Jerusalem's Old City

The Old City is divided into four neighborhoods, which are named according to the ethnic affiliation of most of the people who live in them. These quarters form a rectangular grid, but they are not equal in size. The dividing lines are the street that runs from Damascus Gate in the north, to the Zion Gate in the south — dividing the city into east and west — and the street leading from the Jaffa Gate in the west, to Lion's gate in the east — which bifurcates the city north and south. Entering through the Jaffa Gate and travelling to David Street places the Christian Quarter on the left. On the right, as you continue down David Street, you'll enter the Armenian Quarter. To the left when you cross over Ha-Yehudim Street (Jews Street) is the Muslim Quarter, and to the right is the Jewish Quarter.

Click here to view this on a modern street map.

Click here for its hyperlink in Google maps.

Click here for further details about this overview of the city.


Now for some history

This Wikipedia link to the Old City of Jerusalem shows it to be just 0.9 square kilometers, a walled area having a 4 km circumference. At the time of Josephus when the walls were destroyed, it is recorded as 6½km. These current walls were built in 1538.

The original City of David, also known as Mount Zion, shows walls further to the south. Click here for an artist's model of this "stronghold of Zion", the City of Jebus in 1000 BC prior to King David's reign, after which it became known as this "City of David". Where David brought the Ark of the Covenant, and placed it in its own tabernacle (tent).

Click the appropriate number for five sketches of Jerusalem:

  1. One at the time of King David
  2. Two its extension in the days of Solomon, including the Temple, Palace, Mishneh-section, up to its ransacking by Nebuchadnezzar.
  3. Three at the time Nehemiah rebuilt its walls in 404 BC. Its border and extension towards the west, as mentioned by Nehemiah, included the Broad Wall that had been built by King Hezekiah. Click here to see that location today on a Google map, just inside the Jewish Quarter.
  4. Four at the time of Christ showing Pilate's praetorium built by Herod the Great about 20 BC, also its "second" wall
  5. Five at the time of Josephus and its "third" wall started by Herod Agrippa about 44 AD.

Click here for a map (estimate) of where the gates had been in first century Jerusalem.

As well as building a palace on the western side, Herod extensively modified the Temple area circa 488 metres x 281 metres with the temple being a square of about 200 metres (one furlong) on each side. Click here for an image and here for further details (estimate). It included a broad outermost court for non-Jews with dire warnings for any Gentile who dared to step over the boundaries into its inner court. Click here for another image of the area looking north-east.

Herod's palace was destroyed in the Jewish War of 66 AD, that followed the failures of first the local Roman Governor Gessius Florus and secondly the Syrian Governor Cestius Gallus, who, somewhat in fulfilment of Jesus's warning in Luke 21:20, surrounded Jerusalem in 66 AD but was unable to quell the rebellion. In the chaos of a murderous civil war that erupted between Jewish factions, many Christians subsequently fled to Pella (in modern day Jordan). Surrounding Jerusalem a second time in 70 AD but allowing no escape, only crucifixion, Roman General Titus leveled first the northern, then the western and eastern walls of Jerusalem, burning and demolishing the Temple and nearly all the homes of the city, leaving just three towers in the west and the southern wall for his troops.

It was to be 200 - 300 years later before a new wall was constructed around the city. Significant construction was attributed to the time of the empress Aelia Euodia, who in 425 AD granted the Jews permission to resettle in the city, to pray by the ruins of the Temple.

In 637 AD the city was taken by the Arab Muslims, with the Dome of the Rock constructed in 691 AD. Following a number of earthquakes, including a severe one in 1033 AD, the southern wall was rebuilt northwards in its current position, now excluding the old City of David.

As mentioned earlier, the current walls were built in 1538 by Suleiman the "Magnificent", the Turkish Ottoman ruler.

