Archaeologists have discovered an ancient, 200-seat Roman theatre inside the Old City of Jerusalem, along with a large section of the Western Wall that had been buried underground for around 1,700 years.
The discovery was made under Wilson's Arch in the Old City, where researchers from the Israel Antiquity Authority have been excavating the site for the last two years.
The theatre is the first example of a rediscovered Roman public building in Jerusalem.
During the time of the Second Temple, which was destroyed in 70 BC, Wilson's Arch was part of a raised walkway used by worshippers entering and leaving the holy site, above a road containing shops and water drainage systems.
In around 360 BC, the area was covered when earthquake damage led residents to fill the arch with debris to prevent it collapsing.
'The discovery of the theatre-like structure is a real drama,' said one of the excavators, Joe Uziel. 'From a research perspective, this is a sensational find. The discovery was a real surprise: we did not imagine that a window would open for us onto the mystery of Jerusalem's lost theatre.
'Like much of archaeological research, the expectation is that a certain thing will be found, but at the end of the process other findings – surprising and thought-provoking – are unearthed.'
Marks on some stones and half-finished steps suggest that the arena may not have been completed at the time it was filled in, and archaeologists said they believe it was never used.
The results of comprehensive dating tests on materials found at the site will not be known for several months but the team feels sure that the theatre dates from the Roman era. It hopes that further excavations, which are due to take place over the next six months, will reveal even older artefacts dating from the time of the First Temple, which was destroyed in 587 BC.