Other sites and archaeological discoveries related to Herodian Jerusalem:)

The Western Wall

One section of the massive retaining walls of the Herodian Temple Mount has come to symbolize the Jewish faith for Jews the world over. Because the wall has been the seen of so much lamentation and weeping by Jews over the destruction of their Temple it has become known by non-Jews as the Wailing Wall. However, this undignified name never won acceptance among traditional Jews. Since the establishment of the State of Israel it is simply called the "Western Wall," or in Hebrew the "Kotel," the "Wall."

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and its subsequent rebuilding as the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina in the 2nd century AD, the Romans banned the Jews from entering the city, and the Byzantines only allowed them to go once a year to pray on the anniversary of the Temple's destruction (9th day of Av, or July-August). Between 1948 and 1967, the wall was in the Jordanian sector of Jerusalem, and once again inaccessible. It became the symbol of the reconquest of the city and the refounding of the Jewish state. Therefore, when the first Israeli troops reached the wall on June 7, 1967, it marked a key event in the history of the Jewish people.

After the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 the area in front of the wall was enlarged and lowered 10 feet to expose more of the wall built by Herod, creating the open plaza seen today. Not all the stones of the wall are original, however. Herod's wall was partially destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and closer examination reveals that it is actually made up of three distinct layers: At the top are smallish uniform stones, attributed to repair work financed by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1866. Below are layers of medium-sized stones, possibly added by the Umayyad Muslims or Abbasid Moslems, or the Crusaders. Beneath that are nine courses of very large Herodian stones, carefully fitted together with recessed margins and a large, slightly raised central panel (boss), a trademark of Herodian construction. Further excavations have revealed nineteen rows of Herodian blocks, reaching down 52 feet below the existing pavement. While standing next to the wall you can see the small offset of each row of stones. Every stone is slightly set back from the stone below it, giving the viewer the illusion of a perfectly straight wall. If the stones were exactly aligned, the wall would appear to be leaning forward.

In the southern section of the wall — today's women's prayer section — is a wide stone spanning two courses of Herodian stones. This is thought to be the lintel of the Coponius Gate dating to the Second Temple period one of the eight gates in the Second Temple period leading to the Temple esplanade. Today it is called Barcley's Gate after the 19th century AD American who first discovered it. About half of this lintel is buried under the modern ramp that gives access to the Temple Mount.

Today, the plaza in front of the Western Wall is a constant goal for the Jewish faithful who come here to pray at all hours of the day or night, men separate from women in the orthodox tradition. Nothing interrupts this continual dialogue. Many traditions are linked to the Western Wall: one of them is to write prayers on bits of paper and slip them into the cracks between the stones.

Wilson's Arch

Situated to the north of men's prayer section in front of the Western Wall is an underground area where many Jewish men go to pray, especially in inclement weather (women are not permitted here). It is known as "Wilson's Arch" (right, lower center of photo) after 19th century British explorer Charles Wilson. Actually, it was discovered by Titus Tobler, a Swiss-German explorer who came to Jerusalem in the 1850s. He relayed his discovery to Wilson, who publicized it. As a result, it became known as Wilson's Arch instead of Tobler's Arch.

During the Second Temple Period, Wilson's Arch supported a huge bridge leading from the Temple Mount west across the central valley to the higher western hill of the city. This north-south valley was identified by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus as the Tyropoeon Valley, or, in an incorrect translation, the Valley of the Cheesemakers. It was an easy walk across the bridge from the wealthy mansions of the Upper City to the Temple. But the main purpose of the bridge was to transport water to the Temple for daily cleansing rituals. It was built by Herod the Great late in the 1st century BC to replace an earlier bridge built by the Hasmonean rulers and destroyed during Pompey's conquest of Jerusalem in 63 BC. The source of the water was three large pools called (incorrectly) "Solomon's Pools," located some 15 miles south of Jerusalem, just outside Bethlehem. Spring water was collected in the pools and carried through a channel directly to the Temple Mount for priestly use.

