Studium Theologicum Salesianum
Salesian Pontifical University : Faculty of Theology - Jerusalem Campus

The Citadel of Jerusalem


By David Elweu
Thursday 14 November 2013 saw the third of the Studium Theologicum Salesianum Topographical Visits of Jerusalem this semester. The Theologicum's new arrivals, having, in the first half of the semester, visited the Holy Sepulcher and the Mount of Olives, set out to uncover the mystery in the Jerusalem Citadel.

The site is also known by two other names: the Tower of David museum and the museum of the history of Jerusalem. In his introduction to the visit, Fr Pol Vonk, M. Afr., explained the history of the Citadel and gave possible reasons for its placement on the highest point of the south western hill of Jerusalem. He underlined that the Jerusalem Citadel is not a museum in the strict sense of the word. It is rather, he said, a collection of diagrams, models, pictograms, sounds and music, giving an overview of the history of Jerusalem through the different periods. Indeed, we literally explored 4000 years of the history of Jerusalem in 4 hours!

The curiosity of the group was admirable; all the would-be moments of silence were filled in by questions! We were entering the tower when a question was raised about the origins of the Citadel's other name, the Tower of David Museum. Fr.  Pol, as always, had the answer on his fingertips: the appellation dates back to the Byzantine period (335-640 C.E.). Byzantine Christians, he said, believed that this Citadel was the palace of King David, and consequently named it the Tower of David. In 1989, the Tower was declared a museum by the Jerusalem foundation and was subsequently opened for public visits. It is only then that it took the name Tower of David museum in full.  A moment in the ticket office was rather an interesting one, silence! It was important though because only after then could we begin the real adventure!

The top of the tower practically enabled a complete view of Jerusalem's Old and New Cities. Fr. Pol's explanations on the Holy Sepulcher, the dome of the rock, among other widely known sites, were followed by questions on the different Churches, domes, minarets, mounts, etc. visible from the top of the tower.                    

The entertaining view of the present-day Jerusalem prepared the group for a discovery of the different topographies of the City in the preceding periods. Yes, it prepared us to read 4000 years of the history of Jerusalem in 4 hours! Jerusalem’s known history began in 2000 B.C.E. and in the latter half of the second millennium, the Egyptian pharaohs ruled Canana, and the kings of Jerusalem were their vassals. While Fr. Pol explained the particularities of the period, I had the impression that we had jumped the ladder of time, 4000 steps down and were completely socked in history. Beginning with the Kingdom of Israel (1008-587 B.C.E.), we climbed the steps through ten more different periods: the Persian rule (538-332 B.C.E.), Hellenistic rule (332-167 B.C.E.), Hashmonean state (167-37 B.C.E.), the Roman Empire (63 B.C.E-324 C.E.), the Byzantine Empire (350-640 C.E.), Moslem rule (634-1099), Crusader rule (1099-1187), Mamluk rule (1260-1516), the Ottoman Empire (1516-1917),  and the British mandate (1917-1948). On our way up, I noted the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher while in the Byzantine period, that of the dome of the rock in the Moslem rule, and that of the basilica of Saint Anne in the Crusader rule.
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