Jerusalem the Citadel

Anthea Gerrie describes a museum that is also in itself a historical record of a city’s development.

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.

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 bc during the Hellenist period.

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