Herod's Temple in Jerusalem was a massive expansion of the Temple Mount and construction of a completely new and much larger Jewish Temple by King Herod the Great around 19 BCE. Although the Second Temple was completely removed and a new "third" temple was built to replace it, Herod's Temple is not commonly called the Third Temple, because sacrifices continued during the construction process.
The Temple was destroyed by Roman troops under Titus during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The most complete ancient account of this event is The Jewish War by Flavius Josephus. Later Roman and Byzantine governors used the remains to build palaces, a Temple of Jupiter, and a Church. It was not until the Dome of the Rock was built between 687 and 691 that the last remnants of the Temple were taken down.
Herod's Temple was one of the larger construction projects of the first century BC.
Herod was interested in perpetuating his name for all eternity through building projects, and his construction program was extensive. He had magnificent palaces in Masada, Caesarea and Tiberias. Herod built temples for various pagan gods to serve the gentile populations, which were paid for by heavy taxes on the local Jewish population.
But his masterpiece was to be the Temple of Jerusalem. The old temple, built by Zerubbabel nearly half a millennium before, despite frequent renovation, most notably by the Maccabees in the century before, was still run down and rather small. (The precinct at the beginning of the Second Temple period is said to have been 50 meters by 150 meters, an area comparable to or smaller than an American city block.)
In 20 BCE, Herod announced that the old temple would be torn down and replaced with something truly magnificent. The Cohanim, or Jewish priesthood, as well as the rest of the population, were skeptical, requiring Herod to quarry all the stones required for the project before the destruction of the Post-Exile structure could begin.
An agreement was made between Herod and the Jewish religious authorities: the sacrificial rituals, called korbanot, were to be continued unabated for the entire time of construction, and the Temple itself would be constructed by the Cohanim.
Mt. Moriah had a plateau at the northern end, and steeply declined on the southern slope. It was Herod's plan that the entire mountain be turned into a giant square platform. To do this, a trench was dug around the mountain, and huge stone "bricks" were laid – the largest measuring 44.6 feet by 11 feet by 16.5 feet and weighing approximately 567 to 628 tons, while most were in the range of 2.5 by 3.5 by 15 feet (approximately 28 tons). It is believed that the stones were transported from the quarry on specialized carts. As the mountainside began to rise, the western side was carved away to a vertical wall and bricks were carved to create a virtual continuation of the brick face, which was continued for a while until the northern slope reached ground level. Part of the Antonian hill to the north of Moriah was annexed to the complex and the area between was filled up with landfill.
The project began with the building of giant underground vaults upon which the temple would be built so it could be larger than the small flat area on top of Mount Moriah. Ground level at the time was at least 20 ft. (6m) below the current level, as can be seen by walking the Western Wall tunnels. The edge of this platform remains everywhere; part of it forms the Western Wall.
In 1948, Jordan destroyed the Jewish Quarter and much more of the wall was revealed along the southern side. In 1967 Israel captured Old Jerusalem (and the Temple Mount) from Jordan. It was found that the wall extended all the way around Temple Mount and is part of the city wall near the Lion's Gate. Thus, the Western Wall is not the only remaining part of the Temple Mount. Currently, "Robinson's arch" remains as the beginning of an arch that spanned the gap between the top of the platform and the higher ground farther away. This had been used by the priests as an entrance. Commoners had entered through the still-extant, but now plugged, gates on the southern side which led through beautiful colonnades to the top of the platform. One of these colonnades is still extant and reachable through Temple Mount. The Southern wall was designed as a grand entrance. Recent archeological digs have found thousands of "Mikvas" (ceremonial bathtubs) for the ritual purification of the worshippers, as well as the grand stairway leading to the now blocked entrance.
Inside the walls, the platform was supported by a series of vaulted archways, now called "Solomon's stables" which still exist and whose current renovation by the Palestinian authority is extremely controversial.
As for the temple itself, it was made, not of local stone, as was the rest of the complex, but imported white marble, which was in sharp contrast to the entire city and gleamed in the daylight.
Legend has it that the construction of the entire complex lasted only three years, but other sources such as Josephus say that it took far longer, although the Temple itself may have taken that long. During a Passover visit by Jesus the Jews replied that it had been under construction for 46 years. It is possible that the complex was only a few years completed when the future Emperor Titus burnt the place to the ground in 70 CE.
