During the reign of King Herod (end of the 1st century BCE), Jerusalem grew enormously in area and intensive building activity, unparalleled in the city's history, took place. Many public buildings were constructed - the most impressive of them the Temple Mount and the Temple itself.
The city was surrounded by walls with many towers. At the northwestern corner of the city wall, Herod built three massive towers that protected the royal palace just south of them. Of these towers, only the base of the one traditionally known as the "Tower of David" remains today; it was incorporated into the Ottoman citadel of the city, south of the Jaffa Gate.
The residential area on the western hill of Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period (its area today extends over the Jewish and Armenian quarters of the Old City and Mount Zion beyond the walls, to the south) became known as the "Upper City". The name stems from the fact that it is topographically higher than the rest of the city, even the Temple Mount. It was re-planned and rebuilt in the finest Roman tradition by Herod and his successors, with blocks of large buildings separated by streets, and plazas along which palaces and public buildings stood.
The Upper City was the neighbood of the rich, with large, elaborate dwellings inhabited by the families of the high priests and of the local aristocracy. Here were the palaces of the Hasmonean kings, of King Herod and of the High Priest Caiaphas (who is mentioned in the New Testament). Here, Jesus was arrested and held for a night before he was handed over to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, for sentencing. (Matthew 26: 57-75; Luke 22:54-71, 23:1) According to Christian tradition, the palace of the High Priest Caiaphas stood on Mt. Zion, which today is outside the Old City wall, to the south.
The walls, the towers and the elaborate palaces of the Upper City are described in detail by the contemporary Jewish historian and native Jerusalemite, Josephus Flavius. He was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and he also describes the conquest of the Upper City, where the Roman soldiers plundered the palaces and elegant homes and burnt them to their foundations, on the 8th day of Elul in the year 70 CE, one month after the destruction of the Temple.
Caesar, finding it impracticable to reduce the upper city without earthworks, owing to the precipitous nature of the site, on the twentieth of the month Lous (Ab) apportioned the task among his forces. The conveyance of timber was, however, arduous, all the environs of the city to a distance of a hundred furlongs having, as I said, been stripped bare. The earthworks having now been completed after eighteen days' labor, on the seventh of the month Gorpiaeus (Elul) the Romans brought up the engines. Of the rebels, some already despairing of the city, retired from the ramparts to the citadel, others slunk down into the tunnels. Pouring into the alleys, sword in hand, they (the Romans) massacred indiscriminately all whom they met, and burnt the houses with all who had taken refuge within. Often in the course of their raids, on entering the houses for loot, they would find whole families dead and the rooms filled with the victims of the famine... Running everyone through who fell in their way, they choked the alleys with corpses and deluged the whole city with blood, insomuch that many of the fires were extinguished by the gory stream. Towards evening they ceased slaughtering, but when night fell the fire gained the mastery, and the dawn of the eighth day of the month of Gorpiaeus (Elul) broke upon Jerusalem in flames - a city which had suffered such calamities...The Romans now set fire to the outlying quarters of the town and razed the walls to the ground. Thus was Jerusalem taken in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, on the eighth of the month of Gorpiaeus. (20 September, 70 CE)
(War VI. 8-10)
From 1969 to 1982, when the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem was rebuilt, the Upper City of the Second Temple period became subject to comprehensive archeological investigation. Impressive remains of continuous settlement on the western hill were uncovered - from the end of the First Temple period (8th-7th centuries BCE) to modern times.
Remains of the dwellings of the Upper City, which had been buried for almost 1,900 years, were exposed. Houses and artifacts were preserved almost in their entirety, protected by a thick blanket of the debris of later occupation. The finds confirm very precisely the written evidence of Josephus Flavius and the fierceness of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Upper City.
Upon completion of the excavations, remains from the Upper City were preserved as museums, beneath the new buildings of the Jewish Quarter. Visitors may walk through the courtyards and the rooms of houses, in which the stone furniture and vessels used by the inhabitants 2,000 years ago stand intact. They provide a vivid record of the way of life that ended there in the year 70 CE.
The Herodian Quarter
This was the main excavation site in the Jewish Quarter, with parts of six or seven houses covering an area of some 2,700 sq. m. The houses were built on terraces, on the slope of the hill facing eastward toward the Tyropoeon Valley, opposite the Temple Mount.
The Palatial Mansion
The "Palatial Mansion" in the Herodian Quarter is the largest, most complete and most elaborate of the Second Temple period dwellings uncovered in the Jewish Quarter. It faithfully represents the architecture, and the splendor of the buildings typical of the Upper City.
Located at the eastern edge of the Upper City, the building was constructed during the reign of King Herod. It provided a good view of the Temple Mount and the Temple, and extended over three terraces with a total area of 600 sq. m. Remains of two stories of this house were excavated: the ground floor in the western portion of the house included a central courtyard and living quarters; a basement in the eastern and northern portions included water installations, storage and service rooms. The house had thick walls built of well-trimmed Jerusalem limestone and its foundations were laid on bedrock. Some parts of the house were preserved to an impressive height of 2-3 m.
The central courtyard (8 x 8 m.) on the ground floor was paved with square stones. It was surrounded by many rooms and gave access to the other wings of the house. On the eastern side of the courtyard was an opening to a large underground cistern, which was hewn into the rock and plastered with thick gray plaster to prevent seepage. From the mouth of the cistern, a narrow shaft led down into its bell-shaped cavity. Rainwater was collected from the roofs and courtyards of the house and carried via a network of channels and pipes into the cistern, which had a capacity of several hundred gallons and provided water for daily use during the dry summer months.
The ground floor of the elaborate western wing of the Palatial Mansion included a vestibule (entrance room) with a mosaic pavement consisting of a colored square panel with a multi-petalled rosette in the center and pomegranates at the corners.
On the walls of the room next to the vestibule, frescos were preserved to a considerable height. These colored frescos are in the style popular at the time in the Hellenistic-Roman world, with colored panels, imitation marble, architectural elements and floral motifs.