Underground Jerusalem: A Visit to the Western Wall Tunnel

It may sound a little biased, but there are countless reasons why everyone should visit Israel, from the most visited spots to the often-ignored gems to rising tourism stars.

Jerusalem is often the first stop for people visting Israel, especially for first-time tourists. It is the holiest city in the world, and several tourist sites are associated with the Jewish, Christian and Islam faith and traditions. Among the top sites include the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall), the Old City, the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Tower of David and its surrounds, the Mount of Olives, and many more.

But there’s something more to Jerusalem than what you will see on the surface. How about under the surface – literally? Take a subterranean tour in Jerusalem – the Western Wall Tunnels.

The Western Wall is impressive enough, but wait till you go underground to these tunnels. The Western Wall Tunnels are becoming are major attraction in Jerusalem. It is an underground tunnel exposing the Western Wall from where the traditional and open-air prayer site ends and up to the wall’s north end.  It is one of the most magnificent and extraordinary remnants of Jerusalem during the Second Temple era, destroyed about 2,000 years ago.

It is an extraordinary example of the greatness of Herod the Great during what could be his immense and most ambitious building projects – the expansion of Temple Mount.

These amazing tunnels provide a direct link between the story of the Hasmonean period and the modern era.

The Western Wall stretches along nearly half a kilometer, but today most of the visible part to all the Western Wall Plaza is only 70 meters of it.

The tour of the Western Wall allows visitors to reach the segments of the wall which is usually unseen, and to actually touch and feel the original and special stones that tell the story of the Jewish nation. Guests walk through the ancient and endlessly fascinating underground spaces, with beautiful and finely detailed archeological discoveries, including the water pits, the large stone arches, and an aqueduct that ends at the Strouthion Pool, and so much more.

The tunnels are supported by several arches and have stairways that linked the ancient city with the Temple Mount, over the Tyropoeon Valley which ran along Temple Mount’s western side, separating the two. Today, these subterranean passage ways support streets, residential properties and businesses in the Muslim Quarter.

The discovery the tunnels

The tunnels were discovered during several digs carried out by British archaeologists during the 1800s. But due to political strife, the actual excavations were not carried out until after the Six-Day War in 1967, where Israeli archaeologists were finally allowed to investigate the tunnels in detail.

One of the most distinctive and special places to visit inside the Western Wall Tunnel is the point that is traditionally considered as the closest to where the Holy of Holies used to locate on the Temple Mount. In Judaism, the term “Holy of Holies” refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle where God’s made His presence. It is considered the holiest place for Jews. In the Holy of Holies inside the tunnels, there is a small synagogue where Jews come to pray.

As water tunnels, they were essentially public works. There are several channels that supplied water to the Temple Mount, and a pool that may have been thought as a bath or cistern. There are also architectural evidences that both the Romans and the Muslim caliphates, who ruled Jerusalem for many years, were the ones who did severals reconstructions on the tunnels – an indication that they used them as thoroughfares.

Today, the Western Wall Tunnel is open to the public, attracting the faithful, history lovers and curious tourists alike. The tunnels are still being excavated, albeit gradually. New artifacts, from earthenware to coins, are still being found along the way.