At the end of the 1st century BCE King Herod rebuilt the Second Temple and made it into an
edifice of great splendor. It was destroyed in the year 70 CE when the
Roman legions under Titus, son of Emperor Vespasian, crushed the
five-year-long revolt of the Jews against Rome and conquered Jerusalem. The foundations of the
massive retaining walls built by Herod to create the podium on which the Temple stood, are visible to this
day; the best known section is the Western
Wall, the venerated remnant of the Temple where Jews pray to this day.
Excavations were begun during the 1970s along the
southwestern corner of the Herodian Temple Mount enclosure. Remains of
structures from many periods, covering 2,000 years of history, were
uncovered above the destruction layer from the Second Temple period.
From 1993 to 1997, new excavations were conducted
between the Western Wall and the
southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. After removing the debris of later
periods, the Herodian street running along the western wall of the Temple
Mount was exposed in its full length. It followed the course of the
Tyropoeon Valley between the Temple Mount and the western hill, where the
Upper City, the quarter of the well-to-do in the Herodian period, was
located (today's Jewish and Armenian quarters within the Old City wall and
Mt. Zion south of the wall).
The street was uncovered for a total length of 70 m. It
is about 10 m. wide, paved with large (3 x 1.5 m), very thick stones,
carefully trimmed and joined together for comfortable walking. On both
sides the street is bounded with elevated curbstones and beneath it is an
impressive network of drains, the lowest of them covered with stone vaults,
high enough to walk in. Between the street and the western wall of the
Temple Mount, a row of small shops which opened onto the street was found;
evidence of the commerce that once took place here is provided by the many
stone weights of different sizes which were found in this area.
The base of a massive arch protrudes from the western
wall, some 12 meters north of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount
enclosure. This is known as Robinson's Arch (after the American explorer
who identified it in the mid-19th century as part of the Herodian
construction). Opposite it, some 13 meters from the western wall, the
remains of a pier which supported the other end of Robinsons Arch were
exposed. The pier is constructed of large ashlars, similar to those of the
Herodian walls of the Temple Mount. It contains four cells, like those in
the row of shops on the opposite side of the street.
South of the pier, the foundations of a row of vaults
which gradually rise from south to north were exposed. This row of vaults
and Robinson's Arch, which is at right angles to it, supported a huge
staircase which connected the street in the valley with the Temple Mount,
just as described by Josephus Flavius. (Antiquities XV, 410-415)
The street was found covered with an accumulation of
large stones which had been knocked down from the western retaining wall of
the Temple Mount, destroying the shops and damaging the pavement. Among the
hundreds of stones weighing several tons each, architectural fragments were
found which make it possible to reconstruct the staircase of Robinsons
Arch and the upper part of the Temple Mount retaining wall. There are
stones with projections from the rows of pilasters which protruded from the
upper part of the enclosure wall; and a lintel, apparently part of the gate
through which people entered the Temple Mount. Other stones with narrow,
rounded upper edges served as coping of the balustrade on top of the Temple
Mount enclosure wall.
A large corner stone with a typical Herodian profile had
been found during the 1970s, lying in the street below the southwestern
corner of the Temple Mount. On this stone a Hebrew inscription, partially
preserved, is carved: To the trumpeting place to… The most likely
reconstruction of the mis-sing ending of the inscription is
"proclaim" or "separate."
The stone had stood at the top of southwestern corner of
the Temple Mount, from where the Temple priests announced the onset of the
Sabbath (on Friday evenings).
The great piles of fallen stones provide dramatic
evidence of the destruction wrought by the Roman legions in Jerusalem in
the year 70 CE., which Josephus Flavius described in great detail.
Some of the stones which covered the street were removed
and the site was opened to visitors, who can walk on the original pavement
of this street from the Second Temple period and follow in the footsteps of
the throngs of pilgrims who walked here 2000 years ago on their way to
participate in the rituals on the Temple Mount.
The excavations during the 1970s were
conducted by B. Mazar on behalf of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. The
later excavations were directed by R. Reich and Y. Billig on behalf of the
Israel Antiquities Authority