New archaeological discoveries on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

Waiting for the publication of our Temple Mount guide book, we are excited to note that it will highlight remains of the ancient Temple platform that have not been identified previously. We have long known of a massive stretch of what appears to be Herodian pavement on the Temple Mount, which, as far as we know, has never been reported before. Here is a foretaste of some of the new discoveries described in our book.

In a previous post, we reported on some massive Herodian paving stones that are now covered by olive trees planted in a thick layer of soil that has been brought into the Temple Mount for that purpose. Another large Herodian paving slab can be seen beneath the Dome of the Spirits.

The Dome of the Spirits is built on a large Herodian paving stone, which measures 12 feet (3.70m) by 11.5 feet (3.50m). According to Warren’s survey maps, it is situated approximately 10 feet (3.00m) above the natural bedrock. It was part of the pavement that was laid north of the buildings that surrounded the Temple. Photo: Nathaniel Ritmeyer

This plan shows in yellow the large Herodian paving stone beneath the small Dome of the Spirits that stands on the Muslim platform of the Temple Mount. This paving stone was part of the paving of the Temple Courts of the Herodian Temple Mount. It has been erroneously claimed to be the location of the Holy of Holies by Prof. A. Kaufman.

This plan compares the size of the paving stone (1) beneath the Dome of the Spirits (Qubbat al-Arwah) with similar sized paving slabs in front of the Double Gate (2) and the Triple Gate (3). The projection at top right of paving stone 1 allowed a smaller stone to be laid next to it, a feature common in Herodian architecture.

We now like to report on a large stretch of ancient paving stones that are located in front of the Gate of the Cotton Merchants (Bab al-Qattanin), at a distance of 45 feet (13.70 m) from the Western Wall.

This picture shows a large stretch of Herodian paving stones that is located in front of the Gate of the Cotton Merchants. The rows, which are about 3 feet (1m) wide, run from east to west at a distance of 45 feet (13.70m) from the Western Wall. Some of these stones are 13 feet (4m) long!

These massive paving stones are different from the normal small paving stones one sees everywhere on the Mount and appear to be Herodian in origin.

What can we learn from the position of this stretch of pavers and what is the importance of its western termination?

This plan shows the stretch of large Herodian paving stones that is located in front of the Gate of the Cotton Merchants in relation to the Western Wall.

According to Josephus (War 5.190-2), the Herodian Temple Mount was surrounded by double porticoes. When reconstructing the double porticoes of the Temple Mount we need to take into consideration the width of the underground Herodian passageways, e.g. Barclay’s and Warren’s Gates and the Double Gate. These are 18 feet (5.50m) wide. This shows that the space in between the columns, which presumably stood in square bays, must have been 18 feet. To get the width of the Western Portico, we need to double this measurement plus the thickness of two columns (e.g. 2 feet or 0.60m approx.) plus the thickness of that part of the Western Wall which is above the platform (5 feet or 1.50m). This gives the measurement of 45 feet, which is exactly the distance between this pavement and the exterior of the Western Wall. We presume therefore that the western edge of this massive paving would have been laid next to the Western Portico.

This section through the double portico of the Western Wall looking north, shows its relationship to the pavement near the Gate of the Cotton Merchants. © Leen Ritmeyer

It is exciting to contemplate that this is one of the few places on the Temple Mount where one can walk on paving stones that have survived the Roman destruction of 70 AD and subsequent depredations of the site.

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14 Responses to New archaeological discoveries on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

  1. timo niska says:

    You wrote: “We have long known of a massive stretch of what appears to be Herodian pavement on the Temple Mount, which, as far as we know, has never been reported before.”

    This is quite amazing to me. Why is it, that things like these are not reported before? Aren´t the stones right there for anyone to see? I mean what kind of great discoveries could come to daylight, if it was possible to investigate the area of Temple Mount properly..
    Surely, people like me, will be fascinated to hear more of these kind of news!

    Thanks to you, Mr. Ritmeyer, we can learn a lot about these things and more to come.

  2. Timo,
    People have been walking for hundreds of years over this stretch of pavement, but not many people look at the different stones and archaeologists wouldn’t want to comment on them as, without excavating, the date cannot be established properly. I am engaged in ancient architecture and different styles of masonry, pavement or construction details have a story to tell if you can “listen”. Once you start looking at stones, your eye gets “trained” to pick out differences in style. In this case, comparing these pavers with other stretches of pavement one can see that, apart from a few stones on which I commented, there is no comparable pavement to be observed anywhere on the Temple Mount. The question then arises: “When were these stones put there?” Perhaps a better question would be: “Who put these stones there?” The huge size of these paving stones indicates to me that only Herod the Great would have been able to commission this kind of architecture.

  3. Urban von Wahlde says:

    That is a fascinating post from 2/20/15! I looked up Josephus but he does not seem to give the thickness of the columns or the thickness of the western wall above the surface of the Mount. I am curious how those measurements are determined. The next time I go there, I will certainly look for the paving stones and also the larger stone under the Dome of the Spirits. Thank you!

  4. timo niska says:

    Thank you for your answer.
    Truly, your words of engagement to ancient architecture and construction details are sincere. Maybe archoelogists are quite careful to say anything about these kind of things, especially in this kind of area, which is so fiery.
    It helps a lot, when archeologists like you even propose some options even when some things can not be excavated!

  5. vicki stone says:

    so, Gd willing, when I go next time to Israel, and I walk up to the Temple Mount, where do I go to see the Dome of the Spirits and the other area of original paving? I get such a thrill standing where my Jewish ancestors (well, the males anyway) stood. Please tell me as I come from the tourist ramp. Thank you so much.

