Reconstruction of Robinson's Arch Proposed Reconstruction of Robinson's Arch

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Plans and Photos Summary of Excavations
Summary of Excavations from Reich and Billig in Stern et al (2008)

Reich and Billig in Stern et al (2008:1809-1811) summarized excavations as follows

In 1994–1996, excavations were resumed in the Robinson’s Arch area, the first since the conclusion of the large-scale excavations in this area directed by B. Mazar. The renewed excavations were directed by R. Reich and Y. Billig, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The main architectural remains exposed west of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, which had been partially exposed by C. Wilson (1865), C. Warren (1867), and B. Mazar, consist of a 70-m-long segment of the paved Herodian street and the façade of the pier of Robinson’s Arch. The street runs along the western wall of the Temple Mount. It is paved with large, well-cut stone slabs of various sizes, the largest 3.20 m long, laid in no apparent pattern. The stone slabs are 25–40 cm thick. All the stones were found intact and in situ, except in one spot where the impact of the collapse of Robinson’s Arch severely damaged the street. The width of the street between two raised curbs is c. 8.5 m.

A date for the construction of the street was established in the excavations. A probe under one of the flagstones of the street revealed several coins, the latest of which dates to Pontius Pilate (26–36 ce; an additional coin from 67 ce seems to be intrusive). It seems that, although the street was planned as part of Herod’s building program on the Temple Mount, it was paved only in the last generation before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce. This also accounts for the unweathered state of the street’s flagstones.

The street does not abut the western wall of the Temple Mount, but runs parallel to it at a distance of c. 3 m, leaving a space in which a row of small chambers was constructed. These chambers, 21 of which were identified, have uniform measurements of c. 3 by 3 m. They opened onto the street, and most probably served as shops, though they were found almost completely devoid of artifacts. Similar chambers were situated on the western side of the street, four of which were located in the pier of Robinson’s Arch; these were excavated by B. Mazar. The street apparently served as the main commercial thoroughfare in the city.

The street’s pavement was found covered with a thin (3–5-cm-thick) layer of debris containing pottery sherds, animal bones, and some 130 coins, having accumulated once the street was no longer cleaned and maintained. The latest coin is of the fourth year of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (69 ce). Upon this layer was found the huge collapse of Herodian construction stones of the western wall of the Temple Mount and of Robinson’s Arch. Among this debris were several stones from the coping of the western wall, triangular in cross-section with a rounded upper edge; stones that formed part of the engaged pilasters on the upper part of the wall; stones with molding, from the gate leading from the monumental Robinson’s Arch staircase onto the Temple Mount; stairs from the staircase; and stones from the handrails of that staircase. The northern half of this collapse was left as found during the excavations, a testimony to visitors of the site of the destruction wrought by the Romans in 70 ce. The remainder of the collapse was cleared and transferred to other parts of the archaeological park at the site, exposing the pavement of the street.

The dismantling of the eastern wall of Umayyad palace IV, adjacent to the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, revealed that it incorporated parts of a Roman building, most probably a latrine. Parts of this latrine had been exposed by the B. Mazar expedition. A dozen flat stones of the presumed latrine bear carved decorations and inscriptions, allowing for their identification as spolia originally used as seats of a theater or some other public assembly hall. These stones were then incorporated into Umayyad palace IV. There is no evidence for the date of construction of the theater or its location, though it must have been in close proximity. It may have been the theater said to have been built by Herod, or the one constructed for the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina.

An intact, inscribed milestone bearing the names of Vespasian and Titus, as well as that of the Tenth Roman Legion, was found in secondary use in Umayyad palace II, south of the Temple Mount. The name of the legate was completely erased. The Romans fashioned the milestone from one of the rounded handrail stones from the monumental staircase that led over Robinson’s Arch. This provides evidence that the handrail, and perhaps the entire arch, was destroyed no later than 79 ce. An identical inscription, albeit fragmentary, was discovered in this area by the B. Mazar expedition.

A small cemetery exposed along the western wall of the Temple Mount appears to have been in use in medieval times. The B. Mazar expedition encountered its earliest burials, which date to no later than 1099 ce. Now more than 30 additional burials have been revealed. The diversity of burial practices in this cemetery may suggest various ethnic groups, interred over a considerable length of time. A Hebrew inscription citing Isaiah 66:14 was discovered by B. Mazar on one of the stones of the western wall. Mazar dated it to the mid-fourth century ce, the days of Julian the Apostate. However, it may now be understood as having been directly related to the cemetery, and should thus be dated to around the eleventh century ce.

