Photo by Shai Halev/Israel Antiquities Authority
By Aryeh Savir/TPS • 3 September 2020
Splendid and unique remains of a royal structure from the time of the Kings of Judah were recently discovered in an excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) on the famous Armon Hanatziv promenade in Jerusalem.
A rare and very special collection of several dozen adorned architectural stone artifacts, which together were part of a magnificent structure, was discovered in the IAA’s excavations in preparation for the establishment of a visitor center on the promenade.
The stone artifacts are made of soft limestone, with decorative carvings, and among them are capitals of various sizes in the architectural style known as ‘Proto-Aeolian’ – one of the most significant royal building features of the First Temple period, and one of the visual symbols of the period.
The importance of this artistic motif as a symbol representing the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel led the Bank of Israel to choose it as the image that adorns the Israeli five-shekel coin.
The collection includes three complete stone capitals and items from lavish window frames, incorporating balustrades composed of stylish columns on which a series of Proto-Aeolian style capitals of small size were affixed.
Yaakov Billig, Director of the IAA’s excavation, noted that “this is a first-time discovery of scaled-down models of the giant Proto-Aeolian capitals, of the kind found thus far in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, where they were incorporated above the royal palace gates.”
“The level of workmanship on these capitals is the best seen to date, and the degree of preservation of the items is rare,” he added.
Two of the column capitals were found neatly buried one on top of the other, leading researchers to believe they were intentionally hidden.
“At this point, it is still difficult to say who hid the capitals in the way they were discovered, and why he did so, but there is no doubt that this is one of the mysteries at this unique site, to which we will try to offer a solution,” Billig said.
The rest of the building was destroyed, probably during or around the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The remains of the building were demolished and dismantled for the purpose of making secondary use of the valuable items.
In Billig’s estimate, the structure was built in the period between the days of King Hezekiah and King Josiah and indicates the restoration of Jerusalem after the Assyrian siege of the city in 701 BCE, during the reign of King Hezekiah, a siege which the city barely survived.
This discovery, along with the palace previously uncovered in the nearby Ramat Rachel and the administrative center uncovered on the slopes of Arnona “attests to a new revival in the city and a somewhat ‘exit from the walls’ of the First Temple period, after the Assyrian siege,” he explained.
The villas, mansions and government buildings in the area outside the walls of the city “testify to the relief felt by the city’s residents and the recovery of Jerusalem’s development after the Assyrian threat was over,” Billig said.
The Minister of Culture and Sport Hili Tropper, who attended an unveiling ceremony of the findings on Thursday, stated that “the uncovering of the remains of the building reflects the glorious roots of the Jewish people and our rich past here in the capital city Jerusalem.”
Recognizing the strategic and panoramic nature of the area, the British Mandatory administration built its central seat of government, known as the “Commissioner’s Palace” (Armon Hanatziv) on the same site in 1929.
A few decades later, one of the most famous promenades in Israel was established on the site. It has a spectacular view of the ancient City of David and the Temple Mount.
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