The renovation of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem that started in 1967 lasted over 15 years. During the construction of the Kotel Yeshiva over the Western Wall’s plaza, an impressive building complex was discovered including the homes of affluent Jews, and ashes from the city’s destruction in 70 AD.
The complex, better known as the Herodian Quarter – the Wohl Archaeology Museum, is the largest roofed archeological site in Israel (about 2,700 square meters). Actually it is a Jewish neighborhood overlooking the Temple from the final days of the Second Temple period. A bridge connected the Mount with the neighborhood in which the Temple’s priests resided.
Findings reveal the lavish lifestyle of the neighborhood’s residents including dozens of ritual baths, art works such as mosaics, frescos and stuccos.
The wealth of the residents is evident in every detail
All that remained from the western house is the basement floor with food storages, water holes, ritual baths and mosaics – a glatt kosher Jewish villa. The mosaic, by the way, was built to prevent mud puddles from accumulating by the baths.
The Jewish residents borrowed the art of the mosaic from the Roman-Hellenistic world but designed it in accordance with Jewish laws avoiding images of animals or people.
At the entrances of several of the mikva’ot (ritual baths), there are stone basins that were used for washing the feet before entering, in order to keep the bath’s water as clean as possible. Almost every room has a ritual bath attached.
Before we proceed down the steps, we can look at photographs of the site during the dig about 30 years ago.
The Temple’s menorah
One of the most significant findings is the engraving of the Menorah. Since the Temple is less than 100 meters away, it is quite likely that this is an exact replica of the real thing. The Menorah used today as the country’s symbol is actually a copy of the one engraved on Titus’ Triumphal Arch in Rome.
Further down household items, including stone utensils, are on display. According to Jewish law, stone tools can not be defiled – a fact that explains their wide use at the time. After the Second Temple’s destruction the stone tools’ industry stopped existing so the tools on display are the last relics. The sundial reminds us that the priests, who worked in the Temple in shifts, used it to keep on schedule.
Now we turn to the columned courtyard – a balcony of sorts from which the inhabitants enjoyed a clear view of the Temple Mount and the Temple.
An impressive mosaic in the center of the nearby parlor was carefully renovated. Underneath it, archeologists were surprised to find an earlier mosaic that was probably part of the original floor of the house. Both mosaics are on display.
Another important finding is the burnt mosaic floor and the ashes that originated in the wooden beams that collapsed during the city’s destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. This is the ash of Jerusalem.
Lastly we will proceed towards the Western Wall’s plaza or visit the Burnt House (Katres House) nearby. In the latter we can watch a dramatic film telling, in the first person, the story of the Temple’s destruction.