Suleiman the Magnificient: Builder of Ottoman Jerusalem
Though Suleiman was a man of many turbans - conqueror, legislator, patron, poet - it was as a builder that he is remembered in Jerusalem. Upon assuming the throne and expanding Ottoman control even deeper into the Middle East, Suleiman embarked on an ambitious series of public works projects in the major cities of the Islamic world.
Sultan Suleiman I, the Magnificent, al-Qanuni ("The Lawgiver"), was the greatest sultan of the Ottoman Empire's many centuries, the man who extended Ottoman dominion to the very gates of Western Europe, and established the laws and cultural norms that would hold sway in the Empire until its dissolution - and influence the modern Turkish state that emerged from the empire's ruins.
Though Suleiman was a man of many turbans - conqueror, legislator, patron, poet - it was as a builder that he is remembered in Jerusalem. The city had come under Ottoman control in 1517, when municipal authorities, nominally subject to the Egyptian Mamluks, peacefully handed administrative power over Jerusalem to Sultan Selim I, Suleiman's father. Upon assuming the throne and expanding Ottoman control even deeper into the Middle East, Suleiman embarked on an ambitious series of public works projects in the major cities of the Islamic world. Suleiman's efforts in Jerusalem included an extensive renovation of the Dome of the Rock
and an upgrade to the civic infrastructure that remains the symbol of Jerusalem to this day: the walls of the Old City
After weathering waves of successive conquerors, Jerusalem's walls had fallen into disrepair, and by the time of the Ottomans' arrival, the city was barely fortified. Suleiman commissioned the city wall overhaul
in 1536 to protect Jerusalem's diverse inhabitants from a feared Crusader invasion. Although the European kingdoms had not launched a potent Crusade for several centuries by Suleiman's time, the memory of successive Christian assaults on the Holy Land was still fresh in the minds of the region's Muslim majority.
Suleiman's crenellated wall, over 40 feet in height, included over thirty towers and countless firing slits, all to provide ample defense from an invasion force that, ironically, never arrived. Seven gates, still open today, allowed access to every quarter of the newly fortified city.
Suleiman, possessed of a remarkable religious tolerance for his time, also stressed the inclusion of the holy sites of all Jerusalem's faiths within his city plan. When he learned that his architects had left Mount Zion
, holy to the city's Jews and Christians, outside the confines of the new wall, he had them executed (the sultan was somewhat less tolerant of failure).
Under Suleiman's benevolent rule, the revitalized Jerusalem flourished, the increased security and enforced religious tolerance sparking immigration to the city and an expansion of the mercantile economy. Unfortunately, after Suleiman's death in 1566, the attentions of succeeding sultans turned away from Jerusalem, and the city began a slow decline that lasted until waves of immigration in the late 1800s began to turn the city's fortunes.
Still, centuries of Ottoman neglect and the tumult of the 20th century couldn't diminish the magnitude of Suleiman's accomplishments. Nearly 500 years after their completion, the walls of Jerusalem stand firm, an enduring testament to the devotion of a single man, and an inspiration to the countless pilgrims who have stood in the shadows of their battlements.