As mentioned in a previous post, running along the southern wall was a stepped walkway, 6.4 m (21 ft) wide. This walkway was built on top of rooms with vaulted roofs, these rooms most probably were stores. When the Romans destroyed Yerushalayim, they filled these stores up with wood, and lit them on fire. (The burning of this area of Yerushalayim is mentioned by Josephus, Wars 6:6:3.) The Har Habayis is mostly built from limestone, which crumbles and turns into powder when exposed to very hot temperatures (This is how lime (סיד) is made). Before these stores and the walkway totally collapsed from the heat, the fire left a burnt imprint on the Har Habayis wall, which was the back wall of these rooms, in the shape of the interior of these stores. These burnt marks have enabled us to figure out how the stores looked. (When the stones are examined closely, you can see that a semicircular line was scratched into the wall to help the builders build these vaults correctly.)
To the east of the Triple Gate, remains (either burnt marks or foundations) of eighteen of these vaults have been found. Each vault is 60 cm (2 ft) lower than the previous one. Based on the normal height of steps then, you would need three steps to bridge this difference in height. Based on this, this part of the street either consisted of three steps and a landing; or was a ramp. This street would have descended around 11 meters (36 ft); and would have ended close to the southeast corner of the Har Habayis.
These rooms were mostly built of stone, although some of them were hewn from the bedrock. In some of the rooms, remains of plastered floors have been found. The most westernmost of these rooms, right next to the Triple Gate, is the largest. The most easternmost vaulted rooms were also closed off on the southern side, so they probably were just built to support the street; and did not serve as stores.
The tunnel under the single gate
32 m (105 ft) away from the eastern corner of the wall is a blocked-up arched gate. This gate, called the single gate, was most probably built by the crusaders to allow access into Solomon's Stables, where they kept their horses. The sill of this gate is one stone course (around 1 m-3.5 ft) lower than the sill of the Triple Gate. Five stone courses (5.68 m/18 ft 8 in) below this gate, Warren discovered an entrance into a tunnel (passage number 16 in Gibson and Jacobson's book). This tunnel is located 34 meters (111.5 ft) away from the southeast corner; and it runs perpendicular to the southern wall of the Har Habayis. The top of this passageway is 719.3 m (2360 ft) above sea level.
The tunnel is around 1 meter (3 ft) wide; and is 21.1 meters (69 feet) long. There are two entrances to this tunnel, one above the other. The upper one is one stone course (1.14 m/3 ft 9 in) high, and the lower one is a little less than two courses high (it is around 2 m/6 ft tall). These two entrances are separated by one stone course, 1.11 m (3 ft 8 in) tall. The bottom of this stone was partly cut to allow headroom. 2.1 meters (7 feet) into this tunnel there are indications that there was a metal door here: a hole 24 cm (10 in) square, and of the same depth, is cut in one of the roof stones, and there is the mark of abrasion on one of the side stones, as though a metal gate has swung against it.
The walls of the tunnel consist of three courses of stone, each one 1.14 m (3 ft 9 in) tall. These stone are dressed in the regular Herodian style, with marginal drafts, although they are of lower quality than the ones used in the Har Habayis walls. Some of the vertical joints between the stones are wider than the ones in the Har Habayis walls, and they are filled up with small stones set in a blackish mortar. The roof of the tunnel is also built out of Herodian stones. (The lower quality of these stones is most probably because they were used in an underground tunnel, where emphasis is more on strength than beauty.) The northern end of the tunnel is blocked up with broken stones and dirt, although all the stones end there in a straight line, indicating that the tunnel originally stopped here, and there was a doorway leading to another passage or a chamber.
The purpose of this tunnel is unknown. Warren theorized that it was used to drain the blood from the Beis Hamikdash to the outside. [This was probably as part of the system mentioned in the Mishnah [Middos 3:2] that brought the blood and drainage water from the Azarah to the Nachal Kidron.] Leen Ritmeyer says that it might have been used by the builders after the southern wall was built, to go build the interior of the Herodian extension. Another possibility is that it led to some underground chamber, or to another passage, leading deeper into the Har Habayis. (Meir Ben-Dov (pp 346-347), unlike the other opinions, says that this tunnel was built by the crusaders with reused Herodian stones. He says that it would have been an emergency escape from the Har Habayis to outside the city, as at that point this part of the southern wall was already outside the city walls, like it is today. He even claimed to have found this entrance on an old drawing of Yerushalayim from the crusader era, the Cambrai manuscript, where a postern is marked in this area [bottom left of picture].)
Baruch, Yuval, and Ronny Reich, "Second Temple Period Finds from the New Excavations in the Ophel, South of the Temple Mount", in: Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, Archaeological Discoveries 1998–2018,
editor Hillel Geva, pp 84-93, Jerusalem 2019.
Ben-Dov, Meir. In the Shadow of the Temple: The Discovery of Ancient Jerusalem. Israel: Harper & Row, 1985.
Conder, Claude Reignier, and Warren, Charles. The Survey of Western Palestine: Jerusalem. London, 1884.
Gibson, Shimon and David Jacobson (1996), Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: A Sourcebook on the Cisterns, Subterranean Chambers and Conduits of the Haram Al-Sharif.
Ritmeyer, Leen. The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Israel: Carta, 2006.
Leave a Reply.
I have added the first chapter of a description of the First Beis Hamikdash.
My name is Mendel Lewis.
This year is a Hakhel year. To learn about this special year, and what we should do about it, visit the following links:
The Year of Hakhel - Celebrating Jewish Unity - 5783 -- A Year of Unity (chabad.org)
Shnas Hakhel - Home
Hahkel Nation 5783 (hakhelnation.com)
Hashem said to Yechezkel, "Its reading in the Torah is as great as its building. Go and say it to them, and they will occupy themselves to read the form of it in the Torah. And in reward for its reading, that they occupy themselves to read about it, I count it for them as if they were occupied with the building of it. (Tanchuma tzav 14)