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Educational Reference

by Albert M. Hyamson, F.R.Hist.S.
Author of Palestine: The Rebirth of an Ancient People

This article is from the book, Palestine Old and New by Albert M. Hyamson. Originally published by Robert M. McBride & Company. Printed in Great Britain January 1928.

A walk around the City Wall might well commence at the Jaffa Gate. Along the Jaffa Road until the corner is turned no place or object of special interest presents itself. Turning into Suleiman Road which skirts the city on the north-west the group of French buildings is immediately reached. These comprise the large hospice of Notre Dame de France, the French Hospital, and the Church of Perpetual Prayer where white-robed nuns make one continuous appeal to the Almighty. The road runs down-hill as far as the Damascus Gate, opposite which, is the fine building of the Hospice of St. Paul's. A hundred yards past the Damascus Gate there is a doorway, easily seen from the road, in the rock immediately under the Wall of the City. This is the entrance to Solomon's Quarries, otherwise the Cotton Grottos or Mugharat el Kettan of the Arabs and the Royal Grottos of Josephus. These quarries extend at least 200 yards southwards, sloping towards the Temple Area, and are generally believed to be the source from which the stone for the Temple building was obtained. In the quarries there are half-hewn blocks left as if the work had been suddenly abandoned. The smoke-black of the lamps used by the workers can also be seen in niches, and the method of quarrying, by wet wedges of wood, can clearly be followed. The roof of this great cave is supported by large pillars. From a sketch of a four-footed cherub which was found carved in a wall and is now in Paris, a Phoenician of Babylonian connexion has been suggested for these works. Sir Charles Warren held the view that the royal tombs of the House of Judah were in these caverns. The truth is that very little is known about them and practically nothing has been learnt since their discovery in the year 1852. Opposite Solomon's Quarries is a small hill crowned by a cemetery with two caves that have the appearance of eye-sockets. These are the Grotto of Jeremiah, from the tradition that he wrote his Lamentations there. A tomb within the enclosure at the foot of the hill has been attributed to Jeremiah since the fifteenth century. The hill itself is accepted as Calvary by many who reject the older site within the city, and from the support given to this theory by General Gordon, is often mentioned as Gordon's Calvary. There are many fragments at the foot of the hill of Crusading origin, and the Asnerie or stable where pilgrims kept their asses has been placed here. There are also several tombs and a large cistern. There is a tradition regarding the Grotto connecting it with Jeremiah to the effect that when Nebuchadnezzar was a poor, afflicted lad his future greatness and the misfortune of the city were foretold by the prophet. The lad, flattered by the prophecy, in gratitude gave the prophet a safe-conduct that would preserve him unharmed from the future Babylonian hosts. This safeguard was presented in due course and honoured, but the prophet's request at that time that Jerusalem should be spared could not be granted. Jeremiah, however, received a promise from Allah that he would witness the restoration of the city. The existing desolation was so appalling that Jeremiah could not refrain from doubt. Thereupon he fell into a sleep that lasted a century. When at length Jeremiah awoke the skeleton of his ass, also restored to life, put on skin and flesh and began to bray and was in consequence admitted to Paradise. The place in which Jeremiah slept this long sleep, so runs the legend, is now called Jeremiah's Grotto.

Opposite Herod's Gate two roads lead away, the one to the north-west, the other to the north-east. At the end of the former of these roads are the Tombs of the Kings, but long before them the new building of the American School of Oriental Research appears on the right. At the very threshold of the gate of this building recent excavations have disclosed a corner tower of a Roman wall. This wall is the newly discovered north wall which has already been mentioned. The tower here seen was apparently the Tower of the Women, of Josephus. The wall then took a sharp turn at right angles and it has been traced south under the present wall west of Herod's Gate and in continuation within the city. The discoveries have aroused a considerable amount of controversy. By some scholars it is contended that this is the lost Third Wall, and if this view is accepted it follows that the traditional site of the Crucifixion and Sepulchre within the present city wall is untenable. The discovery was in a sense not new, for more than one traveller in the nineteenth century mentioned stretches of the wall which were the above ground but were subsequently demolished to provide building stone elsewhere. The Austrian Hospice was to a considerable extent constructed of stones thus obtained.

