History of Jerusalem's Walls & Gates
Places of Interest
History of the Walls of Jerusalem
The First Walls Were Built by the Canaanites
Long before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the Jebusites lived securely within the walls of Jerusalem. The city was blessed with natural valleys around it that made it easy to defend. The city walls and its fortress provided additional protection.
David Conquered the Jebusite City and Enlarged the City Walls
God was with David and allowed him to capture Jerusalem from the Jebusites. Later, he built stronger and additional walls to fortify the city, and it would become known as the City of David.
2 Samuel 5:6–10: And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. 8 And David said on that day, “Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David's soul.” Therefore, it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” 9 And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.
Solomon Added to the Walls of the City
After David died, Solomon built the Temple Mount Platform on Mt. Moriah upon the threshing floor of Araunah. Then he erected the temple upon it and added walls from the City of David to encompass the Temple Mount and temple.
Hezekiah’s Broad Wall Expansion of the Western Hill
In 701 BC, the Assyrians, headed by Sennacherib invaded Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, because of their disobedience to God. According to an Assyrian stele found in the ruins of the royal palace of Nineveh, Sennacherib conquered 46 cities in Judea prior to attempting to conquer Jerusalem.
God allowed most of Judah to be conquered but protected Jerusalem because of Hezekiah’s obedience to Him. As Hezekiah began to prepare for what he knew would be a terrible siege by a merciless Assyrian war machine, he had to figure out how to protect his people. This meant building new defenses.
During the time of Hezekiah, Jerusalem’s urban population had grown far outside the old walls of the city and were unprotected. King Hezekiah fortified the existing walls of the city and built a new wall in a rapid manner to protect those living outside the city walls.
2 Chronicles 32:5: He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance.
Hezekiah’s new wall measured about 22 feet wide (7 m.) by 25 feet high (8 m.). It was a massive undertaking and measured around 2.5 miles (4 km.) in length.
A portion of the wall was discovered in the 1970s by Israeli archaeologist Nahman Avigad and dated to the reign of King Hezekiah (716–687 BC). It was called “Hezekiah’s Broad Wall” by archaeologists because of its width.
Hezekiah also built a water tunnel in order to keep the water from the Gihon Spring inside the city walls so the Assyrians couldn’t cut off the water supply (2 Chron. 32:3–4). The curving tunnel is 583 yards (533 m.) long and has a fall of 12 inches (30 cm.) between its two ends. It was chiseled from both ends to the middle at the same time. It took the water from the Gihon Spring under the mountain to the Pool of Siloam below the city. Today, this water tunnel is known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel.
Nehemiah Rebuilds the Walls
When the Babylonians conquered and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, they also destroyed the walls and burned the gates with fire. However, God sovereignly moved in the heart of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to allow Nehemiah to rebuild the walls. Under his leadership and with a small Jewish population, the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt to dimensions similar to Solomon’s day.
Nehemiah 1:1–3: Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire."
The rebuilding and repair of the wall was a miracle.
Nehemiah 6:15–16: So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
Hasmonean Wall Addition
The Jews gained their independence from the Seleucid Empire in 164 BC, led by the Maccabees and Hasmoneans. During this time, known as the Hasmonean period (164–63 BC), Jerusalem was rebuilt along with its walls. It was built to dimensions similar to King Hezekiah’s time.
King Herod Addition ~ Jerusalem of Jesus’ Day
In 19 BC, the master-builder, King Herod the Great, began his life's most ambitious building project. He undertook the rebuilding of the temple and the Temple Mount on a massive scale. He took the expansion of the Hasmonean Temple Mount and extended it on three sides, to the north, west, and south. This expansion also included some additional wall construction on the north side of the city walls. The archaeology of the Temple Mount today confirms this enlargement. It would be this city layout that would exist during the time of Christ.
Agrippa I Wall Addition
According to the Jewish historian Josephus, King Agrippa I (41–44 AD) began the construction of a third city wall of Jerusalem to protect a new quarter that grew north beyond the first and second city walls. Agrippa stopped work on the wall after only laying the foundation out of fear that Roman emperor Claudius would suspect he was planning a revolt. Jewish rebels later completed this wall in haste leading up to the First Jewish Revolt (66–70 AD). This would be the largest area the city walls would encompass.
The City Walls Today
In the 16th century, Suleiman decided to rebuild the city walls on much of the remains of the ancient walls that already existed. However, much of the southern part of the city walls were omitted in the new construction. They were completed in 1538 and are the walls that exist today.
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