Jerusalem (῾Ιεροσόλυμα), the present Old City, lies near the summit of the Judaean Hills on a pair of rocky spurs sloping south toward the junction of two valleys, the Hinnom (Gehenna) to the west and south and the Kidron (Valley of Jehosophat) to the east. The eastern spur includes the ancient Temple Mount, now the Ḥaram al-Sharīf. The broader and higher western spur, in antiquity nearly bisected by a transverse valley, terminates in Mt. Sion (Zion), towering above the Hinnom Valley.
In the late Roman period Jerusalem retained the plan and the name of Aelia Capitolina, a Roman colony founded by Hadrian between 130 and 135. On the existing street grid Hadrian had imposed two monumental colonnaded streets, one leading south from the main north gate (the present Damascus gate) along the western spur, and the other descending the Tyropoean Valley between the two spurs. The Temple Mount lay in ruins, and Aelia’s principal temple, to Capitoline Jupiter, dominated the city from the higher western spur, adjacent to the colonnaded street. To the south of the temple opened the city’s forum, part of it over the transverse valley, which Hadrian had filled in to provide the needed space. Another major street, perhaps not colonnaded, extended from the main west gate (now the Jaffa gate) east across the western spur and the Tyropoean Valley to the Temple Mount.
Roman Aelia’s small Christian community had venerated caves in Bethlehem 9 km to the south, and at Gethsemane and on the Mount of Olives just east of the city. Outside the walls stood a house church and a small suburban community on Mt. Sion. The Christians played no role in the city, of which the empire’s Christians were scarcely aware.
This changed dramatically in 326 when, according to tradition, Helena reached Jerusalem. The year before, Bp. Makarios of Jerusalem had secured permission from Constantine I at the Council of Nicaea to destroy the Capitoline temple. While removing the foundations, in Helena’s presence, workmen uncovered an empty tomb which was identified as that of Christ. A rock nearby was taken to be Golgotha. This discovery created a sensation among Christians and quickly stimulated pilgrimage from as far away as the western provinces. Constantine ordered a basilica (which became the city’s episcopal see) constructed just to the east of the tomb.
Retaining its Roman plan, Aelia now became a Christian city and, in common parlance, was once again called Jerusalem or “the Holy City.” An outpouring of public and private wealth gave the city’s topography a Christian appearance. Besides the complex surrounding the Holy Sepulchre, Constantine built the Eleona church on the Mount of Olives and a great basilica in Bethlehem. By the end of the 4th C. the Roman noblewoman Poimenia had financed the Ascension Church (Imbomon) near the Eleona, and unknown benefactors the Church of the Apostles on Mt. Sion and a church in Gethsemane. Bishops such as Cyril of Jerusalem became the most powerful men in the city.
Constantine enforced Hadrian’s edict excluding Jews from Jerusalem but permitted them entrance to mourn the destruction of the Temple—in Christian eyes salutary proof of Christianity’s triumph. With similar symbolism but opposite intentions, Julian the Apostate lifted the Hadrianic ban and resolved to rebuild the Jewish Temple. Work began in 362/3 but was soon suspended. Christian pilgrims to the Temple Mount were shown the bloodstains of Zacharias there (Protoevangelion of James 23.2–3) as well as the standing Herodian retaining walls (of considerable height) and the various underground chambers said to belong to Solomon’s palace.
By the end of the 4th C., virtually the entire pagan population had embraced the victorious faith. By 381–84, when Egeria visited Jerusalem, asceticism had struck root, and monks and consecrated virgins, many from abroad, formed an important part of the populace. Mainly Western ascetic communities existed on the Mount of Olives by 375, and a decade later St. Jerome and his protégé Paula founded rival monasteries in Bethlehem. Immigrant ascetics like Melania the Younger helped the city’s economy with generous endowments to churches, monasteries, and xenodocheia.
Like Palestine as a whole, Jerusalem profited from traffic in relics. Rich in ordinary “blessings” (see eulogia), Jerusalem also possessed the wood of the True Cross; bits of it, acquired for a price, or stolen, or given as presents, soon made their way across Christendom. Similarly, Bp. John II of Jerusalem took control of the relics of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, which came to light in 415. In 420 or 421 John’s successor dispatched Stephen’s right arm to Constantinople, in return for which Theodosios II sent money to Jerusalem and dedicated a gem-encrusted cross on Golgotha.
Melania influenced Athenais-eudokia, consort of Theodosios, who first came to Jerusalem on pilgrimage in 438/9 and then, exiled from the court, settled permanently (ca.443–60). Eudokia endowed monasteries, founded hostels for pilgrims and the poor, and built churches to the Virgin at Siloam—on the south flank of Jerusalem’s eastern spur—and perhaps at the Sheep Pool, the latter commemorating Mary’s birth. Eudokia’s Basilica of St. Stephen, north of the city, remained the largest church for a century. Above all, the exiled empress built a new fortification wall whose defensive perimeter finally incorporated Mt. Sion and the southern suburbs as far as Siloam. In the mid-5th C., Jerusalem reached a pinnacle of population and wealth unequaled since the Herodian period. Despite this, Caesarea Maritima held primacy among the sees of Palestine until 451, when Bp. Juvenal of Jerusalem secured the patriarchate (see Jerusalem, Patriarchate of).
