During the Jerusalem leg of my trip to Israel, I stayed at a small hotel in East Jerusalem, not far from the walls of the Old City. I chose the strange, poorly kept hotel for its price and proximity to everything I wanted to see in town and was overall pretty pleased with the access. Every morning, while walking to the core of Jerusalem, I passed a strange recess in the walls between the Damascus and Herod’s Gates. Finally, as my time in the ancient city drew to a close I decided to investigate further.
The curious entranceway is set away from the sidewalk, following the contours of the walls themselves. As I approached the portal I read the even more curious sign: Zedekiah’s Cave.
I pulled out my trusty guide book from my musty satchel, flipped to the index and sure enough, found the entry for the supposed caves. I paused to look around and wondered why I was the only tourist around, the only other people in the cave area being a swarthy ticket taker and his even more swarthy cousin. I paid my 16 Shekel and descended into the caves.
It was another sweltering day in Jerusalem and I was a sweaty mess, I had hoped that these mysterious caves would offer a brief respite. Instead it was humid and hot in the caves and my glasses instantly fogged up. I sat on a nearby bench, wiped off my lenses and read the brochure given to me by the ticket taker.
Zedekiah’s Cave or Solomon’s Quarries as they are also known, is a vast underground limestone quarry running beneath the Muslim Quarter. These amazing caves are thought to have supplied the building materials for the legendary First and Second Temples, the remnants of which are seen in the Western Wall. The entire cave complex was amazingly all dug by hand over a span of more than a thousand years. Walking through the expansive cave system, it was hard to believe that it was not natural but rather the result of slave labor.
I wandered for a bit, marveling at the colors of the exposed rocks and dodging the drips of water as they fell from the roof of the cave. I was the only person in the cave and I can imagine how spooky it must have been when the caves were rediscovered in the 19th century.
After a half hour or so, I made the trek back up to the mouth of the cave, tipped my hat to the swarthy guy and re-emerged into the bright, mid-day sun.
While it may not be the most exciting site in the Old City, it seems to not be on the standard tourist path and is one of the few areas where you can marvel at the history of the city without being overrun by hundreds of people.