Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Herodian Quarter Jerusalem

The Herodian Quarter, located three meters below the current Jewish quarter, is the remains of the Jewish quarter 2,000 years ago – during the Herodian times. It was exposed when Jerusalem was returned to Israel in 1967, following the destruction of the Jewish quarter by the Jordanians. The quarter, which was the residence of the Cohen’s (the Jewish temple’s priests), was luxurious décor of mosaics, frescos, stuccos and luxury imported utensils.
The Herodian Quarter Jerusalem


When Jerusalem was returned to Israel after the war in 1967, the Jewish quarter was ruined. When it was reconstructed, an underlying historical residence was discovered three meters below the current street level.
In order to get to the Herodian quarter, we go down the staircase three meters down below the street level.
Our visit was part of a nightly musical Slichot tour before Yom Kippur (tour during the period around September when Jewish people pray at night to ask forgiveness). We arrived to the western house of the Herodian quarter at night time. A harp musician was playing inside the western quarter for us – which gave it a magical sensation.
The houses here were huge and luxuriant. They had a bath, a Mikva (ritual bath), a high resolution mosaic (it was considered high-quality and expensive to have a high-resolution mosaic back then). Below are few photographs of the quarter, including the three dimensional model of the quarter.
There’s a display of vases and other utensils, mostly imported from Greece. It is outstanding that the utensils are made of stone and not clay. Stone is considered as not absorbing impurity and stone utensils were very popular among the Cohen priests. However, they are fragile and expensive. This indicates, among the other findings (that I will describe soon) that the Cohens had plenty of money and wealth. Since the Jewish residents in Jerusalem were quite poor, it raises a question for thought since the Cohens were serving in the temple, and their salaries were paid by the people.
When we go down the stairs we see the eastern house in the quarter. It is 600 hundred square meters in size, and has a large number of ritual bathes and luxurious frescos (patterned coloring of the walls). While an extended family (a little tribe or “Hamula”) lived here, which explains the big house, the marks on the frescos and the large number of stuccos (plastic decoration that looks like whole stones) testifies that a lot of money was spent here on house décor. When the fresco was not fashionable anymore, they probably invited an artist that made holes in the fresco to make the new stucco that replaced it stick to the walls.
It was quite surprising that the Cohens, who served ‘the people’ were living luxurious life on the expense of the poor Jewish worshipers. I guess history is not always as nice as we remember it in the collective memory.
This website has more posts about Jerusalem

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