According to Josephus, the bridge-aqueduct was destroyed by the Jews themselves during the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 AD) to isolate the Temple from the Roman legions. Much later, in the 7th-8th century AD, it was rebuilt as part of major construction projects by the Umayyad Arabs. During the Arab period, there were in fact two abutting, parallel bridges forming the bridge. In rebuilding the bridge, the Umayyads used the remains of the first bridge and some of the earlier stones that had been left in place since the original destruction. For support they used two parallel arches instead of the one original arch.

In the 1860s, another British explorer, Lieutenant Charles Warren, who, like the aforementioned Charles Wilson, worked on behalf of the London-based Palestine Exploration Fund, excavated the area beneath "Wilson's Arch." His usual method was to dig deep, narrow, vertical shafts, usually along walls. A pair of his shafts can still be seen, now well lit and covered with wire gratings, in this underground prayer area north of the Western Wall plaza. Looking down the eastern of these shafts, which abuts the western wall, one can see 14 additional courses of Herodian masonry to a depth of 52 feet. About 20 feet above bedrock is the original north-south Herodian street that runs along the western wall. The second shaft dug in this area by Warren is 40 feet to the west, reaching bedrock at the base of the pier of Wilson's Arch. Note: some twenty years later, Warren would lead the investigation into the infamous Jack the Ripper serial murders in London.

Western Wall Tunnel

Proceeding north underground, past Wilson's Arch, the bridge system that 19th century AD British explorer Charles Warren called the "Great Causeway," we come to a large hall in the form of a four-armed cross, supported by four enormous pillars. This room was not built by Christians. It probably dates to the Ayyubid (1187-1250 AD) or Mameluke (1250-1517 AD) period and was the substructure of a Muslim religious school (madrasa) built above it.

From the eastern end of the "Cruciform Hall" begins a long, narrow tunnel, excavated by Israel's Ministry of Religious Affairs. The so-called "Western Wall Tunnel" is 900 feet long, but only 6 feet wide and 8 feet high. Here you can see any number of Herodian-era remains, including: a huge stone that many feel is the largest building stone in the world, the slopping rock escarpment that once supported Herod's Antonia Fortress and the street that once ran along the base of the Temple Mount's western retaining wall. The tunnel emerges onto the Via Dolorosa near the First and Second Stations of the Cross, not far from St. Stephen's Gate. It is literally a time tunnel, transporting you back through earlier eras where you can see artifacts and touch stones that have remained hidden for nearly two thousand years.

Virtual Tour of the "Western Wall Tunnel."

Antonia Fortress

The massive Antonia Fortress stood on an elevated plateau at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, overlooking the Temple. It was built as protection for city's vulnerable north side, the only part of the city not protected by steep-sided valleys. Originally a Maccabean (Hasmonean) fortress called Baris (in Greek) or Birah (in Hebrew), it was rebuilt on a grand scale between 37 and 35 BC by Herod, and was named for Mark Anthony, who, after his victory over Brutus and Cassius, the assisins of Julius Caesar, at Philippi in Macedonia, was given the task of governing the Near East. It was under Antony's patronage that Herod was named king by the Roman senate.


Right, model of the Antonia Fortress at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The Antonia covered an area of 330 feet by 535 feet and had a large central courtyard surrounded by high walls. At the corners were four high towers, the tallest of which was 115 feet high. An underground passageway and a stairway connected it with the Temple courts, allowing the Roman cohort (500 - 600 soldiers) stationed there access in case disturbances erupted. In his in his Jewish Wars, Flavius Josephus gave this description of the Antonia:

"The inward parts had the largeness and form of a palace, it being parted into all kinds of rooms and other conveniences, such as courts, and places for bathing, and broad spaces for camp; insomuch that, by having all conveniences that cities wanted, it might seem to be composed of several cities, but by its magnificence it seemed a palace; and as the entire structure resembled that of a tower, it contained also four other distinct towers at its four corners; whereof the others were but 50 cubits high; whereas that which lay upon the south-east corner was 70 cubits high that from thence the whole temple might be viewed; but on the corner where it joined to the two cloisters of the temple, it had passages down to them both, through which the guard (for there always lay in this tower a Roman legion) went several ways among the cloisters with their arms, on the Jewish festivals, in order to watch the people, that they might not there attempt to make any innovations."

