Unique Roman Villa Uncovered at the City of David

A third-century AD house from the Roman period has been uncovered at excavations in the City of David in Jerusalem. The building covers about 1,000 square metres and has emerged during a dig that is being carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Dr Doron Ben-Ami is the excavation director on behalf of the IAA, and he believes that the house was centred on a large open courtyard encircled by columns. He said: Galleries were spread out between the rows of columns and the rooms that flanked the courtyard. The wings of the building rose to a height of two stories and were covered with tile roofs.

There is evidence to show that the Roman villa was destroyed in an earthquake in 363 AD. Its walls have fallen in and the excavation area is piled high with fallen stone masonry from the first and second floors of the house, as well as evidence of frescoes painted with floral and geometric motifs. To date a pearl and emerald earring and a marble statue head have been unearthed at the excavation site.

According to Dr. Ben-Ami, this house has a unique design which has not been seen in other places in Israel. He says: We know of no other buildings from the Roman period that were discovered in Israel which have a similar plan to that of the building from the City of David. The closest contemporary parallels to this structure are located in sites of the second-fourth century CE that were excavated in Syria. Edifices such as these are ‘urban mansions’ from the Roman period that were discovered in Antioch, Apamea and Palmyra. If this parallel is correct, then in spite of its size and opulence, it seems that this building was used originally as a private residence.

The discovery also turns on its head the belief currently held by many scholars that the City of David hill lay outside the Roman settlement during the third and fourth centuries AD. The Israel Antiquities Authority describes the discovery as extremely important archaeological evidence which shows that the growth of the settlement extended further south than previously thought during the period of Roman control, during which Jerusalem was known as Aelia Capitolina.

Photos courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.