The Walls of Jerusalem surround the Old City of Jerusalem. Over the past 3000 years, they’ve been built and rebuilt a number of times.
Today’s walls are about 500 years old and mistakenly the oldest section of Jerusalem, Mount Zion on which The City of David was built. A mistake which may have cost the architects their lives.
The City of David on Mount Zion was the first walled city of Jerusalem, beginning about 3,00 years ago.
Then, King Solomon built the First Temple on the hilltop rising right above the city he had inherited, today known as the Temple Mount, and then extended the city walls to include it.
The walls were further expanded under King Hezekiah (Chizkiyahu) to protect from the invading Assyrian army.
Remains of this wall were discovered and are today known as the Broad Wall.
The entire city was destroyed in 587 – 586 BCE during the siege led by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
After the Babylonian captivity and the Persian conquest of Babylonia, the Jews were allowed to return to Judea and rebuild the Temple and the cities walls.
Josephus refereed to this as the First Wall.
The First Wall
During the Second Temple period, especially during the Hasmonean period, the city walls were expanded and renovated.
From there the wall turned east and north on the eastern side of the City of David along a line parallel to Nahal Kidron and was built above the ravines.
From there the wall descended along the southern ridge line of Mount Zion, toward the Shiloah Pool, and then passed through the Ophel and joined the Temple Mount wall.
The section near the Tower of David later served as a base for the Ottoman wall and the remains of it still exist.
The Second Wall
As the city grew, it expanded north outside the First Wall Second Temple period.
In order to protect it, the Second Wall was built during Herod’s reign around the new neighborhoods and attached to the First Wall.
The route the wall is unknown and can only be presumed due to the lack of descriptions and discoveries at this time.
All that is known for certain about it is:
“The Second Wall started at Gennath, a gate in the first wall. It enclosed the northern quarter only and went up as far as Antonia…” – Josephus
The Third Wall
There was yet again a need to expand outside the cities walls and became known as Bezetha, which means New Town in Aramaic.
The Third Wall was built at the end of the Second Temple period it was begun during the reign of King Agrippa I. However, Roman’s made him halted its construction.
It was continued by the Kannaim and was later hastily completed on the eve of siege of Jerusalem.
During the 1920’s remains of the Third Wall were accidentally discovered, which led to the beginning of the first scientific excavations of it.
In 2015 more remains were unearthed at the campus of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design on the Russian Compound.
Most of the Third Wall passed through the area of what is today the New City, in the Mussrara and Mea Shearim neighborhoods.
However, in 70 CE, as a result of the Roman siege during the First Jewish–Roman War, the walls were almost completely destroyed.
Jerusalem remained in ruins for some six decades until the pagan Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, was built in the ruined Jewish city of Jerusalem, 130 years later by Emperor Hadrian, but 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.
Then, the walls were extensively renewed by the Empress Aelia Eudocia during her banishment to Jerusalem.
In 1033, most of the walls were destroyed by an earthquake and it had to be rebuilt by the Fatimids.
However, they left out the southernmost parts that had been previously included: Mount Zion, the City of David, and the Jewish neighborhoods which stood south of the Temple Mount.
In 1219 Saladin’s nephew, Al-Malik al-Mu’azzam ‘Isa, 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 and the citadel then being the only well-fortified areas.
The wall was built to fortify and glorify the city, to bring back free trade to its markets, and to maintain its security.
According to legend, when Suleiman saw that the architects had left Mount Zion and King David’s Tomb outside of the enclosure, he ordered them executed.
However, in deference to their impressive achievement, he had them buried inside the walls next to Jaffa Gate.
Today’s walls are the same as the ones Suleiman the Magnificent had built.
However, next to Jaffa Gate is now a large breach in the wall was created in 1898 by the Ottoman authorities in order to honor German emperor Wilhelm II who came through them.
The demolished wall segment moved to citadel moat, a portion of which was filled in, to create a ramp.
The breach and the ramp leading up to it are now allowing cars to access the Old City from the west.