Renovation work is being carried out in the north of the Temple Mount. Large blue drapes cover part of the Antonia Rockscarp and razor-sharp barbed wire has closed off the area.
By the looks of it, the building on top of the rockscarp is undergoing much needed restoration. Here stands the madrasa (Islamic religious school) of al-Jawiliyya that was built in the Mamluk period, between 1315 and 1320. Inside this building is a large vaulted semi-enclosed area opening up to a courtyard which has adjacent rooms that look out over the Temple Mount area.
In the Ottoman period, this building was the seat of government of Jerusalem. To its west stands the Umarriya School for boys, that was established here during the British Mandate in 1923.
In the Herodian period, this was the location of the Antonia Fortress that overlooked the Temple Mount. In the northwest corner of the Temple Mount stands the Ghawanima minaret, behind which there was a staircase leading up to the roof of the porticoes and the entrance to the Antonia Fortress. This forms the backdrop to the scene portrayed in Acts 21 and 22. Climbing up this stairway, Paul would have reached the top of the north portico from where he addressed the people. Here Paul defended himself against his countrymen in the Hebrew language.
In the courtyard of this fortress, he was bound with cords and prepared for scourging. Proposals that this was the Praetorium of the gospels have been discounted and this is now understood to have been located in Herod’s Palace that stood in the west of the city.
The sockets for the northern portico can still be seen in the rockscarp today, cut into the Herodian masonry that formed the south wall of the Antonia, see the drawing below. This is one of many illustrations of the Antonia Fortress, published in my book The Quest – Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on pages 123-131. It is to be hoped that this renovation will not obscure or damage these vitally important archaeological remains.
HT: Alexander Schick