Preparation for the new Temple began. First, however, a more substantial level platform needed to be organized. This necessitated the erection of massive retaining walls, of which some of the stone blocks each weighed nearly 100 tons.
Work on the Temple itself then took shape, based upon a similar but much larger design, although without any annexes. The stone was quarried beneath the Old City. This was done because of its white color and fine texture. It has been said that Solomon too had obtained his stone from the same quarry, but this has never been proved. The quarry still exists underground and access may be achieved via the entrance situated between the Damascus and Herod’s Gates.
Once again the roof was supported by 14 pillars. However, impressive though it was, the structure was not decorated nearly so lavishly as in the days of Solomon, nor were there any pillars at the porch. Recent exploration has revealed that the foundations around the south-east corner went to a depth of 160 feet below ground level. It would mean that in those days these massive walls could have been nearly 300 feet high in places. This, though, is no longer apparent as, over the centuries, the steep valleys adjoining Mount Moriah have become filled with excavation rubble and building debris so that now they have become quite shallow.
After numerous delays, resulting in the work being spread over 23 years, the Second Temple was finally completed and re-dedicated in the reign of Darius I, Emperor of Persia. The time lapse between the dedication of the First Temple (957 BC) and reconstruction of the second Temple (537 BC) was 420 years, and not about 500 years as some have contended.
During the latter part of the first century BC, King Herod the Great (37-4 BC) enlarged the area of the platform and greatly enhanced the second Temple in an unsuccessful attempt to gain popularity. He created a huge cloistered quadrangle or series of porticos with buildings for both staff and animals. This was further protected by a large fort and tower, later called Antonio. Despite sundry attacks by the Syrians, Greeks and Romans, and interspersed by periods of neglect, the Temple remained functional for nearly 600 years.
It is interesting to note that, during the period of the Jewish Hasmonaean Dynasty (152 – 37 BC), a beautifully appointed stone chamber (84 feet x 60 feet) was constructed underground beneath the former Council House (or Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem. It was used for many years by the operative masons of that period. They believed that it had been used for arcane religious rites at the time of Solomon. However, there is no firm evidence to support this. It still exists, and is located just west of the subterranean Wilson’s Arch near the Wailing Wall. It is regarded as one of the finest examples of such work from the late Hellenistic period.