Old City (Jerusalem)

UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls[1]
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List

Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, vi
Reference 148
UNESCO region Jerusalem District
Inscription history
Inscription 1981 (5th Session)
Endangered 1982present

The Old City (Hebrew: העיר העתיקה, Ha'Ir Ha'Atiqah, Arabic: البلدة القديمة, al-Balda al-Qadimah, Turkish: Kudüs, 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 (going counterclockwise from the northeastern corner) into the Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Jewish Quarter. The Old City's monumental defensive walls and city gates were built in the years 1535-1542 by the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.[4] The current population of the Old City resides mostly in the Muslim and Christian quarters. As of 2007 the total population was 36,965; the breakdown of religious groups in 2006 was 27,500 Muslims (up from ca. 17,000 in 1967, with over 30,000 by 2013, tendency: growing); 5,681 Christians (ca. 6,000 in 1967), not including the 790 Armenians (down to ca. 500 by 2011, tendency: decreasing); and 3,089 Jews (starting with none in 1967, as they were evicted after the Old City was captured by Jordan following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, with almost 3,000 plus some 1,500 yeshiva students by 2013, tendency: growing).[5][6][7]

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Old City was captured by Jordan and all its 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. However, the Jerusalem Law of 1980, which effectively annexed East Jerusalem to Israel, was declared null and void by United Nations Security Council Resolution 478. East Jerusalem is now regarded by the international community as part of occupied Palestinian territory.[8][9]

In 2010, Jerusalem's oldest fragment of writing was found outside the Old City's walls.[10]


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.[11] 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 1535-42 by the Ottoman Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The walls stretch for approximately 4.5 km (2.8 miles), and rise to a height of between 5 and 15 metres (16.4–49 ft), with a thickness of 3 metres (10 feet) at the base of the wall.[4] Altogether, the Old City walls contain 35 towers, most of which (15) are in the more exposed northern wall.[4] Suleiman's wall had six gates, to which a seventh, the New Gate, was added in 1887; several other, older gates, have been walled up over the centuries. The Golden Gate was at first rebuilt and left open by Suleiman's architects, only to be walled up a short while later.

In 1980, Jordan proposed that the Old City be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[12] It was added to the List in 1981.[13] 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.[14] 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."[15]


Arab market
Old City promenade in snow, 2008

Muslim Quarter

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, until the riots of 1929 the Muslim quarter had a mixed population of Muslims, Christians, and also Jews.[16] Today, there are "many Israeli settler homes" and "several yeshivas", including Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim, in the Muslim Quarter.[5]

Christian Quarter

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

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. 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.[17][18] 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.

Jewish Quarter

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 several long periods of Jewish presence covering much of the time since the eighth century BCE.[19][20][21][22][23][24] In 1948, its population of about 2,000 Jews was besieged, and forced to leave en masse.[25] 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 2005).[26] 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.[27]

Moroccan Quarter

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 by creating the Western Wall plaza. The parts of the Moroccan Quarter that were not destroyed are now part of the Jewish Quarter. Simultaneously with the demolition, a new regulation was set into place by which the only access point for non-Muslims to the Temple Mount is through the Gate of the Moors, which is reached via the so-called Mughrabi Bridge.[28][29]

City walls

Main article: Walls of Jerusalem


During different periods, the city walls followed different outlines and had a varying number of gates. During the era of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem for instance, Jerusalem had four gates, one on each side. The current walls were built by Suleiman the Magnificent, who provided them with six gates; several older gates, which had been walled up before the arrival of the Ottomans, were left as they were. As to the previously sealed Golden Gate, Suleiman at first opened and rebuilt it, but then walled it up again as well. The number of operational gates increased to seven after the addition of the New Gate in 1887; a smaller eighth one, the Tanners' Gate, has been opened for visitors after being discovered and unsealed during excavations in the 1990s. The sealed historic gates comprise four that are at least partially preserved (the double Golden Gate in the eastern wall, and the Single, Triple, and Double Gates in the southern wall), with several other gates discovered by archaeologists of which only traces remain (the Gate of the Essenes on Mount Zion, the gate of Herod's royal palace south of the citadel, and the vague remains of what 19th-century explorers identified as the Gate of the Funerals (Bab al-Jana'iz) or of al-Buraq (Bab al-Buraq) south of the Golden Gate[30]).

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

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 1875 East of northern side
Lions' Gate Sha'ar HaArayot

שער האריות

Bab al-Asbatt

باب الأسباط

Gate of Yehoshafat, St. Stephen's Gate, Gate of the Tribes, Bab Sittna Maryam (باب ستي مريم, "St. Mary's Gate") 1538–39 North of eastern side
Excavators' Gate Excavation Gate. (Eastern gate of the main Umayyad palace, attributed to Caliph Al-Walid I (705-715). Destroyed by an earthquake around 749, walled up to support Ottoman wall (1537–41), reopened and rebuilt by archaeologists led by Benjamin Mazar and Meir Ben-Dov in 1968.)


