The Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem

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.

Large blue drapes cover the southern facade of the Antonia Fortress. Photo: Alexander Schick.

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.

Location of the al-Jawaliyya madrasa. Photo: © Leen Ritmeyer

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.

Reconstruction model of the Antonia Fortress, indicating the place where Paul would have addressed the people (Acts 21.22). © Ritmeyer Archaeological Design

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.

The Antonia rockscarp, showing original Herodian masonry and the sockets for the beams that supported the roof of the north portico. © Leen Ritmeyer
The sockets for the beams of the northern portico as seen in this 19th century photograph.

HT: Alexander Schick

10 thoughts on “The Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem”

  1. Leen Ritmeyer,

    The Antonia Fortress was on the upper platform (the platform where the Dome of the rock is today) The Tempel was on the lower platform (the platform where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is today) At the time of the second temple, the upper platform was in the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount. Image: The green area behind the upper platform is a later and lower extension, it was a small valley before the extension.


  2. If this was the fortress, could it have housed the Roman legion ? looks to small.

  3. Nick, There is no historical evidence that a full legion was ever housed in the Antonia Fortress. It only housed sufficient soldiers to control the Temple Mount and it is large enough for that. During the siege of 70AD for example, the 10th Legion was camped on the Mount of Olives. Between 66AD and 70AD, no Roman soldiers were lodged in Jerusalem at all.

  4. The Antonia Fortress built by King Herod about 20BC was not to the north of the Dome Of The Rock, but to the South!
    The Al Aqsa Mosque stands on the site.
    Herod built the Antonia Fortress here to keep an eye on the Temple, and it thousands of pilgrim visitors as much as anything else.
    The Temple site is just below the Al Aqsa Mosque off the Southern Wall of the Masjid.
    Remember according to prophesy “not one stone will remain upon a stone”.
    The Romans ripped up everything, every stone, every flagstone, every wall, and threw the whole lot down into the Ben Hinnom Valley.
    For century both Byzantine, and Muslims treated this valley as a stone quarry; so you should find bits of the Herodian Temple in every wall and ancient building all over Old Jerusalem.

  5. Timothy,
    You should read the Bible more carefully. In Matth. 24.1, the disciples pointed out “the buildings of the temple”, i.e. the buildings that stood on the Temple Mount, which indeed were all destroyed. They were not pointing to the retaining walls of Herod’s Temple Mount which are still standing up today with the traces of the foundations of the Antonia Fortress still surviving up to today at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, see:

  6. Leen, in your comment above you wrote: “Nick, There is no historical evidence that a full legion was ever housed in the Antonia Fortress.”

    Josephus wrote that a legion was stationed there:

    Next to this, and before you come to the edifice of the tower itself, there was a wall three cubits high; but within that wall all the space of the tower of Antonia itself was built upon, to the height of forty cubits. The inward parts had the largeness and form of a palace, it being parted into all kinds of rooms and other conveniences, such as courts, and places for bathing, and broad spaces for camps; insomuch that, by having all conveniences that cities wanted, it might seem to be composed of several cities, but by its magnificence it seemed a palace. And as the entire structure resembled that of a tower, it contained also four other distinct towers at its four corners; whereof the others were but fifty cubits high; whereas that which lay upon the southeast corner was seventy cubits high, that from thence the whole temple might be viewed; but on the corner where it joined to the two cloisters of the temple, it had passages down to them both, through which the guard (for there always lay in this tower a Roman legion) went several ways among the cloisters, with their arms, on the Jewish festivals, in order to watch the people, that they might not there attempt to make any innovations; for the temple was a fortress that guarded the city, as was the tower of Antonia a guard to the temple; and in that tower were the guards of those three

  7. Raquel,
    By saying that there was no legion in the Antonia, I mean to say that a legion wouldn’t fit on the fortress itself. Your quote begins by saying that a low wall surrounded the Antonia which was inside this walled complex. I have drawn this wall on my reconstruction drawing of Jerusalem <> which includes a large area to the north of the actual fortress. This area, for example includes the Strouthion Pool. Most of the soldiers would have been encamped there, while the centurions, officers and soldiers on duty would have used the actual fortress, see Acts 21.32.

  8. Leen

    Why do you suppose there are no sockets in the scarped rock to the west of the Herodian masonry? I take it from your illustration (in “The Quest”, p.129) that there is a considerable length of exposed scarp at the same height as the sockets to the west. But if this rock scarp was cut back with the aim of enabling the west and northern porticoes to meet, shouldn’t that rock have similar socket holes along its entire visible extent?

    Because there are no such sockets in the scarp face, I remain doubtful that the ones that we see must represent remains of the Herodian portico that extended all the way to the western corner, as you (along with Gregory Wightman and the late Rev. Murphy-O’Connor) propose. Why could they not represent the remains of a later building of more limited dimensions constructed against the scarp?

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