He further stated that it was "encrusted with marble from top to bottom, as much for the beauty as to make it so slippery that you could go neither up it or down it. Although it was so strong on the outside, inside there were so many living quarters, baths and rooms which could hold a large number of people that it could pass for a superb palace."

Although the name "Antonia Fortress" is not used in the Bible, it is referenced in the book of Acts 23:24 as the "barracks" (NIV) or "castle" (KJV) where the Apostle Paul was taken to be flogged by the Roman commander during a disturbance in the Temple courts (Paul invoked his Roman citizenship to prevent the punishment from being carried out).

Tradition says the Antonia was the residence (praetorian*) of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate while in Jerusalem. Today it seems more likely Pilate stayed in the palace of Herod the Great, on the west side of the city (the site now occupied by the Citadel/Tower of David Museum, by the Afar Gate), reasoning that Jewish philosopher Philo stated Pilate hung a set of golden shields "in Herod's palace in the holy city," which he further identifies it as "the house of the governors." Furthermore, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus stated that the Roman governors occasionally stayed in the palace of Herod. This belief seems to be reflected in the NIV translation of Mark 15:1: "The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorian)."

*The term praetorian was used to indicate the residence of the governor. Originally it referred to the "tent of the commander" (praetor), and thus denoted a military headquarters. By extension, it came to refer to those who assembled at the commander's tent, and subsequently to the residence of the provincial prefect, or governor, wherever it was located. Pontius Pilate, who lived full-time in the regional capital of Caesarea Maritima, made the 60-mile journey to Jerusalem at times of potential unrest, when the maintenance of public order might necessitate his presence. Thus Pilate was in Jerusalem during Passover at the time of Jesus' arrest, and his praetorian was a temporary residence.

Today, little remains of the Antonia Fortress, which was destroyed by Titus' troops in 70 AD. The site is now occupied by several structures, including the el-Omariyye School for Islamic Studies. Most of the buildings go back to the first half of the 19th century and were used for a long time as a barracks. Within its courtyard is the only remains of the Antonia Fortress—a portion of its 4-meter thick south wall. This courtyard also marks the First Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, and every Friday at 3:00 p.m., the Franciscans lead a procession of pilgrims from here to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Struthion Pool

The Antonia Fortress was defended from the north by a 164-foot-wide moat which separated the bedrock base of the Antonia from the northern ridge. Herod decided to further quarry a section of the moat in order to form two large cisterns, called Struthion (Greek "sparrow") Pools, which collected rainwater directed from rooftops. Originally the pools were open-air but in 135 AD they were covered over when the emperor Hadrian transformed the area above into a marketplace by constructing two vaults over the pool. Parts of this pavement, once thought to be the "stone pavement" of John 19:13 where Jesus was condemned by Pontius Pilate, are now visible in the Franciscan Chapel of the Flagellation and in the levels beneath the Convent of the Sisters of Zion (where the photo, right, was taken), both located along the Via Dolorosa.

Herod's Royal Palace

At or near the site of the ancient Corner Gate, on the western side of the city, at its highest point, Herod built a fabulous palace for himself (in the area now occupied by the Armenian Quarter). Jerusalem first extended this far during the time of Hezekiah (8th century BC). Under the Hasmoneans (2nd century BC), a fortress had been built there as a defense against invasion from the north and west—the city's strategic weak points. It is now commonly accepted that Herod's palace was the site of Jesus' trial and condemnation by Pontius Pilate.

