For a time-travel adventure, plunge underground to where landscape, archaeology, and biblical history intersect. Just south of the Old City walls, the City of David is the very heart of Old Testament Jerusalem, built more than four millennia ago over the vital Gihon Spring. It was given its royal Israelite sobriquet one thousand years later, when the legendary King David conquered the city and made it his capital.
Begin with the great rooftop observation point above
the visitor center, and take in the 15-minute 3-D movie (call ahead for reservations). A few flights of steps down from the center is Area G, uncovered between 1978 and 1985. The sloping structure you see, possibly a support ramp for a palace or fort, dates back to at least the 10th century BC. The most intriguing artifacts found here were 51 bullae, clay seal impressions no bigger than a fingernail, used for sealing documents. Some were inscribed with biblical names.
Head down the steps, where a small sign a third of the way down points to Warren's Shaft and the descent to the spring. Charles Warren was the British army engineer who discovered the spacious, sloping access tunnel—note the ancient chisel marks and rough-cut steps—in 1867. The vertical shaft that drops into the Spring of Gihon wasn't the actual biblical "gutter" through which David's warriors penetrated the city three thousand years ago, as it was hewn in a later era. (A different access to the spring has been discovered elsewhere, so the biblical story remains.) The underground path and steps lead down to the spring.
Waders need water-shoes or sandals, a flashlight (cheap LED ones are on sale at the visitor center) and appropriate clothing: the water is below the knees for almost the entire length of the tunnel (a 30-minute walk), but thigh-deep for the first few minutes. The visitor center has lockers for your unnecessary gear. In this very conservative neighborhood, it's advisable for women to wear covering over their swimsuits when walking outside. The wade is not recommended for very small children.
If you don't fancy getting wet, you can still view the spring, and then continue through the dry Canaanite tunnel, returning aboveground, still within the park but some distance from the Pool of Siloam. It's a steep climb back up to the visitor center, but there is a shuttle van: ask the guard. When you buy your entrance ticket, check that the shuttle is running.
The tunnel emerges in the Pool of Siloam, mentioned in the New Testament as the place where a blind man had his sight restored (John 9). The current exit takes you down modern steps and over the large flagstones of a 1st-century-BC commercial street until you reach a pool unearthed in 2004 by city workers repairing a sewage pipe. Archaeologists exposed finely cut steps and two corners of the pool, possibly a large public mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, for pilgrims who flocked to the Temple two thousand years ago.
An underground Roman-period drainage tunnel is the new adventurous route back up the hill. A small additional fee, paid with your general ticket, allows you to continue north, and emerge in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, inside Dung Gate. Allow 2 1/2 hours for a full unhurried tour of the City of David (though you can cover a lot of ground in less time). Guided tours in English are available.
Off Ophel Rd., Jerusalem, 97400, Israel