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View series: Jerusalem: The History of a Global City

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Biblical Jerusalem

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of Jerusalem: The History of a Global City.

According to the Bible, Jerusalem was originally inhabited by a Canaanite group called “Jebusites”. At the beginning of the 10th century BCE, King David and the Israelites took control of the city and established the citadel on top of the rocky ridge, South-East of the present Old City.

Archaeologists working on this ancient site have found remains of a “stepped stone structure” which allowed the construction of buildings on this sloping area. On the top of the hill, they found vestiges of a fortified palace, known as the “large stone structure”.

Again according to biblical tradition, it was David’s son, King Solomon, who undertook the first great construction works outside the original settlement. The First Book of Kings, in the Hebrew Bible, says that Solomon was responsible for several buildings, including a palace and a temple on the mountain north of the City of David. It is here that the mosques would later be constructed on the esplanade known as the “Noble Sanctuary”, Haram esh-Sharif. For topographical and political reasons, this site is not accessible for archeological research, which explains why no remains of the First Temple have been found. However, the fact that the Second Temple was built on this site at the beginning of the Persian period tends to corroborate the biblical narrative. At the end of the 6th century BCE, there were people who remembered the location of the first temple; it is therefore highly probable that there was a continuity of location on this site.

The urban development of Jerusalem during the biblical period reached its peak in the 8th century BCE.

East of the city, there were numerous graves on the Mount of Olives and in the Kidron valley.

The city itself spread out towards the west and may have already encompassed Mount Zion. Another hypothesis suggests that the city walls extended only as far as the foot of Mount Zion. Remains of the outer wall from this period have been unearthed in the Jewish quarter of the present Old City.

During the Assyrian invasion at the end of the 8th century BCE, Jerusalem was besieged, but not conquered. The construction of the so-called Tunnel of Hezekiah probably dates back to this period. This Tunnel made it possible to bring water from the Gihon Spring, located outside the city walls, to the Pool of Siloam inside the city, and thus allowed the population to hold fast, even after the Gihon Spring became inaccessible.

However, these installations did not prevent Jerusalem from being captured by the armies of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. The temple, together with a large part of the city, was destroyed. In the ancient City of David, the so-called Burnt Room is probably linked to this devastating episode.

The city gradually reemerged from its ashes with difficulty. According to the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the temple was rebuilt and the city walls restored at the end of the 6th century BCE, but within a much smaller urban area. Apparently, the city’s population was uneasy about returning to Jerusalem and it was not until the Hellenistic period that the city began to flourish again.