The excavations at the southern and south western corner of the Temple Mount have uncovered evidence of the Roman destruction of the Temple 70 CE and confirm the accuracy of the Israel Museum model of Jerusalem on the eve of that destruction.

At the exposed southern end of the western wall, under the protruding stones, identified by the biblical scholar Edward Robinson as the beginning of an arch, one can see the buckled pavement and the large building blocks which were thrown down by the Romans when they destroyed the Temple and the city. One large stone is inscribed: “To the place of trumpeting”. This may indicate the place where the priests would  blow the trumpet to announce the beginning of Shabbat as described by the Roman historian Josephus Flavius.

Engraved on a large ashlar below and to the left of the arch stones is an inscription possibly left by a 4th century Jewish pilgrim – “You shall see and your heart shall rejoice, their limbs like grass …(Is 66.14)

Alongthe southern wall of the Temple Mount are the remains of a 12th century Crusader house and under it houses and cisterns of a Byzantine complex. Nearby are the ruins of an 8th century Umayyad palace. As one continues  through an opening in the “modern” 16th century Ottoman wall the magnificent “southern steps” come into view.

The steps vary in width, perhaps to encourage a respectful pace, perhaps to give rhythm to the singing as the pilgrims ascended to the Temple. To the right is a blocked triple Hulda gate and to the left, where the later Moslem period arch can be seen, is a blocked double gate.

In the Mishnah we are told that pilgrims entered through the right gate and exited through the left but anyone who had been bereaved during the year entered and exited against the stream so that they could be consoled.

The passages which led from the gates and under the southern platform and exited on the Temple Mount are not open to the public. The southern platform is supported by enormous arches which have been converted into a large underground mosque underneath the El Aksa mosque.

Among the finds in the excavated area in front of the steps are mikvaot (ritual purification baths used pilgrims before they ascended to the Temple), cisterns and a quarry.

Although the extensive building of the Second Temple both during the Hasmonean and Herodian periods could be expected to have destroyed the remains from earlier periods there are significant finds from the First Temple period. This area would have  been the Ophel, connecting David’s City to the mount where his son Solomon built the First Temple in the 10th century BCE.

If time permits a visit to the Davidson Center is recommended.

Text content copyrights: Bein Harim Ltd., Beryl Ratzer (www.ratzer.com)

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