A dramatic and hugely significant discovery was made in early October 2017 by Israeli archaeologists, who serendipitously uncovered an ancient Roman theatre hidden beneath the Western Wall.
The initial objective of this excavation, which has spanned over two years, was to accurately date Wilson’s Arch – a monumental stone structure on the Western Wall plaza that, sometime between 530 BCE and 70 CE, supported a bridge connecting to the Temple Mount. However, the discovery of the theatre has been the unexpected main talking point of this dig.
Dr. Joe Uziel, Tehilla Lieberman and Dr. Avi Solomon, the team of archaeologists who led this excavation, could not contain their excitement in a statement they released: “From a research perspective, this is a sensational find. The discovery was a real surprise. When we started excavating, our goal was to date Wilson’s Arch. We did not imagine that a window would open for us onto the mystery of Jerusalem’s lost theater.”
Their delight over this discovery should come as no surprise: since archaeologists began researching Jerusalem more than 150 years ago, a key focus has been to verify the historical sources that point to the existence of public buildings and theatres. Descriptions of these are found in sources that date as far back as the Second Temple period (such as the writings of Josephus Flavius), and until now, they have lacked archaeological authentication.
Compared to the other Roman-era theatres in Israel, such as those located at Caesarea, Beit Guvrin and Beit She’an, this is a relatively small structure. Moreover, the archaeologists doubt it ever came in to use, due to several signs that suggest its construction was abandoned prematurely. The reason for this remains to be seen, with the archaeologists musing over the role of a historical event such as the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
Nevertheless, efforts are underway to prepare this remarkable structure for presentation, which will add to the fascinating Western Wall Tunnels in showing Jerusalem’s ancient underground history to the world.