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A photo of the interior of the Siebenberg House.

The Siebenberg House: How a Home Became a Museum

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The Siebenberg House is a house / museum located in the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. The Siebenberg House is best-known for the archaeological finds that have been made beneath the present structure. The excavations under the house have revealed several archaeological layers, and allow one to obtain a glimpse of the city’s history. The Siebenberg House is particularly notable for archaeological material dating to the First and Second Temple Periods. Whilst the structure above serves as a house, the excavated area beneath the house has been turned into a museum, with guided tours being available to visitors.

The story of the Siebenberg House begins in 1970 with a Jewish couple by the name of Theo and Miriam Siebenberg. Theo was originally from Antwerp, Belgium, and had always dreamed of living in his ancestral land, Israel. During the Second World War, Theo and his family fled Belgium when it was occupied by Nazi Germany, and eventually arrived in the USA. In 1967, the Six-Day War broke out, in which several territories belonging to neighboring countries, including the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank were captured by Israel. One of the results of this success was that it boosted the morale of the Israeli people, and the prestige of that country on the international stage. This in turn led to an increase in the number of Jewish immigrants coming from Western countries to settle in Israel. One of these was Theo Siebenberg.

One important find at the premises is a capital (part of a pillar) with the seven menorahs chiseled into it.

One important find at the premises is a capital (part of a pillar) with the seven menorahs chiseled into it. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

When Theo arrived in Israel, he purchased a house in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City (the exact address being 5, Beit Ha’Shoeva, Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem). This would become one of the more peculiar houses of the city. A modern, four-storey town house above ground shelters the archaeological excavations going on underneath this property. Theo reasoned that as the house is situated so close to the Temple Mount, it must have been once inhabited by the Jews during the Second Temple Period. It seems that archaeological surveys conducted at the site revealed that there was nothing of interest beneath the house. Nevertheless, Theo persisted in his belief, and decided to carry out his own archaeological excavations.

The beginning of an ‘escape tunnel’ found in the house. It is theorized that at the time of the Great Revolt (2,000 years ago) the Jewish People were digging escape tunnels underneath the Upper City

The beginning of an ‘escape tunnel’ found in the house. It is theorized that at the time of the Great Revolt (2,000 years ago) the Jewish People were digging escape tunnels underneath the Upper City (Jewish Quarter) ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Prior to the excavations, however, the Siebenbergs had to first support their new house by putting up a multi-section retaining wall with anchors each holding up to 60 tons of pressure, so as to ensure that the building did not come crashing down when the excavations began. It took eight years for this to be completed after which the excavations could commence. It has been pointed out that the earth beneath the house was so compact that it amounted to five times the volume of the excavated area. As the alley outside the house was too narrow for modern machinery, the earth had to be removed manually in buckets, sifted for artifacts, and then carried on the backs of donkeys to waiting trucks.

The key ring, of the Lady of the House, found in the excavation.

The key ring, of the Lady of the House, found in the excavation. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Much attention has been placed on the finds that were made at the site. For instance, the first piece of artifact found was a bronze key ring, supposedly dating to the Second Temple Period. It has been speculated that the key ring was used by a woman to open her jewelry box. Apart from that, other objects such as glassware, armaments, and pottery have also been unearthed. On top of that, ritual mikveh baths, and even an ancient burial chamber have been found. It may be said that a part of the history of Jerusalem, i.e. the First and Second Temple Periods, has been revealed through the excavations conducted at the Siebenberg House, and that it forms a link between the past and the present inhabitants of the city.

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