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