The Archaeological Garden of Ramat Rachel is an ancient archaeological site dating back from the Judahite Kingdom, Byzantine and early Islamic periods. Ramat Rachel means the hills or heights of Rachel, referring to the biblical matriarch Rachel, the favorite of Jacob's two wives, and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.
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At the ancient Tel of Ramat Rachel archaeological excavations have uncovered 2,700 years of history. In the time of Judahite Kingdom a monumental royal palace was built here. After its abandonment the rural settlement that established in its place lasted about a thousand years.
The archaeological garden includes walking trails with sculptural elements and observation points overlooking Bethlehen and Jerusalem.
In 1954 CE, archaeologist Yochanan Aharoni began priliminary excavations at Ramat Rachel. Two years later, on Sunday, September 23, 1956 CE, five hundred participants of the twelfth conference of the Israel Exploration Society assembled at the site to hear Dr. Aharoni's explanations of his recent discoveries.
During the third century BCE the compound was abandoned, torn down and completely covered over. The rural agricultural settlement that came about it its place lasted a thousand years. It began as a Jewish village and then, after the destruction of Jerusalem, became a rural Roman estate. The settlement evolved into a large Byzantine Christian village with a church, and continued on in early Islamic times until it was finally abandoned in the eleventh century CE. In 1926 CE, kibbutz Ramat Rachel was founded nearby and the site's antiquities were gradually uncovered. After May 1948 CE after Israel declared its independence, the hill became Israel's southern most outpost on Jerusalem's borders until 1967 CE.
During the early Roman Period, burial caves, columbari, and ritual baths characteristic of the period were hewn into the site's soft nari bedrock.
The tel of Ramat Rachel was the seat of a royal edifice dating to the kingdom of Judah. It was situated on a prominent hill overlooking the unction of roads that led to the city of Jerusalem from the south and west. The palace compound was erected in three building phases between the eighth and the third centuries BCE. At its zenith, the edifice included fortifications, ceremonial coutyards, complex water works, and a royal garden of scope and grandeur unparalleled in Judea. The builders challenged the natural environment and made conspicuous use of water and flora. The ancient name of the edifice and the identity of its builders have been lost. It seems that the palace served administrative and ceremonial functions under the patronage of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires.
The entrance to the palace was from the east, through a rectangular courtyard with a gate that led to the central ceremonial courtyard. Palatial wings flanked the courtyard to the north, west and south, with a commanding tower on its western side. The royal gardens, with their rare vegetation and decorative water installations, were planted west of the palace.
After the edifice was abandoned, its western facade was entirely demolished. The garden area was covered over, and the walls of the citadel and western fortifications were torn down to the ground. Thus the destroyers of the palace deliberately eradicated its monumental image from Jerusalem's landscape.
The modest rural church constructed at Ramat Rachel in the seventh century CE was built on the foundations of earlier structures. It was intended to serve the local community of the large Byzantine village that grew here, nearby the important church and religious center of Kathisma Palaeon, which lies west of the hill.
The plan of the church includes a well-built ashlar apse, two rows of columns which divided the church into a nave and two isles, and a narthex to the west with a side entrance from the south. The church remained active during the early Muslim rule until its collapse during the eighth century CE. A decorated mosaic floor uncovered beneath the church was part of a patrician home from the Roman period.
The northern fortifications of the palaca included a casemate wall - a wallconsisting of anouter wall withpartition walls between them. The casemate wall served as a fortification, as well as support for the earth fill onwhich the palace was built. The wall is builtof worked stones (ashlar) cut out of the local naribedrock fromthemany quarries discovered in the vicinity, especially on the western slope. The Ramat Rachel casemate wall is reminiscent of the wall in the palace of Samaria - the capital of the kingdom of Israel.
Mikvat (Ritual Baths)
The Mikvat (the ritual immersion bathing pools) cosisted of a number of steps leading down to a wide basin; these were used by the local inhabitants for purification. It was later converted into water cistern that functioned well into the Byzantine times.
It is an elliptical chamber carved in the bedrock and used for raising pigeons that served as a food source and for sacrificial purposes as well. Four rows of niches where the pigeons nested were carved into its walls.
The burial cave, located west of the columbarium dates to the Second temple and was used again in the later Roman period. Human remains along with burial or grave goods like jewelry, oil lamps and glass vessels were also found in the cave.
The royal garden surrounding the western facade of the palace was planted in the seventh century BCE. The bedrock was lowered and leveled, and specially imported gardening soil was laid and planted on the resulting platform. The garden boasted water installations such as plastered tunnels, reservoirs, ornamental pools, and open stone channels.
The garden's vegetation was reconstructed through an analysis of polen grains trapped in the ancient pool's plaster. Apart from local species such as myrtle, grape, fig, poplar, willow and water lilies, traces of plants imported from distant parts of the Assyrian and Persian empires were identified, such as cedar of Lebanon, Persian walnut, and citron (etrog). The well-irrigated garden and its rare vegetation symbolized the power and affluence of the rulers residing in the palace at Ramat Rachel
Pool in the Ancient Royal Garden
The water pool is the most notable and easily identifiable architectural element that remains of the ancient garden. Its walls are built of worked stones (ashlars) and plastered inside and out. Its depth is approx. 1.1 meters and could hold approx. thirty-five cubic meters of rain water, apparently collected from the palace complex. Its raised position ensured the water supply for irrigation and ornamental uses throughout the garden. Two stone-carved drainpipes were built into the walls, one nearthe pool floor, and the other, higher up, funneled water via a stone valve to a small waterfall where water cascaded into a stone basin and drom there to another drain that conveyed the water westward.
Roman Rural Estate
In the second century CE, a Roman rural estate built at Ramat Rachel most likely served high Roman officials of the provincial rule, or Roman veterans. The estate included a number of structures and agricultural installations. The villa was built in typical Roman style, with a central peristyle (colonnaded) courtyard.
Additional remains of the period, discovered primarily near the gate of the inner palace courtyard, were dismantled during Aharoni's excavations. These consisted of a bathhouse with three central rooms paved with mosaics, as well as an elaborate network of water reservoirs and conduits. The hypocaust (heating system) columns were made of tiles stamped with the seal of the Tenth Legion "Legio X Fretensis".
It was a rectangular subterranean hall covered with a vaulted roof. The hall was used for about 600-800 years, starting with its building during the Byzantine era till the early Muslim era.
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