Thursday morning we stepped back in time into the Jerusalem of King David, which stood on a hill beneath Mount Moriah. Slowly, we wound our way back to through tunnels, water, alleyways and time, passing beneath cities and pushing up against the foundations of the Temple Mount until we reached the Jerusalem we know.
We began at the excavations of David's City, which are the remains of a Jebusite city supposedly conquered by King David and used as his capital, Jerusalem. At the base of the only water source of the city, a fortified spring, there is a tunnel that was carved out of the rock by King Hezekiah to divert the water from the spring to another pool in preparation for a siege by the Assyrians. This tunnel can still be traversed today. With a deep breath, we walked into the ground and about 2,500 years back in time. The water in the tunnel was ice cold, but luckily rarely rose higher than our ankles. The rock walls were narrow, requiring us to walk single file with flashlights spread out between every few people. At times, the ceiling was meters above our heads, but other times it was so low that I, at a height of 5"1 had to bend almost in half to avoid hitting my head. We sang as we walked, and even though you could only see the person in front of you, you could hear everyone's voices echoing in harmony off the stone walls.
Hezekiah's tunnel comes out at the Pool of Siloam, the lowest point in the City of David. From there, we jumped forward a couple hundred years to the 1st century A.D., and into a Roman Drainage tunnel that ran beneath the street that lead up to the Temple Mount. It was in this small tunnel that the last surviving rebels of the revolt against Rome hid while legions of Roman soldier's marched over their heads. We walked up this tunnel, squeezing between tight walls and crunching bits of pottery, all the way up to the Western Wall.
While there is a small portion of the Western Wall visible above ground, the majority is hidden beneath the city, with many modern-day houses built against it. Though most of the the Wall is hidden from the outside world, it can be explored, touched and prayed at by walking through tunnels beneath the city. We went down and saw layer upon layer of Herodian stone, stretching up and down for meters. We could tell where the Wall had been broken, where it had been repaired, and where it met Mount Moriah.
As we left the tunnels behind us, we emerged onto the sunny streets of modern-day Jerusalem. We passed through all four quarters of the city: the colourful, congested Muslim quarter, where spices fill the air and people jostle you on either side; the quiet streets next to the walled Armenian quarter, which is locked to all but its 2,000 inhabitants; the European-inspired Christian quarter, that almost reminds you as much of Austria as of Jerusalem; and the pristine Jewish quarter, a little piece of Europe in the Middle East. Each quarter is home to a vibrant, proud community, all of which face different challenges in their daily lives.
The streets of Jerusalem are more than just stones and buildings, they are layers of history, each revealing just a hint of the people who have lived in this holy city. Who knows, in 500 years, someone else maybe be descending into a tunnel, hoping to catch a glimpse of the 21st century.