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Albert Tours Blog-  A Licensed Tour Guide - Israel

Jerusalem through the ages

The history of Jerusalem can be traced back approximately 4000 years. This article does not want and cannot be exhaustive on all the sites and old stones that you can find during your visits, but it gives a chronology of sites chosen by periods of this long history. If you want to know more, however, there is an essential site for the history of Jerusalem: it is the museum located inside the Citadel of David, which has nothing to do with David. (Note: this museum is currently closed as it is undergoing renovations)

Canaanite period, Jebusite city (until about 1250 BCE)

- City of David: on this site you will find the remains of the walls of the Jebusite city (Stepped Stone Structure), of the protection tower over the source of the Gihon, and also the underground tunnel (now dry) which channeled outwards (today the Kidron Valley) the excess water

The Stepped Stone Structure in the City of David
The Stepped Stone Structure in the City of David

Biblical era, First Temple (until 586 BCE)

- City of David: several sections of this site are related to this period, including the said Palace of David (later, administrative building of the Judean monarchy), the tunnel of Hezekiah (underground tunnel where one walks in water up to the legs, generally), the pool of Siloam (below the canal of Hezekiah)

- Ruins of the Ophel: this is the hillside between the City of David and the Temple Mount (you can access it through the entrance to the Davidson center)

- Jewish Quarter of the Old City: remains of the "broad wall" of Hezekiah (note the thickness of this wall, according to the red color of the stones of the walkway) which continues until the Roman Cardo

- Ketef Hinnom: burial place dating from the First Temple, located behind the Menachem Begin center

- Saint-Etienne: in the gardens of this church and of the famous Ecole Biblique, there is an underground necropolis dating from the First Temple; access to it is not open to the public but is possible on request by a certified guide

- the Ariel Center in the Jewish Quarter: model, exhibits and audio-visual on the city of Jerusalem at the time of the First Temple

The Hezekiah (wet) tunnel in the City of David
The Hezekiah (wet) tunnel in the City of David

Second Temple period (until 70 AD)

- the Western Wall (Wailing Wall): the last remnant of the Temple Mount enclosure, built by King Herod in the 1st century BCE; men can also go to the prayer gallery to the left of the Wall, and admire the great arch that supported the aqueduct and bridge of the Levites that Herod had built to connect the Upper City to the Temple Mount

- the City of David: during the course of this visit, you will see the inscription of Theodotus which proves the existence of a synagogue in this place and dating from before the destruction of the year 70 AD

- the basin of Siloam: the arrangement currently visible dates from the time of the Second Temple; it was a public purification pool before climbing the Herodian Street towards the Temple; Jesus healed a blind man there

- Herodian Street: this is the street that pilgrims used to walk up from the basin of Siloam to the Temple Mount; the visit consists of an underground route, a section of which was inaugurated in 2021

- the "Givati" excavation area: at the end of Herodian Street, there is the possibility of contemplating an area of ​​excavations that have brought to light several periods: Second Temple (perhaps the ruins of the Greek fortress called Acra ), Roman villa (destroyed by the earthquake of the year 363), Byzantine, Umayyad

- the Herodian sewers: after Givati, you can continue to climb towards the Temple through the sewer pipes from the time of King Herod; it is there that the last survivors of Jerusalem had hidden in 70 AD before being discovered by the Romans; at the end of this route, you arrive in the area of ​​the Davidson Center

- the Davidson Center: it is a vast archaeological park where it is recommended to start with the film presented in the center, in order to understand the route of the Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple; the site notably includes the steps leading up to the Temple which are original and which Jesus walked on; the site also includes the ruins of Umayyad palaces which were destroyed by violent earthquakes in 746 and 749

- the Mount of the Temple, called today the Esplanade of the Mosques, is the esplanade that Herod had built to host the central religious power and the service of the Temple

- the Herodian Quarter: located in the Jewish Quarter, it was the place of residence of the affluent families of the Levites, with ruins of their villas, etc. It was the Upper City, aristocratic

- the Burnt House: the remains of a villa that belonged to the Katros family of priests in the service of the Temple; an audio-visual tells their possible story during the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70; this family is mentioned in the Talmud

- the Kotel tunnels: they are the underground extension of the Western Wall, therefore of the Temple Mount enclosure built by Herod; the visit is made by prior reservation

