As a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem has always been of great symbolic importance. Among its 220 historic monuments, the Dome of the Rock stands out: built in the 7th century, it is decorated with beautiful geometric and floral motifs. It is recognized by all three religions as the site of Abraham’s sacrifice. The Wailing Wall delimits the quarters of the different religious communities, while the Resurrection rotunda in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses Christ’s tomb.
Traditionally, the Old City has been divided into four uneven quarters, although the current designations were introduced only in the 19th century. Today, the Old City is roughly divided into the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Old City was captured by Jordan and the Jewish residents were evicted. During the Six-Day War in 1967, which saw hand to hand fighting on the Temple Mount, Israel captured the Old City alongside the rest of East Jerusalem, subsequently annexing them to Israeli territory and reuniting them with the western part of the city. Today, Israel controls the entire area, which it considers part of its national capital. In 2010, Jerusalem’s oldest fragment of writings was found outside of the Old City’s walls. The Jerusalem Law of 1980 effectively annexing East Jerusalem to Israel was declared by UN Security Council Resolution 478 null and void and East Jerusalem is regarded by the international community as part of the occupied Palestinian territory.
History of Jerusalem
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 southwest of the Old City walls, outside the Dung Gate. His son King Solomon extended the city walls and then, in about 440 BCE, in 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” will rise to be a protector and an 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 that Muslims gather in prayer at the site. In 1099 Jerusalem was captured by the Western Christian army of the First Crusade and 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 again demolished 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 city 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 1538 by the Muslim Ottoman Empire Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The walls stretch for approximately 4.5 kilometres, (2.8 miles), and rise to a height of 5–15 metres, (16–49 feet), with a thickness of 3 metres, (10 ft). Altogether, the Old City walls contain 43 surveillance towers and 11 gates, seven of which are presently open.
In 1980, Jordan proposed the Old City to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. It was added to the List in 1981. In 1982, Jordan requested that it be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger. The United States opposed the request because it noted that Jordan had no standing to make such a nomination. The United States further noted that the consent of Israel would be required since it effectively controlled Jerusalem. In 2011, UNESCO issued a statement reiterating that it views East Jerusalem to be “part of the occupied Palestinian territory, and that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in permanent status negotiations.