705-715, 1968 Wall south of Al-Aqsa Mosque
Dung Gate Sha'ar HaAshpot

שער האשפות

Bab al-Maghariba

باب المغاربة

Gate of Silwan, Sha'ar HaMugrabim 1538–40 East of southern side
Tanners' Gate Sha'ar HaBursekaim

שער הבורסקאים

12th century East of southern side
Zion Gate Sha'ar Tzion

שער ציון

Bab al-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

English Hebrew Arabic Description Period Location
Golden Gate Sha'ar HaRahamim

שער הרחמים

Bab al-Dhahabi / al-Zahabi, "Golden Gate"

باب الذهبي

A double gate, last sealed in 1541. In Arabic also known as the Gate of Eternal Life. In Arabic each door has its own name:
  • Gate of Mercy, Bab al-Rahma (باب الرحمة) - the southern door
  • Gate of Repentance, Bab al-Taubah (باب التوبة) - the northern door
6th century Northern third 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
Huldah Gates Sha'arei Chulda

שערי חולדה

Two gates:
  • The Triple Gate, as it comprises three arches. Also known as Bab an-Nabi (باب النبي, "Gate of the Prophet [Muhammad]")
  • The Double Gate, two arches, partially hidden from view by mediaeval building
Herodian period Southern wall of Temple Mount

See also


  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. 1 2 3 Eliyahu Wager (1988). Illustrated guide to Jerusalem. Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Publishing House. p. 138.
  5. 1 2 "Jerusalem The Old City: Urban Fabric and Geopolitical Implications" (PDF). International Peace and Cooperation Center. 2009.
  6. Bracha Slae (13 July 2013). "Demography in Jerusalem's Old City". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  7. Beltran, Gray (9 May 2011). "Torn between two worlds and an uncertain future". Columbia Journalism School.
  8. East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory. December 2012
  9. Benveniśtî, Eyāl (2004). The international law of occupation. Princeton University Press. pp. 112–113. ISBN 978-0-691-12130-7.
  10. "Tiny fragment bears oldest script found in Jerusalem". Telegraph.co.uk. 2010-07-12. Retrieved 2013-10-14.
  11. "The Holy Sepulchre - first destructions and reconstructions". Christusrex.org. 2001-12-26. Retrieved 2013-10-14.
  12. Advisory Body Evaluation (PDF file)
  13. "Report of the 1st Extraordinary Session of the World Heritage Committee". Whc.unesco.org. Retrieved 2013-10-14.
  14. "Justification for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, 1982: Report of the 6th Session of the World Heritage Committee". Whc.unesco.org. Retrieved 2013-10-14.
  15. "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 (www.unesco.org). 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.
  16. "שבתי זכריה עו"ד חצרו של ר' משה רכטמן ברחוב מעלה חלדיה בירושלים העתיקה". Jerusalem-stories.com. Retrieved 2013-10-14.
  17. Հայաստան սփյուռք [Armenia Diaspora] (in Armenian).
  18. Առաքելական Աթոռ Սրբոց Յակովբեանց Յերուսաղեմ [Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem (literally "Apostolic See of St. James in Jerusalem")] (in Armenian).
  19. 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").
  20. Simon Goldhill, Jerusalem: City of Longing 4 (2008) (conquered by "early Israelites" after the "ninth century B.C.")
  21. 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.")
  22. 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.")
  23. 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.")
  24. 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.")
  25. Mordechai Weingarten
  26. Staff. "Table III/14 - Population of Jerusalem, by Age, Quarter, Sub-Quarter, and Statistical Area, 2003" (PDF). Institute for Israel Studies (in Hebrew and English). Institute for Israel Studies, Jerusalem. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
  27. Staff (2010). "Our communities". God's name to succeed (in Hebrew). World Karaite Judaism. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
  28. Nadav Shragai (8 March 2007). "The Gate of the Jews". Haaretz. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  29. Steinberg, Gerald M. (2013). "False Witness? EU Funded NGOs and Policymaking in the Arab-Israeli Conflict" (PDF). Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs.
  30. Gülru Necipoğlu (2008). "The Dome of the Rock as a palimpsest: 'Abd al-Malik's grand narrative and Sultan Süleyman's glosses" (PDF). Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic. Leiden: Brill. 25: 20–21. ISBN 9789004173279. Retrieved 26 September 2015.
  31. "The Function and Plan of the 'Palaces'". The Jerusalem Archaeological Park - Davidson Center. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  32. Meir Ben-Dov (1987). The Excavation Gate (18). The Ophel archaeological garden. Jerusalem: East Jerusalem Development Ltd. p. 20. Thus for all intents and purposes, a ninth gate has been opened in the walls of Jerusalem.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Old City (Jerusalem).
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Virtual tours

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

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