The Herodian Quarter is preserved within the Wohl Archeological Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem. In the 1970s excavations began on an area that came to be known as the Herodian Quarter. This was an exclusive, expensive neighborhood inhabited by the temple priests and aristocracy during the Second Temple Era (516 BC-70 AD); during the rule of Herod the Great and during Jesus’ lifetime. This is the largest surviving indoor site from the Second Temple Era that can still be seen today.
The Herodian Quarter
Excavations revealed a compound of six luxury properties adorned with mosaics and frescoes in a prime location on a hill overlooking the Temple Mount. The houses would have been two stories high but today most of the remains are from the houses’ cellars. Experts concluded that the Herodian Quarter residents were wealthy by the quality of the materials used in the construction and the quality of the art that decorates the floors and walls. Artifacts uncovered included terra cotta dinnerware; flasks used for wine; stone utensils and imported amphorae for wine. Burnt houses were uncovered from when a large fire swept through the city a month after the destruction of the Second Temple.
Archaeologists concluded that at least one of the homes belonged to a Jewish priest who would have served in the Second Temple; this earned the neighborhood the name “Quarter of the Priests.” A well-preserved mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) was found in the Cohen’s house as well as an engraved depiction of the Temple’s Menorah (sacred seven-branched candelabra).
The discovery of the Herodian Quarter is significant in our understanding of the life of the wealthy during the Second Temple Period. It gives us insight into the extremes of the rich and poor in Jerusalem at the time. The vast gap between the wealthy Jews and the poor would have been one of the contributing factors to the conflict which culminated in the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
Visiting the Herodian Quarter
The Wohl Museum is located in today’s Jewish Quarter below ground level. Visitors to the site walk along raised walkway above the excavated areas. The main part of the excavated site concentrates on three of the original six mansions – the House of Measurements; the Middle House and the Western House. You can see the houses’ storage rooms; reservoirs; ovens and decorative elements of the architecture. The House of Measures covers an area of 600 m² and includes a large balcony facing Temple Mount. Together with the archaeological remains of the houses themselves there are displays of uncovered artifacts including colorful pottery and decorative items. Also on display is a model of one of the houses as it would have looked on the eve of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD.