Crossroads of Jerusalem, Crossroads of History
Rozen Gallery, Cardo Street, Old Jerusalem
Ancient peoples understood how to find paths through and around mountains, valleys, and plains. Hard-packed earth indicated a trusted route to travelers, even if another option seemed better. One learned to trust the wisdom of collective experience, oft discovering that the other option had unseen obstacles for donkeys or people to cross, whereas “the longer shorter way” made more sense. Fortifications were also based on nature- the edge of hill provided superiority in height; a valley was a natural barrier.
This held true until great empires like Persia and Rome developed paving and even changed nature - filling in a valley, moving a mountain, or cutting a road through the terrain to make a straighter and easier path for armies and messengers to move swiftly by horseback and wagon. Man-made fortifications could compensate for and even largely ignore the natural terrain.
Rozen Galley in Jerusalem’s Old City, founded in 1999, is uniquely sited at a physical and historical nexus of civilizations spanning thousands of years. Following the natural terrain, our store is perched at the edge of what the historian Josephus called the Western Hill, just before the depression of the Transversal Valley running along its north side. Archaeologist Nachman Avigad and his team discovered fortifications built by the last kings of Judah running along and utilizing the edge of the hill. The prophet Jeremiah’s eyes saw these walls, which were breached by the Babylonian forces destroying Jerusalem and the First Temple of Solomon, as described in the books of Kings, Jeremiah, and Chronicles.
You can see these fortifications right next to our gallery through two shafts that were left open for this purpose. Judahite buildings that pre-date these walls can be glimpsed as well, in an open area descending deep below the street level, steps away from our front door. In the nearby Israelite Tower, open by appointment, you can see the continuation and the foundation of these fortifications. According to Professor Avigad the layer of ash, the Judahite and Babylonian arrowheads, and the pottery at its base, all clearly attest to the time and to the events described in the Bible.
About 2100 years ago the Hasmonean dynasty added fortifications which were built onto or next to the Judahite walls. These kings descended from the priest Matityahu and his five sons, the heroic Maccabee fighters for Jewish life in Israel to whom the mighty Greek army gradually gave way. During the course of these events the Temple was freed and purified, with a one-day supply of pure oil lasting in the menorah, the candelabra of the Temple, for eight days.
The Hasmonean wall literally runs under our gallery. Its power and width are strikingly visible in the open area facing our door, with its continuation marked with black flagstones on the street pavement of today. The First Temple period wall’s continuation is similarly marked with pink flagstones. Looking down the open shaft closest to our door you can actually see the Hasmonean wall adjoining the Judahite wall of some 500 years earlier, and you may stand with one foot over each.
Then came a civilization that ran roughshod over natural terrain, and over all those who opposed them, who cast Jerusalem in their own image. Throughout their empire, Roman urban planners designed roads to follow true compass directions. The Cardo Maximus of a city runs north to south. This main road is crossed by the standard east-west Decumanus Maximus, or Via Praetoria. At the intersection there was usually a Forum, an open area. Crossroads were often marked by a tetrapylon, a roofed structure with four high columns and four “gates”; or, by a tetrakionion, with four separate columns, unroofed.
Rozen Gallery is located on Jerusalem’s Cardo Maximus, running on the Western Hill from Damascus Gate in the north towards the later Zion Gate in the south. The earlier Temple period fortifications walls were knocked down in the making of this road, and the depth of the earlier city at this point was buried, until Avigad’s excavations. Thus, sections of these city walls much higher than the street are visible beyond its boundaries. Also, the southern side of the Roman and Byzantine city extended much further than the 16th century CE Turkish city walls, not even 500 years old yet. Thus, paved north-south street sections and domestic dwellings have been found past on the southern slopes and valleys beyond the southern line of the Old City wall. More evidence of this period is appearing in new excavations on Mount Zion and in the City of David National Park.
A few steps away from our gallery in the crowded marketplace is a coffeehouse-restaurant known historically as Khan el-Umdan, the Inn of the Columns. You can see four columns there today, apparently tracing back to a Byzantine tetrakionion or tetrapylon, and enjoy a fresh mint tea sitting in the very crossroads of Jerusalem (tell proprietor Chilmie we sent you).
A hot topic in academic circles today is whether this street system towards the south, in our gallery’s location, was originally built over 2000 years ago during the Second Temple period; in the time of Emperor Hadrian around 130 CE, or, extended by the Byzantines in the 4th century CE. While no clear traces were found of the earlier periods in the Avigad excavations, some scholars contend that Byzantine works cutting into bedrock and overhauling infrastructure erased earlier traces, but that the street pattern here is indeed earlier. In any event, our store is actually over 1500 years old, on a street that may be far older. However, in those Byzantine times no Jews were allowed on this main street, the Cardo, and certainly Jews could not operate a store here. Once a year they could pay for the privilege of coming into the city to mourn the Temple’s destruction on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, which falls during summer.
We ourselves, Guy Aharon and Binyamin Rozen, come for a Georgian Jewish family living in Kutaisi. The community’s historical tradition is that the community came to Mtskheta, near Tbilisi, in the time of the First Temple. Scholars trace this event either to the Assyrian exile of the Israelite Ten Tribes 2700 years ago, or to the Babylonian exile of Judah 130 years later.
The Rozenashvillis were from the first 18 families to freely leave the former Soviet Union directly for Israel in 1971. Maybe this was in the merit of our mother lighting a candle to pray for the peace of Jerusalem every week in the window, and our father enduring two years in Siberia for the crime of teaching Hebrew.
We have come full circle as a people and as a family. Today, our gallery overlooks the First Temple period fortifications from the Jerusalem that our community’s ancestors saw and left in exile. We work standing on the wall of the Maccabees who triumphed through faith and action. We freely use Hebrew and express themes of Jerusalem and Israel in our painting and sculpture. We proudly represent a range of Israeli artists who use a wide variety of traditional and new techniques – hosting an unabashed blaze of color and creativity celebrating Jewish life, on the very street from which our people were banned.
Rozen Gallery offers you a taste of a renewed people, in a renewed city, at the Crossroads of Jerusalem, at the Crossroads of History. When are you coming to visit?
Barnea Levi Selavan
Tamuz 5775 – July 2015
Barnea is CoDirector of the Foundation Stone educational organization, a licensed archaeologist and tour guide, with a particular expertise in the Old City as a resident of 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.