Jerusalem in New Testament Times
Herod the Great
The reign of Herod was noted for the public building works which he instigated (see ‘The Kingdom of Herod and his Successors’ ). This was true not least of Jerusalem. Josephus's account of his works suggests that the city was transformed from a rather unpretentious religious centre to one of the most impressive of Roman provincial cities. New structures included a hippodrome, an amphitheatre, a theatre, baths, and other public buildings. Most notable of all was the reconstruction of the Temple and its precinct. The new Temple mount dominated the Kidron and Central (Tyropoeon) valleys. It was constructed with retaining walls which reached to a considerable height, made of massive stone blocks, reflecting remarkable workmanship. Remains of these walls make it possible for the extent of this precinct to be placed accurately on the map, and some of its gates to be located. But the inner courts and the Temple building itself have disappeared, so reconstructions are conjectural, based on brief descriptions given by Josephus and later Jewish writers.
Herod also enlarged and converted the old Maccabean castle (or ‘Baris’), making it a fortified residence for himself and renaming it as the Antonia Tower. (It is possible that this was the ‘barracks’ to which Paul was taken after his removal from the Temple (Acts 21: 30–5 ). Herod also built a larger royal palace on the western hill, and the city wall which it adjoined was strengthened by the addition of three great towers named Hippicus, Phasael, and Mariamne. Phasael is still partly standing, and helps to identify the site of the palace, in the north‐west corner of the Maccabean city; traces of the other two towers have been excavated. Beyond the city's western wall, across the Hinnom valley, lies the four‐chambered tomb, with a rolling stone to seal the entrance, which was built by Herod for his own family. The tomb is referred to by Josephus and was discovered in 1892.
Excavations in the areas immediately to the south and south‐west of the Temple platform have revealed important features of the Herodian city, including the course of the street which ran adjacent to the retaining walls along the lower west side and along the southern side of the precinct. On the south it adjoined a ‘plaza’, an open area where pilgrims could congregate before entering the gates of the Temple via a monumental staircase, part of which has been preserved. On the western side, in the vicinity of the Western (formerly ‘Wailing’) Wall, there is evidence of arches which supported means of access to the Temple precincts. ‘Wilson's Arch’ was part of the support of a bridge which crossed the Tyropoeon valley. It was previously thought that ‘Robinson's Arch’ also supported a bridge, but excavations have now made it clear that it was part of the support of a staircase which led up to the Temple. Excavations on the western hill overlooking the Temple have revealed evidence of buildings from the Hasmonean and Herodian periods, but the southern wall which ran across the Tyropoeon valley seems to date from the time of Agrippa I.