363 CE earthquake

Remains of Robinson's Arch Remains of Robinson's Arch


Russell (1980) reported that
Excavations in Jerusalem revealed a domestic structure just south of the pier of "Robinson's Arch" (Mazar, 1975: 247, Mazar, 1976: 36-38). Numerous coins were recovered from beneath the rubble and ash that marked the destruction of this house. The latest of these dated to the reign of Julian II. Mazar interpreted this destruction as probable evidence of Jewish preparations for the reconstruction of the Temple.
The Constantinian structures near the Western Wall may have been destroyed by Jews who, encouraged by Julian, began preparations for the reconstruction of the Temple—which project came to nought upon the emperor's death (Mazar 1976: 38).
However, Russell (1980) noted that the location of the structure to the side of Temple Mount rather than on it suggests that the destruction was more likely due to the Cyril Quake than Jewish preparations to rebuild the Temple.

Brock (1976) citing Mazar(1971 - in Hebrew) noted that an inscription quoting Isaiah 66:14 was found in the same area and suggested it was associated with the Temple rebuilding project. However, The New encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land Supplementary Volume 5 (2008) - Reich and Billig notes that
A Hebrew inscription citing Isaiah 66:14 was discovered by B. Mazar on one of the stones of the western wall. Mazar dated it to the mid-fourth century CE, the days of Julian the Apostate. However, it may now be understood as having been directly related to the cemetery, and should thus be dated to around the eleventh century CE.
Gibson (2014) proposed that archeoseismic evidence for the Cyril Quake of 363 AD was in fact discovered during the excavations by Mazar and states the following :
What is the date of the stone collapse near Robinson’s Arch?

A full publication of the stone collapse unearthed by Mazar has still not been made, so we still do not know what ceramics and coins were found between the ashlars and the fallen debris. However, Mazar excavated a building adjacent to Robinson’s Arch (Building 7066, the “bakery” in Area VII) and it was built immediately on top of ruined walls from the Second Temple period (Mazar(1971:20-21)). This structure reportedly had two building phases, the first from the Late Roman period, and the second from the beginning of the Byzantine period. The latter building was burnt in a fire and on the basis of numismatic finds its destruction was dated by Mazar to the time of Julian’s death in 363 CE. The excavation of this building has now been fully published by Eilat Mazar (2011, 145-183). The bulk of the coins (more than 200 of Constantius II, with a few of Julian II) seem to indicate a termination of the building in 363 CE at the time of the earthquake (see further on this, below). The few coins from this building which happen to post-date 363 appear to be intrusive or perhaps they represent squatter activities in the area in the aftermath of the earthquake. The fact that the foundations of this bakery and the adjacent bath-house to its north (Mazar 2011, 1-83) do not seem to have encroached much on the Herodian street, does suggest that the position of this street was taken into account by the architects of these two building complexes during the major planning and construction activities in this area c. 120 CE (see more on this in Weksler-Bdolah, 2014 a; idem 2014 b). Therefore, the Early Roman (Herodian) stone-paved street was maintained as a thoroughfare in the Late Roman period as well, with a slight build-up of soil surfaces and fills in places, and with the construction of channels and various other small features, as was noted by the excavators. Hence, I would suggest that the massive collapse of the marginal-drafted stones from the western Temple Mount wall down on to the surface of the paved street does not date to 70 CE, as so many previous commentators have suggested, but to the time of the earthquake of 363 CE instead.

Hence, I would argue that the massive stone collapse seen today above the level of the Early Roman (Herodian) street pavement just north of Robinson’s Arch, is the direct result of this devastating earthquake and is not evidence of a deliberate destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE as has hitherto been claimed.
Gibson (2014) noted the similarity of the fallen stones north of Robinson's Arch accompanied by destruction of nearby domestic structure(s) to the description in Historia Ecclesiastica by Socrates Scholasticus that
a mighty earthquake tore up the stones of the old foundations of the temple and dispersed them all together with the adjacent edifices.
Gibson (2014) argued further that the massive stone collapse just north of Robinson’s Arch contained pilaster stones which had likely been upright and standing in 325 CE when Christian builders imitated them in supporting pillars that have been found from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church over the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the church at Mamre near Hebron. This would add further evidence that this massive stone collapse occurred during the Cyril Quake of 363 AD rather than due to Roman destruction during the seige on the second Temple in 70 CE. This argument is presented in much greater detail in Gibson (2016)

Leen Ritmeyer, who had been official architect on excavations of the Western and Southern Wall by Benjamin Mazar, countered in a blog pointing out that underneath the fallen Herodian stones was a thin layer of destruction debris that contained many Herodian coins supporting the original interpretation that these stones were pushed over the wall by Roman Troops after the Second Temple burned. He summarized his counter argument while making reference to an illustrated cross section
cross section

If the earthquake of 363 AD did destroy the Western Wall, where is the evidence? The heap of fallen Herodian stones is only three meters (10 feet) high. No stones were ever added on top of this, as this Roman destruction was covered by a late Roman bath house and Byzantine street level and drain. The Roman floor level was later covered over by the floor of an Umayyad palace. If the Western Wall was destroyed in 363 AD, then a large pile of stones would have been found on top of the Roman bath house and Byzantine street level which would have been completely destroyed, but no sign of this was found.

Notes and Further Reading