Jerusalem, David's Holy City - Temple & palaces; scale models, reconstructions


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Ark of the Covenant

Model of King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem

Archaeology of Jerusalem

Two golden columns stood at the entrance to Solomon's Temple

Solomon's Temple

King Herod the Great, as portrayed in the TV series 'Rome'

Herod the Great
Mad, bad, dangerous

Ornate architectural details on an ancient palace

Ancient palaces

Maps of ancient Jerusalem

Jerusalem maps

Herodium, palace fortress 


Stories about the Temple of Jerusalem


  Zechariah & the angel

 Young Jewish boy

Jesus lost in Jerusalem 

Jesus and the Woman taken in Adultery

Adulterous Woman

Dome of the Rock, present-day Jerusalem

For information on the architecture of Jerusalem in later centuries, see 
Islamic architecture





The Temple of Jerusalem was a place of worship, but unlike modern churches it was not designed for communal use. Its inner chamber was a focal point for the deity's presence, and entrance was prohibited to ordinary people.

The First Temple was completed in 957BC, the Second Temple in 515BC, and Herod's Temple was completed in 26AD. Solomon completed the First Temple, the exiles returned from Babylon built the Second Temple, and Herod the Great completed a rebuilding of the Temple during the Roman era.

The commanding site

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:a threshing floor used to process grain

The site of the Temple was probably originally a threshing floor (see an example above), used to process grain after the harvest. The rock floor on which the Temple was built provided a solid foundation for monumental buildings.

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:Jebus or Jerusalem,the original city of David

Jebus, the walled area in the lower right of the diagram, 
marks the original city of David. It sat on a small spur of land that juts out from the flat rock plateau to its north.


Solomon's Temple: the First Temple

The architecture of the First Temple reflected designs used in surrounding cultures - the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine never developed a style unique to themselves. 

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:the moveable Tabernacle with the Holy of Holies

Until the time of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a moveable tent, suitable for a nomadic people

The floor plan of the Temple was based on the layout of the moveable Tabernacle in which the Holy of Holies had been housed, up until David gave it a more permanent home in his new capital, Jerusalem. The Tabernacle was well suited to the needs of a nomadic people, as it could be set up and dismantled quickly. The plan of the Tabernacle was similar to the layout of tribal tents.

David's son Solomon completed the First Temple in 957BC - see King Solomon for a short version of his life. The building was not large. It had three rooms: a porch, the main room of worship, and the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept. A storehouse surrounded three sides of the Temple. This Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586BC. The Temple treasures, including the Ark, were lost. 



JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:ground plan of the Temple of Solomon and its precincts

Detailed ground plan of the Temple of Solomon and its precincts

Egyptian Temple of Dendur

Reconstructions of Solomon's Temple are often over-large. The First Temple was probably of a more modest size, perhaps similar in scale, or smaller, to the Egyptian Temple of Dendur pictured here.


Judging from the description in the Bible, the central building in Solomon's Temple had a floor-plan similar to the one above

Interior of the Temple with a view into the Holy of Holies

Interior of the Temple with a view of the Holy of Holies - the curtain was normally closed. 
The walls of the sanctuary were lined with expensive wooden panels, with gold overlay. 
The real Temple would probably have been more modest in scale.

The Temple of Jerusalem is talked about as if it was a single building, but in fact the term refers to separate buildings built during different eras.

In the early years of the Israelite kingdom, the Ark of the Covenant was periodically moved about among several sanctuaries, for example those at Shechem and Shiloh. But after David moved his court away from Hebron into the fortress/city of Jerusalem, the Ark was moved there as well. By doing this, he joined Israel's major religious object to himself and the monarchy - he was trying to consolidate the loosely governed tribes into accepting him as a king. It also turned the city of Jerusalem into a central symbol of union for the tribes. David chose Mount Moriah, now known as the Temple Mount, as the site for his temple, largely because it was believed to be the place where Abraham had built the altar on which to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The First Temple was built during the reign of David's son Solomon, and completed in about 957BC. It was built primarily as an abode for the Ark and a place of assembly for the people. The building itself was not large - as modern cathedrals are - but the courtyard made up for this, far outdoing the surrounds of a modern church. The courtyard, or series of courtyards, was the place of assembly for the people.

