Today, as a result of archaeological discoveries, we are able to have a reasonably precise idea of the topography of Calvary. The 1961 restorations opened archaeological trenches in various points of the church. From these trenches it is now known with certainty that the area served as a stone quarry from the eighth to the first centuries BC.
Evidence of the quarry, of meleke limestone, is provided by the incisions in the rocks made by quarrymen that can be found throughout the whole area, from the present-day Christian Quarter Road to Souk Khan el-Zeit; such traces are also visible in the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross.
The quarry was abandoned in the second century BC and the area was then used for small gardens, while tombs were hewn in the steep rocky walls. A shafttype tomb – said to be that of Joseph of Arimathea – can still be seen today behind the Chapel of the Syrians. Its presence shows that in the first century the area was still outside of Jerusalem, inasmuch as the Jewish religion did not permit burial inside the city.
The archaeological evidence indicates that Jesus’ tomb was cut out of an isolated spur of this quarry.
The tomb had a low opening, and to enter it would have been necessary to almost get down on one’s knees. After the narrow passageway one reached a vestibule that led to the burial chamber. Here a single burial bench in the form of a shelf had been cut out of the right wall (viewed from the entry).
It is likely that Joseph of Arimathea intended to complete the family tomb by excavating two additional benches on the west and south sides of the tomb, but the events of Holy Week undoubtedly disrupted his plans.
The construction of a new city wall by Herod Agrippa (King of Judea, 41-44 AD) included this area within the new perimeter of the city. The Christians of Jerusalem celebrated at the Holy Places the memory of the great events. As a result of the disorder that preceded the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 AD), the Christians left Jerusalem for refuge
in Pella of the Decapolis.
The rebellion ended in a bloodbath. When the Second Jewish Revolt led by Simon Bar Kokhba broke out in 132 AD, the Roman Tenth Legion stationed in Palestine once again intervened, with the result being the total subjugation of Palestine and the dispersion of the Jews (Diaspora). Jerusalem again underwent a complete transformation.