- the "Valley of the Kings" which is in fact the Kidron Valley with monumental tombs dating from the Second Temple including that of Absalom

- Zedekiah's Cave: access is located at the northern wall of the Old City, east of the Damascus Gate: this is an old stone quarry that was used in the construction of Jerusalem at different times, from the Second Temple to the Ottoman Empire

- the Third Wall: located a little north of the Garden of the Tomb, it was the northern wall built during the reign of the Judean king Agrippa around the year 40

- the Tomb of the Kings: a site north of the Damascus Gate belonging to France but controversially; these are the tombs of Queen Helen of Adiabene and her family; she had converted to Judaism and had lived in Jerusalem until her death in the year 56; his sarcophagus is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris

- Israel Museum: go there to admire a gigantic model of the Jerusalem of the Second Temple, and also the Shrine of the Book sheltering the Dead Sea Scrolls hidden by the sect of the Essenes; the Archaeological Museum is also worth a visit to see the most important remains found in Israel in different historical periods

The Herodian Street
The Herodian Street

Roman times (until 325)

- the Roman Cardo, located in the Jewish Quarter; it dates from the reign of Emperor Hadrian around year 130 AD when he decided to erase the memory of Jerusalem : he had the city rebuilt in Roman style, renamed it Aelia Capitolina, and the 10th Legion was established there ; Hadrian also had Judea renamed Palestina ; you can see other remains of this Roman era in other places in the city, including the Ecce Homo arch in the Via Dolorosa and in the convent of the Sisters of Notre-Dame de Sion

- the Gate of Neapolis: it is the ancient Roman gate leading to the city of Neapolis, today known as Nablus, which was built next to the ancient biblical city of Shechem; this Roman gate of Jerusalem can be visited below from the current Damascus Gate

- inside the city, in the street descending from the Damascus Gate, we see the location of the Roman column marking the "zero mile" that is to say the point from which the Roman distances were measured in Judea ; the presence of this column, which still existed in the Byzantine era, gave the name in Arabic of the Damascus gate namely: Bab al-Amud, that is to say the Gate of the Column

- the Lithostrotos, which means the "paved street" in Greek, in the convent of the Sisters of Notre-Dame de Sion : it is the stone paving of the forum which was next to the eastern gate of the Roman time (of which we see the arch Ecce Homo still today) ; according to Christian tradition, Jesus would have been detained by the Roman legionaries at this place; but, in reality, this Roman gate and its adjacent paved forum were only built around year 130 AD, during the construction of Aelia Capitolina, thus well after the time of Jesus

Part of Roman-time Neapolis Gate
Part of Roman-time Neapolis Gate

Byzantine period (until 638)

- the Byzantine Cardo, in extension of the Roman Cardo, built at the time of Emperor Justinian around 540 AD during the construction of the new large 22-meter-wide church, the "Nea", in the Old City of Jerusalem (this church was at the current location of the parking lot near present-day Zion Gate ; it is possible by appointment to see the remains of its apse)

- model of Byzantine Jerusalem in the (French) site of the Church of St Peter in Galicante, on the slopes of Mount Sion

- reproduction of the map of Madaba, discovered at the beginning of the 20th century in the church of Madaba in Jordan : mosaic of the Holy Land from the time of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, around the year 545 AD

- the Holy Sepulchre : several sections of this complex date from various Byzantine periods, one of the oldest being the Syriac chapel, at the rear of the aedicule, which contains funerary niches from the Second Temple period and of Jesus ; when she ordered the construction of the first church for the tomb of Christ, Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, wanted to keep these niches to show that, against all appearances, the place was indeed a burial place in the time of Jesus ; according to Christian tradition, these niches were those of the family of Joseph of Arimathea ; the current entrance to the Holy Sepulchre dates from the Byzantine Emperor Monomachus (ca. 1056 AD)

- Tomb of the Virgin: traditional place of the entombment of Mary, who had fallen into eternal sleep "near David", therefore at Mount Zion ; her body was taken down to the bottom of the Mount of Olives, where it is the tradition place where Jews are buried

- Dominus Flevit, on the Mount of Olives : the modern church dating from the beginning of the 20th century was built on the remains of a Byzantine church in this same place (visitors can still see the remains of the altar, the apse, and an inscription in Greek)

Section of the Byzantine Cardo
Section of the Byzantine Cardo

Umayyad period (until around 750)

