The Western Wall gets all the attention, but only a couple minutes’ walk away is another wall, significantly older and arguably of greater historical (if not spiritual) significance. This is the Broad Wall, also known as Hezekiah’s Wall. Though its ruins run beneath much of the modern Old City, a large portion has been excavated in a location immediately adjacent to the Jewish Quarter’s central square (to the left side if heading towards the Western Wall).
This mighty wall, twenty feet thick and ten feet high in places, was commissioned by King Hezekiah of the Kingdom of Judah in the eighth century BCE, part of an ambitious plan to bolster the city’s defenses in the wake of the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Hezekiah’s plan seems to have worked well enough: with the new wall completed. Jerusalem was able to withstand the armies of Sennacherib even as the countryside was ravaged – though Assyrian and Jewish accounts of the matter are quite different. The Bible claims an angel struck down tens of thousands of Assyrian troops as they camped outside the city and forced the army’s retreat; Sennacherib recalled that his siege of Jerusalem kept Hezekiah “trapped like a bird,” and it was only through the payment of massive piles of tribute that the Assyrians withdrew. Whatever the truth of the matter, the construction of the wall certainly attracted local controversy.
The prophet Isaiah, Hezekiah’s contemporary, raged at the king: “You counted the houses of Jerusalem and tore them down to fortify the wall!” (Fascinatingly, it is plain to see at the current Broad Wall site that the prophet was not exaggerating: the wall stands on the foundations of destroyed houses). Nehemiah, a returnee from Babylon who oversaw the reconstruction of Jerusalem after it was razed by the Babylonians, recounts how a team of laborers repaired the city “as far as the Broad Wall.” The Broad Wall also served as definitive archaeological evidence that by the mid-First Temple Period, the settled areas of the city of Jerusalem had expanded to what is now the Old City, and were not, as previously thought, still limited entirely to the Ophel.
The Hezekiah Wall in the Cardo
Reconstruction work following the 1967 war allowed archaeologists to excavate various areas in the Jewish Quarter. One of the most significant finds from the Old Testament First Temple period was the Broad Wall. Built by Hezekiah in the days before the 701 B.C. invasion by the Assyrian king Sennacherib, the Broad Wall enclosed the Western Hill and increased the walled area of Jerusalem five-fold.
Archaeologists cannot agree why there is a north-south part of the Wide Wall built below what is now the Cardo (It can be viewed through windows in the pavement.) and also an east-west part of the Wide Wall, discovered by Nahman Avigad, built by Hezkiah which is shown in the photographs above. Did one wall replace the other (as Avigad claimed)? Or, was this a double fortification (as Eyal Meron claims)?