When one enters the walls of the Old City through Shaar Haburskai (the small gate near Shaar Ha’ashpot), one can see below a Roman Cardo (main thoroughfare), with large, precise Roman paving. This Roman Cardo continues to the new excavationsat the back of the Kosel Plaza and is known as Cardo Valensis (the Cardo of the Valley).
The excavations of a different street — the main Cardo of Yerushalayim’s Old City - upper Cardo or the Cardo Maximus (Main Cardo).- began in the 1970s. The area had been buried for hundreds of years until the rebuilding of the Jewish Quarter after the Six Day War. It was surmised that Hadrian (whom the Gemara curses with “may his bones rot”) built this thoroughfare during the Roman period, about the time that he ploughed Yerushalayim over and
renamed it Colonia Aelia Capitolina.
This assumption was based mainly on the 6th century Meidva Mosaic Map that is part of a floor mosaic in an early Byzantine church in Meidva, a Biblical city that is presently part of what is today called Jordan. Part of an enlarged copy of the map can be seen this central Cardo. The map shows this Cardo at the heart of the Old City, extending from Damascus Gate — which is shown with the tall pillar that stood in this gate’s plaza during the Roman and Byzantine period — till the other side of the city (Zion Gate). It is known that the Roman 10th Legion camped in the area of this Cardo.
As the digging progressed, though, it was seen that this particular Cardo is of Byzantine origin. The paving does not exhibit the precise craftsmanship of the Romans, nor are the columns uniform; each one has slightly different dimensions.
The name Cardo (CAR-doe) is Greek for heart, i.e., center, (as in cardiologist, meaning a heart doctor). In the punishments Hashem gives us, there is always middah k’negged middah. The hearts of the Yidden at the time of the Second Temple were hard and stony with sinas chinam (baseless hatred) they had for each other. Therefore Hashem turned Yerushalayim, which is the heart of Am Yisrael, into a non-Jewish city of many hard-stoned Cardos.
This Byzantine Cardo in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City has sidewalks (pavements) of five and a half meters on each of its sides. A roadway of 10.30 meters is in its center. People used to walk on the sidewalks, as the road was littered with droppings of animals such as donkeys, sheep and oxen that walked in its center.
The pavements had wooden-raft-roofs (a small reconstructed section can be seen today), balanced on stone pillars, that protected pedestrians from the broiling summer sun and icy winter rains. (As a rule, Jews were not allowed to walk on this street.)
Beneath the paving of the road is a Byzantine drainage system. Because the Cardo is on a slope, while it was being built some of the higher points of the hill were shaved off and the lower points were filled in with dirt. One side of the Cardo was the side of a hill, and therefore a retaining wall was built there. Within the modern rounded doorways of the present- day shops of Rechov HaYehudim (Jewish Quarter Road), one sees thick, rounded Byzantine arches. Inside these arches were the shops of that period. A most perfect example can be seen at The Jewish Defenders Memorial Museum.
The wall mural in this Cardo depicts how the Cardo might have looked in the Byzantine period. The three people pictured in the left-hand corner are the former mayor Teddy Kollek and the two archaeologists who excavated the area.
In the excavations beneath the Churvah Shul, a small side street is found, whose paving indicates it was a Byzantine street. One wall of the Churvah building contains the arch that led into this lane from the Cardo. The alley sloped gently upwards and had steps at a certain point to reach the next level. A road taking the direction east to west, as this one does, was called a dekmanos. Cardos, on the other hand, ran north to south.
The Cardo Boulevard was built on the course of the Broadwall of Chizkiyahu Hamelech. Further down the Cardo are wells covered in glass. Looking into these glass-covered wells, one can see the Broadwall below.
Published in Hamodia.