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View series: Jerusalem: The History of a Global City

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Herodian Jerusalem

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of Jerusalem: The History of a Global City.

After the taking of Jerusalem by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BCE, the city – and Judea as a whole – fell under Roman control.

As a matter of fact, it was with the help of the Senate and the Roman legions that Herod the Great became king of Judea.

During his reign and the decades that followed, Jerusalem experienced unprecedented urban development. The population doubled and reached the number of roughly 80 000 inhabitants in 66 CE, on the eve of the destruction of the city by the Romans. It was only in the 19th century that Jerusalem became populated to a comparable extent again.

Following the example of other cities in the Greco-Roman East, Jerusalem under Herod was granted new infrastructures such as a theatre, an amphitheatre and a hippodrome. However the exact locations of these remain uncertain.

Herod also built a huge palace on Mount Zion, overlooking the rest of the city.

Close to this palace, in the higher part of the Jewish quarter in the present Old City, some luxurious homes have been excavated.

In order to cope with the needs of the population in terms of water, especially at the time of the pilgrimages associated with Jewish feasts, Herod re-structured the city’s water system. He built new cisterns and pools, as well as an aqueduct that brought water from the so-called Solomon pools near Bethlehem to the western part of Jerusalem.

The city’s walls and fortifications also underwent important consolidation work. In particular, Herod reconstructed two Hasmonean towers, which were located in the vicinity of the present citadel at Jaffa Gate. The first was called Phasael in honor of Herod’s brother, and the second Mariamne, in honor of Herod’s favorite spouse. He later added a third tower called “Hippicos”, part of which is still visible nowadays.

Moreover, he further strengthened the Baris fortress, located at the north-western edge of the Temple esplanade, and re-named it Antonia, in honor of his Roman protector Marc Antony. 

A second wall was erected to connect the Antonia to the north-western angle of the first wall, probably at the level of the Phasael tower. This second wall included a large urban zone located north of the first wall within the city fortifications.

As to Jerusalem’s third wall, it was built around 41-42 CE by Herod Agrippa I, the grand-son of Herod and the last king of Judea. This wall went further north and west, beyond the present Damascus Gate.

However, the sanctuary and its esplanade were the focus of Herod’s greatest building efforts and his most monumental achievement. Enlarged and raised above its previous level, the esplanade was surrounded by a massive wall made of impressive stones, at least one of which has been estimated to weigh close to 400 tons.

People would access the esplanade via monumental stairs located to the south and west.

In the middle of the esplanade, the temple was renovated and enlarged. The reputation of its beauty helped to establish Jerusalem’s central position for contemporary Jews.

The esplanade itself was surrounded by porticos in the Corinthian style. On the south-eastern side stood the royal stoa, where commercial activities, such as changing of money and the purchase of sacrificial animals took place. The royal stoa was also the place where a tribunal met. During the Herodian period, the Temple esplanade looked somewhat like a Roman forum.

However, construction works for the esplanade and the Temple were only completed shortly before the beginning of the war against Rome in 66-70 CE, which led to the destruction of the sanctuary and most of the city.