The Temple building faced east. It was oblong and consisted of three rooms of equal width: the porch or vestibule, the main room of religious offering, or Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies in which the Ark rested. A storehouse surrounded the Temple except at its front (east) side.

The First Temple had five altars: one at the entrance of the Holy of Holies, two others within the building, a large bronze one in front of the porch, and a large tiered altar in the courtyard. A huge bronze bowl in the courtyards was used for the priests' ablutions. Within the Holy of Holies, two cherubim of olive wood stood with the Ark. This innermost sanctuary was considered the dwelling place or focus of the Divine Presence and could be entered only by the high priest, and then only on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

From Solomon to Hezekiah

In 604BC and then again in 597BC Jerusalem was attacked and taken by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. The city was sacked, the Temple treasure was stolen, and the Temple itself was totally destroyed. A large section of the Jewish population, including all the educated and wealthy people, were deported to Babylon - Nebuchadnezzar had a policy of population resettlement.

This might have been the end of it, but in 538BC Cyrus II, founder of the Achaemenian dynasty of Persia, issued an order allowing the Jewish population to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple. This they did, but on a more modest scale than Solomon had been able to do.

The rebuilt Temple, for which there is no exact description, was surrounded by two courtyards with chambers, gates and a public square. It did not have the ritual objects of the First Temple. The Ark had been lost, and money was short, since the whole of Jerusalem had fallen into a state of ruin and had to be rebuilt. To compensate, ritual became even more elaborate than before, and it was conducted by hereditary families of Levites.

During the 4th-3rd centuries BC, the Temple was respected by Judea's foreign rulers. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, desecrated it by offering sacrifice to Zeus on the altar in 168BC, sparking the Hasmonean revolt, led by the Maccabees. Judas Maccabaeus cleansed and rededicated the Temple, and this is celebrated in the annual Jewish festival of Hanukka.

Jerusalem as it was in the period from Solomon to Hezekiah

Map of the city as it was in the period from Solomon to Hezekiah

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:Excavations of the Stepped Stone Structure

Excavations of the Stepped Stone Structure, circa 10thcentury BC, 
believed to be part of Jerusalem's walls

Quoted from 'David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings', Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, p269-70:

'Beginning with the assumption that the biblical narratives were reliable historical sources, the researchers identified these ruins as features mentioned in the Bible. And they used the hypothetical identifications as archaeological "proof" that the biblical descriptions were true.
A prime example is the so-called "Stepped Stone Structure," first uncovered in the 1920's. It is an imposing rampart of fifty-eight courses of limestone boulders, extending for more than fifty feet, like a protective sheath or reinforcement over the upper end of the eastern slope of the City of David. Later excavations by Kenyon and by Shiloh discovered a network of stone terraces beneath it, probably constructed in order to stabilize and expand the narrow flat surface on the spine of the ridge, and perhaps to support a large structure built there. The early excavators suggested that the Stepped Stone Structure was part of the fortification of the Jebusite city that David conquered.....
Yet the pottery retrieved from within the courses of the Stepped Stone Structure included types of the Early Iron Age to the ninth or even early eighth centuries BC. It seems therefore that this monument was constructed at least a century later than the days of David and Solomon. Who used it, when exactly, and for what purpose still remains - archaeologically, at least - a mystery.'

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:Water system including Hezekiah's tunnel

Above and below: the water system including Hezekiah's tunnel

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:The rock tunnel of Hezekiah

The rock tunnel of Hezekiah

When Solomon died, the ten northern tribes broke away from the federation, setting up their own kingdom in the north. Solomon's son Rehoboam was left with sovereignty over only two tribes. But he still had Jerusalem. 

In 922BC the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonk I led a raid into Judah, and sacked the city, stealing the treasure of the Temple (and probably the royal women's jewelry as well). He was followed in the next century by the Philistines and Arabs, and then in 786BC Joash of Israel invaded Judah and tore down part of the wall surrounding Jerusalem.

After Hezekiah became king of Judah, he built new fortifications and an underground tunnel (see illustration at left), which brought water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city. This was an extraordinary engineering achievement, done with what are primitive tools by modern standards. 

