Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Western Wall Tunnels

This post is mainly going to be about a tour I took way back on March 11th but haven't had time to post until now. This past Thursday was the start of our two week Passover vacation. Passover is going to be the subject of another post. Like always since we have a break I got sick. It started the weekend before the break with a sandpaper/burning feeling in my throat and developed into a full cold. However I was determined and made it to the two days of classes I have this past week. Though I'm not sure I could tell you what we discussed in Archaeology late Tuesday night. The past several days I've been drinking lots of lemon tea and sleeping at least 12 hours everyday. I'm still stuffed up but I at least feel coherent enough to try to post.

First a little story. Wednesday night I took some NyQuil and went to bed early with the intention of sleeping in late. Around 8am Thursday morning the speaker outside my room made a musical chime that indicates an announcement. I flipped the Hebrew switch in my brain and listened. I caught some of the message. A minute or so late the chime repeats and the message is in English this time. Now at this point I am half awake and still in a NyQuil induced haze. The message was as follows "There has been a water explosion in the student village. The water will be off for the whole day." At the word explosion I'm fully awake and trying to figure out what is going on. It takes a minute for me to remember that this is the phrase they use when there is a problem with the water. I really should go down to the office sometime and teach them the phrase "water main break" that phrase wouldn't be as jarring at 8 in the morning.

Now begins the tour. Here we have the Western Wall which I've mentioned before in this blog. The area you see here is where people come to pray. This was not a typical Friday morning normally there would be more people in the picture but it was raining that day and so there was less of a crowd. What many people don't realize is this section of the wall that people pray at is only 50 meters long. The entire wall is actually 500 meters long you can't see the entire length because of modern buildings. But you can see the entire wall if you go underground.

Here we are a little ways into the tunnels. This picture isn't very good because I was still trying to figure out which mode on my camera would work best for the dim light in the tunnels. I wanted to show this picture to give you an idea of just how big the area is underground. Some of these tunnels are believed to have been used by the priests to get up to the Temple Mount. Many of these tunnels were first discovered by Charles Warren. As I was walking through these tunnels I tried to picture what it must have been like for Charles Warren with only a candle for light and having to dig through centuries of debris to get through the tunnels.

We can't have a tour without a model. Here we have a model of the Temple Mount. Click on the picture to enlarge it. The LED lights show the length of the tunnels underground. That is how far I was able to walk underground on this tour. I was amazed at how extensive the tunnels were.

This is one of the more impressive shots from the tour. I am standing at the top of a staircase. The people at the bottom of the picture are standing right next to the wall. This gives you a little perspective on just how tall the wall is. Notice the area around the people's heads and how it is all one block. That block of stone is one solid piece weighing in at 550 tons! The amazing thing is this huge stone was moved to this location and archaeologists have no idea how they were able to move it. There are two massive stones like this that archaeologists have no idea how they were moved.

Standing at the base of the wall and looking up you can see different styles of masonry with different sizes of stones from when the wall was repaired in various time periods. The guide told us that despite all the different sizes of stones over the centuries this wall has survived several minor earthquakes and has not cracked or shifted.

The next part of the tour we really got to walk the tunnels. This is a picture looking back at the narrow tunnel. I couldn't take a picture in the tunnel because I would have held up everyone walking behind me. The tunnel was very narrow and very short. I'm 5 feet 7 and a half inches tall and I had to duck a little while walking through the tunnel. I do not recommend this tour if you are claustrophobic. I'm a little claustrophobic not the paralyzing kind more of the wow I can hear my heart beating in my ears, I'm breathing a little harder than I need to be kind. But I got over it just for the history that was all around me. Going through the tunnel you could easily see the changes in masonry style.

After emerging from the tunnel we were in a more open area thank goodness. Here I am standing on a street from the time of King Herod. I took the picture up towards the ceiling so you could see how far underground I am. This shows how much accumulates over time and how different places can look years later. The electric fan is not from the time of King Herod however. ;)

Then we walked through more impressive tunnels. This tunnel was used to bring water to the Temple Mount. I think it was carved out by hand. We exited the tunnels by walking back the way we came. Which meant I had to go through the scary claustrophobic tunnel again but I made it.

Back outside the tunnels it was still raining. I took this picture while we were waiting for the bus to come and pick us up. The stones on the ground at the bottom of the picture were pushed off the top of the wall by Roman soldiers in 70 C.E. while Titus conquered the city and they have been there since then.

Other than being sick I'm enjoying my break so far. I've been using the time to read for fun. I'm currently reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I'm enjoying it so far.

From the last post:
Akkadian is a very old very dead language. You may remember studying Hammurabi's law code in school. The whole eye for an eye thing? That law code was written in Akkadian. Akkadian was the lingua franca of its time so many important documents and literature was written in Akkadian. You can read more about it here


  1. You do have a knack for getting sick at the most opportune time. I hope you get over your cold so you can enjoy your time off a little more.

    The tunnels are something. It really does show how massive the wall is. I remember how tall it was standing in front of it. To see how big it was below ground from your picture makes it even that much more impressive.


  2. First I have a question about the scaffolding on the outside of the Western Wall. I assume this is an elevated covered bridge type walk way from outside the Western Wall to something. This is by the section of the Wall where the women are permitted to pray. Nothing can give you the massive perspective of the Wall like your archway picture from the inside steps. This just boggles the mind the structures that are not visible above ground. One can only imagine what has taken place in these underground tunnels and chambers in prior centuries. I had no idea where the Akkadian language fit into the history of the Bible so I appreciate the explanation. Great pictures. Hope you get some rest and feel better soon!


  3. That Akkadian must be a fairly limited language. I remember a teacher talking about the Code and saying that the only punishment they seemed to be able to come up with was death!

    You murder you die
    You steal you die
    You blaspheme you die
    You miss church you die
    And so forth

    Kinda makes sense to call it a DEAD language, ha ha HAHAHAHA!!

    Calming down, too much spring.

    Is the yellow cast to the underground shots all just breaking in the camera? Looks almost ominous.

    Looking forward to the next. Have a happy, healthy time.

  4. Another really interesting post. The size and configuration of the stones in the tunnel is impressive. In most of the pictures of both the wall and the tunnel it looks like the majority of the stones are laid without using mortar. Is that right? If so, considering the tools used at the time it was all built, it's stunning to think that the structures are so level and have withstood so much over the years.
    I hope you're well on the mend by now!