Ask people about the important sites in Jerusalem and they immediately think about the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
But ancient Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of the Bible, the Jerusalem of King David, actually lies outside the Old City.
Today it is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
There is a lot to see in a tour of the City of David. Here are the highlights:
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There are several tours you can do around this site. You need to be aware of a few things before you come and buy your ticket.
The City of David is not a typical archaeological site as it is located in a neighborhood where people live.
You can visit some of the sites for free: the lookout, the Palace of King David, the Royal Quarter and the Tombs Lookout. In my City of David tour, you can go as far as stop no. 7 without buying a ticket.
From the Tombs Lookout, you can either go back up or continue down to the water system. However, in order to enter the water system, you will have to buy a ticket at the entrance to the site.
If you’ve finished the free part of the tour and don’t want to continue into the water system, you have two options.
You can go back to the Old City or you can buy a ticket for the Davidson Center at the City of David ticket office.
If you buy this ticket, you then walk through the Givati parking lot, enter the drainage system in the middle and exit at the Davidson Center. (See the map)
Let me explain.
The Davidson Center is a separate site located inside the Old City. It is in the area which was called ‘HaOfel’, which means ‘the ascent’ – the area next to the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount.
This was the main entrance to the Jewish Temple at the time of the Second Temple.
Outside the walls of the Old City, there was a parking lot called Givaty parking lot. In 2007, archaeologists from the City of David started to excavate here and today it is still an active archaeological site.
You can buy tickets for the Davidson Center in the City of David and then walk from the Palace of King David to the excavation at the Givaty parking lot and from there enter the last part of the underground drainage system.
You walk under the walls of the Old City and exit the tunnel at the Davidson Center, right next to the corner of the Western Wall and the Southern Wall.
The City of David is no different from most of the archaeological sites in Israel in that the site itself is not that impressive.
I have been to the Palace of King David with tourists plenty of times and I have never heard anyone say that it’s a beautiful place.
In most of the archaeological sites, you need a guide to explain to you the significance of the stones in front of you.
It is only when you get to the water systems that you are really impressed. In fact, it was only when Charles Warren crawled through the water system that he realized he had found ancient Jerusalem.
There are a few underground tunnels in the City of David.
The first one was built by the Cananites, more than 3,000 years ago, in order to safely walk from the city to the spring.
The spring was outside the city, at a lower level, next to the fields. There was a guard tower to protect the spring and the pool next to it.
It is still not very clear to us, but it seems that King David’s men probably conquered the city by entering it via the water system.
Two tunnels lead out from the spring. Today they are known as the dry and the wet tunnel.
The tunnel which today is known as the dry tunnel was also built by the Canaanites to irrigate the fields. The tunnel was modified over the years and used until the end of the 8th century BC, the time of King Hezekiah.
As Hezekiah was preparing for the siege of the Assyrians he sealed up the Canaanite tunnel and ordered the construction of a tunnel that would bring the water to a pool inside the city.
Water still runs through this tunnel, 2,700 years after it was constructed.
You can choose whether you want to walk through this tunnel, with water that flows up to your knees, or walk through the dry tunnel. If you choose to walk through the water, bring extra sandals and pants.
Both tunnels eventually lead to the Siloam Pool.
Like everything in Jerusalem, every structure and every pool has many different layers and many different names.
The Siloam Pool is located in a valley between two hills so there was a pool there from the time of the Canaanites. Later, Hezekiah’s Tunnel brought the water to a different pool in the area. 1,700 years later, King Herod turned it into a huge ritual bath, where Jews purified themselves before ascending to the Temple.
This is where, according to the New Testament, Jesus healed a blind man.
From here you can take a shuttle bus to the entrance of the City of David. It costs 5 shekels per person.
King Herod didn’t only build the Siloam Pool and renovate the Temple, he also built a road connecting the two.
Archaeologists are now uncovering this ancient street, and until they have finished doing so, you can walk up through the drainage system that was beneath this paved street. It is not an easy path to walk.
You can walk along it until the Givati parking lot and then exit the site right in front of the entrance to the City of David.
As you walk along the drainage tunnel, you will eventually come to a closed metal door and a staircase.
You can take the stairs to the Givati parking lot, or, if you paid for the Davidson Center at the entrance of the City of David, then you can press the button next to the door.
The cashier will ask you to show your ticket to the camera and then (s)he will unlock the door and you can continue to walk along the drainage tunnel.
You will see a sign saying that the walls of the Old City are above you. Keep walking until you will see the foundation stones of the Western Wall, then exit and come out to see the corner of the Western Wall and the Southern Wall.
This archaeological park is part of the Davidson Center.