At the Tower of the Storks the existing wall of Jerusalem forms a right angle and enters the Valley of the Kedron. The road itself bears off to the left and passing through Bethany, leads ultimately to Jericho and the Jordan. There are, however, paths closer to the wall by which the circuit can be completed. The valley of the Kedron is now also known as the Wadi Sitti Maryam or the Valley of the Lady Mary, from its traditional connexion with the Virgin Mary. It is also known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The belief, common to Jew, Christian, and Moslem, that this valley will be the scene of the Last Judgment goes back farther than existing records can show, and to this is to be attributed the thousands, probably millions of Jewish and Moslem graves that cover both sides of the valley. When the living and the dead are at length summoned, those who lie in these graves, or their friends, expect that they will have the advantage of being close at hand and will not be overlooked. The Birket Sitti Maryam or the Pool of the Lady Mary, also the Birket el Asbat or Dragon Pool, is a large open cistern of medieval construction close to St. Stephen's Gate between the road and the wall. The main road, which has meanwhile been turning away from the city, makes a sharp bend to the left at this point, and then also on the left is the half underground Church of the Virgin. In front of the road before the bend is the supposed place of stoning of St. Stephen, an attribution which has a brief life behind it. The Church of the Virgin or the Tomb of the Virgin, Keniset Sitti Maryam marks the place where Mary is said to have been buried. The approach is down a flight of steps which leads to an open space, on the right of which is the passage to the Chapel of the Agony. Passing through the porch, the arches of which rest on four marble columns, there is another flight of steps leading to the church thirty-five feet below the level of the porch. One walled-up entrance it is thought admitted to the tomb of Queen Millicent of Jerusalem, who rebuilt the church in the twelfth century. In side chapels are shown the tombs of Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, and of Joseph, her husband. Near the centre of the nave is a sarcophagus, attributed to Mary herself, The Latins, the Greeks, the Armenians and the Abyssinians all have a share in this very holy place, where there is also a Moslem prayer niche, for the Caliph Omar is said to have prayed there. The Cavern of the Agony is the place where, according to Luke, the sweat of Jesus 'was as it were drops of blood falling down to the ground.' There are traces of frescoes on the wall. The first Church of the Virgin was built in the fifth century. The buildings were frequently destroyed and re-erected.

Within a stone's throw of the Church of the Virgin, on the left of the road, is the garden of Gethsemane, one of the very few gardens of Palestine, whose olive trees are believed by some to date back two thousand years and whose violets are the most famous, perhaps the only ones, in Palestine. The attribution of the site goes back to the fourth century. A flat rock is shown on which the Apostles Peter, James and John slept while Jesus prayed. A fragment of a column in the wall marks the place where Judas gave Jesus the kiss of betrayal. Many churches have been erected in this garden and their remains are widespread. A basilica of the third or fourth century has been excavated. The Greek garden of Gethsemane is farther up the sill-side and contains a modern Russian church with seven domes, perhaps the most incongruous building in Jerusalem.

The road is meanwhile leading away from the city and the Valley of the Kedron. On the opposite side from the Latin Church of Gethsemane, but a short distance farther, a path leads down into the bed of the valley. If this is taken almost as soon as the traveller has got out of sight of the main road he comes to the striking Greco-Egyptian monument know as Absalom's Tomb or Monument. This pyramidal monument, cut out of the rock, has apparently been altered several times. Its attribution to Absalom dates only from the twelfth century. Previous to that it was known as the Tomb of Jehoshaphat, and still earlier that of King Hezekiah. Josephus mentioned a monument to Alexander Jannaeus in this neighbourhood and it is not improbable that this is the one. It does not appear ever to have held a sarcophagus. That it is the monument erected by Kind David to his son Absalom is most improbable. Behind Absalom's Tomb, lying underneath the Jewish Cemetery, is the so-called Tomb of Jehoshaphat, which may once have been a Christian chapel. Just beyond the Tomb of Absalom is another large rock-tomb or series of tombs, the Grotto of St. James. This is also apparently of Greco-Roman origin. In the sixth century it was believed that the Apostle James had hidden himself there after the arrest of Jesus, but by the fifteenth century it had become the Tomb of St. James. In reality the inscription shown these great tombs to have been the family tomb of the Beni Hezir, a priestly family mentioned in the first book of Chronicles. Opposite this Grotto of St. James is a great heap of stones, perhaps not noticeable in this land of stones, loose and fixed. This is also, so it is said, a tomb, that of Kilonimos, an eighteenth-century rabbi. An ascetic, he lived a life of penances and enjoined his friends not to grant him the honour of burial but to cast his body over the hill and leave it where it fell. The most he would allow was that the passer-by might cast a stone on it. Hence the heap of stone of to-day. Beyond the Grotto of St. James is the Pyramid of Zacharias, another rock-tomb, the fourth of this group of monuments. According to the Jews the Zacharias commemorated was the prophet who was slain by King Joash. The Christians, however, claim that the Zacharias was the son of Barachias mentioned by Jesus as having been slain between the Temple and the altar. The path is now in the midst of the great Jewish cemetery, partly enclosed and partly unenclosed, which stretches on the right to the edge of the Temple Wall and on the left half-way up the Mount of Olives. The graves are almost as the sands of the sea for multitude and date from the present day back to the opening of the Christian era, and probably farther. To be buried in the Valley of Jehoshaphat was the last wish of many a Jew, so that the dead not only of the city but from parts far and near were and still are brought there for sepulchre. The superstition persists that the bodies of all Jews will on the last day find their way to this vast cemetery so as to be ready for the resurrection.

