Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies
Bar-Ilan University Ramat-Gan, Israel

Jerusalem: Life Throughout the Ages in a Holy City

Internet Educational Activities <>
March 1997
David Eisenstadt    9/12

Jerusalem in the Crusader Period

In 1095 Pope Urban II called on Latin Christendom to rescue Jerusalem and the Holy Land from its infidel rulers. This was to lead to masses of people to set out across Europe on a series of barbaric military campaigns known as the Crusades.

The Crusaders first saw Jerusalem from the summit of Nebi Samuel, 9 kilometers west of the city, on the morning of 7 June 1099. Raymond d'Aguilers wrote that they fell to the ground and wept in joy.

The Crusader Conquest of Jerusalem 1099 or Don't go anywhere without a ladder!

Within the city a large Fatimid Egyptian force was awaiting their approach. The Egyptian army was well trained and had carefully stocked the city with arms and provisions in anticipation of a protracted siege. Jerusalem's most topographically vulnerable northern fortifications were strengthened. In the surrounding countryside the defending Moslem army had poisoned cisterns and conducted a scorched earth policy in order to deny the advancing Crusaders vital supplies. In order to avoid possible betrayal from within The city's Fatimid rulers expelled its Christian population prior to the Crusaders' arrival.

The Crusaders came with an even more formidable force of 40,000 men. Surveying the city's topography, they realized that the deep gorges to the east, south, making the northern wall the only feasible angle of attack. In preparation for their attack sectors of the wall were divided between the various armies within the Crusader force: The Flemish army was to assault St. Stephen's (today Damascus) Gate; the Provencal army was assigned to the citadel; and Tancred was to attack at Goliath's Tower (northwest corner). Five days after arriving at Nebi Samuel, they launched a head on assault against the city's northern fortifications. Fanatical enthusiasm propelled the Crusaders forward despite heavy losses against boiling oil, but ultimately they were forced to retreat because of equipment problems; they had only one ladder - not quite the way to capture a walled city.

The Crusaders found themselves poorly prepared to besiege the city. Jerusalem's defenders had devastated the surrounding region, even poisoning water sources so that the Crusaders be unable to conduct a protracted siege. This included burning forests to deny them lumber for making war machines necessary for attacking a walled city. This set back was short-term. A Genovese fleet arrived in Jaffa and a Crusader delegation persuaded them to break up their ships in order to supply the essential material for prosecuting the siege. The Genovese ships' carpenters fashioned three mobile armor plated towers with drawbridge-like ramps.

On 14 July 1099 a three pronged assault, using the towers was launched against Jerusalem. Towers were directed to Goliath's Tower, Mount Zion and the northeast corner of the city wall. After two days of intense fighting the Crusaders successfully mounted Jerusalem's northeastern and northwestern towers. As the knights filed over the towers the city's defenses collapsed and the Egyptian soldiers sought refuge on the Temple Mount and in the citadel. The Moslem soldiers in the citadel surrendered in return for safe passage to Ashkelon. They were the only people to escape Jerusalem alive.

Massacre of Jews and Moslems

The Crusaders savagely murdered the Jewish and Moslem inhabitants of Jerusalem. The dimensions of the massacre were so horrific that 'rivers of blood' flowed through the streets and even covered the horses hooves. William of Tyre described the victorious Crusaders 'dripping with blood from head to foot, an ominous sight which bought terror to all who met them'. The Jewish community was locked in the central synagogue and burnt alive. The few thousand survivors, out of a population of 40,000, were sold as slaves at the city gates. When they finished murdering thousands of innocent people the Crusaders gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to give thanks.

The conquest of the city completed, the Crusaders selected Godrey de Bouillon as the city's ruler. He received the title 'Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre' and established Jerusalem as the capital of the country - 'The Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem'. This was the first time in over one thousand years that Jerusalem functioned as the country's capital. The city underwent several major transformations as a result of the conquest, especially in terms of population, major edifices and economy, in addition to the change in political leadership.

The Population of Crusader Jerusalem

Initially the city suffered from major depopulation. Its Jewish and Moslem residents, who had accounted for most of the city's populace on the eve of the Crusader invasion, were murdered or sold into slavery. Following the massacre a decree was issued forbidding Jews and Moslems to reside in Jerusalem. While the Crusader army numbered, according to Benvenisti 40,000 people very few actually settled in Jerusalem after its conquest. In fact the city's new, mostly European residents were unable to fill a single quarter and concentrated their settlement around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the citadel. Recognizing this problem the city's rulers issued a series of financial incentives in order to attract new residents.

As new residents arrived in Jerusalem the city began to develop ethnic spatial divisions. Assyrian Christians settled in the area of the former Jewish Quarter (then the northeast corner of the city) which retained the name Juiverie. The majority of the city's other residence were Europeans, mostly French, which also served as the official language. As a result several neighborhoods developed as linguistic enclaves: The area between the Temple Mount and Mt. Zion was settled by German speaking knights of the Hospitaller Order (later Teutonic). A Spanish neighborhood developed near today's Damascus Gate. There was a Provencal enclave near Zion Gate. The Hungarians established a hospice north of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In addition to these West European enclaves, there were several settlements of Eastern Christians. The Armenians formed a neighborhood of their own around the Church of St. James (still there today and part of the current Armenian Quarter). There was a considerable Coptic settlement in the northeastern corner of the city. The Greek Orthodox community was located mostly opposite the citadel, after most of its churches were confiscated by their Latin rivals. The Georgian community was concentrated around the Monastery of the Cross, several kilometers west of the city.

