For the first time in the archaeological research, researchers were able to restore certain architectural components with high certainty. These components were used in the construction of the Second Temple and its courtyards, from the time of the reign of King Herod (37 to 4 BCE). The reconstruction is of floors decorated with different colors and geometric patterns that were apparently used in the stoas that surrounded the Temple complex, and perhaps also in other important buildings, and the large squares where the many pilgrims who came to the Temple would gather.

About 600 colored stone paving tiles were discovered during screening of the dirt from the Temple Mount was conducted at the works center at the Emek Tzurim National Park by researchers from Bar Ilan University and funded by the City of David Association and the Foundation for the Advancement of Archeology in Israel. About 100 of them have been dated with certainty to the days of the Second Temple, based on their measurements that correspond to the standard of the Roman foot (which is 29.6 cm long) and parallels from Herod’s palaces in Masada, Herodion, Jericho and other sites. Further, dating is based on similar floors discovered in palaces and luxurious villas In Italy, buildings also attributed to the time of Herod.

The original floors will be presented to the general public the day after tomorrow in the City of David National Park, at the annual archaeological conference of the Megalim Institute.

These floor tiles were created from different types of marble and colored stones, most of which were imported from Rome, Asia Minor, Tunisia and Egypt. They were sawn and cut into different geometric shapes.

Recently, Frankie Schneider, a member of the research team of the screening/sifting project, and an expert in the study of antique decorated floors, managed to reproduce some of the magnificent models that decorated the Temple Mount’s courtyards and its wings. Schneider, who began her activity at Emek Tzurim as a volunteer about 9 years ago, has an academic background in mathematics and Judaism. Schneider harnessed her extensive professional knowledge for the purpose of reproducing the geometric models.

In an article published today in a file on behalf of the Megalim Institute (the Higher Institute for Jerusalem Studies, of the City of David Association) for the “City of David Studies – Ancient Jerusalem” Conference, Schneider explains that “the reconstruction was done with the help of mathematical tools and on the basis of parallels from King Herod’s construction works at other sites”. According to her, “This style of flooring, in Latin “opus sectile” or, the “act of cutting” was extremely prestigious, and was preferred over the usual, standard, mosaic floors.”

“So far, we have managed to restore seven potential models of the magnificent floors that decorated the buildings of the Temple Mount”, Schneider says, and explains that “these floors were probably installed by foreign craftsmen from Rome, sent by Emperor Augustus to his friend King Herod, who rebuilt the Temple Mount in the first century BCE”.

She notes that “the models that have been restored so far include combinations of squares, triangles, star-like models, a vane-like model, and more, when they are made of sawn and well-smoothed tiles, which were fitted together with great precision, such that even the blade of a sharp knife could not be inserted between them.” She speculates that more models will be recovered in the course of the research.

Tzachi Davira, entrepreneur and co-director of the Temple Mount Dirt Screening Project, explained that none of the previous studies dealt with the types of floors that were on the Temple Mount and at the Temple. The idea that at the time of the Second Temple, large areas of the Temple Mount were paved using the Opus Sectile method was first put forward in a 2007 publication by the archaeologist Asaf Avraham, who currently manages the National Park around the Walls of Jerusalem and the Emek Tzurim National Park on behalf of the Nature and Parks Authority. Asaf’s proposal was based on the descriptions of Flavius Josephus, the historian of the period, who wrote: “… [the] uncovered courtyard was entirely paved with stones of different types and colors…” (The Wars of the Jews 5, 2).

Along with the presentation of additional archaeological evidence that supports this hypothesis, it has been suggested that it is possible that the Talmudic literature also preserves a memory of the magnificent nature of the floors on the Temple Mount in that it mentions rows of “shisha, kukhla and Marmara” – grout and marble of different colors – in which parts of the temple were built (Sukkah 51, 72; Baba Batra 4, 71).

Dr. Gabriel Barkai, initiator and manager of the project: “Now, through Frankie Schneider’s mathematical skills, we have succeeded in reconstructing the models themselves. This is the first time we can see the splendor of the floors that decorated the temple and its wings about two thousand years ago with our own eyes. In the context of the Temple built by Herod, the Gemara says that “he who has not seen Herod’s building – has never seen a beautiful building in his life.” We did not get to see the Temple in all its glory, but now, with the unveiling of these special floors, we have succeeded in revealing – and it is no understatement  – of one of the most magnificent features of the Second Temple.”

About 15 years ago, the Muslim Waqf illegally excavated the Temple Mount and removed the dirt to landfills in East Jerusalem. Archaeologists from Bar Ilan University, Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Yitzhak Dvira, initiated the rescue of the finds. The Nature and National Parks Authority recognized the archaeological importance of the dirt, and appointed an area for work in Emek Tzurim National Park. For the past 12 years, a huge educational and social project has been underway that over two hundred thousand volunteers from all avenues of society in Israel and all over the world have taken part in. The plant is financed and managed by the City of David Association.

The volunteers sift through the piles of dirt, under close archaeological supervision. The Foundation for the Advancement of Archeology in Israel finances the study of the finds. So far, the volunteers have brought up a wealth of many valuable archaeological finds, from which much can be learned about the Temple Mount and what happened there throughout history. Among other things, colorful paving tiles from different periods have also been discovered.