Fascinating Below-Ground Attractions in Jerusalem

October 22nd 2019

The Siloam Tunnel

Picture Jerusalem and you’re likely to visualize the beautiful cityscape of the Holy City, including the Western Wall and Temple Mount. You might also think of the Mount of Olives, the bustling Shuk, or the ancient winding streets inside the Jewish Quarter. Yet just beneath the surface are a number of fascinating below-ground attractions, which are easy to miss, but are just as significant.  

They offer intriguing insights into the far distant past and what life would have been like in times we can only imagine. It is after all, below ground, where the foundations of the modern world are to be found, in many senses. 

When visiting Jerusalem next, it’s well worth adding the following underground attractions to your tour itinerary. 

Western Wall Tunnels

Beneath the most iconic feature of Jerusalem – the Western Wall (or Kotel) – are a series of underground tunnels. The Western Wall Tunnels skirt the foundation stones of the 2000-year-old Second Temple walls and afford visitors a glimpse of ancient Jerusalem. 

You’ll see layers of Jewish history that were, until relatively recently, unknown. You will also be able to touch the foundation stones, sit in an ancient underground stone theater, and view a water cistern that provided water to the Temple itself. 3D models and visual presentations provide informative insights into the Temple Mount history and development. 

Wohl Archaeological Museum

The Wohl Archaeological Museum sits above the remains of six amazingly preserved Herodian period homes. Built during the time of the Second Temple, these homes would have belonged to the nobility. The beautiful stucco wall paintings and floor mosaics, some in remarkable condition, give an impression of what life would have looked like during the period. 

Located 3-7 meters below street level, in the Jewish Quarter, the descent into the past is a fascinating one. You’ll also see bathrooms, reception halls, living areas, and water cisterns. Plaques and scale models provide further information about the homes and peoples of the time. 

The Siloam Tunnel

Just outside the Jewish Quarter, not far from The Davidson Center, is an ancient water channel. The Siloam Tunnel was carved beneath what archaeologists consider the original settlement area of Jerusalem – the City of David. It was dug in 701 BCE by King Hezekiah in an effort to protect the city’s main water supply (the Gihon Spring) from the Assyrians. 

The tunnel measures 1,500 feet in length and much of it is accessible to the public, via guided tours. It’s dark and wet down there, so decent shoes are required. Visitors are also provided with flashlights, but the experience is worth it. As an alternative, there’s a drier and more recently excavated tunnel nearby.

Tzidikiyahu’s Cave

Beneath the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem is a truly remarkable limestone quarry, carved over a period of several thousand years. Known also as Solomon’s Quarries, Tzidikiyahu’s Cave runs the length of five city blocks and is the largest cave in the Jerusalem area. It was found rather fortuitously in 1854 when an American biblical scholar and his son came across an opening to the cave when searching for their lost dog. 

The cave has a number of legends attached to it, including it being the hiding place of Judean King Tzidikiyahu during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. There are also numerous examples of graffiti left by stonecutters over the centuries. It’s a stunning place to visit. 

The Burnt House

Just around the corner from the Temple Institute, in the Jewish Quarter, is the Burnt House Museum (aka Katros House). It features the remains of an excavated house from the Second Temple period, now six meters below the current street level. The house belonged to the priestly Katros family before it was burnt to the ground by the Romans in 70 CE, a month after the destruction of the Second Temple. 

During excavations in the 1970s, archaeologists found the remains of a Jewish woman, inside the kitchen area. Numerous artifacts and a multimedia presentation provide visitors with insights into what life would have been like in that period.