Gabriel Barkay

For Gabriel Barkay access to the Old city was like opening a treasure box

When the Six Day War broke out Gabi Barkay was about to complete his BA in archeology, and for him, access to the Old city was like opening a treasure box. He knew the city from his studies, from observations and from tours he guided, but only from a distance. Now he was able to actually reach all these places.

The year after the war he worked as partner to Prof. David Ussishkin, one of the senior archeologists in Israel, on the archeological survey of Kefar HaShilo’ach, Silwan – the location of the historical city of David. Together they started investigating about 50 caves of tombs, which was the cemetery of the aristocracy of the Judean Kingdom. At the same time they began a few small experimental digs in the area.  The cave survey was very interesting not only because of the findings, but also because the caves were used by the village people for their daily lives – some were used for sewage, others were used as dwellings, one of the caves was used as a chicken coop, and in another one, the two researchers found that the ancient tomb cave was used to store onions. In order to explore the caves they paid the villagers, gave them medicine they needed and asked for the help of the village Mukhtar. And so they managed to follow in the footsteps of archeologists who had already explored the area and investigate sites formerly unreachable and so immeasurably enrich existing knowledge.

Two main excavation projects were taking place in the Old City at the time – one directed by Binyamin Mazar near the western and southern walls of the Temple Mount, the other directed by Nahman Avigad in the Jewish quarter that was destroyed by the Jordanians. The destruction of the Jewish quarter was a blessing in disguise, because it allowed Avigad unprecedented access to dig in the area, and his digging revealed the magnificence of the buildings of Jerusalem’s wealthy strata in the days of the Second Temple;  the strength of the fortifications that were built in the city before the siege of Jerusalem in the First Temple period.  Mazar’s excavations discovered the greatness and glory of Herod’s monumental buildings, the enormous stones of the Western Wall were revealed and the picture of the magnificent streets around the Temple became clearer.

Gabi Barkay toured these sites almost every day. He investigated the length and breadth of the city, re-discovered places he had only known from books and became thoroughly acquainted with the city walls. These places became a wonderland for Barkay, the young archeologist who was to reveal some of the most important discoveries in Jerusalem.