The Jewish Quarter is special because it stands on the site of the original city from the time of the 2nd temple. No other part of Jerusalem can make that claim. Looking at Jerusalem from above ground one would think that only Christians and Muslims lived there because there are churches and mosques surrounding the Jewish quarter, yet the archaeological discoveries prove otherwise. The Jews have always been the majority of the population of the Old City.
Archaeological excavations done since the 6-Day War in 1967 brought forth homes, walls, water cisterns and streets from those early days. No matter how loudly the bells ring out or the muezzin calls, nothing can change this fact.
Believe it or not, when Jews didn’t live in Jerusalem, nobody lived here. Jerusalem lay deserted for hundreds of years before Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of Turkey, built a wall around Jerusalem, which made Jews feel that it was safe to live here. Within about 3 years after the
wall was completed in 1538, the population of the city tripled. Everyone wanted to live here because the Jews had chosen to live here.
Most of these Jews came from Spain, after the expulsion of the Jews and from Istanbul. This was not the first time the Jewish Quarter grew very swiftly. It had also grown quickly in the 13th century when Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides) came to Jerusalem in 1265, also from Spain. That was after the Mongol invasion had destroyed the city and the Mamluk Arabs began to rebuild it and encouraged Jews to live here. That was also the time when the Jewish cemetery on the Mt. of Olives was consecrated. It is still used today by the Jewish community of Jerusalem.
Glancing at the Old City, one may assume the Jews just entered it within the past 100 years, but we know differently. Jews have thousands of years of history here, but a lot of it is hidden underground. Muslims built on top of Jewish homes and buildings in order to convince themselves and everyone else that the Jews never lived here, but there is no way to deny the archaeology from 2000 years ago.
The reason why Christians saw Jerusalem as their holy city wasn’t because it was the city where Jesus lived, but rather, being destroyed, it was proof to them that Jesus was the Messiah. He had prophesied on the Mt. of Olives that Jerusalem would be destroyed and now the prophecy was fulfilled (Matthew 23:36-39, Luke 23:28).
The site of the original city from the time of the 2nd temple is at Mt. Zion, where David’s Tomb is, the City of David and where the Jewish Quarter stands today. The modern day area of the Christian Quarter is the site of a city built by Hadrian in 132 CE and was known as Aelia Capitolina, a Pagan city built to commemorate the victory of Jupiter over the Jewish God.
The fact that Aelia Capitolina stood in all its glory and Jerusalem lay in ruins was considered by the Pagan Romans, the Christians and later the Moslems as proof that God had rejected the Jewish People and had chosen another nation instead of them.
The Roman emperor Constantine the Great built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and it forms the center of the Christian Quarter. Originally this was a beautiful Roman temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Roman goddess of love. The Romans must have thought the Jews very strange because they hated Aphrodite. Naturally they didn’t hate Aphrodite because she wasn’t appealing or attractive, but she simply contravened the first 3 of the 10 commandments (to worship only God, not to have any other gods and not to make any graven images). Constantine built the church of Jesus in place of Aphrodite’s temple in the hope that the Jews would prefer to worship Jesus rather than Aphrodite. After all, he was Jewish.
Beit She’an lies at a strategic point at the entrance to the Jezreel Valley – the natural passageway from Transjordan to the Mediterranean Sea – and close to the major highway known as the Way of the Sea, which ran from south to north. The city is first mentioned in Egyptian documents 3,900 years ago. Until the thirteenth century BCE the city was called Scythopolis, in honor of the Scythian cavalrymen who served in the Ptolemaic army, and this name was preserved in the ensuing eras. Under Roman rule, Beit She’an became an independent city, part of an alliance of ten cities (the Decapolis).
View the main street (cardo) of Beit She’an as it was in the 4th century CE. The columned road linked the theater to the foot of the mound where the first city was raised.
Revolt against Rome in 66 CE – Jewish zealots attacked the city, but its Jewish inhabitants preferred to fight them alongside the gentiles. However, the non-Jewish citizens did not trust their neighbors, and cruelly slaughtered the Jews.
Beit She’an reached the heights of its development during the Byzantine period (fourth-seventh centuries CE) and most of the remains we see today are from this time. The city extended over a large area on both sides of the Harod River, and when Christianity became the state religion (fourth century) Beit She’an turned into an administrative and religious center. In opposing the Muslim conquest in the seventh century.
The Cardo (main street), seen in the picture above, led from the Roman theater to the central streets of Beit She’an. It was some 180 meters long, and was called the Palladius street, because of the inscription found there stating that the street’s portico was built by the bishop Palladius, apparently in the fourth century CE.
The portico underwent thorough renovations in the sixth century. The street is over 7 meters wide, with a deep drainage channel in its center. The vault above the channel is characterized by its unique paving pattern.
The installations, such as shops on each side of the street were raised very high – up to 280 cm – and were covered with mosaics. This installations were separated from the street by the portico, which supported the roof that stretched along the entire length of the street and protected the facades of the shops.
In the sixth century, changes were made in the street; some of the shops were knocked down to make room for the construction of a semicircular patio, surrounded by rooms with mosaic floors.
In one of the rooms, a mosaic was found describing Tyche, the goddess of the city. In the Muslim period, water cisterns and various structures were installed above the street. Only ten shops have been excavated so far. There has been widespread pillage of stones in the area, and few remnants are to be found along the street.