The Old City wall of Jerusalem is one of the most important cultural heritage assets of the city. From a conservation standpoint, the physical state of the Old City wall fluctuates between an unstable condition of part of the wall that constitutes a safety hazard and other parts that suffer from different degrees of neglect, filth and weathering.
The Jerusalem City Wall Project offers conservation, engineering and architectural solutions for the different uses of the wall, as well as for the destructive and weathering processes that affect it.
The Conservation Department of the Antiquities Authority heads a multi-annual program, including documentation, planning and implementation of conservation and rehabilitation measures to the Old City wall.
To this end, the Conservation Department has established a team of architects, engineers and conservators who are experienced in complex conservation work of this kind, while consulting with experts in various specialized fields, for example:
• Laser-based surveying technology used to provide a three-dimensional model of the city wall
• A floral survey that examines the natural elements in the wall, so as to avoid harming rare species while conducting conservation and other treatment measures.
The Old City wall was erected in the sixteenth century CE by Sultan Suleiman; many of its sections were built on top of earlier fortification layers. Extensive secondary use of earlier masonry stones is noted in the wall, some of which still bear the stone chiseling marks.
The wall has a total length of 4,400 meters and it ranges from 5 to 15 meters in height. The wall is c. 2.5–3.0 wide at its base and c. 1.5 m wide at the top, which has a series of crenellations and loopholes.
Due to logistic considerations, the treatment of the city wall has been divided into fourteen sections of different length. The first section selected for treatment is the northwestern corner of wall, since it poses immediate danger by stones falling from an unstable stone parapet on the city-wall promenade, located above the courtyard of the Collège de Prière.
The conservation measures applied to this section include the removal of vegetation, pointing up joints, replacing weathered stones and reconstructing the contour of the wall, as well as the crenellations and loopholes.
The remains of ancient fortifications that date to the Ayyubid and Crusader periods are found at the base of the wall and visible are the remains of the moat, an aqueduct and the Crusader citadel, known as ‘Goliath’s Castle’ or ‘Tancred’s Tower’ in European sources.
On the upper part of the wall, one can see where bullets shot by snipers from the north and west struck the wall and Arabic inscriptions on the protective wall inside the crenellations, both evidence the Jordanian rule and the bloody events and mutual sniping that occurred in the divided city.
The unstableness of this protective wall and the conclusion that it cannot be reinforced, in situ, gave rise to a discussion of conservation principles, as to whether it is important to reconstruct the wall in it original place after dismantling it.
A decision was reached in principle, attaching great cultural importance to the complexity and the many periods of Jerusalem’s city wall, beginning with the early walls, prior to the current wall’s construction and up to the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967.
The Old City wall tells the history of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel and as such, should be forever preserved.