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

Jerusalem: Life Throughout the Ages in a Holy City

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17 Feb. 1997

At first glance it seems surprising that the site chosen by the Jebusites for their city was the lowest of the hills in the immediate vicinity. But the effective range of arrows, the main weapon at the time, was only fifty meters; enemies could look down into the city from the surrounding peaks but could not shoot into it.

The valleys around Jerusalem did provide some protection. The Kidron Valley was the most dominant geographical influence on the city. Starting north of the present Old City, it runs eastward below Mount Scopus between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount, and continues below the City of David (Jebusite Jerusalem). Its steep slope set Jerusalem's eastern limit. The city's southern flank was protected by the deep Hinnom Valley, which falls 20 meters along its three-km. course before joining the Kidron below the City of David. The Cheese Makers Valley (Tyropoeon Valley, as it was known in the days of the Second Temple) runs through the city, bisecting it from the Damascus Gate past the Western Wall to the Dung Gate before joining the Kidron Valley. In the days of David this two-km. valley dropped 150 meters. Today, most of it is filled up and barely detectable.

Jebusite Jerusalem was situated between the Cheese Makers Valley and the Kidron Valley. A second valley inside the city, the Transversal Valley, starts near the Jaffa Gate and meets the Cheese Makers Valley near the Western Wall plaza. Near its starting point is the Citadel Valley (the valley below David's Tower), which joins the Hinnom Valley to its south. Jerusalem's western walls followed these valleys in the late First Temple period. This was a weak point in the city's defenses. However, the expanded city's (Second Temple period) weakest point was on the north side, from Beth Zetha (St. Anne) Valley (west of the Rockefeller Museum, running through the Moslem Quarter). The City of David was surrounded by deep ravines but did not reach the summit of the hill on which it was situated. Still, it had some natural defense against battering rams or a frontal assault, though other hills might have provided greater security. In the final days of the kings of Judah (c. 600 B.C.E.) and again toward the end of the Second Temple period the city expanded to the secondary ring of hills, and was protected on most sides by valleys. The Temple Mount especially had strong natural fortifications, except for its northern side, as did the Upper City (today the area of the Jewish Quarter). Josephus (a first century Jewish historian) contended that had the Jews finished constructing a wall along the city's weak northern side, the Romans would never have succeeded in taking Jerusalem.

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