Walls and Gates

The walls of Jerusalem survived the Crusader invasion with relatively little damage and deviate only slightly from the lines of the contemporary Old City's Turkish walls. Their own experience in capturing the city led the Crusaders to bolster its northern fortifications, as well as those on Mt. Zion. Deeper fosses were hewn in these sections to compensate for topographic weaknesses. Jerusalem's walls underwent large scale repair work on two occasions during the Crusader period, in 1116 and again in 1177.

The Citadel remained the city's primary bastion. It was expanded southwards and separated from the rest of the city by a deep moat. The military/political value of this structure was so great that it became the object of contention between various Crusader factions and place of refuge for Jerusalem's population in times of distress. Adjoining the Citadel to the south was the royal palace of the Crusader kings.

St. Stephen's Gate (Damascus Gate today) and David's (Jaffa) Gate, next to the Citadel, were the city's main entrances. There were three gates in the southern wall: The Zion Gate at the southern end of Jerusalem's main thoroughfare and just east of the present day gate bearing the same name was the most important of the three.. The Beaucare Gate, close to the city's southwest corner, was named for the Provencal Crusaders who penetrated the ramparts nearby. The third gate in the south wall was called the Tanner's Gate and was named such because of its proximity to local tanneries. It was close to today's Dung Gate and its archaeological remains may have been discovered just two years ago. (It is uncertain whether these latter two were 'full-fledged' gates or mere posterns.) The eastern wall had two gates: The Jehosaphat Gate (today Lion's Gate) opened onto the Valley of Jehosaphat. This gate also led into the city's main east-west thoroughfare. The Golden Gate on Temple Mount was opened only once a year for the benefit of a religious procession. In addition to these gates, there were several posterns (private or minor gates) around the city, including one at the southern end of the Temple Mount and another at the royal palace in the west. In the north was the Postern of St. Lazarus, named after the adjoining Leper's Quarter - the Order of the Lepers of St. Lazarus.

Economic Life and Markets

Improved security restored the rural population of the surrounding region and with it Jerusalem's agricultural backbone. Increased pilgrim traffic greatly improved the local economy, which became dependent on providing goods and services to visitors. Economic life was further bolstered by a wave of construction, especially of churches and monasteries. Jerusalem's rulers tried to attract important maritime communes to the city with grants of special privileges. These attempts proved unsuccessful as the merchants of Pisa, Venice, Genoa and Marseilles were only interested in cities on the great international trade routes.

Jerusalem's markets were, primarily, divided specialty. The city's central marketplace consisted of three parallel covered streets, largely intact to this day (Suq el Attarim, Suq el Lakhamin and Suq el Bikurim). The central street was known as Malcuisinat specialized in boiled meats and roasts. This market was constructed by Queen Milicent in 1152. Some of the arches in this street still bear inscriptions denoting ownership in the Crusader period: The initials SA means the Church of St. Anna; T is for Templar. Its merchants were a mixture of Assyrians and Franks. On the parallel 'Covered Street' (east) were mostly Latin textile merchants, while the western of the three streets - the Spice Market - was a fresh food market. On either end of these streets were money changers; the Assyrian exchange to the north and Latins exchange to south. There were several wholesale markets in the city: East of David's (Jaffa) Gate was a grain market and adjacent to it (north), perish the thought, a pig market. On David Street (Suq El Bazaar) was a large covered poultry market (today a vegetable market). The cattle market was concentrated on the southeastern corner of the city, as were the allied professions of butchers and tanners. Hence the name of the nearby Tanners' Gate.


Jerusalem's importance as a pilgrimage center for the entire Christian world led to the establishment of numerous churches, especially on sites which became associated with events in the life of Jesus, Mary or other figures from the New Testament. The most important of these churches developed a geographic pattern associated with events in the last week of Jesus' life. This pattern of distribution extended from El Azariya (Bethany) in the southeast to the crest of the Mount of Olives; then descended the western slope and traversed the Kidron Valley and entered the city through the Jehosaphat's (Lion's) Gate. From this point it wound its way west along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In fact the 'present' route of the Via Dolorosa dates to this period. Most of the Crusader churches were built on the ruins of earlier Byzantine churches and monasteries.

Two particularly fine examples of Crusader buildins are the Romanesque Tomb of the Virgin Mary, in the Kidron Valley, and the the Church of St. Anne, near Lion's Gate. In the former are the tombs of several Crusader kings includung Queen Milicent. Both churches are accessible and open to the general public.

The most religiously important Crusader church was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and most of the present structure dates to this period. Here Crusader architects sought to restore several badly damaged Byzantine churches and include within a single unified structure. These demands produced a massive building, which lacks architectural clarity and harmony. The building was completed in 1149.

Military Orders

An important feature of the social and political organization of Crusader Jerusalem were 'military orders'. These were monastic (or semi-monastic) orders of knights, which formed small colonies or neighborhoods within the city. Beyond their military roles, each of these orders devoted itself to another area of specialization, the most prominent being caring for the sick. The largest of these orders was the Hospitallers, who created an extensive network of buildings including a large hospital, living quarters for medical staff, a pharmacy and several churches. The Teutonic Knights were a small 'break-away' order from the Hospitallers. They specialized in providing medical care for German speaking pilgrims (the Hospitallers were a French-speaking order and German patients suffered as a result of communication problems). The ruins of their church and hospice today serves as an archeological in the Jewish Quarter, adjacent to the steps which lead to the Western Wall.The Order of St. Lazarus specialized in caring for Lepers, while the the Templars with their center on the Temple Mount protected pilgrims travelling to various holy sites.

Jews in Crusader Jerusalem

The Crusaders forbid Jews and Moslems to live in Jerusalem, claiming it defiled the sanctity of the city. In the 12th century Rabbi Benjamin of Tudella visited the city and reported that there were three Jewish residents, who worked as dyers. A Jewish community, however, was not renewed until the early Mamluke period, circa 1270.
[prev.] [index] [next]