Monday, August 3, 2009

The Philadelphia Bulletin: 1,800-Year-Old Roman Building Discovered in Jerusalem

by David Bedein

Jerusalem - A spacious edifice from the 3rd Century was recently exposed in the excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority that is carrying out a major excavation in the 'City of David', located in the heart of Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

“Although we do not have the complete dimensions of the structure, we can cautiously estimate that the building covered an area of approximately 1,000 square meters,” said Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, the excavation director. “In the center of it was a large open courtyard surrounded by columns. Galleries were spread out between the rows of columns and the rooms that flanked the courtyard. The wings of the building rose to a height of two stories and were covered with tile roofs.”

A large quantity of fresco fragments was discovered in the collapsed ruins from which the excavators deduced that some of the walls of the rooms were treated with plaster and decorated with colorful paintings. The painted designs that adorned the plastered walls consisted mostly of geometric and floral motifs. Its architectural richness, plan and particularly the artifacts that were discovered among its ruins bear witness to the unequivocal Roman character of the building. The most outstanding of these finds are a marble figurine in the image of a boxer and a gold earring inlaid with precious stones.

The building was likely shaken by a tremor in the 4th Century, the results of which are clearly apparently in the excavation area: the walls of the rooms caved-in and their stone collapse, which was piled high, covered the walls of the bottom floor, some of which still stand to a considerable height. Architectural elements such as columns and capitals, as well as mosaics and the large amount of fresco fragments that were used in the rooms of the second story were discovered inside the collapsed ruins. The coins that were discovered among the collapse and on the floors indicated the building’s ruins should be dated to circa 360 AD. The structure appears to be archaeological evidence of the an earthquake that struck the Middle East in 363 AD.

“We know of no other buildings from the Roman period that were discovered in Israel which have a similar plan to that of the building from the City of David,” said Dr. Ben-Ami. “The closest contemporary parallels to this structure are located in sites of the second to fourth century that were excavated in Syria. Edifices such as these are 'urban mansions' from the Roman period that were discovered in Antioch, Apamea and Palmyra. If this parallel is correct, then in spite of its size and opulence, it seems that this building was used originally as a private residence.”

The exposure of the Roman building in the City of David is a significant contribution to understanding the extent of the construction in the Roman city in the 3rd to 4th Centuries AD. It constitutes extremely important archaeological evidence regarding the growth of the settlement at the end of the Roman period into the southern precincts of the city, and it shows that the prevailing supposition among scholars that the City of David remained outside the area of Roman settlement is no longer valid.

View this story in the Philadelphia Bulletin
View this story at Israel Behind the News

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