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View series: Jerusalem: The History of a Global City

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Jerusalem, an Islamic city (13th-16th centuries)

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

There had been few reactions to the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders in 1099. However, eight decades later, the Muslim armies were mobilised to retake the city and, in 1187, Saladin conquered Jerusalem and banished all the Franks.

The monuments on Temple Mount were cleared of all traces of the Franks and returned to Islam. 

The churches within the walls were, for the most part, preserved: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was handed over to the Greek Orthodox community; while the Church of Saint Anne, built by the Franks, was transformed into a madrasa for Islamic religious studies, though the building’s architecture was left intact.

The return of Jerusalem to Islamic Law led at last to the return of Jews, now reauthorized to live in the city.

The only major construction project ordered by Saladin was the reinforcement and extension of the walls to include Mount Zion for the first time. The western and southern ramparts were entirely reconstructed at the beginning of the 13th century. However, Saladin’s descendants feared that the Crusaders would take over the city again by negotiating an exchange of territories and therefore decided to destroy its fortifications, which would offer their adversaries impregnable protection. In 1239, the city’s last defence, the citadel, was razed.

Jerusalem was now without protection and in 1244 was pillaged by Turkish mercenaries during one of the most violent periods of its history.

After the Mamluks took control of Jerusalem in 1261, there was a period of peace, stability and prosperity, such as the city had not seen since the 11th century.

The city expanded beyond its ancient ramparts which, due to lack of necessity, had not been rebuilt. However, the Mamelukes reconstructed the citadel as a symbol of their military power. Its current state dates back to 1310.

Thanks to investments by the aristocracy, whole neighbourhoods were redesigned: the Governor of Damascus installed the cotton market, a caravanserai and public baths, and built a monumental gate opening on to the Esplanade of Mosques. The old Temple Mount once again became part of the city with the construction of new buildings and streets; it had been partially outside the walls at the time of the Roman colony.

Thus, more than half of the Old City’s buildings today date back to the 13th and 14th centuries.

The legacy of the Mamelukes is not limited to the resettlement and reconstruction of Jerusalem. Most importantly, they left a number of pious foundations along the city’s main roads leading to and surrounding the Esplanade of Mosques. More than 80 religious institutions were founded: centres for prayer and teaching, hospices for pilgrims and single women, and grand mausoleums.

The sheer number of buildings is all the more extraordinary given the population of Jerusalem at the time (15,000 inhabitants at most during the 14th century). However, it confirms the importance granted by Islam to the Holy City since its recapture from the Crusaders.