During the Six Day War, IDF soldiers that had entered the Old City rushed over to the Temple Mount and the Jewish Quarter. What they found was a sad sight: the Jewish Quarter stood crumbling and in ruins, after having been neglected for 19 years of Jordanian occupation. It was clear that urgent action was needed in order to restore what was possible and clear away the rubble of many buildings. The Israeli government understood that a historical window of opportunity was opened that would allow, during construction, archaeological excavation on an unprecedented large scale in the area of the quarter. So it happened that precisely the ruin of the quarter was what allowed researchers to raise the image of Jerusalem from ancient times out of the dust and rubble.
One of the great surprises waiting for the researchers was in the “Herodian Quarter”, which is an opulent residential neighborhood dating back to the days of the Herod the Great dynasty. Today, descending down to three hundred meters below the Quarter’s surface level will take you two thousand years back in time, and the homes of Jerusalem’s rich will rise from the dirt before your very eyes.
At the end of the Second Temple period, Jerusalem reached a size of 1,600 dunams (around 1.5 times larger than the current area of the Old City). It sprawled over several hills: the Temple sat atop Temple Mount; at its foothills, on the City of David hill, was ‘the Lower City’ where the poor folk of the city lived alongside an affluent population that built its palaces along the route leading up from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. On the Western Hill, where we stand, lived the nobility of Jerusalem and affluent kohanim (priests) may have also lived here. You can really imagine how the residents of the neighborhood would go out for an evening stroll on the rooftops of their houses and look to the east toward the Temple Mount, the beating heart of the city, and the largest holy site in the whole of the Roman Empire. North of the Western Hill and north of the Temple Mount were additional neighborhoods, and the entire city was surrounded by three huge walls.
When exploring the past, we often come across stories about rulers, heroes and extraordinary acts of wonder, but here, in the Herodian Quarter, we get a rare glimpse into the daily lives of people like ourselves who lived in the city 2,000 years ago. During your tour of the Herodian Quarter, you will see the living quarters that were decorated with colorful frescoes, the floors adorned with ornate mosaics, the many mikvehs indicating that the rituals of purity were maintained, the plates on which delicacies were served, the flasks in which they stored their wine and the heavy stone cups they used to drink from at mealtimes. Ornate stone tables that were used by servants to serve the refreshments were also found here. Don’t forget to look for a copy of the Temple Menorah, engraved into one of the walls by one of the residents of these houses. Who knows, maybe it was a Kohen who saw for himself the Menorah that was up in the Temple at the time, just a few hundred meters from this spot.
While visiting the site, you’ll notice the ceiling above you supporting the modern Yeshivat HaKotel (“Yeshiva of the Western Wall”). When the remnants of the Herodian Quarter were discovered, it was decided that that they would be preserved for future generations, but since according to the plan, Yeshivat HaKotel was supposed to be built here, a clever compromise was reached: concrete pillars were cast into the Second Temple period level, above which a ceiling was added and the Yeshiva was built above, while preserving the archeological findings below. In this way, the Jewish Quarter continued to be a living and active location that simultaneously allows visitors to learn of its fascinating past.
*The duration of the tour is approximately one hour
*Booking a guide for this tour is recommended (at an additional cost).
*The Herodian Quarter can be visited during one of the regular guided tours held every day.
*Conservation work is carried out on this site by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
*Opening hours are Sunday – Thursday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
*You must bring this ticket with you.
*This ticket allows admission to the site, self-guided.
*The address is 1 HaKaraim Street
*The ticket can be cancelled free of charge up to four business days before the visit, cancelling after this will be charged at the full price.
*Visits are subject to the guidance of the Ministry of Health.