The remnants of the Acra, a fortress built by the Greek King Antiochus IV more than 2,000 years ago and sought for over 100 years, has emerged from a parking lot in Jerusalem, Israeli archaeologists said Tuesday.
Mentioned in Jewish biblical sources and by historians like Josephus Flavius, the fortress was unearthed after 10 years of excavations under the parking lot.
The discovery solved "one of Jerusalem's greatest archaeological mysteries," the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said.
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The archaeologists unearthed a section of a massive wall, which they said was the base of an imposing tower measuring 66 feet long and 13 feet wide. In addition, the wall's outer base was coated with layers of soil, stone and plaster. The specially designed slippery slope was meant to keep attackers away.
"This stronghold controlled all means of approach to the Temple atop the Temple Mount, and cut the Temple off from the southern parts of the city," said Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Coins dating from the reign of Antiochus IV to that of Antiochus VII, as well as wine jars imported from the Aegean region were also unearthed, providing evidence of the citadel's chronology, as well as the non-Jewish identity of its inhabitants.
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Among the ruins, the archaeologists also discovered lead slingshots, bronze arrowheads and stone catapults, all stamped with a trident, which symbolized the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (215-164 BC).
"They are the silent remains of battles that were waged there at the time of the Hasmoneans, in their attempt to conquer the citadel which was viewed as a ‘thorn in the flesh' of the city," the IAA said.
According to historical sources, the Acra fortress was occupied by mercenaries, and Hellenized Jews which produced great sufferings in Jerusalem's residents.
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The stronghold withstood all attempts at conquest and only in 141 BC was it conquered by the Hasmonean king Simon Maccabeus, after a long siege and the starvation of the Greek defenders.
"This sensational discovery allows us for the first time to reconstruct the layout of the settlement in the city, on the eve of the Maccabean uprising in 167 BC," the archaeologists said.