Today we walked the Old City walls of Jerusalem. Well as much as we could. The walls only extend to the Temple Mount area and even then there’s a good distance to go between where we exit and where you could actually walk even 10 years ago.
The walls that stand today actually aren’t that old. They were built by Sulieman the Magnificent during the years 1537-1540. Thus the walls are a paltry 500 years old. (In this area that ain’t much.) However, the walls are actually built atop remains of the walls from the 1st Century (Jesus and Paul’s time) and even the Maccabean period (2nd and 1st C BC). Suliman’s walls look mighty impressive but were actually more for show than to actually repel a full onslaught. In most areas the walls were merely 6-7′ thick. And considering that Hezekiah built his broad wall closer to 12′ thick (in the 8th century BC) to fend of the Assyrians these walls really weren’t anything special. However they proved to keep out (or limit) the desert riff raff which – believe it or not – even up to the early 1900’s the Jerusalem area was prone to having nomadic raiders pass through the country.
Suliman’s workers chose to build the wall along the crest of the hill at that time but as they finished the southwestern corner they found a bulge of relatively flat area on the hill top which included basically one functional building – the Tomb of David (See coming post). The builders tried to get the Franciscans to pay for the extra sections of the wall that would encompase their church but they didn’t have the money (or refused). So they simply closed the wall leaving the area known today as Mt. Zion outside of the wall. (Mt. Zion is where JUC is located.) According to the legend this little cost cutting measure prompted Suliman to give the two chief builders a hair cut – at about neck level (as my prof once told us). The supposed tombs of these two headless men can be found inside Jaffa gate… or at least that’s the way the legend goes.
The walls continued to have a usage even as recently as 40 years ago as they formed a defensive position on The border between the Jordanian and Israeli armed forces. During the Six Day war (1967) the walls in several parts took the brunt of the damage as the Israeli offensive pushed into the Old City and took control. (This year marks the 40th anniversary of a United Jerusalem under an Israeli flag.) See the picture of the pock-marked Zion gate above.