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Jerusalem Archaeological Sites: The Eastern Cardo

A colonnaded street that traverses the city from north to south is depicted in the center of the Madaba Map. This is none other than the street identified as the main thoroughfare, the Cardo Maximus, of the city. There is also another street on the same map, located to the east of the Cardo Maximus, and for most of its length it runs parallel to the cardo. Several sections of this road were exposed in recent generation by various excavators.

Quite a few excavators have exposed sections of the eastern cardo. The following is meant to describe in some detail and analyze some of the data that was exposed in the southern part of the road.

The remains were exposed in four sections; all the sections are located along a single north south axis and are described below from south to north:

Section 1

Located to the south, next to the outside of the Old City walls (near the Dung Gate). This section was exposed in its entirety by Meir Ben Dov. In this section almost the entire width of the paved street is visible. Here too, most of the road’s elements were revealed:

Column bases: the three column bases are made of identical, relatively hard limestone.

Column: the diameter matches that of the column bases described above.

Pavement: the street is covered with hard limestone slabs that were replaceable as was customary with paved roads. Pavers that were filed smooth were exposed everywhere.

The row of rooms located along the street: rectangular rooms that were used as shops were hewn in the bedrock cliff parallel to and west of the sidewalk.

Section 2

Located north and inside the wall of the Old City (west of Dung Gate). The drainage channel and possibly also a section of pavement were first revealed by the British archaeologist, S. N. Jones who excavated here on behalf of the Mandatory Department of Antiquities when a main sewage line was installed here by the city of Jerusalem. He discerned several rooms that were hewn in the bedrock cliff west of the road. Jones was also the first to note a building that would eventually be referred to as Umayyad Building No. III. Meir Ben-Dov only managed to expose a very small section of the street’s pavement in one spot, as well as the building with a row of pillars constructed to its east. Subsequently, all of the area was uncovered in excavations conducted on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, beginning with those directed by Ronny Reich and Ya’akov Billig in 1994-1996 and the excavations by Yuval Baruch and Ronny Reich in 1997-1999 in which the exposure of the street was completed.

In this section a long segment of pavement was exposed, which ascends along a uniform incline from south to north. A deep channel is hewn in the bedrock in the center of the street. Here one it is clearly apparent that prior to setting the paving stones in place extensive rock cutting activity was conducted on the slope, descending toward the Tyropoeon Valley from the west, in order to create the street.

Section 3

It seems that Charles Warren was the first to reach this pavement in Shaft I of the seven shafts he excavated across the Tyropoeon, opposite the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount (Warren 1884: 184, Pl. XXVI). It was in this area and in connection with the spot where the modern staircase descends from the Jewish Quarter to the plaza of the Wailing Wall that a salvage excavation was conducted by Yuval Baruch and Danny Weiss in 1998. A rectangular room that is entirely hewn in the bedrock was exposed here; it seems this room is one of the shops that were installed along the western side of the cardo.

Section 4

In the autumn of 1996 a long narrow excavation was conducted by means of a backhoe, for drainage purposes along a north south axis, in the area opposite the Western Wall (the prayer plaza) and about 90 m away from it. A section of a street paved with stone slabs was exposed; a tall limestone pedestal was found in the soil fill.

Finally it should be noted that other sections of streets have been ascribed to the secondary cardo, which is the eastern street, but in our opinion these attributions are mistaken. In our opinion there is no connection between the street in the western part of the hill of the City of David and the eastern cardo.

When we attempt to determine the date of the construction of the eastern street we should compare its details with similar details amongst the remains of the western street and evaluate the results of this comparison. Unfortunately, the only remains we have of the northern part of the western street are sections of in situ pavement and at this point we are still missing information regarding the kind of columns that were used there. This particular data would greatly assist us because a comparison of the column bases that were exposed by Meir Ben-Dov, in the section south of the Old City wall, with those found in the Jewish Quarter has reveal substantial dissimilarities. The differences are manifested in the size (diameter), shape of the base (profile) and quality of the stone dressing. These differences are so pronounced that one can state unequivocally that the two types of bases have their origins in different periods.

Yet another difference can be found in how the runoff was drained from the street. The pavement of the eastern cardo is far more similar to that of the northern section of the western street than it is to the southern section of the western street.

Based on these features, there exists a greater similarity between the details of the eastern street and the northern part of the western cardo than between the eastern street and the southern part of the western cardo.

It is obvious that the conclusion which should be drawn here is that the eastern street and the northern segment of the western street are contemporary, or at least very close to each other time wise, and they were clearly built in the Late Roman period; while the southern section of the western street was added in the Byzantine period.

Sources: Israel Antiquities Authority