Site 17: The Huldah Gates and the Monumental Staircase
In the Second Temple period there were two gates in the south wall of the Temple Mount, known as the 'Huldah Gates'. The western Huldah Gate (the 'Double Gate') lies under the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Today the opening is blocked up and a medieval building adjoins it; in front of the gate are the remains of a partly-reconstructed monumental stair-case. The eastern Huldah Gate (the 'Triple Gate') consisted of three arched openings; they too are blocked up today.
The monumental staircase leading to the Temple Mount consists of alternating narrow and broad steps. The original stairs are grayish in color; some are broken and others are hewn in the natural rock. Their remains are quite clearly distinguishable from the reconstructed steps, which are more crudely dressed of white limestone. The staircase leads up to the western Huldah Gate, and a similar staircase probably led to the eastern gate. The two gates may have been named after the prophetess Huldah who, according to tradition, lived in Jerusalem in the First Temple period. The Gates led into tunnels through which people could pass beneath the Royal Stoa, on their way to the Temple Mount precinct, as related in the Mishna: "The two Huldah Gates on the south, that served for coming in and for going out..." (Middot 1:3).
Much of the western Huldah Gate is now covered by the medieval building (see Tour 1, Site 15) adjoining the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The gate had a double entrance, of which only the east (right) quarter is visible today. The opening is blocked up by a wall containing a small window.
The façade of the gate was destroyed and later repaired in the Early Muslim period, as can be inferred from the lintel and the doorjamb, which are decorated with floral and geometric motifs. Set into the gate upside-down, above the east (right) corner of the lintel, is a stone bearing a Latin inscription dedicated to the Roman emperor Hadrian (second century CE).
The entrance tunnel of the western Huldah Gate has been completely preserved under the Mosque. It contains columns bearing capitals and four carved stone domes of high architectural and artistic standards. This area, which is accessible from the Temple Mount enclosure, is not open to the public.
Standing on the staircase and looking east (right) one will see a group of rock-cut, plastered ritual baths (see 'Ritual Baths'), with nearby rock-cut channels covered with stone slabs. The entrance to the system of channels is at the foot of the staircase; some of the channels can be walked along for a distance of some eighty meters. In the Second Temple period these channels, which run in different directions, drained excess water from the Temple Mount. The eastern Huldah Gate area can be reached through the channels.
The arches and walls now sealing the openings of the eastern Huldah Gate post-date the Second Temple period. The only remains of the original Herodian masonry are a part of the threshold and the lowest stone of the western (left) doorjamb. These meager remnants are sufficient to give one an idea of the magnificence of the gateway prior to its destruction by the Romans.
A Hebrew inscription was incised - probably in the Middle Ages - on the original stone of the gate: áøëìá ðð / [á]ø éåñó ðð îåúøó. One interpretation assumes that the person named in the inscription had been cured of an illness and came to offer a prayer of thanksgiving at the Temple Mount walls; the other persons mentioned in the inscription were probably his deceased father and grandfather (the two letters ðð are an abbreviation for ðåç ðôù, the equivalent of 'let the soul rest').
Behind the walls blocking the gate, as in the western gate, there is a tunnel-like passage which led under the Royal Stoa to the Temple Mount precinct. In front of the eastern Huldah Gate, too, there was a monumental staircase, resting on a vault; most of it - which has not been preserved - was built of stone, the remainder was rock-cut. Part of this staircase is scheduled to be reconstructed to demonstrate the full splendor of the southern entrances to the Temple Mount in the Second Temple period.
A large rock-cut miqveh (see Tour 1, Site 18) is located under the staircase.