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Solving One of Jerusalem’s Greatest Archaeological Questions Photo by the Israel Antiquities Authority
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Solving One of Jerusalem’s Greatest Archaeological Questions

03 November 2015

Researchers with the Israel Antiquities Authority believe they have found the remains of the stronghold –the Acra–which the Greeks used to control the Temple more than 2,000 years ago

The archaeologists think that sections of a fortification recently discovered in the Givati parking lot excavations at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, were part of the defenses constructed atop the City of David hill during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (215-164 BCE).

In addition, sling stones, arrowheads and ballistae stones that are evidence of the Hasmonean attempts to conquer the stronghold were also revealed.

A fascinating discovery recently uncovered in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the Givati parking lot at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, has apparently led to solving one of Jerusalem’s greatest archaeological mysteries: the question of the location of the Greek (Seleucid) Acra–the famous stronghold built by Antiochus IV in order to control Jerusalem and monitor activity in the Temple which was eventually liberated by the Hasmoneans from Greek rule.

The Givati parking lot excavations in the City of David National Park have been ongoing for a decade. The Elad Foundation, which operates the national park, is funding the extensive excavations. The Givati excavation continues to uncover numerous artifacts from more than ten different ancient cultures from Jerusalem’s history. the Givati excavation is open daily to the general public.

Over the past 100 years of archaeological research in Jerusalem numerous theories have been put forth identifying the location of the Acra, The uncertainty stemmed from the paucity of architectural remains that can be traced to the Greek presence in Jerusalem.

In recent months, excavators believe that they have exposed evidence of the Acra citadel on the City of David hill: a section of a massive wall, a base of a tower of impressive dimensions (width c. 4 m, length c. 20 m) and a glacis. The glacis, which was built next to the wall, is a defensive sloping embankment composed of layers of soil, stone and plaster, designed to keep attackers away from the base of the wall. This embankment extended as far down as the bottom of the Tyropoeon –the valley that bisected the city in antiquity and constituted an additional obstacle in the citadel’s defenses. Lead sling shots, bronze arrowheads and ballista stones that were discovered at the site and stamped with a trident, which symbolized the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, are the silent remains of battles that were waged there at the time of the Hasmoneans, in their attempt to conquer the citadel which was viewed as a ‘thorn in the flesh’ of the city.
Historical sources state the stronghold was occupied by mercenaries and Hellenized Jews and tell of the suffering Jerusalem’s residents were exposed to at the hands of the Acra’s inhabitants. The fortification’s mighty defenses withstood all attempts at conquering it, and it was only in 141 BCE, after a prolonged siege and the starvation of the Greek garrison within the Acra that Simon Maccabeus was able to force its surrender.