Tuesday 2 March 2010

A hearty walk in old Jerusalem – The Cardo

Every Roman city was laid out to the same design and Jerusalem was no different. The 6th century church floor in Medeba, Jordan has a mosaic map of Israel with many place names in Greek. At its centre is a depiction of Jerusalem with walls, gates, churches (with red roofs – very mediterranean) - and the Cardo. It is depicted with two rows of colonnades running the length of the city from north to south.
Following the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, teams of Israeli archaeologists spent many years excavating the city. In the 1970’s, Nahman Avigad's team excavated the Cardo area for about 200 metres (220 yards), from the time of Emperor Justinian in the first half of the 6th century CE. An earlier section of the Cardo was constructed in the Roman period beginning at the modern Damascus Gate in the north, but it was not extended this far south until some centuries later.

The central street of the Cardo is 12 metres (39.5 feet) wide and was lined on both sides with columns. The total width of the street and shopping areas on either side was a staggering 22 metres, easily the equivalent of a 4-lane dual carriageway today. This street was the main thoroughfare of Byzantine Jerusalem and served both residents and the many pilgrims. Large churches flanked the Cardo in several places.

As can still be seen in modern Italy today, the columns supported a roof that covered the shopping area and protected the patrons from the sun and rain. Then, it was built of wood –today we just have to imagine it. Currently the Byzantine street is about 6 metres (18ft) below the present street level. The steps down are steep but quite safe.

I acknowledge the copyright of the owner of this photo

Today, the Cardo is home to souvenir shops, but it is well worth the short walk to transport yourself back to Roman times – and under cover too! It is in the heart of the old City of Jerusalem and is well signposted, just a brief walk from the main car park or you can access it from Rehov Chabad or Hayehudim.

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