Photographs made by 19th-century explorers of the Holy Land do not merely preserve the beauty of the sites; often they are our sole record of antiquities that survived thousands of years, only to be destroyed in the past century. Hoping to rediscover some of these recently lost antiquities, David Jacobson studied these black-and-white photos of the Dome of the Rock taken by Charles Frederick Tyrwhitt-Drake (above) and Mendel John Diness (next photo).
The area shown in the old photos is circled on the aerial photograph (below). The two stairways visible in the aerial photo open onto the southern side of the inner Islamic platform. The left stairway (marked 1 on the aerial photo) leads up to a freestanding entryway with four arches, which is visible in the two black-and-white photos and the small modern photo (second image below). The right stairway (marked 2) leads up to a three-arched entryway, shown in the photo below. In the 19th-century photo at near left, several people sit on stairway 1; in the foreground, a man sits alone on a large stone, which appears to be about 1.5 feet tall. As seen in this photo, the stone is at the western (above photo) end of a monumental stairway. In the 19th-century photo in first photo, we see the same stairway, consisting of four large steps that extend from the center of the photo all the way to the right edge. The monumental steps appear to lead nowhere.
In the modern photo of stairway 1 (below), the monumental steps are gone—covered by grass, trees and a modern terrace wall, visible in the foreground and marked 3 on the aerial photo.
As shown on the plan on p. 56, the monumental steps buried beneath (or perhaps destroyed by) the modern terrace wall lie directly inside the southern line of the soreg—precisely where Josephus described a set of steps leading up to the sacred inner Temple precinct. Might these be the Herodian steps?
The photo below was taken further east along the terrace wall, at the point marked 4 in the aerial photo. The rock outcropping at the bottom of the wall (labeled extant rock cutting on the plan) is directly in line with the monumental steps. This nondescript rock may well be the only remaining part of the monumental staircase leading up to the inner precinct of Herod’s Temple.