After years of neglect, a historical treasure dating back to the 8th century BC has now opened its doors in the Old City of Jerusalem: The Kishle, a building adjacent to the Tower of David.

Among other things, it was used as a prison during the War of Independence. Now, after years of excavations and preparations, visitors can stroll through layers of time.

TLV1 reporter Lissy Kaufmann paid a visit.


We are minute from Jaffa Gate. Thousands of tourists, pilgrims come and visit the Old City of Jerusalem. So a minute from Jaffa Gate we are entering this building; it’s a world of silence – the world of the archeologists. With a  sudden breath, you are diving into the archeology of Jerusalem. This is a unique place because we have here all the stratigraphy of Jerusalem, all the historical and archeological sequence of ancient Jerusalem from the first temple period until the time of the British here in Jerusalem.

What this man describes with such enthusiasm is the ‘Kishle,’ a building adjacent to the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is now open to the public. He is Amit Re’em, Chief Archaeologist of Jerusalem. He excavated this place in 2000 and 2001:

You can see the fortifications from the time of Hezekiah the king, the 8th century BC. It’s the first time that archeologists find remains from walls from fortification in the area of the Armenian quarter and the Hill of Zion.

On the day of opening, dozens of people walk past layers of history, a sort of playground for archeologists. Above the fortification, they found the foundations of a retaining wall, as well as the sewage system of Herod’s palace. The traces that were found go all the way up to the last century:

We found a prison from the time of the British. When I first entered this building more than 10 years ago, I could feel the prisoners, I saw the cells, I saw the chains, I saw graffiti of the prisoners in Arabic, Hebrew, and even English.

A man who served time here during Israel’s War of Independence is still alive, and paid a visit – for the first time since then – a few weeks ago. Caroline Shapiro, in charge of International PR at the Tower of David Museum, explains to young visitors the remnants of those days:

Shmuel Matza sat in a cell here for four days and he was obviously really bored and decided that he would do some graffiti on the wall. But if you look carefully, can you see there’s a dark green patch with a white bit?

So it says in there: ‘Raq cach’ and there’s a picture there of Israel from sea to sea – the whole of Israel of what he wanted.

Ten years ago, the museum was looking for a place for its children’s activities. Eilat Leiber, current Director of the Tower of David Museum, suggested the Kishle. Back then, she didn’t imagine she would stand here today, showcasing the treasures that have been found in there:

In my previous position here in the tower of David, I was the director of the education department and we needed some more room and facilities for the children, and I asked the previous director Shoshi Aniv why can’t we use actually this building? One morning we came to see it and it was still a jail and we said, Oh my god we cannot go inside with children – it’s a jail! And then we called the antiquity authorities to ask what can we do with this building and they said, let’s dig, you know, this is the place of Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem. We must find what’s going on here.

International visitors and Israelis alike do now not only have access to the Kishle, but also to the moat of the citadel, which is also full of history, as Caroline Shapiro explains:

The moat was part of the citadel. The citadel as we see it today was built by Suleiman the Magnificent, and it’s a dry moat. But of course before the citadel was here, as is always in Jerusalem’s history, there was something else here. In the 1980s under Rene Sivan when they did the excavations, slowly upon slowly, again, layer upon layer of history was found. And as he sifted through the dirt and the debris they found boxes of wax for the mustache, and they found coins, and sardine cans from Turkish soldiers and before.

Just as history continues to be written in Jerusalem every day, archeologists keep on digging to find more traces from the past. And whoever wants to see the findings in the Kishle and the moat should hurry up and register for the tours in English and Hebrew.

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