Old City of Jerusalem


The Old City of Jerusalem from the road. Image Source: photo by author

The Old City of Jerusalem from the road. Image Source: photo by author


Why it is a World Heritage Site

According to UNESCO, the Old City of Jerusalem meets selection criteria (ii) (iii) and (iv)

  • (ii) Demonstrates “an important interchange of human values” reflected in architecture or landscape
  • (iii) Is a unique or substantial “testimony to a cultural tradition or civilization” past or present
  • (iv) Significant architecture reflecting one or more important points in human history

This Criteria is summarized by A recent statement by the Director-General of UNESCO. She points out the rich cultural and religious diversity of the Old City of Jerusalem as it is sacred to the three monotheistic religions. The area also contains structures that are significant in the religious texts of these religions.

The Old City of Jerusalem is significant to Jews, Christians, and Muslims because of the important structures and events that took place in the city.

  • The city is important to Jews because it contains the Western Wall which was once part of the Holy Temple, and the Dome of the Rock which they believe is the Holy of Holies. This is also where they believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
  • For Christians, the city contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where they believe Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
  • The Dome of the Rock and the Mosque below it are important to Muslims because they believe this is where the Prophet Mohammed came from Mecca to pray with souls of the prophets before ascending to heaven.
-Western Wall and Dome of the Rock. Source (photo by author)

-Western Wall and Dome of the Rock. Image Source: photo by author

Churh of the Holy Sepulcher. Image Source: http://www.bibleplaces.com/holysepulcher/

-Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Image Source: http://www.bibleplaces.com/holysepulcher/

Threats to the Site as of 2016

The most prominent threat is urban development. Construction around the old city has caused destruction, and the structures being erected compromise the historical authenticity of the earlier and original buildings.

In the late 1990’s Israelis and Palestinians clashed after a Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish group that aims to promote the Jewish population in East Jerusalem, began illegal construction of buildings. A court eventually issued an order to cease construction because it was going to cause damage to the Old City’s ancient walls. This is also shows how social factors are also a danger to this world heritage site, because construction began as revenge towards Palestinians who the Jewish group accused of murdering a Jewish student.

The Western Wall, built in 19 BCE. Image Source: photo by author

The Western Wall, built in 19 BCE. Image Source: photo by author

A recent example are construction plans to upgrade a prayer area at Robinson’s arch on the Western Wall to convert it from an archaeological site to a religious one, which archaeologists say could destroy that section of the wall as well as cover up stones that fell from the wall when the Romans destroyed the Temple Mount, which is an important part of the history of the Wall and the Temple.


The Old City of Jerusalem is also endangered, largely because issues of social cohesion. While there is not an ongoing war in this location, there is still conflict between different religious groups. During Jewish holy holidays such as Passover, extra security has been added out of fear of attack on Jews in the Old City. There has also been vandalism within the city against Christians.

Graffitied Church in the Old City. Image Source: photo by author

Graffitied Church in the Old City. Image Source: photo by author

Endangering Factors

The Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount (founded in 2002) is politically and nationally neutral group comprised of archaeologists, scholars, and other intellectuals. Based on their assessment of destructive excavations of the Old City, they put forth a proposal to prevent further damage. This list included stopping construction, illegal excavations, increase supervision, etc.

Dr. Young and Dr. Newson of the Hosn Niha Project have studied the archaeological site of Hosn Niha in the central Biqa’ Valley of Lebanon that has been destroyed by conflict. They say it is valuable to learn more about the initial development of these sites. Formal archaeological investigation can also help efforts to rebuild damaged areas. Although conflict in this area is more severe than in the Old City of Jerusalem, this perspecitve and these techniques could be valuable here as well.

-The Old City. Image Source: photo by author                                                                                                               -The Old City. Image Source: photo by author

Insight into Global Issues

Studying urbanism and its effects on archaeological sites gives more information about the impact of urban development as a whole. Modern urbanism has a number of effects psychologcially (such as by causing stress related health issues) and environmentally (affecting the natural planet and sustainability), as well as in other domains. Understanding urbanism’s impact on archaeological sites further supports how development and construction affects the world.

Conflict and its effects on archaeological sites is important as part of a broader understanding of identity and nationalism, which Sabloff argues is an important theme in archaeology as groups use the past to construct their identity. Another book by Misselwitz and Rieniets describes how over the years conflict and vandalism of the Old City have targeted different religious groups in an attempt to undermine their connections to the ancient city. This continues to be particularly relevant as different people continue to claim the right to control the city over other groups. This issue was highlighted in a recent UNESCO vote which people argue ignores Christian and Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, sparking immense outrage.

The Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem. Image Source: photo by author

The Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem. Image Source: photo by author


Abrams, Mitch.
1999  Israelis, Palestinians clash over construction in Old City. Electronic document, http://www.jta.org/1999/02/12/life-religion/features/israelis-palestinians-clash-over-construction-in-old-city, accessed December 5, 2016

2016  Christian holy site in Jerusalem vandalized. Electronic document http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/christian-holy-site-jerusalem-vandalised 160117113938060.html, accessed December 2, 2016

Asasf Romirowsky, Alexander.
2016  Why UNESCO Shouldn’t Treat Jerusalem as a Weapon. Electronic document, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-unesco-shouldnt-treat-jerusalem-weapon-18306, accessed December 5, 2016

BBC News
2014  What makes Jerusalem so holy? Electronic document, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26934435, accessed December 4, 2016.

Eisenbud, David.
2016  Prominent archaeologists claim Western Wall construction will cause irreparable damage. Electronic document, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Prominent-archaeologist-claims-Western-Wall-construction-will-cause-irreparable-damage-443604, accessed December 4, 2016

Harel, Amos.
2016  As Passover begins, threats to Israel are both short and long term. Electronic Document, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.716069, accessed December 4, 2016

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
2002  The Destruction of the Temple Mount Antiquities. Electronic Document, http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp483.htm, accessed December 4, 2016

Misselwitz, Phillip. and Tim Rieniets
2006  City of collision: Jerusalem and the principles of conflict urbanism. Birkhauser, Basel

Newman, Peter.
2006  The environmental impact of cities. Electronic Document, http://eau.sagepub.com/content/18/2/275.short?rss=1&ssource=mfr, accessed December 5, 2016

Sabloff, Jeremy
2016   Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World. Routledge, New York.

2016  Statement by the Director- General. Electronic document, http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1568, accessed November 8, 2016.

2016  State of conservation- Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls. Electronic document, http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/3342, accessed November 8, 2016

2004  The Criteria for Selection. Electronic document, http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/, accessed November 8, 2016.

University of Leicester
2015  Heritage destruction in conflict zones provides archaeological opportunities. Electronic document, http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2015/may/heritage-destruction-in-conflict-zones-provides-archaeological-opportunities, accessed December 4, 2016

Wei, Marlynn
2014  Health effects of stress in the city. Electronic document, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/urban-survival/201412/health-effects-stress-in-the-city, accessed December 5, 2016


8 thoughts on Old City of Jerusalem

  1. Loved the site! Really cool information on how conflict in the area is occurring between the different religions and how that is affecting your site. One thing you might want to check on is making sure that your pictures are connected to links either in a custom URL for the image itself or within the caption of the picture, and that your hyperlinks are active in your bibliography.

  2. Coming from a religious background, I found reading about this site quite interesting! I actually was not aware that Jerusalem is also an important area for Muslims. I thought it was interesting how there is a conflict between archaeologists and other people about the renovations to a sacred prayer area that some people would like to be completed. I think this goes to show that not everyone is appreciative of the past as a source of cultural enlightenment. This is why I feel as though it is important that archaeologists communicate better with the general public about their discoveries and why such discoveries should be preserved and undeveloped.

  3. I’m currently taking a class on Israeli society, so it was interesting to see Jerusalem in a different light in terms of its archaeology. We also never really talked about Jerusalem’s importance to Islam, specifically the Dome of the Rock. In your research did you come across anything on the UN’s decision saying that the Dome of the Rock doesn’t have ties to Judaism? It seems like a controversial ruling that might put Jerusalem’s cultural heritage at risk in one way or another.

    1. Yes I did, the online article that I linked from the UNESCO director-general was in response to that, and I also agree that it might increase the risk of cultural heritage damage since the damage that has already been done was largely in response to social conflict.

  4. Awesome site! I love how you incorporated pictures that you took yourself. I also did not know that the city was the center for 3 major religions. I was wondering if there is a lot of looting in the city or if it is protected pretty well.

    1. I did not find a lot of information about looting, however one of the risks that UNESCO lists in documents on the Old City is the danger of illegal excavations, so perhaps looting falls under that.

  5. I really enjoyed this site! I was wondering if while you were in the area if you personally saw any conflict among people of different religious beliefs?

    1. I did not, but I went with a program called Birthright, and they have a lot of security precautions and among them is not taking us to dangerous areas where there might be conflict. I think the tunnel that goes from the entrance to the Western Wall to the Dome of the Rock also helps reduce conflict by preventing Jews and Muslims from interacting.

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