Chronicles of the Cardo

The final report on the Jewish excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem is an open window for all those interested in the capital’s archeology and history.

The Cardo 521 (photo credit:
The Cardo 521
(photo credit:
Israeli archeologists restored the Cardo, one of the most interesting quarters of Byzantine Jerusalem, today a thriving merchant and tourist center of the Old City. They also conducted thorough archeological research of the remains of the Church of Nea, built by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, which was completely destroyed 300 years later. These were two tremendous achievements, a great archeological and architectural reconstruction effort that demanded knowledge, persistence and rich imagination.
From 1969 to 1982, Prof. Nahman Avigad (1905-1992) directed the large-scale excavations in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The excavations yielded an abundance of architectural remains and a variety of small finds extending from the settlement of the First Temple to modern times. The first four published volumes of his research, conducted during these years, dealt with ancient fortifications, part of the northern section of the First Wall that protected the Southern Hill of Jerusalem during the First and Second Temple periods, and luxurious residences in the Upper City of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, including the Palatial Mansion.
The fifth and final volume, edited by Oren Gutfeld, conducts an extensive study of the architectural and artifact remains of two huge Byzantine complexes – the Cardo, the impressive, long and wide colonnaded street that served as the main south-north thoroughfare of the city and of the Nea Church, which was in the sixth century one of the largest and most important churches of the Byzantine world.
The present volume covers a thorough study on a wide variety of subjects and archeological finds from both the Cardo and Nea. Hundreds of photographs, both black and white and color, show both locations from various angles. Included in the study are subjects such as pottery, inscriptions, coins, stamps, stamped roof tiles, shells, stamp impressions of Legio X Fretensis, glass objects, metal and stone artifacts and game boards, which were popular in the Roman and Byzantine world.
The maps, diagrams and stratigraphic deductions tell us the story of each successive stratum, period, date and major finds of a particular area, ranging from the bedrock and Iron II age, up to the street pavements of the successive Crusader, Mameluke and Ottoman periods.
In the restoration of the Cardo to its present form particular care was given to preserving as much as possible of the quarter’s antiquity. A great effort was made to restore the columns that gave the Cardo its character. The discoveries were skillfully incorporated into the present- day workshops and residential areas spread along the route, restoring the quarter to its sixth-century glory.
THE CHURCH of Nea, measuring 146 meters long and 57.8 meters wide, was built by Emperor Justinian in the years 527-565 CE to balance the impact of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, possibly along the lines of Solomon’s Temple, as described in the Bible. This concept was highlighted on the Madaba Byzantine Map of the Holy Land, where it is depicted on the eastern side of Jerusalem, as a counterweight to the Holy Sepulchre, which is in the western part of the quarter.
Thus Justinian attempted to compare himself to Constantine the Great.
But due to the construction’s large size, the ceiling was supported by comparatively weak wooden columns, which might have contributed to the building’s ultimate destruction. The church was damaged during the Persian invasion of 614, but partly restored. It suffered heavily again in the earthquake of 846.
According to the Karaite writer Daniel al-Kurnisi, who lived in the ninth century, Muslims had, following their conquest of Jerusalem, removed three Christian symbols from the city – the cross, the bell and a church, which he had named “Al Nea.”
The final report on the Jewish excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem presents the public with a superb publication, a great achievement of the Israel Exploration Society. It is both a resumé of a successful scientific study and an open window for all those interested in Jerusalem’s archeology and history.