Throughout history, residents of the ridge we call the City of David were challenged to devise ways to build upon its steep, rocky slopes.

The most dramatic architectural response to the challenge came from the Israelites who, in the tenth or ninth century B.C., built a stepped stone structure as a huge supporting rampart for some other structure, perhaps a citadel, at the crest of the hill. This area at the City of David’s summit was Jerusalem’s royal-administrative center during the time of David and Solomon.

Seen from the air, the stepped stone structure occupies the center of the photo, directly below a square, shadow-darkened excavation trench. On the reconstruction drawing it is colored blue. Still extant to a height of 44 feet (equivalent to more than five stories), the 43-foot-wide structure has 55 steps. The upper steps are constructed of large limestone blocks approximately 19 inches by 14 inches each; the 15 lower steps are built with smaller stones.

According to Yigal Shiloh, excavator of the City of David, the Israelites built the stepped stone structure on top of a 14th- to 13th-century B.C. Canaanite-Jebusite substructure of stone compartments, colored green on the drawing.

After the time of David and Solomon, Israelite settlers in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. built their houses on top of and into the lower part of the stepped stone structure. Shiloh’s excavation team has given names to three of these houses (tinted yellow in the drawing): Ahiel’s House, the Burnt Room and the Bullae House. Both the drawing and the photograph show the two upright pillars in Ahiel’s House. All these Israelite dwellings were destroyed by the Babylonians with the rest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

But the conflagration that buried the Israelite homes in ash failed to destroy the massive stepped stone structure. In the fifth century B.C., after the exiles returned from Babylonia, Nehemiah probably incorporated part of the stepped stone structure into the wall he built on the eastern crest of the City of David. Still later, in the second century B.C., on the same line as Nehemiah’s wall, another towered wall was built (tinted orange in the drawing), incorporating into it the top of the stepped stone structure; that wall stood until the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.