After Constantine and Eudokia, Justinian I ranks as Jerusalem’s third imperial benefactor. He built the Nea Ekklesia of Mary Theotokos, the city’s largest church, and extended the main colonnaded street south to its west façade. This completed the urban plan of Jerusalem as depicted on the Madaba mosaic map.
In 614 the Persians besieged and captured Jerusalem with heavy destruction and loss of life, gave the city over to the Jews, and carried off the True Cross (Expugnationis Hierosolymae ad 614 recensiones arabicae, ed. G. Garitte, 2 vols. [Louvain 1974]). Herakleios forced the Persians to withdraw; the return of the city’s talisman is variously dated to 629, 630, and 631 (V. Grumel suggests 21 March 631 [ByzF 1 (1966) 139–49]); within the decade, however, Jerusalem fell to the Arabs. About March 638, after a long siege, Patr. Sophronios surrendered Jerusalem to the Caliph ʿUmar, who refrained from praying at the Lord’s Tomb and thus preserved the site for Christianity. The Muslims, who likewise called Jerusalem “the Holy City” (al-Quds), built their shrines, the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqṣa Mosque, on the Temple Mount. Christian pilgrimage continued on a smaller scale. In 1009 the mad Fāṭimid caliph al-Ḥākim leveled the Holy Sepulchre, but Constantine IX soon restored it (R. Ousterhout, JSAH 48  66–78).
The Crusaders entered Jerusalem in 1099 and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem (see Jerusalem, Kingdom of). Europeans ruled the city from 1099 to 1187 and from 1229 to 1243, gave the Church of the Holy Sepulchre its present form and built the Gothic Church of St. Anne. They turned the Dome of the Rock temporarily into a church, the Templum Domini, and the knightly Order of Templars established itself in al-Aqṣa. Despite subsequent rebuilding, the Old City today retains the urban plan of the Roman and Byz. periods.
In art, biblical exegesis, and theology a celestial Jerusalem paralleled and sometimes reflected the terrestrial city. Conforming to biblical prophecies about Jerusalem, this conception became an archetype of the human soul, of the Christian church, and of individual church buildings. It provided an image of paradise, as in Revelations 21–22 and the 10th-C. vision of the Monk Kosmas (Synax.CP 111–14), where the heavenly city with golden streets and a palace could equally be Constantinople, sometimes called by the Byz. the New Jerusalem.
In addition to the Holy Sepulchre, six sites in Jerusalem were of special interest to pilgrims.
1.The House of Caiaphas, where part of Jesus’ trial took place and Peter denied him (Mt 26:57–75), was east of Mt. Sion. Peter’s repentance (Mt 26:75) was remembered there in the early stational liturgy of Holy Thursday. By the 6th C. at the latest, a church of St. Peter replaced “ruins” of at least the house and continued to be a focus of interest through the Latin Kingdom.
2.The Garden of Gethsemane, just east of the city, was the site where Jesus prayed (Mk 14:32–42) and was betrayed by Judas (Mk 14:43–50). Early pilgrims used Gethsemane as a place of prayer. By the late 4th C. a church was built there; probably the earthquake of 746 destroyed it. Sources refer to a rock or a cave of the betrayal. The Breviarius, Patr. Eutychios of Constantinople, and the Piacenza Pilgrim held that Jesus had a supper at Gethsemane; Eutychios distinguishes this “first supper” from the “second” meal at Bethany (Jn 12:2) and the “third,” that is, the Last Supper (see Lord’s Supper). A certain Theodosius set the Washing of the Feet at Gethsemane, which was also identified with the tomb of the Virgin’s Dormition.
3.The Praetorium, or residence of Pontius Pilate (Mk 15:16), was in fact in the area of the Tower of David, but the place pointed out to Byz. pilgrims was in the Tyropoean Valley. A church existed there from the mid-5th C., decorated perhaps with murals depicting the narrative of Mark 15:16–20. From the 6th C., pilgrims were shown the stone (with footprints) upon which Christ stood during his trial, Pilate’s seat, and a portrait of Christ.
4.The Sheep Pool (pool of Bethesda, John 5:2) was located near the east gate of the city. Excavations have shown that the site was originally a pagan healing shrine; porticoes enclosed its two pools during the Roman period. By the mid-5th C. a “Church of the Sheep Pool” was on the spot, with a courtyard overhanging the pools. It was the locus sanctus not only of the healing of the paralytic (and preserved his couch), but also of the birth of the Virgin.
5.Siloam was a pool on the south side of the city where Jesus sent the blind man to wash and be healed (John 9:7). A traditional healing shrine, it was enclosed by a square colonnade in Roman times, and, in the 5th C., marked by a church that attracted the sick ( Piacenza Pilgrim, Travels 24) seeking the eulogia of the waters. Remains of both stages have been found by excavation.
6.The Tower of David, on the site of the present Citadel, is portrayed on the Madaba mosaic map as two towers to the right of the west entrance to the city. The name was applied generally to the originally three-towered fortress built there by Herod the Great, where Byz. pilgrims believed David had composed or recited the Psalms.