After the next corner of the Wall has been turned, when the path is level with the Al Aksa Mosque, Ophel stretches away on the left. Much of this hill has been excavated and covered over again, and in the course of the excavations a good portion of the Biblical city has been unearthed. All that has been left exposed of the recent discoveries are a portion of the Jebusite city and the tower erected by Solomon to fill the breach which his father David made when he stormed the city. 'Solomon built Millo, and closed up the gap of the City of David his father' (I Kings ii. 27). On the other side of the valley, on the lowest slope of the Mount of Offence, is the Arab village of Silwan or Siloah. Most of its houses are partly underground, the lower portions being composed of natural caves or ancient rock-tombs. Near the village there is a Roman bath with tesserae of the Fifth Legion, and north of it a tomb probably contemporary with Absalom's Monument, which is known from its assumed Egyptian work as the Tomb of Pharaoh's Daughter. The Mount of Offence is identified with the Mount of Corruption of the second book of Kings on which Solomon erected temples to his gods. It is now crowned by a Benedictine Convent with a seminary of the United Syrians.

West of Silwan in the valley lies the Virgin's Fountain, whose modern name is derived from a fourteenth-century legend to the effect that Mary used to draw water and wash the clothes of the infant Jesus there. The spring is probably identical with Gihon where Solomon was anointed and proclaimed king. Sixteen steps lead down to a level platform and fourteen more to the water. From these steps the spring is called by the Arabs Ain Um ed Derej or the Spring of the Mother of Steps. Another name given to the spring is the Well of the Dragon from the local superstition that a dragon dwells within the spring and when he is awake stops the flow of water. The intermittent stream is the origin of the suggestion that the water flows only when the dragon sleeps. One of the most interesting of the archaeological survivals in Palestine is that of the underground channel which connects the Fountain of the Virgin with the Pool of Siloam farther down the valley. That this is without question the channel cut in the reign of Hezekiah and mentioned in the second book of Kings is shown by the inscription recording the completion of the work which was found in it by chance in the year 1880. The Pool of Siloam of to-day is the smaller of the two pools of this name. The larger one, a short distance away, has been filled in. By the Moslems this Pool is considered one of the two fountains of Paradise. The existing pool was probably formed by King Hezekiah and is therefore sometimes called the King's Pool, although it has of course been frequently altered and repaired. There are remnants of early buildings in the vicinity, a Roman bath-house, a paved street, parts of the wall of the biblical Jerusalem, steps cut in the rock, and a basilica, probably that which the Empress Eudocia built in the fifth century and the Persians destroyed almost two hundred years later. This church was built in honour of the healing of the man blind from birth. South of the lower of the two pools can be seen an ancient mulberry tree where it is said the Prophet Isaiah was sawn in half. Still farther down the valley where it meets the Valley of Hinnom coming from the north-west is the Bir Ayyub or Job's Well. The connexion with Jog is of course absurd. It derives from a not very ancient Moslem tradition. Another recent tradition connected with the well is that after the destruction of the Temple the Perpetual Fire was hidden in it until the time of Nehemiah. This well has been identified with Ein Rogel or the Fuller's Spring where Adonijah attempted to seize the kingdom in the time of David, and the ancient fullers' vats near by support that identification.

If the road up the Valley of Hinnom is now taken the Tombs of the Karaites are passed on the right. This small and disappearing sect dates from a Jewish schism of the eighth century of the present era. The small Karaite community in Jerusalem has long been under a curse, so it is said, so that for generations it has been unable to count ten adult males in the absence of whom public worship is not legal. By now the sightseer is some distance from the wall round which it was his original intention to walk. To return to it he must climb the side of the valley on his right. If he does so and turns back to the Dung Gate due north of the Pool of Siloam he will find outside of that gate within a walled enclosure a whole series of early remains laid bare. Here are Roman buildings, a paved street leading direct to the Temple Area, a street of steps leading from that same area down to the bed of the valley and rock cuttings dating from the Second Temple. From the Middle Ages there are the ruins of the Church of St. Pierre in Gallicanto. The very modern church covers the site, according to ecclesiastical traditions, of the House of Caiaphas, and incorporated n it are underground rock dungeons popularly believed to be the Prison of Jesus.

