The Cardo was the main street in Jerusalem during the Roman and Byzantine periods, along the north-south route, passing from Damascus Gate to Dung Gate. During the visit of Hadrian to Judea in the 130s CE, Jerusalem’s ruins were surveyed and Hadrian decided to build a Roman colony in its place; naming it Colonia Aelia Capitolina. After the Roman deities Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva (the Capitoline Triad) worshiped at the Capitoline Hill temple in Rome. Like many Roman colonies, Aelia Capitolina was laid out with a Hippodamian grid plan of narrower streets and wider avenues. Notably, the decision was one of the main causes of the Bar Kokhba revolt, which shortly encompassed the region.
More About the Cardo
The main north-south thoroughfare, the Cardo Maximus, was originally a paved avenue approximately 22.5 meters wide (roughly the width of a six-lane highway) which ran southward from the site of the Damascus gate, terminating at an unknown point. The southern addition to the Cardo, constructed under Justinian in the 6th century CE, extended the road further south to connect the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the newly built Zion Gate. Along its length, the roadway was divided into three parts: two colonnaded covered walks flanking a 12-meter wide road.
The shaded porticoes separated pedestrian traffic from wheeled carts, shelter from the elements, space for small-scale commerce, and opportunities for residents and visitors to gather and interact. The central open pavement provided commercial access as well as ritual space. The Cardo’s most striking visual feature was its colonnade, clearly depicted on the Madaba Map.
The line of the Cardo Maximus is still visible on the Jewish Quarter Street, though the original pavement lies several meters below the modern street level. In the 7th century, when Jerusalem fell under Muslim rule, the Cardo became an Arab-style marketplace. Remains of the Byzantine Cardo were found in the Jewish Quarter excavations beginning in 1969.
The Preservation Work of the Cardo
In 1971, a plan for preserving the ancient street was submitted. The proposal relied heavily on the sixth century Madaba map, a mosaic map of Jerusalem found in 1897 in Madaba, Jordan. The map clearly showed the Roman Cardo as the main artery through the Old City. The architects proposed a covered shopping arcade that would preserve the style of an ancient Roman street using contemporary materials. Their plan was based on the hope that archeologists would find remains of the southern end of the Cardo, an extension of the north-south Roman thoroughfare built during the Byzantine era (324–638).
Time was of the essence and mounting pressure to repopulate the Jewish Quarter led to the construction of a superstructure that allowed the residential buildings to be built while the archaeologists continued to work below. The project was 180 meters in total and was divided into eight sections to allow for construction teams to move quickly from one section to another. By 1980, 37 housing units and 35 shops were built, incorporating archaeological finds such as a Hasmonean wall from the second century BCE and rows of Byzantine columns. The combination of old and new is also visible on the Street of the Jews, where the shops have been set into old vaults and the gallery is covered by an arched roof containing small apertures to allow for natural lighting.