A gold mine for Israeli archaeologists, this site's most dramatic and monumental finds were from the Herodian period, the late 1st century BC. The low-rise, air-conditioned Davidson Visitors Center (on your right as you enter the site) offers visual aids, some artifacts, two interesting videos (which alternate between English and Hebrew), and restrooms. It's a good place to start your visit if you're on your own. Allow 30 minutes for the center and another 40 minutes for the site.
The best place to start a tour is the high corner facing you. King Herod the Great rebuilt the Second Temple on the exact site of its predecessor, where the Dome of the Rock now stands. He expanded the sacred enclosure by constructing a massive, shoebox-shaped retaining wall on the slopes of the hill, the biblical Mt. Moriah. The inside was filled with thousands of tons of rubble to create the huge plaza, the size of 27 football fields, known today as the Temple Mount. The stones near the corner, with their signature precision-cut borders, are not held together with mortar; their sheer weight gives the structure its stability. The original wall was at least a third higher than it is today.
To the left of the corner is the white pavement of an impressive main street and commercial area from the Second Temple period. The protrusion high above your head is known as Robinson's Arch, named for a 19th-century American explorer. It is a remnant of a monumental bridge to the Temple Mount that was reached by a staircase from the street where you now stand: look for the ancient steps. The square-cut building stones heaped on the street came from the top of the original wall, dramatic evidence of the Roman destruction of AD 70. A piece of Hebrew scriptural graffiti (Isaiah 66:14) was etched into a stone, possibly by a Jewish pilgrim, some 15 centuries ago.
Climb the wooden steps and turn left. A modern spiral staircase descends below present ground level to a partially reconstructed labyrinth of Byzantine dwellings, mosaics and all; from here you reemerge outside the present city walls. The broad, impressive Southern Steps on your left, a good part of them original, once brought hordes of Jewish pilgrims through the now-blocked southern gates of the Temple Mount. The rock-hewn ritual baths near the bottom of the steps were used for the purification rites once demanded of Jews before they entered the sacred temple precincts. April to September, this section of the site closes at noon; October to March it closes at 11 am.
Dung Gate, Jerusalem, 91034, Israel