Charles Warren: Pioneer of Jerusalem Archaeology, 1867-70

By Kevin Shillington

The larger project, of which this forms a part, is a full biography of Sir Charles Warren (1840-1927), Royal Engineer extraordinaire. Warren first came to prominence in the mid-Victorian Age as ‘Jerusalem Warren’, the man generally credited with pioneering archaeological excavation in, around, and under, the Old City of Jerusalem, and in particular, the Haram al-Sharif (which Warren translated as ‘The Noble Sanctuary’), known to Jews as the ‘Temple Mount’. As someone with no previous knowledge of Jerusalem or its archaeology, I felt it essential that I ‘walk in the footsteps of Warren’ as well as talk to current archaeologists about the significance of Warren and his work, and the PEF was kind enough to award me a grant to cover my flight and hotel: 20 October – 1 November 2014.

First I needed to understand the topography of Jerusalem – extremely complicated and very difficult to visualise from purely archival and literary study.

Fig.1: This view of the south-east corner of the Haram was taken from the top of the Mount of Olives. The wall in shadow to the right of the picture is the eastern face, that in sunlight, the southern face. The wall leading away to the top left of the picture, alongside the main road, is the southern wall of the Old City. At the bottom of the picture is the sharp fall-away of the Kidron Valley. I found I could not make sense of this topography until I had walked round and through the entire Old City. [Photo: KS]

Fig.1: View of the south-east corner of the Haram taken from the top of the Mount of Olives. [Photo: KS]

The wall in shadow to the right of Fig 1 is the eastern face of the Haram, the wall in sunlight is the southern face. The wall leading away to the top left of the picture, alongside the main road, is the southern wall of the Old City. At the bottom of the picture is the sharp fall-away of the Kidron Valley. I found I could not make sense of this topography until I had walked round and through the entire Old City.

Understanding Warren’s Jerusalem in the light of today’s Old City is aided by illustration (Figs 2-4):

Fig.2:  The buttress of Robinson’s Arch, at the southern end of the Western Wall of the Haram, photographed by Felix Bonfils in the 1850s and thus, as it appeared when ‘discovered’ by the American theologian Edward Robinson in 1852. [Picture reproduced by kind permission of Fr Jean-Michel Tarragon, from his collection at the Ecole Bibliotheque, Jerusalem.]

Fig.2: The buttress of Robinson’s Arch, at the southern end of the Western Wall of the Haram, photographed by Felix Bonfils in the 1850s and thus, as it appeared when ‘discovered’ by the American theologian Edward Robinson in 1852. [Picture reproduced by kind permission of Fr Jean-Michel Tarragon, from his collection at the Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem.]

Fig.3: Robinson’s Arch in Warren’s day, from the famous Simpson etching of 1867 [original in PEF Archive], with Warren seated with drawing board on his lap.

Fig.3: Robinson’s Arch in Warren’s day, from the famous Simpson etching of 1867 [original in PEF Archive], with Warren seated with drawing board on his lap.

Fig.4 : Robinson’s Arch 147 years later (2014) with, in the centre of the paved street, a metal fence guarding the underground access to Warren’s actual shaft, sunk in the picture above. Warren excavated down to bedrock (a practice which he maintained in all his shafts), which is the same depth again as that between today’s ground level and the base of Robinson’s Arch.[Photo: KS]

Fig.4 : Robinson’s Arch 147 years later (2014) with, in the centre of the paved street, a metal fence guarding the underground access to Warren’s actual shaft, sunk in the picture above. Warren excavated down to bedrock (a practice which he maintained in all his shafts), which is the same depth again as that between today’s ground level and the base of Robinson’s Arch.[Photo: KS]

I was fortunate to have Dr Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who for the past three years has been “continuing Warren’s research”, to guide me through the ‘warren’ of Warren’s ‘underground Jerusalem’ (Figs 5-7).

Fig 5, Slomit & piece of Rob. Arch DSC_0793

Fig 5: Dr Weksler-Bdolah showing me a reproduction of a large piece of rock that had fallen from Robinson’s actual Arch, probably during the Roman destruction of AD 70. [The original is in the Museum]. It was part of the underground ‘rubble’ that Warren blasted his way through with dynamite, causing damage to the rock itself, as can be seen from this picture. [Photo: KS]

Fig.6: One of the ‘galleries’ that Warren and his team excavated below Robinson’s Arch, from a copy of the original Simpson painting in the PEF Archive, showing Warren with lighted candle peering round a huge rock that blocked the roof of his tunnel.

Fig.6: One of the ‘galleries’ that Warren and his team excavated below Robinson’s Arch, from a copy of the original Simpson painting in the PEF Archive, showing Warren with lighted candle peering round a huge rock that blocked the roof of his tunnel.

Fig.7: The author, with electric torch in hand, in the same place today, which has been excavated much deeper for easier passage than in Warren’s day. The rail above was for transporting buckets of rubble cleared in modern times. [Photo: PS]

Fig.7: The author, with electric torch in hand, in the same place today, which has been excavated much deeper for easier passage than in Warren’s day. The rail above was for transporting buckets of rubble cleared in modern times. [Photo: PS]

To be continued …

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