Above, Herod's palace as depicted in the 1:50 scale model of 1st century AD Jerusalem at the Israel Museum; beyond, to the east, is the Temple Mount with the Antonia Fortress at its southwest corner, the Herodian Temple (center) and the Royal Porch along the southern end.

Herod's palace consisted of two wings, named the Caesareum and the Agrippeum, for the king's Roman friends; each had banquet halls, baths and bedrooms for hundreds of guests. According to 1st century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, it was "wondrous beyond words." All around were groves of various trees bordered by canals and ponds and studded with bronze figures discharging water. The palace was protected on the city side by a separate wall with towers (running left to right in the center of the

At the north end of the complex stood three towers erected by Herod to protect his palace. To make the towers more imposing they were built on an artificial platform made by intersecting walls laid over the Hasmonean houses beside the old wall. The space in between was filled with earth and the existing Hasmonean towers were thickened, changed and extended. The largest (extreme left in above photo) was called Phasael after Herod's older brother. The Phasael tower stood 148-feet high, and consisted of a base with battlements and an upper tower and was built like a palace with luxurious apartments and baths. It was larger than the Pharos lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt which ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Its base still stands to a height of some 65 feet (the upper part is Islamic).

A second tower, called Hippicus, was named after an otherwise unknown friend of the king. Its total height was 132 feet and it contained a garrison and a large water reservoir. A third tower was called Mariamne after Herod's wife whom he loved madly but whom he nevertheless executed for a perceived conspiracy. The residential quarters of this tower were more luxurious and ornate than those of the other towers, "the king considering it appropriate that the tower named after a woman should surpass in decoration those called after men" (Josephus). The Mariamne tower was 74-feet high. The towers were so magnificent that when the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, General Titus left them standing to show future generations their beauty. However, the emperor Hadrian ordered them torn down in 135 AD, leaving only the massive bulk of their foundations.

The area where Herod's three towers once stood is incorporated into the Citadel (right, looking south), a wall reinforced by five large towers and surrounded by a dry moat. Now occupied by the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, the Citadel is an imposing fortress south of the Jaffa Gate. The present-day structure dates mostly from the 14th century AD and includes additions made in 1532 by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. However, excavations have revealed remains dating back to the 2nd century BC:

  • One of the oldest finds is the Hasmonean city wall (2nd century BC). This curved wall, still reaching an impressive height of about 16 feet and 13 feet thick, runs north-east to south-west, dividing the inner archaeological garden into two parts. This is the First Wall, as described by Josephus.
  • "Phasael's Tower" (1st century BC) - (bottom of photo) Named for Herod's brother, the massive blocks at the base are part of the original Herodian defense structure, and it is solid all the way through. It was demolished by Hadrian in 135 AD; the upper part was rebuilt by the Mamelukes in the 14th century AD. The top of the tower offers a splendid panorama of the city.
  • Not much has been found from the long Roman occupation of the site after the destruction of the city in 70 AD.
  • Traces of the Byzantine city wall can be seen at the base of the wall next to Phasael's Tower. The current northern city wall still follows the same course. The Byzantines also strengthened the existing Hasmonean/Herodian wall.
  • The Arab occupation after 638 AD brought significant changes. In following centuries a new round tower was erected in the southeastern corner of the courtyard. Probably this tower stood at the corner of a new wall, which ran north and south. If we assume the Arabs left the Hasmonean/Herodian wall as their western limit, the outlines of the Arab fort become clear. This was the fortress that fell to the Crusaders in 1099 AD.
  • In the 12th century AD, the Citadel served as the residence of the Latin king. But the Crusaders found the existing fortress too small and devised an imposing fortress and palace. Again the "Phasael Tower" was left in place, attesting to its enduring quality. Furthermore, they again strengthened the old towers and the Herodian western wall by adding a new wall to the west. Under the Mameluke mosque in the southwest corner of the courtyard (next to the "Tower of David") lies a Crusader hall.
  • The Citadel was constructed in its final form in the 14th century AD by the Mameluke sultan al-Nasir Mohammed. He leveled the old city wall which until this time had run straight through the fortress.
  • After the Ottoman victory in the 16th century AD, Suleiman the Magnificent, who also built the present Old City walls, constructed the monumental entrance still seen today (lower left in above photo) and a platform for cannon along the west wall. The Ottoman troops were stationed inside the city walls on the south side of the fortress (the location of Herod's palace). The remains of this Turkish camp are still visible at the base of the wall.
  • The minaret of the "Tower of David" at the southern end (top of above photo; also in photo below) was added in 1635 AD by Mohammed Pasha.
  • Today, the Citadel no longer functions as a fortress; rooms inside the towers host the Museum of the History of Jerusalem containing maps, models and audio/visual displays illustrating the city's history from the Canaanite period to modern times.

