Jerusalem is one of the most ancient cities in the world and is the most holy city to the three monoteistic religions. If you’re planning to visit Jerusalem soon, here are 5 fun facts about the Old City:
1 – The Old City is just 0.9 square kilometers!
Yep, you can easily walk from one end of the Old City to the other within 20 minutes. It sounds small, but there is so much to see within those 0.9 square kilometers! You can spend a whole day wandering around the enchanting alleyways, visiting the religious sites and bargaining in the marketplaces.
2 – The Old City walls are just 500 years old.
Many times when we come with our tourists to the Old City of Jerusalem and ask them how old are the Old City walls , they guess they are at least 2,000 years old. But, the truth is that the Old City walls we see today are just about 500 years old. They were built during the Ottoman period upon more ancient walls. The Ottoman sultan who ordered the construction of the walls was Suleiman the Magnificent. The length of the wall is 4.5 kilometers, its height is 10 meters and its average width is just 2.5 meters.
The wall isn’t so defensive, but is very beautiful. According to the local legend, after the walls were completed, Sultan Suleiman called the two architects who were in charge of the construction. He told them: “I really love what you did here. You should be proud of yourselves”. They were proud for a minute, but then he added: “Unfortunately, I don’t want you to make anything like this for anyone else, so I must kill you”. They were executed a short while later. When you enter through Jaffa Gate, you can find two tombs to your left, after the tourist information center. Legend says it belongs to the two architects.
3 – The Romans called it Aelia Capitolina.
A while after the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 CE, came Roman emperor Hadrian and ordered to establish a new city upon the ruins of Jerusalem. The new city was called Aelia Capitolina. “Aelia” was the Roman name of Hadrian, while “Capitolina” refers to the Capitoline Hill, on which Roman temples were built in Rome. Aelia Capitolina remained the official name of the city until 638 CE, when the Arabs conquered the city.
4 – The Smallest Quarter is the Armenian Quarter.
There are four quarters in the Old City of Jerusalem: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. The Armenian Quarter is the smallest, with less than 3,000 residents. The Armenians settled in Jerusalem already in the 4th century, but the main wave of Armenians arrived in Jerusalem follwing the Armenian Genocide, which took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, most of the Armenian Quarter is not open to the general public, but you can cross through it by walking along St. James Street.
5 – Between 1948-1967, the Old City was under Jordanian control.
Today everyone can walk freely inside the Old City of Jerusalem, but this was not the case between 1948-1967. Following the Independece War in 1948, Jerusalem was split between the Israelis and the Jordanians – the Israelis got the western side of Jerusalem, while the Jordanians got the eastern side, which included the Old City. For 19 years, there were Jordanian snipers on the Old City walls, there was a strip of dead zone between the East and the West, and the Jewish people were not allowed to set foot inside the Old City. During the Six Days War in 1967, the Old City was taken back by the Israeli forces, and that is why you will not see Jordanians in Jerusalem today.