In the decades after the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt, the 2nd century AD/CE Jewish sage Judah ha-Nasi, fearing that a Third Temple would not be built in his lifetime, committed to writing the Mishnah in order to keep the "oral law," including the rules pertaining to the functioning of the temple ceremonials and precincts, intact for that day when the sacrifices might begin again.
The Gemara, a commentary on the Mishnah, provides many details of the architecture of Herod's temple, as well as what life was like in and around the temple. This has aided modern researchers in painting a clear picture of what the Temple Mount was like during the time of Jesus.
Jerusalem around the year one (BCE/CE) was primarily a tourist city. The Temple was the prime destination, and subsidiary industries abounded, serving both the priests, who performed services, as well as the thousands of pilgrims who would arrive daily, year-round.
Jewish scholars note that at the time, the world's Jewish population was divided roughly into two groups: the Yishuv, those who lived in what is now Israel, and the Diaspora, those who lived everywhere else. For the Yishuv, attendance at the Temple was obligatory several times a year, mainly for Passover and Yom Kippur, while for the Diaspora, pilgrimage was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime affair.
A Jew from distant parts of the Roman Empire would arrive by boat at the port of Jaffa (now part of Tel Aviv), where he or she would join a caravan for the three day trek to the Holy City (a trip which only takes about an hour by automobile today), and would then find lodgings in one of the many hotels or hostelries. Once lodging was secured and money changed, the pilgrim would purchase a sacrificial animal, usually a pigeon or a lamb, in preparation for the following day's events.
The first thing a pilgrim would do would be to approach the public entrance on the south side of the temple mount complex. He would check his animal, then visit a Mikva, where he would ritually cleanse and purify himself. The pilgrim would then retrieve his sacrificial animal, and head to the Huldah gates. After ascending a staircase three stories in height, and passing through the gate, the pilgrim would find himself in the "Court of the Gentiles."
This area was primarily a bazaar, with vendors selling souvenirs, sacrificial animals, food, as well as currency changers, exchanging Roman for Jewish money, as also mentioned in the New Testament account of Jesus and the Money Changers. Guides that provided tours of the premises were also available. Jewish males had the unique opportunity to be shown inside the temple itself.
The Cohanim (Priests), in their white linen robes and tubular hats, were omnipresent, directing pilgrims where and advising them what kind of sacrifices were to be performed.
Behind one as they entered the Court of the Gentiles was the Royal Portico, which contained a marketplace, administrative quarters, and a synagogue as well. On the upper floors, the great Jewish sages held court, Cohanim and Levites performed various chores, and from there tourists were able to observe the events.
To the east of the court was the Portico of Solomon, and to the north, the Soreg, a giant stone structure separating the public area from the area where only Jews could enter. Within the soreg was the temple itself.
According to Josephus, there were ten entrances into the inner courts, four on the south, four on the north, one on the east and one leading east to west from the Court of Women to the court of the Israelites, named the Nicanor Gate "The gates were: On the south side (going from west to east) the Fuel Gate, the Firstling Gate, the Water Gate. On the north side, from west to east, are the Jeconiah Gate, the Offering Gate, the Women Gate and the Song Gate. On the Eastern side, the Nicanor gate, which is where most Jewish visitors entered via the Nicanor gate.
A few pieces of the Soreg have survived to the present day; see the photograph at right.
Within this area, all Jews, male and female, were permitted. Even a ritually unclean Cohen could enter to perform various housekeeping duties. There was also a place for lepers (considered ritually unclean), as well as a ritual barbershop for Nazirites. In this, the largest of the temple courts, there could be seen constant dancing, singing and music.
This area was exclusively for Jewish men to enter. The Jewish men could see the animal sacrifices made by the high priest in the court of the priests.
The Court of the Priests was reserved for priests who performed sacrifices, including lambs, doves, and pigeons.
Between the entrance of the building and the curtain veiling the Holy of Holies were the famous vessels of the temple: the menorah, the incense-burning altar, and various other implements, some of which were purified with blood. On the other side of the curtain, within the holy of holies, the chamber was empty; the Ark of the Covenant had disappeared long before.
On the Ninth of Av, 70CE (Hebrew: תשעה באב) some soldiers of general Titus hurled a torch through a temple window hoping to obtain loot. Titus was not able to put out the fire once it started, being preoccupied with the Siege of Jerusalem. Knocking down the porticoes was difficult, but possible.
The sages kept the memory alive by rote, then when it seemed that no temple would be rebuilt, they set the memory of the temple to writing. This is considered the "saddest day in Jewish history", and is commemorated by the fast of Tisha B'Av