Western Wall dig uncovers ancient Roman theatre

Joe Uziel of the Israel Antiquities Authority sitting on the steps of the Roman theater structure uncovered in the Western Wall tunnels, Oct. 16, 2017. (Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Joe Uziel of the Israel Antiquities Authority sitting on the steps of the Roman theatre structure uncovered in the Western Wall tunnels, Oct. 16, 2017. (Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

JERUSALEM (JTA) – An ancient Roman theatre was uncovered during excavations of the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem.

The discovery of the 200-seat theater structure from the Roman period confirms historical writings that describe a theatre near the Temple Mount, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement Monday.

Excavations also uncovered eight stone courses, or layers of cut stone, the antiquities authority said.

The discoveries followed work to remove a 26-foot layer of earth under Wilson’s Arch, the only intact, visible structure remaining from the Temple Mount compound of the Second Temple period. The arch served as a passageway for visitors entering the Temple Mount compound and the Temple. An aqueduct also passed over the arch.

The excavations were undertaken with the intent to date the arch, according to the antiquities authority.

The structures were built following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, when Jerusalem became the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina.

“From a research perspective, this is a sensational find,” site excavators Joe Uziel, Tehillah Lieberman and Avi Solomon said in a statement. “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 theatre.”

The findings will be presented to the public at a conference at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem titled “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Environs.”

The Second Temple started in 530 BCE.

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