- The Dome of the Rock, on the Temple Mount called Haram al-Sharif by Muslims : built in 691 by the Umayyad caliph Abdel al-Malek ; it is the oldest building in the world that was never destroyed, nor rebuilt (apart from the gold of its dome), and continues to be used as in its original function ; under the dome, the "rock" is the one that forms the top of the Temple Mount where, according to traditions, God created Adam and where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, and other biblical events, and where the Ark of the Covenant was placed inside the Holy of Holies

- the El-Aqsa Mosque : initially built at the Umayyad period around 705 by Caliph al-Wallid, twice as wide as today, it was destroyed during the great earthquake of 746

- Davidson Center : marked locations of Umayyad palaces that no longer exist today (destroyed by earthquakes)

The Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock

Abbasid period (until around 970)

After the Umayyads, the reigning power in the Holy Land and Jerusalem was essentially Abbasid, with Tulunid, Seljuk, and Ikhshidid periods

- El-Aqsa mosque: rebuilt in 754 by caliph al-Mansour, half the size of that of the Umayyad period ; but it was damaged by another earthquake and rebuilt again in 780

Fatimid era (until 1099)

The Fatimids lost control of the Holy Land and Jerusalem between 1073 and 1098 to the Seljuks; they regained control in 1098, a few months before the Crusaders arrived in June 1099

- the Holy Sepulchre: Caliph al-Hakim ordered the destruction of Christian places in 1009, including the Byzantine church (of Queen Helena) of Anastasia, which was the first church next to Christ's tomb; after al-Hakim's death, the new caliph allows the Byzantine emperor Monomachus to rebuild the church; but this one is smaller and the entrance is now on the south side: this is the current layout of the Holy Sepulcher

- the El-Aqsa Mosque : it was destroyed by another earthquake in 1033 and rebuilt by caliph al-Zahir two years later ; most of the present-day mosque dates from that last construction, although the roof collapsed in the earthquake of 1927 and rebuilt subsequently

El-Aqsa mosque
El-Aqsa mosque

First Crusade era (until 1187)

The Crusaders took Jerusalem on July 15, 1099 and ruled there until the conquest of the Holy Land by Saladin in 1187

- the Holy Sepulcher : important extensions were made during the reign of Queen Mélisande (around 1150) including the Catholicon and the second dome of the Holy Sepulcher

- Citadel of David : this has nothing to do with King David; it is the Crusader fortress that was to defend Jerusalem, capital of the newly created Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem : you can see its architecture from the outside and inside the Jaffa Gate, with a crenellated wall, loopholes (meurtrieres), machicolations, drawbridge and barbican, as well as a moat and a postern

- Room of the Last Supper of Jesus, at Mount Zion : the current room dates from this period and replaced the room which had previously been built in the Byzantine era but destroyed by the Sassanid Persians around 614; outside David's Tomb there is the cloister of a monastery built by the Crusaders there, with marks left by the stonemasons

- the Medieval market : part of the Roman Cardo was reused by the Crusaders as one of the city's three markets ; you can see today the pillars and vaults of this period

- Rosace in el-Aqsa mosque : on its east wall, a rosace window was added by the religious military order which had established its headquarters in the mosque: the order of the Templars

- Mouristan : here was the headquarters of the order of the Hospitallers (mouristan means hospital in Arabic) ; a monument recalls this fact, and above the arch of the north entrance of the Lutheran Church of the Savior, one can see an inscription with the months of the year (in French) on the arch above the northern door

- Jewish Quarter : near the restaurants, starting to descend the steps towards the Kotel, there are the remains of the Jerusalem headquarters of the Crusader order of the Teutonic Knights (a German hospitaller order founded in Saint John of Acre in 1128)

- Sainte-Anne complex: in this French domain managed by the White Fathers, there are two buildings from the time of the Crusaders ; the first is a small chapel (a moustier) of which only the crypt and the apse remain; the second is the church dedicated to Anne mother of Mary (mother of Jesus) who would have given birth to her daughter Mary in a cave below the church ; the current building dates from the reign of Queen Melisande and was built around 1140

- Tomb of the Virgin : at the time of Queen Melisande, the entrance to this tomb was built higher than that of the Byzantine era, to avoid flooding from the Kidron torrent inside of the building

