1976 excavations in Jerusalem have revealed a portion of the ancient Cardo—the principal street through the city depicted on the mid-6th century A.D. Madaba map (see illustrations). This famous mosaic map of the Holy Land, which contains the earliest known representation of Jerusalem, shows the city in crowded, stylized detail as it appeared at the time—a walled city viewed from above and looking to the east. It is filled with churches and monasteries; across the city passes a broad colonnaded road connecting the northern gate with the southern side of the city. Portions of this road, the Cardo, have been uncovered by Professor Nachman Avigad of the Hebrew University along the present Street of the Jews near the boundary between the Jewish and Armenian Quarters of the Old City.
About 300 square meters of the Cardo have now been exposed in several different locations. The excavations have revealed the major features of the 60-foot wide street—a central open roadway flanked on either side by a covered columned portico. Many columns have been found near the road, re-used in various ways as part of later structures. Several elaborately carved capitals were also found in the vicinity of the street.
At one location parallel to the road a 15-foot high ashlar wall appeared, containing holes in which once rested the beams which spanned the portico; the wall was the back of the portico structure. Drainage channels covered by stone slabs run along the roadway between the porticoes and the central roadway.
The Cardo was probably laid out by the 020Romans, four centuries before the creation of the Madaba mosaic map, when the Emperor Hadrian built Aelia Capitolina atop Jewish Jerusalem. The Roman city was completed after Jewish control of Jerusalem ended in 135 A.D. when Hadrian’s army crushed the last resistance of the second Jewish revolt led by Bar Kokhba. Jews were then excluded from the city. As was the Roman custom, Aelia Capitolina was planned in the design of a military camp with two main perpendicular streets—the north-south Cardo and the intersecting east-west Decumannus. The latter appears on the Madaba map only as a short street between the western gate and the Cardo. Remains of the Decumannus have not yet been found.
For all the distortions and inaccuracies of the Madaba map, it remains a wonderful source of details about Jerusalem and the Holy Land during Byzantine times. The mosaic was discovered in Madaba, Jordan in 1884 in the ruins of the transept of a Byzantine church while a new Greek Orthodox church was being erected on the same site. Information about the map was forwarded to the archives of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, but unfortunately 12 years passed before news of the discovery came to the attention of scholars. By that time, part of the original 72 by 23 foot representation of the Holy Land had already been destroyed, although Jerusalem, the centerpiece of the map survived undamaged.
The appearance of the Cardo on the map and the fact that we already know about similar colonnaded roadways from the Roman cities of Gerasa and Samaria made the identification of the newly uncovered roadway in Jerusalem quite clear. However, the parts of the Cardo thus far discovered appear to have been laid in Byzantine times, rather than by the Romans. This is contrary to several reports in the popular press which identified the roadway as Roman. The pavement was laid on bedrock and the pottery associated with it is Byzantine. At one point a fill was discovered beneath the pavement which contained tiles of the second and third centuries A.D. Naturally, the pavement must be dated no earlier than the latest of this material. Of course, this part of the pavement may be a Byzantine reconstruction and part of the original Roman roadway may yet be uncovered as excavation proceeds.
It is apparent from the present condition of the area and from the excavation below modern levels that the intrusion of buildings into the Cardo started in the late Byzantine period and continued through the centuries. Today’s Street of the Jews which runs parallel and close to the line of the original Cardo is a narrow lane barely 10 feet wide in places and elevated many yards above the stones of the Cardo. A vaulted Byzantine structure built right onto the portico section of the Cardo suggests that the road as seen in the Madaba mosaic began its centuries of transformation and constriction very soon after the depiction in the Madaba map.
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excavations in Jerusalem have revealed a portion of the ancient Cardo—the principal street through the city depicted on the mid-6th century A.D. Madaba map (see illustrations). This famous mosaic map of the Holy Land, which contains the earliest known representation of Jerusalem, shows the city in crowded, stylized detail as it appeared at the time—a walled city viewed from above and looking to the east. It is filled with churches and monasteries; across the city passes a broad colonnaded road connecting the northern gate with the southern side of the city. Portions of this road, the Cardo, have […]