israeltourism / Foter / CC BY-SA

Researchers say that what began merely as a plan to expand Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum may have resulted in a fascinating discovery- the possible site of the trial of Jesus Christ. Initial building plans began by digging beneath the floor of an abandoned building located next to the museum. Though excavators where aware that it had been used as a prison during the rule of both the British and the Ottoman Turks, as they dug deeper they began to discover that the site also held the remains of an ancient palace. This palace, many historians suspect, may be the site where Jesus Christ was condemned to death under Pontius Pilate.

After years of careful excavation and delays brought on by war and financial strain, the site has finally been opened to the public via tours offered by the museum. Jerusalem district archaeologist Amit Re’em told The Washington Post that the site “is a great part of the ancient puzzle of Jerusalem and shows the history of this city in a very unique and clear way.”

Indeed it does. The site unfolds like an ancient time capsule with fascinating contributions spanning thousands of years. Inside you’ll find everything from etchings left in the walls of prison cells by Jewish Resistance fighters in the 1940’s to fabric dyeing basins used during the time of the Crusades. Archaeologists even came across an ancient sewer system thought to have run beneath the palace built by King Herod the Great during the reign of the Roman empire.

Where exactly the trial of Jesus took place has been a subject of debate over the years among Christians, as it’s also the starting point for pilgrims who walk the Via Dolorosa, or Stations of the Cross. The journey takes followers from the site thought to have been where Jesus was tried and sentenced to death all the way to the point He is believed to have been buried before rising from the grave 3 days later.

Experts say that although the starting point for the Via Dolorosa was once near the area where the museum and prison are located, it was moved in the 13th century. During that time it underwent a shift to it’s current location at the Antonia Fortress, which was once an ancient Roman military site and is located nearer to the Dome of the Rock.

The debate between which location was actually the site of Jesus’ trial is largely based on various interpretations of Biblical clues by different scholars. While champions of the Antonia Fortress argue that Jesus would’ve been brought before Pilate in the military barracks, others insist that the Roman general would’ve no doubt been a guest in Herod’s palace at the time.

Experts do say however, that the trial site has always been suspected to have been located near the Tower of David and that the recently unearthed palace definitely fits it’s specifications as described in the Gospel of John. The ancient author describes the scene of the trail as unfolding near a gate and mentions bumpy stone pavement, both of which fit archaeological findings near the newly proposed site of Christ’s conviction.

So will the discovery turn the centuries old route of the Via Dolorosa on it’s head? Rev. David Pileggi of an Anglican church near the museum say probably not any time soon.

“What makes a place holy is the fact that people have gone there for hundreds of years, prayed, cried and even celebrated there, so I don’t think there will be changes to the route anytime soon. But the prison does give us a clearer explanation of Jerusalem’s history.” he explained.

Either way, the newly opened site is a fascinating destination for anyone interested in the history that’s unfolded over the centuries inside Jerusalem’s walls.