Secrets of the Temple Mount

Although visiting the Temple Mount is not always a pleasant experience these days, it is still worth the attempt. We have had good feedback from visitors who have used our guidebook to find things which otherwise they would have missed. One of the little known secrets described in our book (which can be purchased here) is a small window near the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. Despite its apparent insignificance, it has a large story to tell.

The “Window of John of Gischala”

While walking on the Temple Mount platform, this opening, covered with a protective grille, can be found low down on the left-hand side, just before one reaches the northernmost gate in the Western Wall, the Bab el-Ghawanima Gate.

The “Window of John of Gischala” is located to the left (south) of the Bab el-Ghawanima gate at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. Photo: © Leen Ritmeyer

This window was already noticed by Charles Warren in the 1860s. On the inside is a little room where this opening, flanked by two pilasters, which appear to be late Herodian in style, can be seen. From here, in the Second Temple period, one could have entered the Rock-hewn Aqueduct, which can now be seen at the end of the Western Wall Tunnel.

The Rock-hewn Aqueduct of the First Temple period can be seen at the end of the Western Wall Tunnel. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

This is what Charles Warren wrote about this discovery:

“Through the roof of the aqueduct Lieutenant Conder gained access into a small modern chamber, built against the Sanctuary wall, just north of the Bab es Serai; and here he found part of a wall of large drafted stones, with a plinth course and two pilasters, like those in the Haram Hebron. The space between the pilasters was occupied by a window, or opening into the Sanctuary, which seems to be ancient, as the lintel and jambs are of large ashlar – the former drafted.” Warren, Ch. and C. R. Conder (1884). Survey of Western Palestine: Jerusalem (London), p. 213.

Inside view of the “Window of John of Gischala”. Through the hole in the ground at bottom left, Charles Warren reached this room from inside the Rock-hewn Aqueduct. The small window that was made between the two pilasters is therefore the only place through which the Rock-hewn Aqueduct could have been reached from the Temple Mount platform.

In the halcyon days of the 1970’s, when archaeologists from the Temple Mount Excavations were allowed to explore the hidden recesses of the platform, I was able to visit this space which had been turned into a room and look for these pilasters and the window. (In contrast with Warren, I accessed the room via the Muslim Quarter.) Although the pilasters had been painted over by the residents, the window overlooking the Temple Mount was still visible.

According to Josephus, the Roman siege of the Antonia Fortress in 70 A.D. was protracted, because of the destruction of the Roman earthworks by the Jews, under leadership of John of Gischala, who had barricaded himself inside the Temple Mount.  He used an underground passage to get into the water reservoir (the Strouthion Pool) and undermine and set the earthworks that were built in this pool on fire (War5.466-472). This underground passage could only have been reached through this window that has the appearance of being hacked through in order to gain access to the area below the Antonia Fortress (normally you don’t build windows between pilasters at such a low level). For this reason we have dubbed this window the “Window of John of Gischala”.

This section shows the window, aqueduct and Strouthion Pool. It clarifies how John could have penetrated the Strouthion Pool and set fire to the Roman earthworks. Drawing © Leen Ritmeyer

The drawing below is a reconstruction drawing of the northwest corner of the Temple Mount and the Antonia Fortress with the location of the  “Window of John of Gischala” indicated:

The Antonia Fortress that stood at the northwest corner of the Herodian Temple Mount had four towers, three of which were 50 cubits (86 ft./26.25 m) high and the fourth, the southeast tower, 70 cubits (120 ft./36.75 m) high. The view from this highest tower, that, according to Josephus “commanded a view of the whole area of the Temple” (War 5.242), must have been spectacular.
At the place where the northern and western porticoes met, there was a staircase leading up to the roof of the porticoes. At this place there was an entrance to the Antonia Fortress. The “Window of John of Gischala” is indicated at centre left.

It was because of such use of underground passageways by the Jews that Titus decided to build a siege wall around the city so that all communication with the country could be cut off and supplies interrupted. This resulted in a terrible famine and so the drama continued to its tragic end. This little window is one of those secret places on the Temple Mount where history echoes down the years.


11 thoughts on “Secrets of the Temple Mount”

  1. Dear Leen,

    1. In your blog you write “In the halcyon days of the 1970’s, when archaeologists from the Temple Mount Excavations were allowed to explore the HIDDEN RECESSES [my caps] of the platform . . . .” I know that this is not “under the temple mount.

    2. In your informative/helpful(!) book (p. 41) you write “The sole occasion that investigation UNDER the Mount took place was in 1981 when Rabbi Yehuda Getz . . . . cleared what is known as either Cistern 30 or Warren’s Gate . . . .”

    But I—and maybe others—are curious, in light of #1, is it possible that there are still some “goodies” to share about what is under the Temple Mount?

  2. I’m confused. When you refer to “The Temple Mount” do you mean the Western Wall, the Mosque Dome, or the walk around to the Southern Wall by the stairs? Where the boulders were thrown unto the pavement by the Romans? Thanks, Vicki

  3. Carlos, the window is on the Temple Mount as it was built into the Western Wall, but the Rock-hewn tunnel of course is not. We visited and recorded many other spaces below the temple Mount, such as the Double and Triple Gate tunnels. Solomon’s Stables, see:
    and we also spent a whole week inside the Golden Gate. The reference to the excavations of 1981 are written in the context of what happened archaeologically after the 6-Day War.
    I hope to continue writing about what is under the temple Mount sometime in the future.

  4. Vicky,
    The term “Temple Mount” refers to the artificial platform that was built by King Herid the Great. The outer walls of this platform are still existing today and the Western Wall is part of the platform. The Jewish Temple stood on the Temple Mount on the place where the Dome of the Rock stands now. The Royal Stoa was built along the Southern Wall where now the al-Aqsa Mosque stands. Please note that the al-Aqsa is a mosque, but the Dome of the Rock is not. It is a shrine built by the Muslims to commemorate the legendary night journey of Muhammad to heaven.
    With the Temple Mount we usually include the gates and access routes as well. Hope this clarifies your question somewhat. I recommend reading our latest Temple Mount guide book that you will find very informative, see:

  5. This is amazing. I just fear that every such site publicized puts it at risk for destruction. But you need to get the information out…

  6. Leen

    You say that “this window… has the appearance of being hacked through,” but what makes you say that? From the Warren illustration of the interior, the two drafted ashlars to the left of the opening were vertically aligned, rather than with a bonded offset. Wouldn’t that suggest that this was the vertical edge, to the left of some sort of opening, that was in existence from the begining of this structure?

    According to your reconstruction of the northwest corner of the Temple Mount, the “John of Gischala wind” is to the south of the South Western tower of the Antonia fortress, in which case where does the aqueduct end, and is it all entirely beneath the Herodian street level?

    Is there a .plan of this area as it would be interesting to see the configuration of the southern end of the Aqueduct, this room, window, and the the Western wall carrying on to the south?

  7. David,
    By “hacked through” I mean that the widow was made by hacking away one of the stones of the Western Wall. The reason is that if the window was an original one, it would have been placed centrally between the two pilasters. You can see a plan of this area in my book “The Quest” () on page 40. Will send you a small detail of this plan by email.

  8. Dear Dr. Ritmeyer, thank you so much for sharing your insights and discoveries. You’ve made Bible study even more rewarding as I can visualize places and events more clearly with your assistance. Again, thank you.

  9. Dear sir, was the descending staircase , now called the ” we’ll of souls ” thought to be the holy of holies” back at the second temple, also I have heard stories of ” truck loads of ” midnight digging ” taking away artefact from underneath the dome if the Rock

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