Israeli archaeologists have reportedly discovered an opulent building where VIPs and members of the elite were likely welcomed on their way to visit the nearby Temple Mount some 2,000 years ago.
“This is, without doubt, one of the most magnificent public buildings from the Second Temple period that has ever been uncovered outside the Temple Mount walls in Jerusalem,” Shlomit Weksler-Bdolach, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
The grandiose structure will soon be part of the Western Wall Tunnels itinerary, offering visitors a glimpse into life during the first century, the IAA and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said.
The structure featured two rooms decorated with Corinthian capitals — the topmost parts of a column — protruding from the walls of the rooms, which offered wooden sofas where visitors could rest, drink and eat while reclining in luxury, according to the news outlet.
Another chamber contained a sumptuous fountain with running water.
“The furniture did not survive but we can still spot their imprint on the walls,” Weksler-Bdolach said.
Part of the imposing structure was first discovered in the 19th century during work conducted by British archaeologist Charles Warren, who reached the roof of one of the chambers.
“The structure was completely filled with soil, but just by spotting the highest parts of the walls, he understood that it was a prominent building,” Weksler-Bdolach told the Jerusalem Post.
“We were able to reach the floor and collect pottery, coins, as well as organic samples for the carbon-14 dating, which have all allowed us to understand when the construction works started,” she said.
IAA architect Shachar Puni said: “The new route provides a better understanding of the complex and important site known as the Western Wall Tunnels, while emphasizing the extent of this magnificent building.”
Mordechai Soli Eliav, chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, said “visitors will view fascinating finds and walk for the first time along the entire route among Second Temple-period remains that illustrate the complexity of Jewish life in Jerusalem between the Hasmonean and the Roman periods.”
The Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, also houses the Haram al-Sharif compound, the third-holiest site in Islam that includes the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.