The gate in the city wall near the Temple Mount is Dung Gate, which leads downhill to the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, site of Jerusalem and the ancient City of David as it existed around 1000 B.C. Until the medieval era, Silwan was encompassed within the walls of Jerusalem; only when the walls of the city shrank to their present configuration, and the city wall separated Silwan from the rest of the city, was the Dung Gate built. For centuries, the gate was just a small doorway in the wall, but in recent years it has been widened to accommodate cars and buses. Jerusalemites claim that the gate is named for the debris from each consecutive destruction of Jerusalem that was dumped out into the valley below. Silwan today is as crowded as in ancient times -- its houses now climb the sides of a steep cliff at the edge of the Mount of Olives. Silwan is where the original settlement of Jerusalem developed in prehistoric times beside the Gihon Spring. Its streets are where the prophets walked, and the events of First Temple Jerusalem took place.

By the 2nd century B.C., the growing city of Jerusalem was expanding uphill and northward, onto the site of the present Old City. The newer Upper City was the more affluent part of town; the older Lower City was densely populated and poor. In the centuries after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the population of Jerusalem had so greatly decreased and the technology of warfare had progressed to such a point that the original City of David was no longer militarily defensible. It was left outside the walls of the city and by medieval times had sunk to the status of a small, sporadically settled village known as Silwan. So completely forgotten was the site of the original city that until late in the 19th century, most historians and visitors believed the Jerusalem of the First Temple period had been located on the site of the present Old City.

In Silwan you can visit the underground water tunnel and the collection Pool of Siloam (in Hebrew, Shiloah) built by King Hezekiah in 701 B.C.; this remarkable structure hid Jerusalem's water supply from the Assyrians and saved the city from destruction. At the southern end of Silwan (which takes its Arabic name from the biblical pool of Siloam), just beyond where the walls of old Jerusalem would have been, are ancient overgrown gardens of pomegranates and figs still watered by the Gihon Spring. These gardens, originating in prehistoric times, most likely occupy the site of the gardens of the kings of Judah and may be the site of the walled gardens that inspired the Song of Songs. It was to a tent beside the Gihon Spring that David initially brought the Ark of the Covenant, the pivotal first step in Jerusalem's transformation into a holy city. Here the ark had rested until the Temple of Solomon was built to house it. The Bible also records that King David was buried inside this city; if so, his tomb should be somewhere in Silwan rather than at the site on Mount Zion that has been venerated since at least medieval times. Normally, under Judaic law, burials are not permitted within the walls of a city, but the Bible records that an exception was apparently made for King David. Archaeologists are still searching for evidence of the Davidic burial site, but the Lower City was extensively quarried for building stone in the centuries after the Roman destruction, and the true location of David's tomb, legendary for its powers, remains one of Jerusalem's mysteries.

However, under current political conditions, it is best to visit this area with an organized tour. Sandeman’s Tours offers a variety of escorted Old City walking tours, including a free introductory 2-hour tour; ask at the tourist office for information. Archaeological Seminars Ltd. (tel. 03/915-0080) and SPNI Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (tel. 03-638-8653) also lead very good guided tours.

The Hidden Wall -- For centuries the small stretch of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount used for Jewish prayers was the only part of the Herodian Temple Mount complex non-Muslims could actually approach and touch. The once-important southern wall of the Temple Mount was largely hidden by accumulated earth and debris, and by later buildings that rose and fell with each successive wave of history. Now excavations have made the southern wall and extreme southern part of the Western Wall accessible all the way down to the Herodian street level. At a quiet time of day, when no tour groups are trudging through, you can sit in the shade of an ancient shop doorway and contemplate the charisma and enormity of the Herodian ashlars. Wild capers grow out of the monumental walls. If you look up near the extreme southern end of the Western Wall where the level of earth would have been centuries ago, you can see a large ashlar on which, probably in the Byzantine era (before Islamic times), archaeologists believe a Jewish pilgrim to the ruined Temple Mount carved the Hebrew words from Isaiah 66:14: "And when you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb." For 1,500 years, this visitor's message lay hidden and forgotten in the earth.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.