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According to ancient sources – and some may say according to archaeological findings – you can date the city of Jerusalem back about 4500 years. It became the capital of the kingdom of Israel under the rule of King David, at about 1000 BCE, and during that time it was also given its plethora of Hebrew names.
The local stone, which was sourced from Jerusalem’s mountains and the surrounding areas, was the cheapest and most accessible building material at the time. Consequently, building in stone has become a staple of Jerusalem. No matter who came by, what had happened, or what the name of the “on call conqueror” was, building in stone has become an inseparable part of the city’s landscape, and that same picturesqueness still exists today, thanks to the supporting municipal laws which govern the city.
What is Jerusalem Stone?
In its core, Jerusalem stone is a hard chalk stone, which is occasionally mixed with the chalk-like stone called dolomite. Nowadays, many builders and building-planners attribute the name of Jerusalem stone to any hand-hewn or hand-chiseled stone, or one which bears a likeness to that unique, hand-crafted look.
Jerusalem stone remained common and popular even after more modern methods of construction took over, leaving stone building behind. Once, that stone had some unique properties and several clear engineering advantages, but today – with the advent of newer building technologies – it is used primarily as a substance which unifies and singles out the structures of Jerusalem. The color of the original stone was cream and grey, though some Jerusalem stones have shades of light-red or light-yellow. Stones of that nature appear to sparkle during sunset, which gave birth to the everlasting phrase “Jerusalem of Gold”.
Building with Jerusalem Stone
In 1918, when the British Mandate ruled the region, a law was passed stating that building in Jerusalem will be done exclusively with Jerusalem stone. This law was also accepted by the first government of Israel after it had broken away and declared independence. ‘The supporting municipal law of building with Jerusalem stone’ states that most buildings in Jerusalem must be covered – though not necessarily built – with Jerusalem stone.
The quarrying, chiseling, and building with Jerusalem stone is a fairly complex process, but the pioneers and “Hebrew Work Brigades” of the 1910s and 1920s didn’t shy away from it. In those days, rock-chiseling was what many did for a living. During Israel’s early years, a third of all Hebrew rock chiselers chose to call Jerusalem their home.
Jerusalem Stone Today
Jerusalem stone is much harder to come by these days, and its place is being taken by other stones such as Hebron stone or Bir-Zeit stone. The covering for public buildings is still done with Jerusalem stone (or a facsimile thereof), but in the building process itself, there are many other elements involved, as the law allows. Furthermore, there are those who use Jerusalem stone for internal or external tiling.
Walking through the streets and alleys of Jerusalem is an experience in and of itself, and one of the things which characterize the local architecture is the use of stone. It is a kind of beauty which cannot be found just anywhere. Jerusalem may not have a sea, but it does have some very unique buildings, which provide the city with its own kind of shade, and which create an atmosphere reminiscent of the days of old.
Incidentally, building with Jerusalem stone has long since made the journey outside of Israel’s borders. Today, you can build with Jerusalem Gold stones of all shapes and colors, all over the world.
— Herbert Samuel (@HSJerusalem) June 5, 2017
Building with Jerusalem stone is not a very popular thing outside of the capital, but it is noticeably present in some parts of the country. Whether it is public or private buildings – those who are looking to spruce up the look of a house or hotel, and perhaps also add some kind of statement, some kind of additional quality to the estate, could use Jerusalem stone at his or her discretion and see how positively it can affect the structure.
For a very long time now, this city has caught the attention of many of this world’s dwellers, for better or worse. People of all periods and time and all walks of life have fought over it and its character. Time after time, across history, this city of stone was conquered and liberated, divided and unified, burnt and rebuilt. Jerusalem’s stones have seen a lot, without a doubt. Her stones hold stories and memories thousands of years old, spanning hundreds of generations. Building with Jerusalem stone means continuing the tradition. As the poet Yossi Gamzu wrote in his poem Hakotel (The Wall): “there are stones with a human heart.”