A fascinating discovery that was recently uncovered in the archaeological excavations conducted by the Antiquities Authority in the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David, in the National Park surrounding the walls of Jerusalem, has apparently led to the solution of one of the greatest puzzles in the archeology of Jerusalem: the question of the location of the Greek (Seleucid) Akra – the famous fortress that Antiochus IV built in order to control the city and supervise activity at the temple, and which was finally brought down by the Hasmoneans.

The excavations in the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park have been going on for a decade. The Ir David Foundation, which oversees the National Park, finances the extensive excavations in the complex. The excavation has been uncovering many findings from various periods in Jerusalem, and is open to the general public, who are invited to come and get a close-up impression of the excavation work at the site.

During the 100 years of archaeological research in Jerusalem, there have been many proposals regarding the identity of the location of the Akra, mentioned in the books of the Maccabees and in the descriptions of the historian Flavius Josephus. This uncertainty is due to the paucity of architectural remains that can be attributed to the time of the Greek presence in Jerusalem.

In recent months, according to the researchers, evidence of a citadel has been uncovered on the Hill of the City of David: a section of a massive wall, the base of a tower of impressive dimensions (about 4 m wide, and about 20 m long) and a “slippery” area. The “slippery” area, which was built near the wall, is a sloping defensive element, made of layers of dirt, stones and plaster, designed to keep the attackers away from the base of the wall. This slope reached as far as the Tyropoeon Valley – the valley that crossed the city in ancient times, and that served as another obstacle as part of the system protecting the fortress. Lead sling stones, bronze arrow heads and catapult stones that were discovered on the site are silent remnants of the battles that took place there during the time of the Hasmoneans in their attempt to conquer the fortress, which stood as a “thorn in the side” of the city.

The sources tell about the population of the citadel with hired soldiers and Jews who had gone over to the Greek side, and about the suffering that the people of Jerusalem suffered from the Akra settlers. The strong system of fortifications withstood all attempts to conquer it, and only in 141 BCE, at the end of a long siege and the starvation of the Greek garrison, did Shimon (Thassi) the Hasmonean succeed in conquering it.

According to the archaeologists Dr. Doron Ben Ami, Yana Chachanovitz and Shlomo Cohen, the directors of the excavation from the Antiquities Authority, “this sensational discovery makes it possible, for the first time, to reconstruct the reality of the settlement and the appearance of the city, on the eve of the outbreak of the Hasmonean rebellion. The new archaeological findings testify to the establishment of a properly fortified citadel, built on the high rock cliff, dominating the steep slopes of the Hill of the City of David. This citadel is close to all access roads to the temple, and cut it off from the southern parts of the city. The many coins, from the days of the kings Antiochus IV to the days of Antiochus VII, and the large number of wine jugs that were brought from the west to Jerusalem and discovered at the site, provide evidence of the time of the citadel, as well as the non-Jewish identity of its inhabitants.”