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Notes on the Geography of Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets

John Ruskin should have called his book "The Stones of Jerusalem." It might have been a heavy volume, too, for it sometimes seems as if every block of stone in the city has been closely studied.

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Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 1

Cleaning up the rubbish left by the Turkish army, the British about 1920 developed a scenic walk around the walls of the Old City. The circuit isn't complete: even the British weren't able to get the Islamic authorities to permit the walk to pass on the edge of the Haram Ash-Sharif, at the southeast corner of the Old City. Here, at the northwest corner and in the Christian quarter, things went more smoothly, though the British had to push some encroachers away from the wall. Amazingly, there are a few trees.

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 2

The Jewish Quarter, completely rebuilt from the rubble seized in 1967, rises here over the southern wall of the city. The first houses that went in here after 1967 were acts of faith, rewarded by 30 years of rising real-estate values.

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 3

At the southern end of the eastern wall, Herodian blocks form the foundation of the Haram, or Temple Mount.

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 4

Water has usually been in short supply in Jerusalem. Here, at the foot of the southern wall, a clay-pipe conduit carried water in the Turkish period from springs south of Bethlehem. Almost as soon as General Allenby took Jerusalem, the British scrapped the hopelessly inadequate old conduits and replaced them with steel pipe.

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 5

Remnants of an even older conveyance system: rock-cut channels along the southern wall.

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 6

This strange corner projecting from the southern wall lies at the southern end of the old Roman cardo, the main street that ran south from what is now the Damascus Gate. Here, at the southern end of this urban axis, Justinian built a new church, the Nea, to complement the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The huge stones at the base of the corner are all that's left of it.

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The Jaffa Gate is now just a gap in the city wall: not so the Damascus Gate, battered on its massive frame and hinges. Except in the early hours, the passage is a crowded one.

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For centuries the "best" neighborhood of the Old City was the one adjoining the Haram. Here the Emir Tankiz, a longtime Mameluke ruler of Syria, invested much of his fortune. The buildings he left behind include the Madrassa Tankiziyya, on the street of the Gate of the Chain, or Tariq Bab es-Silsila. They all carry Tankiz's symbol, a cup testifying to the trust placed in him as cup-bearer to the sultan, who was always fearful of poison. In 1340, something went wrong. Tankiz was sent to Alexandria and executed.

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 9

The Suq el Qattanin or cotton-merchant's market is probably one of Tankiz's creations. Commonly judged the grandest of the medieval markets in the Old City, it stretches west from s Haram gate closed to non-Muslims. Hence the market remains a dead end for tourists. They avoid it--and so do the merchants who might otherwise rent the space from its owner, the Islamic Waqf. Income from stall rentals once funded charities and helped maintain the Haram, but there isn't much income today. The picture looks west some 300 feet through the market.

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 10

The weakened lintel of the Bab el Qattanin or gate of the cotton market. This is a far cry from the kind of maintenance work done in the Old City's Jewish Quarter. This end of the market is of Crusader origin and was rebuilt in Tankiz's time, when the market was extended eastward to join the Haram.

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 11

A more typical street extends south from the Damascus Gate through the Suq Khan ez Zeit or oil market. This is tourist country, captured early in the day. Modest as it appears, the street follows the alignment of the city's main street in Roman times. At that time, it was elaborately colonnaded. For centuries, it led past the entrance to Constantine's Church of the Holy Sepulcher and to Justinian's Nea Church at the south wall of the city, but the entrance to the first was destroyed in the 11th century, and the New Church was demolished even earlier, in the 8th. The surviving corner of its foundation shows up in the file called "Walls, Gates, and Streets."

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 12

This is one of the city's rare bits of meshrabiyya, the projecting and screened wooden windows that once were characteristic of cities from Cairo to Aleppo and beyond.

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Many of the streets are solidly roofed over, with rows of skylights supplemented by powerful lighting.

Jerusalem: Walls, Gates, and Streets picture 14

The Muslim Quarter is the poorest part of the city; even so, rooftops have tanks, solar panels, and satellite dishes.

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