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Spectacular archaeological find adds to Temple Mount’s contested history

The discovery of the ancient Greek fort of Acra adds a new layer to the contested history of The Temple Mount.

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    A general view of Jerusalem's old city shows the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, October 25.
    Amir Cohen/Reuters
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A recent discovery at the site of the Temple Mount appears to confirm that Greeks also had a presence in the ancient city.

The ancient Greek fort of Acra was discovered under a parking lot in the City of David, south of the Old City walls and the Temple Mount, reports the Times of Israel.

"The new archaeological finds indicate the establishment of a well-fortified stronghold that was constructed on the high bedrock cliff overlooking the steep slopes of the City of David hill," a statement from the archaeologists said.

According to The Times of Israel, the fort was manned by Hellenized Jews and mercenaries who were paid by Antiochus to oversee access to the military base and the ancient Temple Mount itself. The archaeological site contains arrowheads, stones from an ancient catapult, and an enormous stone wall.

According to Jewish history, the ancient Greek fort of Acra was built by the ruler Antiochus, who sought to ban Jewish religious practices. The result of that attempted ban, and the resulting Maccabean rebellion, gave rise to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

The discovery of the Greek fort adds a new layer to the contested history of the Temple Mount, which has long been surrounded by questions of ownership and control, all the way down to disagreements over which name Jews and Muslims think should be used for the site: Jews call it by the Hebrew name "Har HaBayit" (Temple Mount), while Muslims call it by the Arabic name "Haram a-Sharif" (Noble Sanctuary). 

Control of the Temple Mount was briefly claimed by Israeli forces following the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967, but the government immediately handed that claim back to Muslim hands. Today, a shaky compromise allows Muslims to worship at the Al-Aqsa mosque in one part of the site, and Jews to worship at the Western Wall in the other.

But a recent spate of stabbing attacks against Israelis, and retaliation by authorities, which has left nine Israelis and 68 Palestinians dead may threaten the current order.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that the site of the Acra fort will be opened to the public on December 6th, the same day that Hanukkah starts.

[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article used the incorrect Hebrew and Arabic names for the site referred to in English as The Temple Mount. It also misstated the location of the site.]

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