In 1880 an inscription was discovered. It had been cut into the tunnel wall, and describes the meeting of the two groups of stone-cutters who were digging from opposite ends of the tunnel: 'And this was the way in which it was cut through:  While [...] (were) still [...] axe(s), each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellows, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right [and on the left].  And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1200 cubits.'

Despite his best efforts, Hezekiah was no match for the Assyrians, and in 701BC Sennacherib of Assyria 'came down like a wolf on the fold', extracting a heavy tribute from Jerusalem. Eight years later Jerusalem was laid waste and its king deported to Babylon. In 586BC the city and Temple were completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and the long exile in Babylon began.


The post-Exilic period

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:Layout of the city as it would have been 

Layout of the city as it would have been in Nehemiah's time -  5th century BC

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:rough stone wall similar to the earliest city fortifications

'Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set up its doors, building the wall as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and the Tower of Hananel.' 

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:Comparison of the Post-Exilic Temple and the laterTemple built by Herod the Great

Comparison of the modestly rebuilt Post-Exilic Temple (at left) and the later, grander Temple of Herod the Great


The buildings of Herod the Great

Quoted from 'Jerusalem, One City, Three Faiths', Karen Armstrong, p128:

'Herod did not begin the real transformation of Jerusalem until about 23BC, when he had just won a good deal of respect in Palestine by his efficiency in providing food and grain for the people during the famine of 25-24BC. Many Jerusalemites had been ruined and were able to find employment as builders once work had begun in the city. Herod began by building a palace for himself in the Upper City on the Western Hill; it was fortified by three towers, which he named after his brother Phasael, his beloved wife Mariamme the Hasmonean, and his friend Hippicus. ..... The palace itself consisted of two large buildings, one of which was called Caesareum in honor of Octavian, which were joined by enchanting water gardens, where the deep canals and cisterns were lined with bronze statues and fountains. Herod seems to have also redesigned the streets of the Upper City into a gridded system, which made traffic and town planning easier. In addition, the Upper City had a theater and a hippodrome, though we do not know the exact location of these buildings. Every five years, games were held in honor of Augustus, which drew crowds of distinguished athletes to Jerusalem.'

Go to Herod's story for a brief version of the life story of this extraordinary man: one of the ancient world's greatest builders, yet also a paranoid murderer who killed most of his family 


The city of Jerusalem in the Herodian period

The city of Jerusalem in the Herodian period

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:A model of the city in King Herod's time

A model of the city in King Herod's time. All available land within the walls 
would once have been covered by buildings

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:the view across Jerusalem towards the Temple of Herod the Great,with Antonia Fortress

A model showing the view across Jerusalem towards the Temple of Herod the Great.
At left is the Antonia Fortress; in the middle is the palace of the Judean royal family

Herod the Great rebuilt the Second Temple on a grand scale. It took 46 years to build, and was completed in 26AD. It was used not only for worship, but as a repository for the Scriptures and a meeting place for the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish law court. This Temple was destroyed in 70AD after the Jewish Revolt.

The Temple of Jerusalem: general information

During the Roman conquest, Pompey entered the Holy of Holies but did not damage or steal from the Temple. However, in 54BC Crassus plundered the Temple treasury.

Most people know Herod the Great as the king who ordered the Massacre of the Innocents at roughly the time of Jesus' birth. But as well as this he was one of the greatest builders of the ancient world. Probably acting out of political expediency (the people did not accept him as fully Jewish), he decided to rebuild the Temple on a grand scale.

Construction began in 20BC and lasted for 46 years. The area of the Temple Mount was doubled and surrounded by a high wall with massive gates. The Temple was raised, enlarged, and faced with beautiful white stone. Its courtyards served as a gathering place and its shaded porticoes sheltered merchants and money changers.

A stone fence and a rampart surrounded the inner consecrated area which was forbidden to Gentiles. The Temple itself began with the Court of Women, each side of which had a gate. The court was named for a balcony running around the courtyard from which women watched the annual celebration of Sukkot.

The western gate of the courtyard, approached by a semicircular staircase, led to the Court of the Israelites, open to all male Jews. Next came the Court of Priests which contained the sacrificial altar and a copper laver or basin for the priests to wash in. The Temple building was wider in front than in the rear. Its eastern facade had two pillars on either side of the gate to the entrance hall. Within the hall, a great door led to the sanctuary, and the western end of which was the Holy of Holies.

