Robinson’s Arch – Temple Mount

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Yosef ben Matityahu, also known by his Roman name Josephus Flavius, describes four gates in the western wall of the Temple Mount in the days of the Second Temple. In his book the Antiquities of the Jews, he wrote as follows: “In the western parts of the wall stood four gates: one that faced the king’s palace through the valley in the middle that was crossed, two to the suburb, & the last gate to the rest of the city“, and indeed, there is evidence of the existence of four gates.

Two of them are located above the interchanges of Robinson’s Arch and Wilson’s Arch. The other two are Barclay’s Gate and Warren’s Gate and each of them has a dedicated video in our YT channel. The two interchange gates, Robinson and Wilson were gates through which the public entered the Temple Mount complex, but without access from there to the area that was sacred according to the Halakha. Without going into details, the Halakha is a collective of Jewish religious laws.

Those entering via Robinson interchange gate, could reach public institutions located on the temple mount. Those who came to these institutions, and then wanted to visit the temple area, had to go out and enter again through the gates intended for that.

Actually, the gate of Robinson’s Arch led to the Royal Stoa, which was intended for public use and was not part of the temple plaza. Jews and Gentiles could visit the Royal Stoa.

It is worth remembering that Herod himself was not allowed to enter the temple area, so he invested a lot of resources in the construction of the Royal Stoa, which at the time was considered one of the most impressive buildings in the world.

What was the Royal Stoa used for? Herod, was known for his colossal building projects, and he wanted to impress the many visitors from all over the country and the Roman Empire. This is how Yosef ben Matityahu described the Royal Stoa: “It was the enterprise worth telling about more than anything else that was under the sun”.

The Royal Stoa served a few public functions such as public-civil courts. Also included was a prestigious market compared to other markets and trading areas. A market where one can find almost everything, including currency exchangers who catered to visitors from outside Israel but not only.

Since Gentiles could not enter the Temple, the Royal Stoa was a place where they could rest, hang out and admire the amazing buildings and great splendor.

The row of stones protruding from the wall above is a remnant of a huge vault that came out of the Western Wall and rested on a stone-based structure on the other side of the street at a distance of about 13 meters from the Western Wall.

The archway was first identified by the archeologist Edward Robinson in 1838 who thought it was the beginning of an arched bridge that connected the Temple Mount and the Upper City. The Upper City was located on the hill west of the Temple Mount. Yet, as soon as additional arch bases were discovered that face south instead of west it turned out that it was not a bridge but a system of arches that descends to the street level, and this happens during the Second Temple period.

The traffic on the vault steps did not interfere with the cross traffic of the pedestrians on the street below, and thus it turned out to be one of the first interchanges in the world.

The base of the interchange was a huge square structure that incorporated spaces that were used for shops. Weights and coins were found there, as well as a stone stand with the inscription “offering” engraved on it.

If we slightly move to the north along the Western Wall, on the third row below the base of the arch in the center of the Wall, we will see a stone on which is engraved in Hebrew letters, the inscription which is almost identical to verse 14 in chapter 66 of the book of Isaiah. Some believe that the inscription was engraved in the fourth century, perhaps as an expression of the Jewish expectations for redemption in the days of the Roman emperor Julianus the apostate. Some attribute the inscription to the Crusader period.

I’m walking on a street built during of Herod’s dynasty, and in front of me I see rockfalls from the Temple Mount that was destroyed in the year 70 by the Romans.

This street is part of a set of wide streets that surrounded the Temple Mount complex and included markets, shops and squares. If you visited the Western Wall Tunnels, then you walked on this street few hundred meters to the north. This was the main street at the foot of the Temple Mount along the Western Wall. The street width is 10 meters, bordered on both sides by curbstones.

The arch started at the Western Wall, its height above the street level reached 17.5 meters, equivalent to a six-story building. The height of the base structure was approximately 11 meters, and above it a height of another 6.5 meters, which is the radius of the arch. The total length of the arch is 15.20 meters, over 13 meters in a straight line. It was one of the largest arches in the world at that time. Thousands of those visiting the holy city walked and made their shopping along this road. The price per square meter of land in this area was probably one of the highest in Jerusalem, which was also a very expensive city, no different than today. Therefore, we should not be surprised that the huge base structure holding Robinson arch was used as a real estate so that four stores were built into it where coins, storage vessels and weight stones were found there.

Imagine a lively street, with everything along it, perfume shops, spices, restaurants, clothing stores, food vendors and money changers, this was no doubt the glittering trade and tourism center of Jerusalem.

According to Yosef ben Matthew, the construction work continued here until the time of King Agrippa II, Herod’s great-grandson. The archaeological findings support this. Near the interchange, coins minted after Herod’s death were found, which emphasizes the extraordinary scale of construction. Construction continued for decades after Herod began the work.

And to conclude, as usual I have a question for you, who was the head of the Roman army at the time the Romans destroyed Robinson’s Arch? The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: The Dig at the Temple Mount, Author: Meir Ben-Dov, Publisher: Keter
  2. Qadmoniot: Magazine for the Antiquities of Eretz-Israel & Bible Lands No. 101-102, Publisher: Israel Exploration Society Jerusalem
  3. Book: The Jewish War, Author: Josephus Flavius
  4. Book: Pathways in Jerusalem, Editor: Eyal Meiron, Publisher: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
  5. Book: The new Israel Guide, book 12 – Jerusalem, Editor: Alona Vardi, Publisher: Keter
  6. The new encyclopedia for archeological excavations in Israel

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