Walls of 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
Jerusalem, city wall.jpg
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, vi
Reference 148
UNESCO region Western Asia
Inscription history
Inscription 1981 (5th Session)
Endangered 1982-

The Walls of Jerusalem (Arabic: أسوار القدس‎‎; Hebrew: חומות ירושלים‎) surround the Old City of Jerusalem (approx. 1 km²). In 1535, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Suleiman I ordered the ruined city walls to be rebuilt. The work took some four years, between 1537 and 1541.[2][3]

The length of the walls is 4,018 meters (2.4966 mi), their average height is 12 meters (39.37 feet) and the average thickness is 2.5 meters (8.2 feet). The walls contain 34 watchtowers and seven main gates open for traffic, with two minor gates reopened by archaeologists.

In 1981, the Jerusalem walls were added, along with the Old City of Jerusalem, to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List.[4]

Today the walls of Jerusalem, which were originally built to protect the city against intrusions, mainly serve as an attraction for tourists.


Pre-Israelite city

The city of Jerusalem has been surrounded by walls for its defense since ancient times. In the Middle Bronze Age, a period also known in biblical terms as the era of the Patriarchs, a city named Jebus was built on the south-eastern hill of Jerusalem, relatively small (50,000 square meters) but well fortified. Remains of its walls are located above the Siloam Tunnel.

Israelite city (ca. 1000-587/86 BCE)

According to Jewish tradition, as expressed in the Tanakh, Jerusalem remained a Jebusite city until the rise of David, who conquered Jebus, renamed it City of David and started expanding it. His city was still located on the low southeastern hill, outside today's Old City area. Solomon, David's son, built the so-called First Temple on the hilltop rising right above the city he had inherited, the so-called Temple Mount, and then extended the city walls in order to protect the temple.

During the First Temple period the city walls were extended to include the northwest hill as well, i.e. the area where today's Jewish and Armenian Quarter (Jerusalem) Quarters are located.

The entire city was destroyed in 587/86 BCE during the siege led by Nebukhadnezzar of Babylon.

Jewish post-exilic city

After the Babylonian captivity and the Persian conquest of Babylonia, Cyrus II of Persia allowed the Jews to return to Judea and rebuild the Temple. The construction was finished in 516 BCE or 430 BCE. Then, Artaxerxes I or possibly Darius II allowed Ezra and Nehemiah to return and rebuild the city's walls and to govern Judea, which was ruled as Yehud province under the Persians. During the Second Temple period, especially during the Hasmonean period, the city walls were expanded and renovated, constituting what Josephus calls the First Wall. Herod the Great added what Josephus called the Second Wall somewhere in the area between today's Jaffa Gate and Temple Mount. Agrippa I later began the construction of the Third Wall, which was completed just at the beginning of the First Jewish–Roman War. Some remains of this wall are located today near the Mandelbaum Gate gas station.

Aelia Capitolina and Byzantine Jerusalem

In 70 CE, as a result of the Roman siege during the First Jewish–Roman War, the walls were almost completely destroyed. It would remain in ruins for some six decades, and without protective walls for about two centuries.

The pagan Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, which was built after 130 by Emperor Hadrian, was at first left without protective walls. After some two centuries without walls, a new set was erected around the city, probably during the reign of Emperor Diocletian sometime around the year 300. These walls were extensively renewed by the Empress Aelia Eudocia during her banishment to Jerusalem (443-460).

Early Islamic through Mamluk period

In 1033, most of the walls constructed by Empress Eudocia were destroyed by an earthquake and had to be rebuilt by the Fatimids. In preparation for the expected Crusader siege of 1099, the walls were strengthened yet again, but to little avail. The conquest brought some destruction followed by reconstruction, as did the reconquest by Saladin in 1187. Saladin's nephew, Al-Malik al-Mu'azzam 'Isa, ordered the reconstruction of the city walls, but later on, in 1219, he changed his mind after most of the watchtowers had been built and had the walls torn down, mainly because he feared that the Crusaders would benefit of the fortifications if they managed to reconquer the city. For the next three centuries the city remained without protective walls, the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif and the citadel being the only well fortified area during this period.

Ottoman period

In the 16th century, during the reign of the Ottoman Empire in the region, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent decided to fully rebuild the city walls, partially on the remains of the ancient walls. The construction lasted from 1535–1538, and these are the walls that exist today.

An inscription in Arabic from the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent states:

Has decreed the construction of the wall he who has protected the home of Islam with his might and main and wiped out the tyranny of idols with his power and strength, he whom alone God has enabled to enslave the necks of kings in countries (far and wide) and deservedly acquire the throne of the Caliphate, the Sultan son of the Sultan son of the Sultan son of the Sultan, Suleyman.[5]

See also


  1. "Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls". UNESCO. Retrieved 13 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (2008). The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700. Oxford Archaeological Guides. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-19-923666-4. Retrieved 8 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. http://www.antiquities.org.il/jerusalemwalls/hstry_12_eng.asp
  4. Report of the 1st Extraordinary Session of the World Heritage Committee
  5. Building inscription commemorating the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, Accession number: IAA 1942-265

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