Visitors to the Old City of Jerusalem are so accustomed to seeing parts of the ancient city walls and fortifications preserved alongside the modern buildings, that it is easy to overlook the particular significance of one of these – the so-called “Broad Wall’. Situated just to the north of the main square at the center of the Jewish Quarter, this is one of the few remnants of Jerusalem left from the time of the First Temple – before the Babylonian destruction and exile in 586 BCE.
The massive section of the foundations of this wall is 8 meters wide, and a plaque on the adjacent modern wall shows its estimated height – also 8 meters – when it was built to protect the north-western flank of the city. The wall is believed to have been built by King Hezekiah during the 8th century BCE in order protect the city from the expected attack by the Assyrian king Sennacherib. Until the Broad Wall was built, the newer suburbs of Jerusalem in this area – known as the western hill – had lain unprotected; the city wall surrounded only the original “Old City” – the City of David in the south east, and the Temple Mount.
There are other places in and around Jerusalem that bear evidence of Hezekiah’s preparation for what was clearly going to be a massive invasion by the Assyrian super power. “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” under the City of David – built to divert the waters of the Siloam spring inside the city walls – is another example of the major defensive engineering works carried out at this time. None of these however shows the signs of urgency and royal direction that can still be observed today at the Broad Wall.
On the left side of the wall, the remains of another smaller structure can still be seen; what is not evident now – but was at the time the wall was excavated in the 1970’s – is that this smaller structure continues on the other side of the wall. In other words, this smaller structure was a house that pre-dated the wall, and through which the wall was driven. Here we have the earliest example of eminent domain – compulsory purchase of a property by the government. We even have this documented in the Bible; the prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Hezekiah, rebuking the king for his reliance only on physical measures of protection, says (32:10) “.. you have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and you have broken (them) down to fortify the wall.” Rarely do specific incidents in the Bible come to life on the ground so vividly as they do at the Broad Wall..