While Jews outnumber Arabs in Jerusalem proper, inside the Old City Arabs outnumber Jews by nearly 10 to 1, there being about 37000 Arabs and only about 3800 Jews. Jews have been outnumbered here in fact for most of the past 2000 years, ever since Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Four Quarters

Click each image below to see better detail.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
or Christian (Latin) quarter

The northwestern sector of the Old City. This quarter includes the sites that, since 330 AD, commemorate the place where Jesus was buried and resurrected, and a few metres to the left of this tomb — just outside the "second" city wall at the time of Christ — a small hill commemorating the place where he was crucified and died. Thus, this quarter includes the final stations of the cross (Via Dolorosa), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of John the Baptist, Muristan (Hospital) Market, and the Church of the Redeemer. In the south west is Jaffa Gate, the main entrance to the city from the west

Its population is estimated at about 4,000 residents.

Now since the mid-nineteenth century, the Garden Tomb that is just north of the Damascus Gate and the old city walls — also having a skull-like hill (Golgotha) close by — has many agreeing that this was in actuality where Jesus was crucified, died, was buried and was resurrected. Click here for photos and a map.

Muslim quarter

The northeastern sector of the Old City. This quarter is the largest and most populous and extends from the Lions' Gate in the east, along the northern wall of the Temple Mount in the southeast, to the Western Wall route and the Damascus Gate (also known as Sha'ar Shkhem / Shechem Gate or Nablus Gate) in the northwest. The Via Dolorosa also starts in this quarter.

Its population is estimated at about 30,000 or more than 70% of the population.

Today, there are also many Israeli settler homes. It's a warren of alleyways (covered or exposed) and, as you move away from the tourist tack of the Via Dolorosa and immediate surrounds, you find butchers, clothing, bakers, sweet and spice stalls etc. Damascus and the less used St Stephen's (also known as Lion's) gates are the main access/egress points for this section. Damascus gate epitomises the melee of the quarter, with thousands of people leaving and entering the city throughout the day.


Armenian quarter

One of the most private parts of the Old City, the Armenian quarter in the south west is dominated by high walls with little opportunity to see beyond. The Cathedral of St James is a case in point — only the inner front entrance and inner courtyard are accessible to the general public.

Its population is estimated at about 2,400 residents.

Jewish quarter
pre 1967 known as the Moroccan Quarter, just north of the City of David

The southeastern sector of the Old City. It stretches from the Zion Gate (midway along the southern wall of the Old City that lines the Armenian Quarter) along the Armenian Quarter on the west, up to ha-Shalshelet / Chain Street in the north, and extends to the Western Wall Ha-Kotel Ha-Ma'araviabout 57 metres long, and known as the Wailing Wall to outsiders.
Click here for a photo, facing east. Click here for a live webcam, showing the Dome of the Rock in the background to its left, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque to its right.

Prior to 1967, this quarter was known as the Moroccan Quarter after 1193 when Saladin's son opened it up to Moroccan immigrants who were taking up residence there, and thus confined the Jews to a narrow neighborhood, Hayya al-Sharif, that allowed them access to the Wall along King David Street. The quarter was taken over holus-bolus by Jordan in May 1948 thus cutting off this access. It was taken back by Israel along with the rest of the Old City in June 1967.

Its population is currently estimated at about 3,000 residents plus an additional 1,500 yeshiva ("academic") students. The numbers have reduced greatly since the year 1900, when it was quite overcrowded at about 19,000 Jewish residents as Jews purchased houses, owning about 20% of the quarter. In 1948 most of these had moved west outside the old city walls, leaving just 2,000 who then left "en masse" with that takeover by Jordan. After 1967, about 650 Palestinian residents received compensation when they had their houses razed to build the Western Wall Plaza.

Today Jordan is the custodian for just the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the focal point for Palestinians who are seeking for their capital to become East Jerusalem. Click here for some recent history.

Click here for an aerial view of the City of David, an area just south of this quarter. It shows the Gihon Spring, source of the city's water supply, located 67m below the top of the ridge on which the city was first built.


Below is a Google Map snapshot of the old city.

Click here to zoom in or zoom out.

Click here to see maps of Israel, and the surrounding countries.

**End of Page