The Temple of Jerusalem hovers like a ghost above the Western Wall – invisible today, its absence is a palpable ache that throbs stronger as you approach the Temple Mount.
The Jerusalem temple was originally built by King Solomon atop the Temple Mount in the 10th century BCE. The first structure was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and was rebuilt in 516 BCE. This temple stood for over 500 years.
King Herod renovated the Second Temple of Jerusalem and turned it into the largest sacred site in the Roman Empire. In order to vastly expand the existing precinct, he had his workers build four enormous restraining walls around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. One of these is the Western Wall.
He then filled the space between the walls and the mount to create a level area, on which he built vaults to support a vast paved plaza. The Temple Mount plaza was 144,000 sq. meters in area (172 222.6 sq yards), the equivalent of 29 American football fields.
A feat like this, without the benefit of modern machinery, seems almost impossible. And yet Herod’s engineers accomplished this in only 18 months. How? By employing 1000 priests as masons and 10,000 laborers. Even with this amount of manpower, the results are amazing.
The dimensions for the Temple of Jerusalem were staggering: 460 meters to the east, 315 m to the north, 280 m to the south, and the western wall was 485 meters long.
The walls above ground rose 30 meters (ten stories tall), and their foundations were as deep as 20 meters in some places in order to reach bedrock. Each layer of the wall was recessed about 3 centimeters from the layer beneath it. This was to avoid the optical illusion created whenever you look up a tall, straight object, that it is about to fall over you.
Some of the quarried stones used in the Western Wall are so large that, to this day, archaeologists have trouble understanding how they could possibly have been transported. The smallest stones weight between 2 to 5 tons and the largest stone of them all – possibly the largest building stone in antiquity – is 13.6 meters long, 4.6 meters thick and 3.3 meters high, and is estimated to weigh 570 tons. The builders used dry construction – there is no cement between the stones. In fact, there’s nothing holding the stones together except their own weight.
On the plaza above, there were stoa – roofed colonnades – all along the perimeter, to house merchants and a large construction at the south end that was known as the Royal Portico. The renovated Holy of Holies was a wonder of marble and gold.
A gigantic arch – the remains of which you can still see to your right as you face the Western Wall – allowed pilgrims to ascend to the Temple Mount without interfering with the traffic of the adjacent street.
In the Ophel Archaeological Park, at the foot of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, you can find the Hulda Gates, a series of gates through which people could ascend to the plaza through rising tunnels. You can also see archaeological remains of water cisterns, market stalls and structures from the period of the first Jerusalem temple.
The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was one of the most tragic events in Jewish history. Its consequences reverberate to this day, affecting our lives and the history of mankind every moment.
Why was the Temple of Jerusalem so important that Jews mourn it with fasting and tears?
For an excellent articles on the
holiness of the Jerusalem Temple, see
and discover what we're missing and why we still mourn the Temple's destruction.