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Jerusalem - Robinson's Arch

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

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Description of Robinson's Arch

Twelve m north of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, projecting from the western wall, are the remains of the so-called Robinson's Arch. The arch is named for the researcher who identified it in 1838 as the remains of the eastern end of the bridge he believed linked the Temple Mount to the Upper City to the west in the Second Temple period. Wilson and Warren discovered the remains of the pier on which the other side of the arch had rested. Warren, in fact, dug a series of seven shafts running westward at regular intervals up the southwestern hill from the arch, but found no evidence of additional piers. Nevertheless, the existence of such a bridge, supported on a row of arches, was taken almost for granted, until disproved by Mazar's excavations.

The pier that supported the western arm of Robinson's Arch stood 13 m distant from the western wall and was built of large ashlars, similar in tooling to the stones in the walls of the Temple Mount. The length of the pier was 15.2 m and its width 3.6 m; it was preserved to a height of some 5 m. In it were four small hollow spaces, possibly used as shops open onto the street that ran beneath Robinson's Arch. Shallow arches above the lintels of these spaces relieved the pressure from the superstructure; the remains of these arches are carved with convex upper sides, and are still in position on the lintels. The surviving remains of Robinson's Arch itself are three courses where the arch was attached to the wall of the Temple Mount. The arch was supported on this side by a course of projecting stones; there was probably a similar course in the opposite spring of the arch (in the pier), as such stones have been found in secondary use in a later building. The diameter of the span of Robinson's Arch was 13m and its width was equal to the pier's. It hung 17.5 m above the street. The collapsed remains of the arch, including pieces of the steps built on top of it, were found on the street pavement. Found southwest of Robinson's Arch were the remnants of a series of vaults running at right angles to the arch. The length of the vaults was a little less than that of Robinson's Arch, and the diameter was 5 m. Six vaults were found, for a total length of 35 m, gradually increasing in height from south to north. The vaults, together with Robinson's Arch, supported a monumental flight of stairs. They were built during Herod's reign to link the street in the Tyropoeon Valley, at the foot of the Temple Mount, with the Royal Stoa in the southern part of the Temple Mount enclosure, as described by Josephus (Antiq. XV, 410-411).

Robinson's Arch was an integral part of an extensive structure, the remains of whose rooms were exposed attached to the northern side of the arch. In view of the size and position of the building and the quality of its construction, Mazar conjectured that it might be the Jerusalem archives mentioned by Josephus (War VI, 354). At the foot of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount the remains of a street were discovered-a major traffic artery in the Second Temple period that ran along the bed of the Tyropoeon Valley. It was 10 m wide, paved with large stone slabs, most of them 2 to 4 sq m in area, and bordered on both sides by raised curbstones. It was buried under the rubble of ashlars from the walls of the Temple Mount. Beneath the street was a drain, sometimes as much as 4 m deep, mostly roofed by a vault. The drain's winding, irregular course is evidence that the workmen had tried to take advantage of the hollows created by First Temple tombs encountered along the way. Part of the street's southern continuation, farther down the Tyropoeon, and the drain beneath it were discovered by Bliss and Dickie at the end of the nineteenth century, north of the Siloam Pool. Kenyon reexposed a section of this street in her site N, and near it the remains of what was probably a public building built of ashlars. After some deliberation, she dated the street and the building to the Herodian period. This conclusion obviously ran counter to her hypothesis (see above) that this part of the Tyropoeon Valley was not part of the walled city of Jerusalem until the reign of Agrippa I. Near the Siloam Pool, Bliss and Dickie found an additional section of paving from the same street. The drain beneath the street left the city limits through gate C2 in the First Wall.

At the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, the main street split into a side street that ran north on a higher level, alongside the western wall of the Temple Mount. Its width was 3m and it was supported by a series of vaults. The vaults, in turn, were probably shops that opened onto the main street to the west (similar to the street and underlying vaults running alongside the southern wall). The remnants of the northern extension of this upper street along the western wall were probably those exposed by Warren in his shafts near Barclay's Gate and Wilson's Arch. A paved section of the continuation of that street was recently exposed near the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount (see below). At the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount another street split off the main street, climbing up eastward to the Huldah Gates (see above). Yet another street ran west, north of Robinson's Arch, and ascended to the Upper City by way of a flight of stairs, some of which were supported by underground vaults


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.

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Aerial Views, Plans, and Photos
Aerial Views, Plans, and Photos

Aerial Views

  • Robinson's Arch and surroundings in Google Earth
  • Robinson's Arch and surroundings on


Normal Size

  • Plan of the Robinson’s Arch area from Stern et al (2008)


  • Plan of the Robinson’s Arch area from Stern et al (2008)


  • Paved Street with Rubble from Jefferson Williams
  • Paved Street with Rubble from Stern et al (2008)
  • Pier of Robinson's Arch from Stern et al (2008)
  • Destroyed Shops along paved street from Stern et al (2008)
  • Latrine Seats from Stern et al (2008) .

363 CE earthquake

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

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Brian Jeffery Beggerly - Wikipedia - CC BY 2.0

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 one of the 363 CE Cyril Quakes 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, Reich and Billig in Stern et al (2008) note 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 one of the 363 CE Cyril Quakes 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 one of the 363 CE Cyril Quakes 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

Articles and Books

Brock, S. P. (1976). "The Rebuilding of the Temple Under Julian: A New Source." Palestine exploration quarterly 108(2): 103-107.

Gibson, S. (2014). The Pilaster Enclosure Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. New Studies on Jerusalem, Vol. 20. E. B. a. A. Faust. Ramat Gan., Bar Ilan: : 17-39.

Mazar, B., et al. (1975). The mountain of the Lord, Doubleday. - can be borrowed with a free account from

Mazar, B. (1976: 36-38) in Yadin, Y. (1976). Jerusalem revealed: archaeology in the holy city 1968-1974. New Haven and London, Yale University Press and the Israel Exploration Society. - bookmarked to page 36 - Byzantine Period which discusses possible 363 CE earthquake evidence. This is part of the section titled Archaeological Excavations near the Temple Mount which begins on page 25 - can be borrowed with a free account

Mazar, B. (1971). "The Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem Near the Temple Mount — Second Preliminary Report, 1969—70 Seasons Eretz-Israel: Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Studies - see pages 9-12 - in Hebrew

Mazar, E. and Shalev, Y. (2011) The walls of the Temple Mount Shoham Academic Research and Publication, Jerusalem

Reich and Billig in Stern, E., et al. (2008). The new encyclopedia of archaeological excavations in the Holy Land. 5, 5. Jerusalem; Washington, DC, Israel Exploration Society ; Biblical Archaeology Society.

Russell, K. W. (1980). "The Earthquake of May 19, A.D. 363." Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 238: 47-64.

Ritmeyer, L. (2015) The Western Wall was not destroyed by an earthquake! - Blog Post

Weksler-Bdolah, S. (2014a). The Foundation of Aelia Capitolina in Light of New Excavations along the Eastern Cardo. Israel Exploration Journal, 64(1), 38–62.

Bibliography from Stern et al (2008)

R. Reich & Y. Billig, ESI 16 (1995), 108

18 (1996), 88–90

id., Ancient Jerusalem Revealed, repr. & exp. ed. (ed. H. Geva), Jerusalem 2000, 340–352

E. Mazar, The Complete Guide to the Temple Mount Excavations, Jerusalem 2002

Y. Baruch, ESI 114 (2002), pp. 75*–76*.

Wikipedia page for Robinson's Arch

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