Magazine article History Today

Jerusalem the Citadel: Anthea Gerrie Describes a Museum That Is Also in Itself a Historical Record of a City's Development

Magazine article History Today

Jerusalem the Citadel: Anthea Gerrie Describes a Museum That Is Also in Itself a Historical Record of a City's Development

Article excerpt

It seems fitting that a building housing a museum that aims to tell a tale as complex as the building of Jerusalem should itself be a historical microcosm of the eternal city. The Tower of David, also known as the Citadel, may not be quite as old as the first known settlements of Jerusalem, which date back 4,000 years; but for nearly three quarters of that time the ancient fort at the city's highest point by the Jaffa Gate, where the old city meets the new, played a vital role in Jerusalem's defence.

What the visitor entering the museum still sees today is part of a wall built 2,300 years ago by the Hasmoneans, who took the city back for the Israelites after the Babylonians captured it from the descendants of David. They built a wall and two towers to guard Jerusalem's vulnerable northern and western approaches. These fortifications were greatly embellished by Herod, a builder on a monumental scale. He added three magnificent towers, named after his brother, his best friend and his wife--Phasael, Hippicus and Miriam. Herod's palace on the Citadel site was sacked around 2,000 years ago along with the destruction of the Second Temple and general sacking of the city by the Romans, though its massive citadel walls remain largely unscathed. This truly worldclass museum devotes a room to each of Jerusalem's many historic periods--Canaanite, Israelite, Persian, Hasmonean, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Mameluke, Ottoman and British. The visitor will be torn between the treasures inside, the artefacts beautifully exhibited in the massive inner courtyard, and the ruins themselves.


The first major archaeological digging began during the British mandate in 1936. Traces of plaster, roof tiles and water piping bearing the imprimatur of the Tenth Legion attest to the Roman occupation around AD 70, while tiny crannies with rough white mosaic floors are said to mark the quarters for Jerusalem's very first tourists--the monks and other Christian pilgrims who crossed Europe in Byzantine times to view the site of the Saviour's death and resurrection. During this period, spanning the second and third centuries AD, the Byzantines reinforced the Citadel walls with stones salvaged from the damage caused by previous assaults and Herod's Phasael Tower, the first Jerusalem landmark pilgrims would see, came to be called the Tower of David in homage to the city's founder and first king.

The Arabs who followed the Byzantines built their own new fortress on the Citadel site. The ruins of its rounded tower can be seen in the southern part of the courtyard. The Crusaders, who arrived in Jerusalem in 1099, destroyed the existing fortress and, over the next eighty-eight years, replaced it with the palace, its extensions and the moat that we see today. More recently, in the 1980s, hundreds of arrowheads and catapult ammunition were unearthed, dated back to the siege of 132 Be during the Hellenist period.

The Mamelukes, however, deserve most of the credit for the current construction--in 1310 their ruler, Sultan Nasser Muhammad Ibn Kaloun, restored what was the only fortification left standing after the Crusaders fled the ransacked city. The beautiful eastern gate was the later work of Suleiman the Magnificent, the great Ottoman builder who started further restoration works in the sixteenth century. He added a minaret which became a new 'Tower of David', though, in fact, the original City of David lies to the south of the present old city and so the king in whose honour the tour is named will never have seen buildings in the area of the current metropolis of Jerusalem. …

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