Our Last Week in Jerusalem

Week 13: Our last week in Jerusalem!
Time is flying by so quickly now! I cannot believe I am finally sitting down to write this entry and over a week has passed already. Our time in Tsefat has also come and gone, but I will write more about that later. We are now preparing our final reports of the work we did in Jerusalem and Tsefat and will finish the documentation in the coming week. First, let’s talk about Jerusalem!

Our last week in Jerusalem was spent mostly at the Kotel Tunnels (http://www.thekotel.org/) where we witnessed one of the largest grouting operations – up to 1,000 liters of mortar can be pumped into one vault in a single day and the complex of vaults is huge! The tunnels date to the Roman Period and run along the Western Wall of the temple complex in the Old City. Their excavation and conservation is a fascinating and difficult project, especially since the entire complex of vaults sits under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. This makes the project more difficult in terms of architecture and engineering, but also in terms of politics and religion.

In some places, the top of the Roman vaults is only 30cm below someone’s floor, so the IAA occasionally receives a phone call about mortar coming through the floor of a family’s home or business. Aliza, whom we worked with at the Tomb of David in Jerusalem (week 12), told us another story from her time at the tunnels: they began drilling 1m into the wall and the drill suddenly pulled forward after 20cm. They pulled out the drill to see what happened and saw light and feet on the other side! There was an undocumented room full of people who illegally moved to Israel and were living just on the other side of this worksite. Oops!
Now, grouting is the process by which mortar is injected into the core of a wall or vault in order to stabilize it from the inside. In most periods of history, builders filled walls with soil, which later washed out, settled, or just plain disappeared. Many archaeological and historical buildings have large hollow spaces inside the walls that need to be filled in order to be safe. In our case, in the Kotel Tunnels, this is done with an air compressor and batches upon batches of mortar. The rooms and tunnels that are being conserved now will someday be open to the public and incorporated into the tourists’ tour of the site.
The two best parts of the week were 1) wearing a HasMat suit, of course, and 2) Jonny’s (the IAA conservation engineer of the project) tour of the Kotel Tunnels. As the engineer, he was able to take us to areas that are not yet open to the public – including a potter’s workshop and a very large cistern with much of the original plaster still intact.
Overall, the Jerusalem experience was amazing, but hectic. We did a lot of different types of work, learned a lot at every site we worked at, and got really, really messy (my favorite!).

We also made a lot of friends during our stay at Jerusalem Hostel (http://www.jerusalem-hostel.com/), just across the street from Zion Square, where there are all sorts of restaurants and shops. After the laid-back atmosphere of New Akko, the hustle and bustle of a major city was a nice change. Still, we all needed a few days (or a week in my case) to recover from the …uhhh…adventure of living in a hostel for 3 weeks.

Then, we were off to Tsefat (Safed) for a completely different experience altogether! There is a good reason why I cannot fit both weeks into the same blog entry, so I will catch up soon. For now, I will enjoy the beautiful weather from the rooftop of our BRAND NEW apartment in Old Akko! (Yes, we now live in the Old City by the sea!!!)

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