During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BCE, making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world.
Given the city’s central position in both Israeli nationalism and Palestinian nationalism, the selectivity required to summarise more than 5,000 years of inhabited history is often influenced by ideological bias or background (see Historiography and nationalism). For example, the Jewish periods of the city’s history are important to Israeli nationalists, whose discourse states that modern Jews descend from the Israelites and Maccabees, while the Islamic periods of the city’s history are important to Palestinian nationalists, whose discourse suggests that modern Palestinians descend from all the different peoples who have lived in the region. As a result, both sides claim the history of the city has been politicized by the other in order to strengthen their relative claims to the city, and that this is borne out by the different focuses the different writers place on the various events and eras in the city’s history.
What is today known as the “Old City” was laid out by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century, when he began to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city. In 130, Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem remaining after the First Roman-Jewish War of 66–73. He rebuilt the city, renaming it Aelia Capitolina in 135 CE. Hadrian placed the city’s main Roman Forum at the junction of the main Cardo and Decumanus, now the location of the (smaller) Muristan. Hadrian built a large temple to the goddess Venus, which later became the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He placed restrictions on some Jewish practices, which caused a revolt by the Judeans, led by Simon Bar Kokhba. Hadrian responded with overwhelming force, putting down the rebellion, killing as many as a half million Jews, and resettling the city as a Roman colonia. Jews were forbidden to enter the city but for a single day of the year, Tisha B’Av, (the Ninth of Av), the fast day on which Jews mourn the destruction of both Temples. For the next 150 years, the city remained a relatively unimportant pagan Roman town.