologists suggest. Perhaps construction began before the revolt, but was abandoned once the revolt started.

Other unfinished buildings from this period have been found in the Western Wall Plaza, the archaeologists added. “This is indeed one of the most important findings in all my 30 years at the Western Wall Heritage Foundation,” Mordechai (Suli) Eliav, the director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, said in a statement . And added, “This discovery joins many other findings uncovered in the area of the Western Wall Plaza, which together create a living historical mosaic of Jerusalem and the Western Wall for which the generations longed so powerfully.”

Other Finds Include Pottery Vessels and Coins

Other findings under Wilson’s Arch include pottery vessels and coins. During the recent excavation under the arch, archaeologists also found eight stone courses and a human-made stone layer supporting the structure above buried under 26 feet (8 meters) of dirt. Ultimately, The Jerusalem Post reports that the findings will be presented to the public during a conference called “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Environs,” which will take place later this year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to celebrate the 50 years of archaeology since the unification of Jerusalem.

Top image: Theater-like structure found at the Western Wall Tunnels, Jerusalem (Image: Israel Antiquities)

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