This video is part of a series of 12 animated maps.

View series: Jerusalem: The History of a Global City

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Jerusalem under the Ottoman Empire

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

After two and a half centuries of Mamluk rule, Jerusalem changed hands and became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516. It was no longer governed from Cairo, but from the Empire’s capital, Istanbul. Until 1872, the canton of Jerusalem formed part of the Grand Province of Damascus. However, the city enjoyed the status of Holy City, along with Mecca, Medina and Hebron, and thus benefited from a number of privileges.

The transfer from Mamluk to Ottoman sovereignty was relatively peaceful, as evidenced by the harmonious improvements made to the Temple Mount, known as Haram Al-Sharif. At the beginning of the 14th century, the Mamluk Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad had already restored the cupola of the Dome of the Rock and built the Great Gate to the west of the Esplanade and the minaret at the Gate of the Chain. Two centuries later, the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent replaced the mosaics that decorated the Dome of the Rock with polychrome ceramic tiles inspired by Iranian designs. 

The restoration of the walls is Suleiman’s greatest work. With this grandiose architectural gesture, he sought not only to protect the citizens of Jerusalem from neighbouring Bedouin tribes, but also to symbolically “crown” Jerusalem, thus linking himself directly with Solomon, Jerusalem’s first mythical builder-king, whom the Koran named as a prophet and whose first name he bore. Twelve metres high and 4 kilometres long, with its 34 towers and 7 gates, Suleiman’s wall retraces almost exactly earlier walls erected by the Ayyubid dynasty and dismantled in the early 13th century.  This colossal construction programme began in 1537 and was completed in less than four years. 

At the same time, Suleiman ordered the restoration of the aqueduct which brought water to Jerusalem from Solomon’s Pools, located 11 kilometres away between Bethlehem and Hebron. He also installed nine public fountains, four of which served for religious ablutions on the Esplanade of the Mosques and the other five for domestic use and drinking water for the entire population of Jerusalem, estimated at 15,000 inhabitants, of whom about 75% were Muslims, 15% Christians and 10% Jews. 

The Jewish and Christian communities were allowed to maintain their existing buildings but could not enlarge them or erect new structures. In 1549, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which was responsible for the Catholic holy sites, left its headquarters on Mount Sion near David’s Tomb and moved into the Convent of Saint Saviour, which it still occupies today. In 1613, the Armenian community was granted the privilege of maintaining the little Chapel of the Ascension on the summit of the Mount of Olives. In 1719, the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was restored. Nevertheless, although its prestige remained intact, Jerusalem was of little interest to Western powers until the beginning of the 19th century.