Old City of Jerusalem


The Old City is a 0.35 square mile area within the modern city of Jerusalem.  Until the 1860s this area constituted the entire city of Jerusalem. The Old City is home to several sites of key religious importance: the Temple Mount and its Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims. Traditionally, the Old City has been divided into four quarters, although the current designations were introduced only in the 19th century. Today, the Old City is roughly divided into the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter.

According to the Bible, before King David’s conquest of Jerusalem in the 11th century BC the city was home to the Jebusites. The Bible describes the city as heavily fortified with a strong city wall. The city ruled by King David, or the City of David, is now believed to be southwest of the Old City walls, outside the Dung Gate. His son King Solomon extended the city walls and then, in about 440 BC, in the Persian period, Nehemiah returned from Babylon and rebuilt them. In 41-44 AD, Agrippa, king of Judea, built a new city wall known as the “Third Wall.”  The current walls of the Old City were built in 1538 by Suleiman the Magnificent. The walls stretch for approximately 3 miles, and rise to a height of 16–49 feet, with a thickness of 10 feet. Altogether, the Old City walls contain 43 surveillance towers and 11 gates, seven of which are presently open.

During the era of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, there were four gates to the Old City, one on each side. The current walls, built by Suleiman the Magnificent, have a total of eleven gates, but only seven are open. Until 1887, each gate was closed before sunset and opened at sunrise. As indicated by the chart below, these gates have been known by a variety of names used in different historic periods and by different community groups.

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