The Temple was not only the center of religious ritual. It was also the place where the Holy Scriptures and other important Jewish literature was held. It was the meeting place of the Sanhedrin, the High Court of Jews during the Roman period.

In 66AD rebellion broke out. It was focused on the Temple, and when the rebels were defeated the Romans destroyed almost every part of the Temple, stone by stone. All that remained was a portion of the Western Wall, called nowadays the Wailing Wall. This spot is the focus of Jewish pilgrimage and prayer.

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:facade of the Temple of Herod the Great

A reconstruction of the Temple built by Herod the Great and the surrounding city 
of Jerusalem as it was at the time of the Roman occupation

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:coin struck by Bar Kochba in 132AD, showing facade of Temple 

Reconstruction of the facade was based on the image found on this coin, 
which was struck by Bar Kochba, leader of the revolt in 132AD

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:Ground plan of the Temple built by Herod the Great

Ground plan of the Temple built by Herod the Great

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:model of the southern face of the Temple

A model of the southern face of the Temple, showing the grand stairway 
leading to the stoa or entrance portico. Model by Professor Avi-Jonah

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:Temple built by Herod the Great surrounded by the Court of the Gentiles

The Temple built by Herod the Great was surrounded by the Court of the Gentiles.
Note the vast stone platform on which the Temple precinct stood.

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:Women's Court and surrounding Court of the Gentiles:also shown is Court of the Priests and Court of the Israelites

The Women's Court (with patterned floor) and surrounding Court of the Gentiles. 
At right is the Court of the Israelites and the Court of the Priests
(reconstruction by Alec Gerrard)

It was within one of these courts that Jesus was confronted with the woman taken in adultery - 
see Adulterous Woman and Jesus for her story. 

JERUSALEM:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE:The Court of the Priests with the sacrificial altar

The Court of the Priests with the sacrificial altar



The Wailing Wall, all that is left of Herod's magnificent Temple, 
formed part of the platform on which the Temple stood


The ancient city of Jerusalem - its story

Jerusalem is one of the oldest continuing cities in the world. There were people living there as early as the 4th millennium BC, but the fortress/city began to be famous after David captured it and made it his capital. 

Hebron, to the south, had been his capital, but he had good reasons for moving his court.  Jerusalem was in a better geographical position on the border between Judah and the northern tribes, and despite the fact that he himself had taken the citadel, its position atop steep cliffs made it difficult to overrun. 

At David's death, the city was still quite small. David had been too busy with court intrigue and hard-fought battles to think about renovations. His son was more ambitious. Solomon used Phoenician craftsmen and enforced labor to carry out the great construction program that resulted in the building of the First Temple and the palace in Jerusalem (1 Kings 7.52, 5.27). Nothing but the best. He imported wood (cedar) from Lebanon, and the Temple was embellished and decorated with the over-the-top style then fashionable. Less was definitely not more.

The royal palace probably stood north of the city. There are no traces of this site now, since Herod demolished everything that was there to extend the astonishing Temple he built. But according to 1 Kings 7:1-12, the royal palace was built from Lebanese cedar, with a vestibule hall of columns, a throne room, residential quarters and a luxurious palace for the women of the harem - Solomon's 'thousand wives'. There would also have been extensive courtyards, onto which the palace rooms opened. The palace was quite independent of the city, with a high wall surrounding it. It was necessary to pass through a guard-house to enter it.

According to 1 Kings 6:2-3, the First Temple was a long-room temple with a vestibule hall and a separate room for the Holy of Holies (see illustration at left). There were two columns in the vestibule hall, and splendid furnishings and fittings. The walls were covered with wooden panels embellished with gold-leaf overlay. 

The houses of the citizens of Jerusalem were far simpler. Of course, this meant that people were crammed together closely, and as time passed the more affluent citizens began to build houses just  outside the city walls.

All these buildings are long gone - destroyed in war or demolished to make way for later buildings. The only part left from David and Solomon's reigns may be ramparts from the city wall. Excavations have revealed a stepped stone structure, possibly foundations, dating from the 10th century BC.

