The first feature of the city that a person would see would be the city walls, of which at the time of Christ were two in number. They looked massive by any stretch of the imagination. As the city was set on a hill to start with, this made them look even bigger. The two walls completely ran around the city protecting it. As the city grew in later times, they had to build more walls to protect the city from intruders. It was extremely important in Bible times to have walls around the city for protection. If they didn’t have them, anyone could just come in and overtake them easily.
The Tower of Antonia was placed at the northwestern angle of the Temple, midway between the Antonia Castle and the Temple itself. It was massive and had lookout points in it where a good portion of the city could be seen so that riots or any kind of chaos could be spotted and brought into check immediately. It also had a subterranean passage from it into the Temple itself. and also had stairs leading into other parts of the city so that order could be restored quickly. The tower was L-Shaped and rose to a height of 105 feet, with it already be built on a rock that was 75 feet high. With the tower and the castle both, it must have looked like a small town in itself.
Some of the most glorious traditions in Jewish History were connected to this castle and tower. There had been the ancient ‘armoury of David’, the palace of Hezekiah and Nehemiah, and the fortress of the Maccabees.
In the time of Christ, though, Antonio was occupied by a very much disliked Roman garrison which kept watch over Israel. In fact, it was in this very place that the circumstances of Acts 21:30-32 took place. “And the city was moved, and the people ran together; and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut. And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them; and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.” According to this, they must have been able to get to the temple pretty quickly.
The city walls were further defended by towers – sixty in the first wall and forty in the second wall. They were all compactly built of immense marble blocks, square, very strongly fortified, and were surrounded by buildings in which were housed weapons for them to do battle with. They were built by Herod and named after his relatives and friends.
When on was coming into the city, he could observe that it was built on four hills. Of these four Zion was the highest rising about 200 feet above Moriah, but it was still 100 feet lower than the Mount of Olives. The mount of Olives was higher than the city, so that’s why they went there during the heat of the day. The elevation always ensured that it was much cooler than at lower altitudes.
To the north and the east, opposite of Zion, and divided from it by the deep Tyropoeon Valley, were the hills of Acra and Moriah. They were crescent-shaped hills and up and down the slopes of Acra were called the Lower City. The fourth hill was called Bezetha (meaning marshy ground) and was called the New Town. It rose north of the Temple Mount and of Acra, and was separated from them by an artificial valley.
The streets of the city were narrow and paved with white marble. A somewhat elevated footway ran along for the use of those who had newly been purified in the temple, while the rest walked in the roadway below.
The streets derived their names mostly from the gates to which they led, or from the businesses which were there. Some examples of their names are: Water Street, Fish Street, East Street, Baker Street, Butcher Street, Strangers Street, etc. Then they had bazaars where they sold wool and other things outdoors.
At the northwestern angle of Mount Zion, on the same site of the Castle of David, was the grand palace of Herod, generally occupied by the Roman high officials during their temporary stays in Jerusalem. It stood high up, just within shelter of the great towers that Herod had built. According to Josephus, the Jewish Historian, it was a marvel of splendor with all its towers, rooms, height, porticoes, courts, and adjacent gardens which were a wonder to see.
At the opposite corner of Mount Zion was the palace of the High-Priest. It was built on the slope of the hill and under the principal residence was a lower story, with a porch in front. I guess we would call something like that a type of basement. It’s easier to understand that in Mark 14:66, when it says that “Peter was beneath in the palace” that it was talking about this particular place.
Beyond the palace on the slope of Acra, was the Repository of the Archives. On the other side of the cleft was the Council Chamber of the Sanhedrin which was connected by a colonnade to the Temple. Opposite the Temple was the immense Xystus, which probably extended into the Tyropoeon Valley. Whatever may have been its original purpose, at this time it was used as a place of public meetings. It may have been here that Peter addressed the three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost when the multitude had hurried from the Temple on hearing the “mighty rushing sound”. It was surrounded by a covered colonnade.
To the south of the Temple, was the little town of Ophel, which was where the priests lived. It was part of the hill of Acra. Tradition fixes the number of synagogues in the city at between 460 to 480.
It was magnificent in every way, not only with its massive towers and palaces, but with all the beautiful things that were built inside the city. There were many smaller gates that opened outward to beautiful, delicious looking gardens and the countryside was dotted with beautiful villas. It was majestic to behold!