To the Zion Gate

The road along the Wall is now resumed towards the south and the west. When the Zion Gate is reached, just before the wall takes a sharp turn to the north, there is a small group of buildings. Bishop Gobat's School and the Anglo-Prussian Cemetery have already been mentioned. Nearer to the wall are the Armenian, Latin and Orthodox Cemeteries, the Caenaculum and the Tomb of David, and the Church of the Dormition which towers above them all. In the Protestant Cemetery is a rock-cut scarp which was probably the base of the southern wall of the earliest city when it reached this point, and in continuation of this scarp towards the east are the foundations of a very early fortified tower.

The most interesting of all the buildings outside the Zion Gate is that in which are shown the Tomb of David and above it the Caenaculum or Chamber of the Last Supper. The building is part of an old Franciscan church, the form of which has not been much changed. A stone in the upper chamber marks the supposed seat of Jesus, and in the room below the spot on which the table of the Last Supper is said to have rested is marked. The supposed Tomb of David is closed to all but Moslems. The tradition connecting this neighbourhood with the Last Supper is as old as the second century. It is probable that there was a church there even earlier, possibly the first church to be erected and known as the Mother of Churches. It has always been a Christian Holy Place, and in addition to the Last Supper, the House of Mary the Mother of Mark, the Descent of the Holy Ghost, the washing of the Apostles' Feet, the Election of St. Matthew, the House of St. John, the death of Mary, and the Martyrdom and Tomb of St. Stephen, have at one time or another been located here. Adherents of all three faiths believe that the building covers the burial-place of David, but scholars without exception reject this attribution. Many legends have of course clustered round the Tomb of David. One, a tragic one, is connected with the building of the Wall of Jerusalem by the order of the Sultan Suleiman. When the work was completed he discovered to his great annoyance that the Tomb of David had been left outside, and as an offering to the supposed offended spirit of the King the architect was given as a sacrifice. More historically the Franciscan owners of the site were sacrificed, for when the walls were completed it was felt impossible to leave what was in effect a Christian fortress commanding the neighbouring gate and the Franciscans were compelled to exchange their property there for the Georgian Convent of St. Saviour close to the Holy Sepulchre. This was also to their advantage, for their position within the city was far more secure than without. The present Moslem guardians of the site narrate that David himself appeared to one of their ancestors in a dream and confided to him that his tomb was within the Christian building. This dream was in due course reported to the Sultan, who, accepting it and its obvious consequence, immediately issued instructions for the seizure of the building and the appointment of the dreamer and his descendants as hereditary custodians. Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish traveller who visited Palestine in the twelfth century, gives a different account of the discovery of the tomb. Two workmen engaged on the erection of a neighbouring well, he says, seizing their opportunity, found a stone which when raised disclosed a cave.
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'Thereupon one said to the other: "Let us go in and see if any money is to be found there." They entered the cave, and reached a large chamber resting upon pillars of marble overlaid with silver and gold. In front was a table of gold and a sceptre and crown. This was the sepulchre of King David. On the left thereof in like fashion was the sepulchre of King Solomon; then followed the sepulchres of all the kings of Judah that were buried there. Closed coffers were also there, the contents of which no man knows. The two men essayed to enter the chamber, when a fierce wind came forth from the entrance of the cave and smote them and they fell to the ground like dead men, and there they lay until evening. And there came forth a wind like a man's voice, crying out: "Arise and go forth from this place!" So the men rushed forth in terror, and they came unto the Patriarch and related these things to him. Thereupon the Patriarch sent for Rabbi Abraham el Constantini, the pious recluse, who was one of the mourners of Jerusalem, and to him he related all these things according to the report of the two men who had come forth. Then Rabbi Abraham replied: "These are the sepulchres of the House of David; they belong to the kings of Judah, and on the morrow let us enter, I and you and these men, and find out what is there." And on the morrow they sent for the two men, and found each of them lying on his bed in terror, and the men said: "We will not enter there, for the Lord doth not desire to show it to any man." Then the Patriarch gave orders that the place should be closed up and hidden from the sight of man unto this day. These things were told me by the said Rabbi Abraham.'

The Church of the Dormition, the Church of Our Lady or the Marienkirche, is a new building erected by the Emperor William in commemoration of his visit to Jerusalem in 1898. It was completed in 1910. Its design follows that of the Cathedral of Aix la Chapelle. In the church buildings is a museum of Palestinian antiquities. From the tower rising far above the city there is a wonderful view in all directions. A Church of St. John stood on the same site formerly. There is also a House of Caiaphas, a small Armenian chapel and convent in this group of buildings.

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