Right, view of the excavations inside the Citadel: the free-standing arch (left of center) dates from the Mameluke period; beyond, is the minaret-topped "Tower of David;" in the foreground, running diagonally from the lower right corner, are the remains of the Hasmonean city wall (2nd century BC). Another section of this same wall, along with the remains of two towers (one Hasmonean, another 7th century BC) can be seen farther east in the Jewish Quarter, beneath a modern apartment block

According to a recent Biblical Archaeology Review article, Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologists have unearthed a pair of thick parallel walls believed to have supported the foundation of Herod's grand palace. The walls, found near the Jaffa Gate and just south of the Citadel, are about 5 to 8 feet thick and were located 20 to 25 feet below a 19th century AD Ottoman prison, and they reach all the way down to bedrock. However, the rest of the buried palace of Herod and its supporting walls extend all the way south to the police station in the Armenian Quarter and cannot be excavated.

Wohl Archaeological Museum in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City

The Wohl Museum preserves the excavations of a 385-foot section of the Upper City west of the Temple Mount. From the time of Herod up until Jerusalem's destruction in 70 AD, the Upper City, on the higher western hill, was a residential area for wealthy merchants and influential priestly families. Connected directly to the Temple by a viaduct over the Tyropoeon Valley, the Upper City was a convenient home for families and officials with temple duties. The area became available for excavation when Israeli authorities proceeded to rebuild the ancient Jewish Quarter following its destruction by the Jordanians during the Six-Day War in 1967. According to Israeli law, whenever construction work uncovers ancient remains, the Antiquities Authority must be notified, and construction is halted until the remains are investigated and sometimes excavated. Such was the case here, when archaeologists uncovered six palatial Herodian period homes built on terraces descending down the slope of the the western hill, overlooking the Temple Mount. The partially restored site occupies the basement of the Wohl Museum located on the edge of Hurva Square, the center of the restored Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

Constructed in the style of Roman villas, each home was built around a central courtyard and had two or more stories. Elaborate water systems with large cisterns assured an adequate water supply even in the dry summer months (rain was the only water source). The most striking feature of the western part of the museum is a complex of mikvaot (ritual baths). A mikvah requires a minimum of around 200 gallons of pure rain or spring water, and must be about 5 feet deep or more. Cut into stone, these pools were emptied, and presumably filled by hand. One residence, dubbed "the Mansion" by excavators, covered an area of 6,500 square feet. the Number of its ritual baths led to the theory that it was the dwelling of a high priest. Clearly those who owned this house were wealthy Jews who enjoyed all the trappings of a classical Roman life within the constraints of their religious beliefs. Elegant mosaic floors, for example, had no depictions of humans or animals that the Jews regarded as a violation of the Second Commandment. One room appears to have been a either a living room or reception hall with a magnificent mosaic floor in red, black and white tiles. Another, even larger room boasted plastered walls imitating marble panels or large stones like those of the Temple Mount retaining walls. Remains of a cypress-wood ceiling were found that had collapsed when the Romans burned the building in 70 AD.

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