- Chapel of the Ascension : at the top of the Mount of Olives, the traditional place of Jesus' ascension into heaven after 40 days since his resurrection ; the chapel is in the form of an octagon supported by columns and was open to the air and the sky, in the time of the Crusaders ; then Saladin installed a mosque there, walled up the space between the columns and added a dome

Sainte-Anne medieval church
Sainte-Anne medieval church

Ayyubid period (from 1187 to 1260)

- the Room of the Last Supper (the Cenaculum): Saladin had a minhab installed there to indicate the direction of Mecca and therefore make it a mosque (the same was done at the Chapel of the Ascension)

- Citadel of David: Saladin raises a tower above the Crusader fortress

Muslim minhab in the Room of the Last Supper
Muslim minhab in the Room of the Last Supper

Mamluk period (from 1260 to 1517)

- Citadel of David : a tower is raised above that of Saladin

- Temple Mount : many buildings are added including two minarets; the Mamluks also opened up new access by building the Cotton Merchants' market

- Muslim quarter : around a hundred buildings, including palaces (such as that of Tanshooq), Koranic schools (madrasa), fountains (sabil), funerary domes (kouba), etc. were erected by the Mamluks to mark Jerusalem with their imprint

Mamluk-era decorative architecture
Mamluk-era decorative architecture

Ottoman period (from 1517 to 1917)

- the walls of Jerusalem and its gates : built around 1540 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the most majestic gate, created by his chief architect Sinan, is the Damascus gate ; the other gates he built are those of Jaffa, Flowers (or Herod), Lions, Dungs, and that of Zion. All of these gates have at least two names : one given by Crusaders (Christians) and one given by Muslims ; the so-called Golden Gate, on the Eastern wall, is older and was sealed by Soliman ; the New Gate, on the Northern wall, was opened by the Ottomans at the end of the 19th century to allow Christian pilgrims to enter the Old City through the Christian quarter rather than through the Damascus Gate and the Muslim quarter ; it is possible to walk on top of the walls with two routes choices from the Jaffa Gate

- Citadel of David : a wall with crenellations was added by the Ottomans on top of the Mamluk tower

- the various buildings and quarters, Jewish and Christian, inside and outside the walls: here the list is too vast to be contained in this article

The walls of Jerusalem
The walls of Jerusalem

Mandatory era (from 1917 to 1948)

This is the period during which Great Britain was assigned the task of creating a Jewish state and an Arab state in the vast territory which today includes Jordan (about 2/3 of the Mandatory territory), Israel, Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. The list below of buildings from this period is not exhaustive.

- Scottish Church : built in 1917 in honor of the Scottish regiments that served in General Allenby's army ; in front of the altar is a slab engraved with the name of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, who had wished that his heart be buried in Jerusalem after his death (in 1329)

- the Italian hospice, built in 1919, in the neo-Gothic style, with a tower reminiscent of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence ; built for Italian pilgrims, it was then requisitioned in 1939 by the British army until their departure in May 1948

- the Ethiopian Consulate, in the Street of the Prophetes, with four horns on its roof to recall the altar of sacrifices at the Temple of Solomon

- the Jewish quarter of Rehavia : the land had been purchased in 1921 from the Greek Orthodox to build housing there ; the urban design in vogue at the time made it an example of a "garden city" ; in the heart of the district is the building of the Jewish school "Gymnasia" which was the residence of the Prime Minister until 1974

- Talbiya : a neighborhood south of the walls, whose land had been purchased by wealthy Christian Arabs from the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the 1920s-1930s; the neighborhood was abandoned by its inhabitants in 1948 and has since been used for Jewish housing ; a particular property (the villa Salameh) houses offices of the Belgian government

- the YMCA, opposite the King David hotel : inaugurated in 1933, it is loaded with symbols evoking the three monotheistic religions

- the Rockefeller museum, inaugurated in 1938 : it contains the finds of the archaeological excavations carried out by the British since the 19th century

- "Bevingrad" : this is the Russian district, north of the walls, which the British had transformed into an entrenched camp after World War II ; we can visit in particular the prison complex

The Scottish Church of Jerusalem
The Scottish Church of Jerusalem

I hope this brief article will make readers want to go to Jerusalem and discover these places and many more, with the explanations of a guide certified by the Ministry of Tourism.

Albert Benhamou

June 2022


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