Tunnels Highlight Jerusalem Attractions

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NEW YORK -- Jerusalem's Western Wall Tunnels (some of which were constructed centuries before the time of Jesus as conveyors of the city's water supply) are among the most popular sites for tourists visiting Israel's capital, according to Arie Sommer, the country's consul for tourism from North America.

Most of what now are called tunnels are excavated areas around the massive retaining walls that supported the plateau called the Temple Mount. On the plateau stood the Temple of Jerusalem. Construction of the retaining walls involved the use of stones weighing as much as 100 tons, a feat that remains a mystery to modern engineers and historians. A pillar in Jerusalem¦s Western Wall Tunnels

The temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, and in the course of the next two millennia, the ground level rose to cover about half the height of the original retaining walls. What remained visible in recent centuries was a small section of the western support stones. This section was dubbed the Wailing Wall because Jews, when they were able to obtain permission from the prevailing rulers to visit the site, would weep and wail that this was all that was left of their ancient glory.

With the Six Day War in 1967, Israel gained control of the Old City, archaeologists took charge of the site and Jews restored the wall's original name, the Western Wall. Digs revealing the true depth of the Western Wall and excavations along its length have been opened to visitors and dubbed the Western Wall Tunnels.

The main tunnel's visitors entrance is adjacent to the Western Wall. The opening of an exit along the northern end of the tunnel to enable visitors to exit into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City near the Via Dolorosa triggered rioting last year by Palestinians, but the attraction has remained safe and open to visitors daily except on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.

Tours include vertical views of excavations that demonstrate the original height of the wall; a model that shows the Temple at its peak 2,000 years ago, and a walk through the tunnel along the Western Wall, passing one of the 100-ton stones, to its northern end.

Admission costs about $3, but some time slots are reserved for organizations.

For information about tour availability, contact:

Phone: (011) 972-2 627-6777, Fax: (011) 972-2 626-4828

For information on use of the area for special occasions, contact: Western Wall Heritage Foundation, Phone: (212) 725-0598, Fax: (011) 972-2 626-4828

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