Grand Hall from 14th Century Discovered Beneath the Kotel Tunnels


After 10 years of difficult excavations, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation opens an educational center deep beneath the Muslim Quarter dedicated to Jewish history.



Funded entirely by Jewish Ukrainian billionaire Zvi Hirsch (Gennady) Bogolyubov, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation unveiled on Sunday a fully excavated grand hall from the 14th century in the Western Wall Tunnels that took 10 years to restore.

UKRANIAN OLIGARCH Zvi Hirsch (Gennady) Bogolyubov poses in the excavated educational center he spent millions to finane in the Western Wall Tunnels Sunday. – Photo: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST

The hall, which has been converted into an educational center, took millions of dollars and close oversight by the Israel Antiquities Authority to complete.

According to the IAA, the excavation focused on five separate areas below the Ohel Itzhak Synagogue, which extended into spaces beneath the homes of Palestinians living east and south of the synagogue.
“The IAA unearthed an area that includes several structures, among them the continuation of the 14th century Hammam al-Ein, a wide domed area from the same period, and remains dating back as far as the 1st century CE,” an IAA official said.

“Although the majority of the finds are undoubtedly from the Mamluk period, identified with Muslim rule in Jerusalem, the educational visitors’ center will address the genealogy of the Jewish nation and its connection to Jerusalem.”

Bogolyubov, an industrialist and leading philanthropist originally from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, currently based in London, paid an estimated $20 million to excavate the site, as well as the four others.

Since acquiring his fortune in the late 90s, the billionaire has supported a number of major Ukrainian, Israeli and British Jewish charities, including the construction of the largest Jewish Center in the world, located in Ukraine.

Asked why he donated the estimated the millions needed to excavate and restore the underground areas, Bogolyubov cited his love and patriotism to Israel.

“I did this because of my strong belief that Jews all over world can feel safe because of the State of Israel,” he said at a gala unveiling, featuring a band and catered meal for hundreds. “Everyone must contribute what they can – some contribute by joining the army, some by national service, I did what I can do.”

According to the IAA, the hall, adorned with highly stylized arches which stand on broad, tall stone pillars, was first detected underground adjacent to the Western Wall Plaza.

The structure reveals a window to aqueducts from the early 14th century, located on top of artifacts from various other periods through history.

“On the side of the structure, a staircase from the Herodian period, a section of a Roman road, and even a bathing house from the Mamluk period can all be found,” the official said. “There can be no doubt that this hall represents the wide range of history to be found between the stones of the Jerusalem.”