If these walls could talk: a restoration project for the Old City walls
Since 2007, the Israel Antiquities Authority has been spearheading a major project to preserve the walls and gates of the Old City, starting with Zion Gate, Herod's Gate and, more recently, Jaffa Gate. Like the walls themselves, the restoration is part archeology, part history lesson and part politics....
The aesthetic updates are nice for residents and tourists alike, but it was actually safety that initially inspired the renovations: When a stone from one of Suleiman the Magnificent's walls fell into a church school yard, prompting the need to confirm the gates' structural integrity. Like the walls themselves, the restoration is part archeology, part history lesson and part politics. To keep things moving along, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality have all needed to stay on the same page, with a budget of 15 million NIS being dedicated.
Avi Mashiah, a conservation architect with the Israel Antiquities Authority, recently explained the process to GoJerusalem.com. "We actually began this project in 2006, taking measurements, assessing what the greatest dangers are, what parts are most in need of restoration," he said. "The restoration itself began in 2007, and the Zion Gate and Herod's Gate were actually restored before the recent Jaffa Gate restoration. In the next few months, we hope to begin working on Damascus Gate and the Lions Gate. This sort of large scale restoration hasn't been done since the British attempted in the 1920s."
Ironically, that British restoration, and later efforts to stabilize the walls by the Jordanian administration which controlled the Old City from 1948 through 1967, may have done more harm than good, as their use of modern building materials took a toll on the stones and may have worn them down.
This restoration project's engineering team is reverting to the original materials used by the Ottomans in the 1500s, when they built their walls atop the ancient walls dating from the time of the Second Temple.
"While restoring, we are also trying to preserve the walls' history," Mashiah explained, recalling the War of Independence pockmark-like bullet holes that were preserved in Jaffa Gate, as well as the automobile-friendly gap in the walls adjacent to it, which was created when German Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife Augusta Victoria visited in 1898, allowing their carriage to be the first to enter the Old City since ancient days.
"And it's a long process," Mashiah continued, "as different authorities control different parts of the walls, and we have to coordinate with everyone before we can begin work." But in a city that's thousands of years old, what's an extra year or two?