Eventually, in 538BC, the people were allowed to return to Jerusalem. The once magnificent city was a sorry sight. Nothing  seemed to remain, just a few small buildings and a demoralized peasantry living in huts, where once there had been the Temple, palaces, houses and commercial buildings. 

Bit by bit the people, led by Zerubbabel of the house of David, began to rebuild Jerusalem. They were determined to re-establish their sacred city. The Temple was restored by 515BC, and Jerusalem once more became the center of the new state. Its position was strengthened when Nehemiah restored the fortifications surrounding the city.

With the coming of Alexander the Great, Jerusalem entered the world of Western power politics. After Alexander's death, Palestine was taken over by his marshal, Ptolemy I, who had occupied Egypt and made Alexandria his capital. In 198BC Jerusalem was taken over by the dynasty descended from Seleucus I, another of Alexander's marshal. 

This was significant in cultural terms, since the new rulers promoted Greek culture and religious ideas, and tried to suppress Jewish practices. In 167BC Antiochus IV desecrated the Temple, and a revolt against the Seleucid rulers broke out.  This revolt was led by the Maccabees, who were able to expel the Seleucids. Jerusalem regained its position as the capital of an independent state ruled by the priestly Hasmonean family.

Then came the Romans. They had for some time been expanding into the eastern Mediterranean world, and in 63BC Pompey captured Jerusalem. The way for peaceful co-existence was smoothed by the machinations of the Herod family, and in 40BC Herod, who had distinguished himself as governor of Galilee, was appointed a 'client king' of Judaea by the Roman Senate. He was the friend of Mark Antony, and when Mark Antony was defeated at the Battle of Actium and committed suicide, the wily Herod was able to persuade Octavian, later Augustus, that he should remain as king of Judaea.

Herod was king for the next thirty-six years, and in this period Jerusalem enjoyed its greatest period of greatness. The Temple Mount esplanade was artificially enlarged with supporting walls (including the Western Wall, now called the Wailing Wall), to provide a platform for Herod's greatest achievement, the new Temple, which took more than a generation to build. The new royal palace was strengthened by immense towers that were built into the older walls, and the Temple was defended by a new citadel. Jerusalem also acquired a Hellenistic amphitheatre.

Jerusalem was now the religious center, the goal of obligatory pilgrimages, the capital of the ruler, and the seat of the autonomous court of the Sanhedrin or Jewish Council of Elders.

Nothing lasts forever. In 66AD the Jewish people rebelled against Rome and in 70AD the city was besieged and almost completely destroyed by the Roman forces under Titus. The Temple, Herod's most splendid building, was reduced to ashes.

A Biblical city

A city in biblical times could be anything from 6 hectares (15 acres) - Megiddo, to 10 hectares (25 acres) - Ai, Gezer and Arad. It was protected by a ring of walls, with gates or posterns. The fortification could be a wall or a rampart. Inside the walls there were houses of varying shapes and sizes, but also monumental buildings which covered a substantial part of the area inside the wall. Among these were the temple and the palace, often at the center of the settlement or in a prominent position. All the houses were accessible via streets.

A city had to be situated near a water supply, with wells in the nearby plains or valleys.

City walls had different methods of construction and size. There are mud brick walls from 2 to 6 meters thick on stone foundations, with projecting semicircular or rectangular towers. In another case, the walls were 8 to 10 meters wide. The gate had towers flanking it on either side.

The earliest type of house was the wide-room house. Its floor was below ground level and the house was entered by two steps. Benches ran along the walls. This basic form was enlarged by the addition of annexes and additional rooms, and a house often had several rooms, in which the entrance from the street was in the shorter wall.



David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, King Herod, Jesus of Nazareth


The great Holy City of the Bible: political capital, religious center, focus of pilgrimage, and  seat of administration and law.


Jerusalem lies on the southern spur of a plateau in the Judean Mountains, surrounded by valleys and dry riverbeds.      


Jerusalem is one of the oldest continuing cities in the world. People have occupied the site for at least six thousand years.


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Bible Architecture: Housing in Old and New Testament times - Architecture of the Bible; Bible Study Resource
Jerusalem, Holy City of David - The Site, Temple and Palaces; archaeology


Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher