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Old City (Jerusalem)

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls[1]
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Old City (Jerusalem).jpg
Map of Jerusalem - the old city - EN.png
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, vi
Reference 148
UNESCO region Jerusalem District
Inscription history
Inscription 1981 (5th Session)
Endangered 1982–present

The Old City (Hebrew: העיר העתיקה‎, Ha'Ir Ha'Atiqah, Arabic: البلدة القديمة‎, al-Balda al-Qadimah, Armenian: Երուսաղեմի հին քաղաք, Yerusaghemi hin k'aghak' ) is a 0.9 square kilometers (0.35 sq mi) walled area[2] within the modern city of Jerusalem. Until 1860, when the Jewish neighborhood Mishkenot Sha'ananim was established, this area constituted the entire city of Jerusalem. The Old City is home to several sites of key religious importance: the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims, the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1981.

Traditionally, the Old City has been divided into four uneven quarters, although the current designations were introduced only in the 19th century.[3] Today, the Old City is roughly divided into the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. The Old City's monumental defensive walls and city gates were built in the late 16th century by the Ottomans. The current population of the Old City resides mostly in the Islamic and Christian quarters. As of 2007 the total population was 36,965; the breakdown of religious groups in 2006 was 27,500 Muslims, 5,681 Christians, 790 Armenians and 3,089 Jews.[4]

Following the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, the Old City was captured by Jordan and Jewish residents were evicted. During the Six-Day War in 1967, which saw hand-to-hand fighting on the Temple Mount, Israeli forces captured the Old City along with the rest of East Jerusalem, subsequently annexing them as Israeli territory and reuniting them with the western part of the city. Today, the Israeli government controls the entire area, which it considers part of its national capital, although internationally it is recognized as part of occupied Palestinian Territory. The Jerusalem Law of 1980, effectively annexing East Jerusalem to Israel, was declared null and void by UN Security Council Resolution 478 and East Jerusalem is regarded by the international community as part of occupied Palestinian territory.[5][6]

In 2010, Jerusalem's oldest fragment of writing was found outside the Old City's walls.[7]


According to the Bible, before King David's conquest of Jerusalem in the 11th century BCE 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, known as Ir David, or the City of David, was southeast of the Old City walls, outside the Dung Gate. His son King Solomon extended the city walls and then, in about 440 BCE, during the Persian period, Nehemiah returned from Babylon and rebuilt them. In 41-44 CE, Agrippa, king of Judea, built a new city wall known as the "Third Wall."

Muslims occupied Jerusalem in the 7th Century (637 CE) under the second caliph, `Umar Ibn al-Khattab who annexed it to the Islamic Arab Empire. He granted its inhabitants an assurance treaty. After the siege of Jerusalem, Sophronius welcomed `Umar because, according to biblical prophecies allegedly known to the church in Jerusalem, "a poor, but just and powerful man" would rise to be a protector and ally to the Christians of Jerusalem. Sophronius believed that `Umar, a great warrior who led an austere life, was a fulfillment of this prophecy. In the account by the Patriarch of Alexandria, Eutychius, it is said that `Umar paid a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and sat in its courtyard. When the time for prayer arrived, however, he left the church and prayed outside the compound, in order to avoid having future generations of Muslims use his prayer there as a pretext for converting the church into a mosque. Eutychius adds that `Umar also wrote a decree which he handed to the Patriarch, in which he prohibited Muslims gathering in prayer at the site.[8] In 1099, Jerusalem was captured by the Western Christian army of the First Crusade and it remained in their hands until recaptured by the Arab Muslims, led by Saladin, on October 2, 1187. He summoned the Jews and permitted them to resettle in the city. In 1219, the walls of the city were razed by Mu'azzim Sultan of Damascus; in 1229, by treaty with Egypt, Jerusalem came into the hands of Frederick II of Germany. In 1239 he began to rebuild the walls, but they were demolished again by Da'ud, the emir of Kerak. In 1243, Jerusalem came again under the control of the Christians, and the walls were repaired. The Kharezmian Tatars took the city in 1244 and Sultan Malik al-Muattam razed the walls, rendering it again defenseless and dealing a heavy blow to the city's status.

The current walls of the Old City were built in 1538 by the Muslim, Ottoman Empire Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. The walls stretch for approximately 4.5 km (2.8 miles), and rise to a height of 5 to 15 metres (16 to 49 feet), with a thickness of 3 metres (10 feet).[9] Altogether, the Old City walls contain 43 surveillance towers and 11 gates, seven of which are presently open.

In 1980, Jordan proposed that the Old City be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[10] It was added to the List in 1981.[11] In 1982, Jordan requested that it be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger. The United States government opposed the request, noting that the Jordanian government had no standing to make such a nomination and that the consent of the Israeli government would be required since it effectively controlled Jerusalem.[12] In 2011, UNESCO issued a statement reiterating its view that East Jerusalem is "part of the occupied Palestinian territory, and that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in permanent status negotiations."[13]

Jerusalem Quarters[edit]

Arab market
Old City promenade in snow, 2008

Muslim Quarter[edit]

The Muslim Quarter (Arabic: حارَة المُسلِمين‎, Hārat al-Muslimīn) is the largest and most populous of the four quarters and is situated in the northeastern corner of the Old City, extending from the Lions' Gate in the east, along the northern wall of the Temple Mount in the south, to the Western WallDamascus Gate route in the west. Its population was 22,000 in 2005. Like the other three quarters of the Old City, the Muslim quarter had a mixed population of Jews as well as Muslims and Christians until the riots of 1929.[14] Today, there are "many Israeli settler homes" and "several yeshivas", including Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim, in the Muslim Quarter.[4]

Christian Quarter[edit]

The Christian Quarter (Arabic: حارة النصارى‎, Ḩārat an-Naşāra) is situated in the northwestern corner of the Old City, extending from the New Gate in the north, along the western wall of the Old City as far as the Jaffa Gate, along the Jaffa Gate – Western Wall route in the south, bordering the Jewish and Armenian Quarters, as far as the Damascus Gate in the east, where it borders the Muslim Quarter. The quarter contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, viewed by many as Christianity's holiest place.

Armenian Quarter[edit]

The Armenian Quarter (Armenian: Հայկական Թաղամաս, Haygagan T'aġamas, Arabic: حارة الأرمن‎, Ḩārat al-Arman) is the smallest of the four quarters of the Old City. Although the Armenians are Christian, the Armenian Quarter is distinct from the Christian Quarter. Despite the small size and population of this quarter, the Armenians and their Patriarchate remain staunchly independent and form a vigorous presence in the Old City. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the four quarters of the city came under Jordanian control. Jordanian law required Armenians and other Christians to "give equal time to the Bible and Qur'an" in private Christian schools, and restricted the expansion of church assets.[citation needed] The 1967 war is remembered by residents of the quarter as a miracle, after two unexploded bombs were found inside the Armenian monastery. Today, more than 3,000 Armenians live in Jerusalem, 500 of them in the Armenian Quarter.[15][16] Some are temporary residents studying at the seminary or working as church functionaries. The Patriarchate owns the land in this quarter as well as valuable property in West Jerusalem and elsewhere. In 1975, a theological seminary was established in the Armenian Quarter. After the 1967 war, the Israeli government gave compensation for repairing any churches or holy sites damaged in the fighting, regardless of who caused the damage.[citation needed]

Jewish Quarter[edit]

The Jewish Quarter (Hebrew: הרובע היהודי‎, HaRova HaYehudi, known colloquially to residents as HaRova, Arabic: حارة اليهود‎, Ḩārat al-Yahūd) lies in the southeastern sector of the walled city, and stretches from the Zion Gate in the south, bordering the Armenian Quarter on the west, along the Cardo to Chain Street in the north and extends east to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. The quarter has a rich history, with a nearly continual Jewish presence since the eighth century BCE.[17][18][19][20][21][22] In 1948, its population of about 2,000 Jews was besieged, and forced to leave en masse.[23] The quarter was completely sacked by Arab forces during the Battle for Jerusalem and ancient synagogues were destroyed.

The Jewish quarter remained under Jordanian control until its recapture by Israeli paratroopers in the Six-Day War of 1967. A few days later, Israeli authorities ordered the demolition of the adjacent Moroccan Quarter, forcibly relocating all of its inhabitants, in order to facilitate public access to the Western Wall.

The section of the Jewish quarter destroyed prior to 1967 has since been rebuilt and settled and has a population of 2,348 (as of 2004).[24] Many large educational institutions have taken up residence. Before being rebuilt, the quarter was carefully excavated under the supervision of Hebrew University archaeologist Nahman Avigad. The archaeological remains are on display in a series of museums and outdoor parks, which tourists can visit by descending two or three stories beneath the level of the current city. The former Chief Rabbi is Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, and the current Chief Rabbi is his son Rabbi Chizkiyahu Nebenzahl, who is on the faculty of Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh, which is situated directly across from the Kotel.

The quarter includes the "Karaites' street" (Hebrew: רחוב הקראים, Rhehov Ha'karaim), on which the old Anan ben David Kenesa is located.[citation needed][25]

Moroccan Quarter[edit]

Main article: Moroccan Quarter
Clearing the plaza in front of the Kotel, July 1967

There was previously a small Moroccan quarter in the Old City. Within a week of the Six-Day War's end, the Moroccan quarter was largely destroyed in order to give visitors better access to the Western Wall. The parts of the Moroccan Quarter that were not destroyed are now part of the Jewish Quarter. Since the demolition, the main access point for non-Muslims to the Temple Mount is via the Mughrabi-Bridge.[26] Prior to the demolition, the Mughrabi-Gate (English: Moroccan Gate) led to the Temple Mount.


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 historical periods and by different communities.

Open gates[edit]

English Hebrew Arabic Alternative names Construction Year Location
New Gate HaSha'ar HeHadash (השער החדש) Al-Bab al-Jedid (الباب الجديد) Gate of Hammid 1887 West of northern side
Damascus Gate Sha'ar Shkhem (שער שכם) Bab al-Amoud (باب العمود) Sha'ar Damesek, Nablus Gate, Gate of the Pillar 1537 Middle of northern side
Herod's Gate Sha'ar HaPerachim (שער הפרחים) Bab al-Sahira (باب الساهرة) Sha'ar Hordos, Flower Gate, Sheep Gate unknown East of northern side
Lions' Gate Sha'ar HaArayot (שער האריות) Bab al-Asbatt (باب الأسباط) /Bab Sittna Maryam Gate of Yehoshafat, St. Stephen's Gate, Gate of the Tribes 1538–39 North of eastern side
Dung Gate Sha'ar HaAshpot (שער האשפות) Bab al-Maghariba (باب المغاربة) Gate of Silwan, Sha'ar HaMugrabim 1538–40 East of southern side
Zion Gate Sha'ar Tzion (שער ציון) Bab El-Nabi Da'oud (باب النبي داود) Gate to the Jewish Quarter 1540 Middle of southern side
Jaffa Gate Sha'ar Yaffo (שער יפו) Bab al-Khalil (باب الخليل) The Gate of David's Prayer Shrine, Porta Davidi 1530–40 Middle of western side

Sealed gates[edit]

English Hebrew Arabic Description Period Location
Golden Gate Sha'ar HaRahamim (שער הרחמים) Bab al-Rahma (باب الرحمة) Gate of Mercy, the Gate of Eternal Life. Sealed in 1541. 6th century Middle of eastern side
Single Gate This gate led to the underground area of the Temple Mount known as Solomon's Stables Herodian period Southern wall of Temple Mount
Double Gate Herodian period Southern wall of Temple Mount
Huldah Gates Also known as the Triple Gate, as it comprises three arches Herodian period Southern wall of Temple Mount

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls". UNESCO. Retrieved 13 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Kollek, Teddy (1977). "Afterword". In John Phillips. A Will to Survive - Israel: the Faces of the Terror 1948-the Faces of Hope Today. Dial Press/James Wade. about 225 acres 
  3. ^ Ben-Arieh, Yehoshua (1984). Jerusalem in the 19th Century, The Old City. Yad Izhak Ben Zvi & St. Martin's Press. p. 14. ISBN 0-312-44187-8. 
  4. ^ a b "Jerusalem The Old City: Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications". International Peace and Cooperation Center. 2009. 
  5. ^ East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory. December 2012
  6. ^ Benveniśtî, Eyāl (2004). The international law of occupation. Princeton University Press. pp. 112–113. ISBN 978-0-691-12130-7. 
  7. ^ "Tiny fragment bears oldest script found in Jerusalem". 2010-07-12. Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  8. ^ "The Holy Sepulchre - first destructions and reconstructions". 2001-12-26. Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  9. ^ Zaun-Goshen, Heike. "Keys to the Treasure Trove - Jerusalem's Old City Gates". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  10. ^ Advisory Body Evaluation (PDF file)
  11. ^ "Report of the 1st Extraordinary Session of the World Heritage Committee". Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  12. ^ "Justification for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, 1982: Report of the 6th Session of the World Heritage Committee". Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  13. ^ "UNESCO replies to allegations". UNESCO. 15 July 2011. The Old City of Jerusalem is inscribed on the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger. UNESCO continues to work to ensure respect for the outstanding universal value of the cultural heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem. This position is reflected on UNESCO’s official website ( In line with relevant UN resolutions, East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, and the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in permanent status negotiations. 
  14. ^ "שבתי זכריה עו"ד חצרו של ר' משה רכטמן ברחוב מעלה חלדיה בירושלים העתיקה". Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  15. ^ Հայաստան սփյուռք [Armenia Diaspora] (in Armenian). 
  16. ^ Առաքելական Աթոռ Սրբոց Յակովբեանց Յերուսաղեմ [Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem (literally "Apostolic See of St. James in Jerusalem")] (in Armenian). 
  17. ^ University of Cape Town, Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Congress, South African Judaica Society 81(1986) (referencing archaeological evidence of "Israelite settlement of the Western Hill from the 8th Century BCE onwards").
  18. ^ Simon Goldhill, Jerusalem: City of Longing 4 (2008) (conquered by "early Israelites" after the "ninth century B.C.")
  19. ^ William G. Dever & Seymour Gitin (eds.), Symbiosis, Symbolism, and the Power of the Past: Canaan, Ancient Israel, and Their Neighbors from the Late Bronze Age Through Roman Palaestina 534 (2003) ("in the 8th-7th centuries B.C.E. . . . Jerusalem was the capital of the Judean kingdom . . . . It encompassed the entire City of David, the Temple Mount, and the Western Hill, now the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.")
  20. ^ John A. Emerton (ed.), Congress Volume, Jerusalem: 1986 2 (1986) (describing fortification work undertaken by "Hezekiah[] . . . in Jerusalem at the close of the 8th century B.C.E.")
  21. ^ Hillel Geva (ed.), 1 Jewish Quarter Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem Conducted by Nahman Avigad, 1969-1982 81 (2000) ("The settlement in the Jewish Quarter began during the 8th century BCE. . . . the Broad Wall was apparently erected by King Hezekiah of Judah at the end of the 8th century BCE.")
  22. ^ Koert van Bekkum, From Conquest to Coexistence: Ideology and Antiquarian Intent in the Historiography of Israel’s Settlement in Canaan 513 (2011) ("During the last decennia, a general consensus was reached concerning Jerusalem at the end of Iron IIB. The extensive excavations conducted . . . in the Jewish Quarter . . . revealed domestic constructions, industrial installations and large fortifications, all from the second half of the 8th century BCE.")
  23. ^ Mordechai Weingarten
  24. ^ Staff. "Table III/14 - Population of Jerusalem, by Age, Quarter, Sub-Quarter, and Statistical Area, 2003". Institute for Israel Studies (in Hebrew and English). Institute for Israel Studies, Jerusalem. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  25. ^ Staff (2010). "Our communities". God's name to succeed (in Hebrew). World Karaite Judaism. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  26. ^ Steinberg, Gerald M. (2013). "False Witness? EU Funded NGOs and Policymaking in the Arab-Israeli Conflict". Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs. 

External links[edit]

Virtual tours[edit]

Coordinates: 31°46′36″N 35°14′03″E / 31.77667°N 35.23417°E / 31.77667; 35.23417