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Jerusalem under the Franks (1099-1187) (1240-1244)

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

On 15 July 1099, the army of the First Crusade broke through the North Wall of Jerusalem and captured the city.

A large proportion of the population was massacred, some even on the roof of the Al-Aqsa Mosque; the survivors were sent into slavery. Many of the Crusaders returned home, having carried out their vow to free the holy city. By the end of 1099, only a few hundred people, all foreigners, were still living in Jerusalem.

The Franks settled in the north-west district of the city, close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For some fifteen years, the Patriarchate Quarter was the only inhabited district.

Towards 1115, the King of Jerusalem Baldwin I appealed to Arabic-speaking Christians in the region, asking them to resettle the city. In consequence, the Syrians’ District was established in the north-east of the city between St Stephen’s Gate (now the Damascus Gate) and the Josaphat Gate (now the Lions’ Gate). 

The gradual resettlement of Jerusalem under the Franks made few changes to the urban disposition and infrastructure of the city. The walls, partly rebuilt in the 1030s, were strengthened but no changes were made to their position.

Unchanged from the Islamic period, the markets continued along the old Roman-Byzantine cardo which bisected the city from north to south.

According to archaeological evidence, one district, later known as the Maghrebin neighbourhood, was set aside for artisans and craftsmen in the lowest part of the city.

The Franks, through their numerous buildings, made a deep impression on the urban landscape. The markets along the cardo were rebuilt in 1152 and the three parallel covered streets have never been altered since.

Not far from there, the military order of St John’s Hospital (the Knights Hospitaller) set up their hospices and headquarters within an enclosed area, in the current district of Muristan. There are still traces of this building complex which once covered one and a half hectares.

But the most important heritage left by the Franks remains the churches in the Holy City. Some sixty churches and chapels were built or restored in Jerusalem in less than a century. Often placed on the site of a Byzantine monument, they commemorated key holy sites as identified by Christian religion in the Bible.

The most spectacular construction site was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The new basilica, inaugurated 50 years to the day after the Frankish conquest of the city, was built over the main sites related to Christ’s Passion including his crucifixion and his tomb, and brought them together for the first time under one roof. The layout of the church remains unchanged to this day.

The Christianisation of Jerusalem by the Franks extended as far as the Esplanade of Mosques on the old Temple Mount, which had been abandoned during the Byzantine era and which was now, for the first time, brought into the Christian city. The Dome of the Rock was transformed into a church (the Templum Domini); the Al-Aqsa mosque, thought to be the palace or the Temple of Solomon, became the residence for Jerusalem’s second military order: the Knights Templar.