  6. Nachum says:

    Now I just fear the Muslim authorities will try to cover these up as well. Better get there soon…

  7. Vicky,
    When you enter the Temple Mount through the Mughrabi Gate, turn immediately to your left. Walk along the Mamluk portico for about 600 feet or 180 meters and you are standing on the Herodian pavement in front of the gate of the Cotton Mechants. Continue walking to the north until you reach the northwest corner of the Raised Platform. Walk up the steps and the Dome of the Spirits is in front of you. Enjoy your visit!

  8. Nachum,
    They won’t be able to cover this up, unless they rip it out and replace it with new pavement. But that would cause an uproar.

  9. Kim says:

    So I’m confused. I stumbled onto your site after reading some other information about the Temple’s location and was wondering…didn’t it say the Temple had a spring of water inside it? Wouldn’t that be the Gihon spring? Wouldn’t that mean the Temple would be near the City of David and not near the dome of the rock??

  10. Kim,
    Nowhere in the Bible does it say that here was a spring in the Temple. People that say that, confuse Solomon’s and Herod’s Temple, which never had a spring inside, with the Temple described in Ezekiel 47.1. That Temple has not been built yet. It will be built after the earthquake described in Zecharia 14 will have taken place, which apparently will release underground water reservoirs, which today are inaccessible. So, a spring in the Temple is something reserved for the future. Anyway, no serious archaeologist or religious Jew would believe that the Temple stood anywhere but on the present-day temple Mount.

  11. Anna says:

    Admitting that I am no scholar and have no clue about where the original temple stood, I will say that several alternative theories have at least given me reason for pause. I’m sure you already know about them, but for the sakes of others, one gentleman posits that the Temple Mount itself was a Roman fort housing the garrisons, which would also account for the amazing (and huge!) stones you reference above. Rome could surely afford them. He also suggests that the temple would likely be on the lower southern side of the mount, in the City of David. Yes, he is one who places it there in part because of the Gihon Spring, but he had other reasons as well. Several others place the temple more probably in Shiloah, modern Silwan…which sort of follows the line of the Gihon through Hezekiah’s Tunnel toward the pool of Siloam. But the truth is, my biggest confusion, personally, about the temple having been on the Temple Mount proper relates to the wailing wall: if Jesus told His disciples that the temple would be destroyed to such a degree that not a single stone would be left on top of another, then the existence of the wailing wall itself would seem to argue against its having been part of the temple. Like I said, I’m no scholar. Just trying to make sense out of the various points of view in light of Scripture. Thanks in advance for your consideration.

  12. The problem is that people don’t read the Bible carefully. It says in Matt. 24:1,2 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
    The disciples pointed out “the buildings of the Temple”, that is the Temple itself and the buildings that surrounded it. Indeed, there is not one stone left upon another OF THESE BUILDINGS. But the disciples did not point to the massive retaining walls that were built by Herod the Great and are still standing there today.
    As for the other theories that the Temple stood in the City of David, no Biblical, archaeological or historical scholar worth his salt would even contemplate such a ridiculous idea.

  13. Anna says:

    Thanks for your speedy answer! On first reading, your correction regarding my memory of the verses made sense. It certainly wouldn’t be the first (or second, or 10th, or 50th!) time that someone has pointed out details in a verse that I was considering incompletely or incorrectly, that’s for sure. And I definitely do believe the Lord is very specific about what He conveys to us — “every dot and tittle” and all that. Even more information, in fact, than I sometimes think my limited human brain will ever absorb! But wouldn’t it have made even more sense, when the disciples pointed out the buildings of the temple, if Jesus had gone straight to “Verily, I say unto you,” without first saying, “See ye not all these things? Verily, I say unto you…” I mean, wouldn’t the “all” mean the Lord is expanding beyond the idea of the temple buildings to which they’d originally referred? Why say “all” at all? ***sigh***

    Perhaps “all in all” (sorry for the pun), I’m just trying to dig a semantic crevasse into what amounts to a thimble’s worth of misunderstood Greek?

    I do thank you, Mr. Ritmeyer, for your many amazing archaeological and architectural labors that serve to enlighten others, and I especially appreciate your patience with a girl whose questions probably seem ridiculously self-explanatory to you. Much appreciated.

  14. Dan Aldrich says:

    I agree with Dr Ritmeyer….Would like to add 2 specific PROOFS of his position from Matt. 24:1,2…Read this passage very carefully… pay specific attention to the word SEE and the word BUILDINGS ….Jesus went OUT from the temple….where might Jesus and the disciples have been located at the time of this discussion? It says the disciples SHOWED Jesus the temple ie pointed to it…. There is no indication that Jesus left the temple mount area. Therefore it seems clear that they are all still on the temple mount and probably in the courtyard of the gentiles. Therefore, when Christ said “SEE all these things…the word SEE is very specific…..Christ is talking about only those things and those BUILDINGS that they could SEE …..But THESE WALLS WERE BELOW ground in relation to where they were standing , they could not SEE the walls thru the ground and thru the pavement below their feet….they could not SEE the retaining walls below them all around the temple mount below the ground level they are standing on…..And therefore, since they could not SEE the wailing wall below them for example, nor the rest of the entire wall all around the temple mount below ground , that ENTIRE WALL was NOT included in Jesus very specific description of what would be destroyed and what would not have one stone left upon another. Furthermore it says the disciples came to show Christ all the BUILDINGS….it is very specifically talking about the word BUILDINGS, it makes NO mention of the disciples saying….”see all these fine retaining walls” Retaining walls are NOT part of a BUILDING. They are part of the GROUND. They are separate from the BUILDING and are separated from the building by TONS OF DIRT . Neither is dirt part of the BUILDING. The temple had its own walls around it such as the Soreg but the walls we see today were never direct walls of the Temple BUILDINGS.

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