While not the most just or most popular ruler, Herod the Great—who ruled Judea from 37 to 4 BCE—was an ambitious builder, littering his kingdom with impressive structures. His massive expansion of the Temple complex in Jerusalem includes what is now known as the Western Wall, as well as a vast semi-enclosed building at the southern end of the Temple Mount, known as the royal stoa or portico. With a roof, and rows of columns in lieu of walls, the portico could be used for public gathering and commerce, and was described by the ancient historian Josephus as “more noteworthy than any [similar structure] under the sun.” The Biblical Archaeological Society describes what creating such a structure entailed:
The undertaking itself involved building beyond the topological boundaries of the Temple Mount. Massive retaining walls were constructed to hold the fill dirt needed to create the surface on which to build the royal portico. Recent excavations of this area revealed the ritual baths of houses that must have been dismantled in order to expand the Temple Mount for the project.
None of the masonry of the royal portico survived in place, which made it very difficult for modern archaeologists to know what it looked like. Yet, architectural fragments that had fallen to the foot of the southern enclosure wall, after the severe damage from the Roman sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE, have been found [in] archaeological excavations.
To date, more than 500 architectural decoration fragments dated to the Herodian period have been unearthed. . . . Many of the extensive decorative elements are reflected in modern Jerusalem, but some show a unique combination of eastern and western influences.