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Kishle Prison

In rude Hebrew, when you want someone to go away or even to tell a cat to get out of here you say “Kishte” So where did this word come from? Well, its origins are in the Turkish language. When the Ottoman Turks ruled Israel there was a lock-up near Jaffa Gate and the Tower of David which the Turks called “Kishle”. Whenever the authorities wanted to clear an area of unruly people (yes the Middle East has some unruly people) they’d tell them to get out of the area or they’d be sent to the Kishle. Somehow Kishle became Kishte but it still means SCRAM!

One thing you don’t want to do today however is Kishte from the Kishle. A little over a year ago the Tower of David Museum opened the site of the Kishle Prison to the general public. The site is an archeological wonder and a tour guide (preferably me) can help you make sense of it all.

The structure was erected in 1834 by Ibrahim Pasha, son of Muhamad Ali, to serve as a military compound. These Egyptians temporarily ruled the Land of Israel when they kicked out the Turks for a number of years. Never a dull moment around here.

When the Turks regained the area the barracks became a prison. During the period of the British mandate, it was used as a police station and prison where some members of the Jewish underground were jailed while they awaited trial. They left some interesting graffiti which can still be seen today. One of the Irgun prisoners scrawled the group’s logo onto the wall, a map of what is today Jordan and the State of Israel.

Amit Re’em, the Jerusalem District Archeologist from the Antiquities Authority carried out the excavations. Like so much of Jerusalem the prison was built atop debris that filled in thousands of years of history. What Re’em found were remains from King Herod’s palace -specifically drainage systems from the palace. Herod built his palace on top of a fortified area built by the previous Jewish dynasty – the Hasmoneans. Remains from this period can also be seen. But what is really amazing is a wall found from the time of King Hezekiah from the First Temple period which proves that the city extended all the way up here from the City of David in the 6th Century BCE!

And then there’s the dying vat – but I can’t tell you everything here, you’ll just have to see the place and hear the stories for yourself.

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