The Armenian Quarter occupies the southwest corner
of the Old City. It covers
one-sixth of the area contained inside the ancient walls. It is believed
that between 35 and 25 B.C., the Jewish King, Herod built a fortress and his palace along the western wall of the Quarter
which at that time was called The Upper City ( Zion) since it was (
and now is ) relatively on higher ground than the other Quarters. After
the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70,
the area was occupied by the Tenth Roman ( Fretensis) Legion and became
a government center. In the beginning of the twentieth century this
western-most section of the Quarter was used as a cow pasture and to
this day it is called as such.
Some Christian historians believed the site of the
Armenian Quarter is also the Biblical Mount Zion, a name currently used
for the area- a parcel of land highly coveted by other nations and religions.
A short time after the destruction of Jerusalem, a small number of Jewish
Christians returned to the few houses that remained standing in the
Upper City. (At the time almost all Christians were of Jewish origin).
Since Christians were not legally recognized at the time, they were
driven out by future Roman emperors. There is no historical evidence
that Christians lived in the Upper City during the second and third
centuries; instead, they congregated outside the city.
One of the gates of the Old City along the southern
end of the Armenian Quarter is currently called Zion
Gate. It opens to a street outside the wall, currently called Hativat
Ezyioni (Zion Street). This street runs between the southern wall of
the city and the Armenian cemetery adjacent to St. Savior Armenian Convent
and the Biblical House of Caiaphas . Over the last three centuries this
large cemetery has been the burial place of many distinguished Patriarchs
of Jerusalem as well as the resting place of members of the community
and many pilgrims who met their reward while visiting the Holy Places.
The inscriptions on the old tombstones tell many poignant stories of
the nature of the people interred there. The centerpiece of the cemetery
is a monument erected in memory of the fallen heros of the Armenian
Legion in 1917. It also serves as a reminder of the Armenian victims
of the Turkish genocide in 1915.
The Armenian Quarter is a complex of several historical sites around
which Armenians congregated over the last millennium to form a homogeneous
entity housing a self-sustained community with its churches, schools,
public and social institutions, residences and historical monuments.
The compound consists of the St. James Armenian Convent and the adjacent
residential neighborhood located toward the center of the Old City.
The Armenian Quarter is reached through the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate
Road, a narrow, one-way street extending through the center of the Quarter
and ending at Zion Gate in the south. The main gate of St. James Convent
opens to this road which starts just below Jaffa Gate at the western
wall of the Old City. Just to the south of and adjacent to Jaffa Gate
a wide portion of the wall was demolished in 1896 to make way for vehicular
access. It is one of two major vehicular entrances into the Old City.
The other is located at the southeast corner of the
Old City to provide vehicular access to buses bringing
in Jewish devotees to the "Western
Wall" (Previously known as the "Wailing
Wall") located at the base of the Haram
El-Sharif [Temple Mount]. Immediately after capturing the Old City
in the 1967 war, the Israeli government
demolished a portion of the city wall at the southeast corner as well
as a row of ancient Arab houses opposite the Western wall to make room
for a large square and appropriate parking .
The Armenian Quarter is believed to have its beginning
in the fourth century A.D., when a small group of monks and pilgrims
settled in the area in order to be near the Upper Room, a building on
Mount Zion traditionally considered the gathering place of the early
Christians. The current St. James Cathedral is believed to be on this
site. The Armenian Quarter began to take shape just prior to the Crusader
period (1099-1187 A.D.) when Armenians settled in appreciable numbers
in the vicinity of St. James Cathedral ("The Jewel of Churches")
which historically is proven to exist at the time. The current configuration
of the cathedral comes to us as a result of renovations made during
the Crusader period. Some
current sanctuaries in the area are believed to pre-date the Crusaders.
The ages of some of the buildings date from different periods thereafter.
By the middle of the fifteenth century the Armenian Quarter is frequently
mentioned to be of existence. It developed to its current size during
the reign of the Ottoman Turks in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Unlike other Quarters in the Old City, the Armenian Quarter is well
preserved. The St. James Convent is a complex of several churches with
open spaces and gardens covered with a variety of greenery. The Patriarchate
building next door is an impressive structure consisting of the Patriarchs
residence, gold embossed throne room and several offices. Behind its
main gate, the convent contains priests quarters, a library building,
a museum, printing press, elementary and high schools and residences,
youth and social clubs and residential shelters for the poor and employees
of the Patriarchate. Currently the Theological Seminary is located outside
the convent across the street from the main gate.
The residential section adjoining the convent is accessed through narrow
cobblestone alleys and walkways carrying Armenian names (i.e. Ararat
Street) similar to those in the other quarters except that these alleys
are not as crowded and are well maintained. A guarded gate connects
this area to the St. Archangels Church at the south end, which is provided
to the faithful as a parish church where weddings, funeral services
and baptisms are performed.
During the 1948
Arab/Israeli war some members of the community took refuge within
the walls of the St. James Convent. Many others left the country for
the safety of countries around the world (Soviet Armenia, the U.S.,
South America, Europe, Australia etc.).Thus some of the residences were
forced to remain vacant becoming victims of vandalism. The greatest
damage was inflicted on the entire Quarter during the 1967 war between
Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan.
Having been caught in the middle, the entire Quarter was the victim
of bomb damage . The buildings housing the priests and the seminarians
were damaged by mortar shells lobbed by both combatants and had to be
completely evacuated. The major part of the residential section was
evacuated. Some were illegally appropriated by Jewish squatters. To
this day the Patriarchate is attempting to throw them out to no avail.
Some have been given long term leases since officially, most of the
residences belong to and are currently maintained by the Patriarchate.
The Armenian Quarter is still on the maps; but its future seems to be
bleak. The fact that it is adjacent to the Jewish Quarter in the east
does not help much. It is feared that the Armenian Quarter is in danger
of shrinking in the coming years.
By 1948 the Armenian population in Jerusalem at its
peak numbered more than 16,000. Currently, about one thousand Armenians
live in the Armenian Quarter. The total number of Armenians in Israel and the West Bank is estimated
to be about two thousand.