“It is deserving of mention more than any other under the sun.” This is how the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus describes Jerusalem’s Royal Portico in his Jewish Antiquities (15.412). Built along the southern flank of the Temple Mount, the Royal Portico, also known as the Royal Stoa, was one of King Herod’s most ambitious and impressive construction projects. And while Josephus offers a detailed description of the Portico, what archaeological evidence do we have that allows us to reconstruct this splendid structure?
Herod invested tremendous effort in extending the existing enclosure of the Temple Mount toward the south, despite the difficult topographic conditions. His main goal was to create sufficient space for his new Royal Portico. This involved expanding the Temple Mount beyond the natural topographical boundaries of Mt. Moriah by filling in the lower areas with dirt and building massive enclosure walls to support the fills. Herod also invested a considerable effort to decorate the Royal Portico. In Jewish Antiquities, which he completed in c. 93/94 A.D., Josephus says that these structures “seemed incredible to those who had not seen them, and were beheld with amazement by those who set eyes on them” (15.416).