The Temple is BuiltBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
480 years after the Jews left Egypt, the Temple was begun; this was in Solomon’s fourth year as king, in the month of Iyar. (The Navi calls it “Ziv” because the names by which we call the Hebrew months were not adopted until later.) The Temple was twice the length and breadth of the Tabernacle (Mishkan). It was 60 cubits long and twenty cubits wide. (A cubit is somewhere between 18″ and two feet.) The Temple was three times the height of the Tabernacle: 30 cubits. The Ulam (Hall) in front of the Temple proper was 20 cubits long by ten cubits wide. The windows of the Temple narrowed from the outside toward the inside, to say that outside light was not required.
There was a storage space in the walls that ran around the sides and back of the Temple, broken into individual rooms. There were three storeys of these storage rooms, each wider than the one below, therefore extending deeper into the walls for additional support from the lower levels. The storage annex was entered from the south and a winding staircase would take one to the second and third storeys. The storage area was lined with cedar and the ceiling of the Temple was decorative wood over cedar planks.
G-d spoke to Solomon through a prophet. (Radak quotes the Seder Olam that it was the prophet Achiyah, who we will “officially” meet in chapter 11.) He said that so long as Solomon remained true to Him, He would dwell among the Jewish people.
Back to the Temple: The walls were lined with cedar, overlaid with gold. The floor was cypress, likewise overlaid. The cedar walls were ornately carved with flowers and other designs. The Holy of Holies, where the Ark was kept, was 20 cubits in each direction. The partition in front of it was covered with the finest gold and the altar used for incense was cedar covered in gold. The verse goes on to name a few more things – pretty much everything was covered in gold!
In the Holy of Holies were two figures of cherubs (cherubim, properly) made of olive wood. Each one was ten cubits high, with five-cubit-long wings. They extended wings from wall to wall, and the tips of the inner wings touched, making the cherubim twenty cubits wide. And, of course, they were covered in gold.
There were two doors in the partition to the Holy of Holies, made of olive wood, carved with flowers, palm trees and cherubim, and covered in gold. Instead of being rectangular, the doorway was five-sided, with a point at the top. Another set of doors was rectangular (as per usual), made of cypress with the hinges inserted into depressions in the lintel and the threshold. (Those are the horizontal pieces at the top and bottom of a doorway, respectively.) These doors were also ornately carved and covered in gold. The wall around the chatzer (courtyard) was three rows of stone and a row of cedar.
Construction of the Temple took seven years. It was completed in the eleventh year of Solomon’s reign, in the month of Bul (Marcheshvan or, as most people call it, simply Cheshvan).
To better understand the layout of the Temple, look in the tractate of Mishna called Middos, a volume of which would typically have a floor plan printed in it. (Yes, the tractate deals with the layout of the SECOND Temple, but they were essentially the same.)