Situation and characteristicsMegiddo, 12km/7.5mi west of Afula and 32km/20mi southeast of Haifa, was an important stronghold in ancient times and, thanks to its strategic situation, retained its military importance into the 20th century. The old road from Egypt to Syria avoided Cape Carmel, leaving the coast near Caesarea and bearing northeast to run through the Iron valley into the Jezreel plain. Megiddo, situated at the mouth of the valley, where the road divides into a western branch heading for Tyre and Sidon and an eastern branch making for Damascus and Mesopotamia, controlled these important trade and military routes.HistoryExcavation of the tell of Megiddo began in 1903-05 with the work of the German Palestine Society, when Schumacher cut the deep, wide trench on the east side which bears his name. Between 1925 and 1939 the site was systematically investigated by the Chicago Oriental Institute, and in 1960 Yigael Yadin began the excavations which established the chronology of the site. This work showed that after a period of occupation in the Neolithic era there was a Canaanite settlement here in the fourth millennium B.C. which continued in existence until the Israelite occupation of the Promised Land. From this period date a Chalcolithic shrine and another one nearby with a large circular altar. After a battle in 1479 B.C. in which Pharaoh Tuthmosis III gained control of the pass during his advance to the Euphrates the town was under Egyptian influence. In the Tell el-Amarna archives (14th century B.C.) were found letters from the Egyptian governor Biridja asking for military reinforcements against the Habiru (Hebrews?). In the 13th century B.C. Joshua, after his triumph over the king of Hazor, also defeated the king of Megiddo (Joshua 12,21); but the Israelites held the town only for a short time, for in the 12th century the Philistines, thrusting inland from the coast, conquered Megiddo and the whole of the Jezreel plain as far as Beth-shean.A new phase began around 1000 B.C., however, when David defeated the Philistines. In the 10th century Solomon made Megiddo the chief town of the fifth administrative region of Israel, extending as far as Beth-shean, with Baana son of Ahilud as its governor (1 Kings 4,12). Yigael Yadin's excavations brought to light, to the east of the main gate, a Northern Palace dating from this period, probably the royal residence, and one of the casemate walls characteristic of Solomon's time, like those at Hazor and Gezer, as well as the formidable North Gate. On the south side of the site were the palace of the governor, Baana, and an administrative building. "This was not a mere fortress but a metropolis with imposing buildings designed for ceremonial purposes" (Yadin). The Solomonic city was destroyed in 923 B.C. by Pharaoh Seshonq (the Shishak of the Old Testament) and had to be rebuilt by King Ahab in the ninth century. On the site of the North and South Palaces were built stables for 450 horses (long known, erroneously, as "Solomon's Stables"). Ahab, who no doubt attached particular importance to Megiddo because of its situation on the road to Phoenicia, his wife's home country, renovated the Solomonic gate, built a strong new wall round the town and dug a large tunnel to ensure its water supply. Thereafter Megiddo enjoyed a period of prosperity, which ended in 733 B.C. with its conquest by the Assyrians in the reign of Tiglath-pileser III. In 609 B.C. King Josiah of Judah was killed at Megiddo in a battle with Pharaoh Necho. After the Persian conquest in 538 B.C. the town was abandoned, but in Roman times a camp occupied by the sixth Legion was built 2km/1.25mi south of the tell. This gave its name to the Arab village of Lajun, now the kibbutz of Megiddo.In more recent times Napoleon (in 1799) and General Allenby (in 1917) won victories over Turkish armies at Megiddo, and here too in 1948 the Israelis defeated Arab forces which were threatening Haifa.
The tell of Megiddo, carefully and thoroughly excavated and now beautifully laid out by the National Parks Authority, is a fascinating and instructive site of great historical interest.
In Megiddo there is a view down into the Schumacher Trench, in which a Canaanite shrine was excavated. A particularly notable feature is a large circular altar ("high place") dating from an earlier period which was renovated around 1900 B.C. when the immediately adjoining Eastern Temple (Level XV) was built. It is some 1.25m/4ft high and has a diameter of 7m/23ft, with steps on the east side leading up to the "high place".
Near the parking lot in Megiddo is a building housing a refreshment stall and a museum which with its various displays and a large model of ancient Megiddo forms an excellent introduction to the site.
From the museum in Megiddo a footpath leads to the entrance on the north side of the tell, where, after passing a gate of the 15th century B.C. (on right), we come at a bend in the path to the gate of Solomon's time. The three chambers on either side of the entrance can be clearly distinguished.
Immediately south of the gates of Megiddo are extensive remains of buildings, in which a number of ivories of the 13th century B.C. were found. The path now turns left (east) and runs past the remains of stables or chariot-sheds built by Ahab over the Northern Palace (on left) to a viewpoint from which there is a wide prospect northward over the fertile Jezreel plain to the Galilean hills round Nazareth.
The path from the stables in Megiddo runs down to the large tunnel which guaranteed the town's water supply, This was formerly attributed to the 13th or the 11th century (the time of the Canaanites or Philistines), but Yadin's excavations have firmly dated it to the Israelite period, in the time of Ahab (ninth century B.C.). The source of Megiddo's water is a spring in a cave outside the confines of the town. In the time of Solomon a shaft 2m/6.5ft high and 1m/40in. wide was cut through the walls to give access to the spring on the Southwestern slope of the tell. Ahab, who also provided Hazor with a water supply system, resolved to construct a conduit at Megiddo which would run from inside the town to the spring and in the event of a siege, would not be accessible to the enemy. A shaft was driven down through earlier occupation levels and then through the living rock to a depth of 60m/200ft, and from this a horizontal tunnel was cut through the rock to the spring, a distance of 120m/395ft. The original access to the spring was then closed. This monumental structure, one of the great engineering achievements of antiquity, has been made easy of access for visitors by the construction of staircases and walkways. The exit is through the original entrance to the cave which was closed in the time of Ahab.
Eastern Temple & Double Temple
The Eastern Temple in Megiddo consists - as is normal in Semitic temples - of a vestibule, the main chamber and the holy of holies. The rear wall of the holy of holies backs on to the temple with the circular altar. Built against the inner wall is a square altar approached by steps on the side. Adjoining this temple on the west, at an acute angle, are other cult buildings, presumed to be a double temple for a divine couple. On the valley side are remains of walls from an older temple dating from the Chalcolithic period (fourth millennium B.C.; Level XIX).
Returning from the Eastern Temple in Megiddo and bearing left, we come to the southern section of the tell. In this area, sunk into the ground, is a large circular grain silo dating from the reign of King Jeroboam II (eighth century B.C.) On the inner walls are two flights of steps, so that people could go down one side and up the other at the same time.
Beyond the grain silo in Megiddo are two large complexes built by Ahab on the site of Solomon's palace. To the right is a courtyard with the famous stables, in which the stalls, feeding troughs and pillars with holes bored in them for tethering the horses can still be seen. The stables of Megiddo could accommodate 450 horses, together with the war chariots and their charioteers.