Under the jail – a visit to the Kishle

Read The Citadel of Jerusalem here.
Read Views from the Citadel of Jerusalem here.

After our visit to see Jerusalem from the roof of the Citadel we made our way through the recently cleared dry moat to the steps and pool from the time of Herod the Great. Our guide, David, used a variety of visual aids to explain where we were and how this might have looked in the time of Herod.

Herodian steps at the Citadel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Herodian steps at the Citadel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

From there David led us to the Kishle (Turkish word for Barracks, and many use it as Prison). The Tower of David web site has this brief explanation of the Kishle.

The site known as the “Kishle” is adjacent to the Citadel and Tower of David Museum complex. The structure was erected in 1834 by Ibrahim Pasha who governed the Land of Israel (Palestine) from Egypt.

When the Ottoman Turks regained the area in 1841, the “Kishle” continued to serve as a military compound. During the period of the British mandate, it was used as a police station and prison where some members of the Jewish underground were also incarcerated.

In an article in Archaeological Diggings, Caroline Shapiro (Nov. 2015) explains how this excavation came about.

The Kishle Building, as it is called, stands adjacent to the Tower of David, the ancient citadel that guards Jerusalem’s Old City at the Jaffa Gate entrance. It was built in 1860 as an Ottoman prison or army barracks. The prison was then used as such by the British during Mandate times and then left desolate until the Tower of David Museum decided to clean up the iron prison cells and create a new wing for the Education Department. It housed members of the pre-State underground, the Irgun, the evidence of which is scratched on the walls.

As with any digging in Jerusalem, the clearing up became an excavation and close to 3000 years of history was discovered under its floorboards. The excavations were carried out in 1999–2000 by Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District Archeologist, together with a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), but since then the building has been left untouched. Entrance to the Kishle is via the newly opened moat where visitors walk down the impressive Herodian steps leading down into a Hasmonian pool that would have been the lavish pool connected to King Herod’s palace. (These are the only excavations of King Herod’s Palace; huge foundation walls can be seen as well as an impressive water sewage system.)

The whole site has been dug down some 10 metres (33 ft) deep and about 50 metres (165 ft) long to reveal the various strata. With an arched, cross-vaulted Ottoman ceiling, it is a cavernous, silent cathedral of ancient stones that had been untouched by daylight for millennia.

This is our first view of the excavation as we enter the Kishle. I think it is not incorrect to say that ancient ruins will be found anywhere archaeologists dig in Jerusalem. Many sites of importance are in basements.

General view of the archaeological excavation of the Kishle. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

General view of the archaeological excavation of the Kishle. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On the far right of the photo above, and below, you will see a stretch of wall from Herod’s palace.

Herodian ruins in the Kishle. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Herodian walls in the Kishle. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The oldest ruins uncovered during the excavation belong to the 8th century B.C. Perhaps these ruins belong to the time of Hezekiah, King of Judah (729-686 B.C., McKinny).

Ruins from the 8th century B.C., possibly from the time of King Hezekiah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins from the 8th century B.C., possibly from the time of King Hezekiah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Bible describes the work Hezekiah did in response to the Assyrian threat.

He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance. (2 Chronicles 32:5 ESV)

The Jewish Quarter Excavations began in 1969 under the direction of Professor Nahman Avigad of Hebrew University. Shapiro says he uncovered a 130-foot long section of stone wall that was 23 feet wide and probably 27 feet high. This is the wall we now call the Broad Wall (Nehemiah 3:8; 12:38).

The Broad Wall excavated by Avigad. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Broad Wall excavated by Avigad. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The wall within the Kishle is even further to the west, on the top of the western ridge of the Old City.

Re’em Amit, the archaeologists in charge of the dig, argues that this is the palace of Herod the Great, and the location of the Praetorium where the trial of Jesus took place (John 19:13). When I first began to visit Jerusalem we thought the paved area in the Sisters of Zion was the Praetorium. We still visit the site if time permits because it is important in understanding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, but we now know that the pavement there belongs to the second century A.D.

The Roman Prefect, such as Pilate, would make his residence in Herod’s Palace on his visits to Jerusalem from Caesarea. Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, and Pontius Pilate, the governor [prefect] of Judea were both in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 3:1; 23:4-16). And they were both staying at the best “hotel” in town.

Herod's Palace in the Second Temple model at the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Herod’s Palace in the Second Temple model at the Israel Museum. The Fortress of Antonio is visible at the top/right of the photo. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is not a new hypothesis, but it does provide new evidence to sustain the view. Shimon Gibson has written extensively on this for several years. Gibson, with an allusion to the writing of Josephus, says,

After the grandeur of the Jewish Temple, Herod’s palace was reportedly the most amazing building complex in Jerusalem. (Final Days of Jesus, 93)

Gibson has a essay on this subject in The World of Jesus and the Early Church, edited by Craig A. Evans. In both of these articles Gibson includes drawings of the area under consideration.

Visiting the Kishle:

The Tower of David is open with English guides Sundays to Thursdays at 11 a.m. At other times one may visit with an audio guide. Adult admission is 40 NIS (about $11).

The guided tour including the Kishle (From Herod’s Palace to British Prison) is available in English on Fridays at 10 a.m. for 45 NIS.

Dates, hours, and admission prices change from time to time. Check the Tower of David web site for current information.


Josephus Elaborates on the Palace

— “ —

176 Now as these towers were themselves on the north side of the wall, the king had a palace inwardly thereto adjoined, which exceeds all my ability to describe it;
177 for it was so very elaborate as to lack no cost nor skill in its construction, but was entirely walled about to the height of thirty cubits, and was adorned with towers at equal distances, and with large bedchambers, that would contain beds for a hundred guests a piece,
178 in which the variety of the stones is not to be expressed; for a large quantity of those who were rare of that kind were collected together. Their roofs were also wonderful, both for the length of the beams, and the splendour of their ornaments.
179 The number of the rooms was also very great, and the variety of the figures that was about them was prodigious; their furniture was complete, and the greatest part of the vessels that were put in them was of silver and gold.
180 There were besides many porticoes, one beyond another, all around, and in each of those porticoes elaborate pillars; yet were all the courts that were exposed to the air everywhere green.
181 There were, moreover, several groves of trees, and long walks through them, with deep canals and cisterns, that in various parts were filled with brazen statues, through which the water ran out. There were with this many dove courts {a} of tame pigeons about the canals.  (Jewish War 5:176-181 or 5.4)

— ” —


Selected Sources:

AP You Tube video featuring Re’em Amit, the Jerusalem District Archaeologist of  the IAA in charge of the excavations of the Kishle. In this video Amit seems to be explaining in English and someone else is translating in another language.

Rasmussen, Carl. Kishle Tour. Photos included.

Rotem, Itay (guide), Tower of David Museum. You Tube.

Shapiro, Caroline. “Doorway to the Past.” Archaeological Diggings, Nov. 2015.

Tower of David web site. Here you will find several links to popular articles about the new excavation.

Ziese, Mark. “The Barracks.”

________.  “What Lies Beneath.”  In both articles Ziese includes some historic photos bringing to mind the use of the Kishle during the British period.

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2 responses to “Under the jail – a visit to the Kishle

  1. Pingback: Pools Around the Temple | Leon's Message Board

  2. Pingback: Index of articles – the Romans and the ministry of Jesus | Ferrell's Travel Blog

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