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Madaba map showing Roman Cardo in Jerusalem

In ancient Roman city planning, a cardo was a north-south-oriented street in cities, military camps, and coloniae. Sometimes called the cardo maximus, the cardo served as the center of economic life. The street was lined with shops, merchants, and vendors.


Cardo in Roman city planning

Most Roman cities also had a Decumanus Maximus, an east-west street that served as a secondary main street. Due to varying geography, in some cities the decumanus is the main street and the cardo is secondary, but in general the cardo maximus served as the primary road. The Forum was normally located at the intersection of the Decumanus and the Cardo.

The cardo was the "hinge" or axis of the city, derived from the same root as cardinal.



Mural depicting Jerusalem Cardo

The Cardo in the Old City of Jerusalem is a good example. After the Jewish rebellion led by Simon Bar Kokhba was crushed by Hadrian 130s CE, Jerusalem was destroyed. Hadrian built a Roman colony in its place, naming it Colonia Aelia Capitolina, after himself.[1] Like many Roman colonies, Aelia Capitolina was laid out with a Hippodamian grid plan of narrower streets and wider avenues.[2] The main north-south thoroughfare, the Cardo Maximus, was originally a paved avenue approximately 22.5 meters wide (roughly the width of a six lane highway) which ran southward from the site of the Damascus gate, terminating at an unknown point. The southern addition to the Cardo, constructed under Justinian in the 6th century CE, extended the road further south to connect the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the newly-built Zion Gate.[3] Along its length, the roadway was divided into three parts: two colonnaded covered walks flanking a 12 meter wide road.[4] The shaded porticoes provided separation of pedestrian traffic from wheeled carts, shelter from the elements, space for small-scale commerce, as well as opportunities for residents and visitors alike to gather and interact.[5] The central open pavement provided commercial access as well as ritual space. The Cardo’s most striking visual feature would have been its colonnade, clearly depicted on the Madaba Map (see below).

Simple bases supported monolithic shafts, spaced 5.77 meters apart.[6] The shafts in turn supported Byzantine-style Corinthian capitals – intricately carved, but more stylized versions of their Classical counterparts. Although this combination of elements was uniform the preserved examples display some variation in the profile and size of the bases, and in the pattern of the capitals.[7] Despite aesthetic differences, the approximate height of the base, column, and capitol units of the colonnade is five meters, a height which contributed to the spaciousness of the porticoes.[8] The wall of the Cardo’s eastern portico featured an arcade that housed various stalls and workshops, rented from the state by craftsmen and merchants.[9] These architectural divisions contrasted the unarticulated space of the western portico.

The line of the Cardo Maximus still exists in the modern fabric of the Old City as Jewish Quarter Street, though the original pavement of the Cardo lays several meters below the modern street level. Beginning perhaps as early as the 7th century, when Jerusalem fell under Muslim rule, the space of the Cardo was slowly transformed into a suq. Remains of the Byzantine Cardo were found in the Jewish Quarter Excavations beginning in 1969, although they still await in-depth publication.[10]

In 1971, a plan for renovating the bazaar along Jewish Quarter Street and preserving the ancient street presumed to lie below it was submitted by architects Peter Bogod, Esther Krendel and Shlomo Aronson.[11] Their proposal relied heavily on the sixth century Madaba map, a mosaic map of Jerusalem found in 1897 in Madaba, Jordan. The Madaba Map clearly showed the Roman Cardo as the main artery through the Old City. Bogod, Krendel, and Aronson proposed the construction of a covered shopping arcade that would preserve the style of an ancient Roman street using contemporary materials. Their plan was based on the hope that archeologists would find remains of the southern end of the Cardo, an extension of the north-south Roman thoroughfare built during the Byzantine era (324 – 638).

Time was of the essence and mounting pressure to repopulate the Jewish Quarter led to the construction of a superstructure which allowed the residential buildings to be built while the archaeologists continued to work below. The project was 180 meters in total and was divided into eight sections to allow for construction teams to move quickly from one section to another depending on the needs of the archaeologists. By 1980, 37 housing units and 35 shops were built, incorporating archaeological finds such as a Hasmonean wall from the second century BCE and rows of Byzantine columns. The combination of old and new is also visible on the Street of the Jews, where the shops have been set into old vaults and the gallery is covered by an arched roof containing small apertures to allow for natural lighting.

Cross Hayehudim Street and enter the Cardo - the main colonnaded street of Byzantine Jerusalem depicted in many ancient maps of the city. The street, on which numerous shops operate today, incorporates the remains of the ancient street, which was exposed to a length of 180 meters. Recently, a candelabrum designed to resemble the one in the Temple was mounted there.


The excavations at Petra in Jordan have unearthed the remains of an ancient Roman city on the site, with the main feature of the city being a colonnaded cardo. The original road survives.

Apamea, Syria

Spiral fluted columns

The Cardo Maximus of Apamea, Syria ran through the center of the city directly from North to South, linked the principal gates of the city, and was originally surrounded by 1200 columns with unique spiral fluting, each subsequent column spiraling in the opposite direction. The thoroughfare was about 1.85 kilometers long and 37 meters wide, as it was used for wheeled transport. The great colonnade was erected in the 2nd century and it was still standing until the 12th. The earthquakes of 1157 and 1170 demolished the colonnade. The cardo was lined on both sides with civic and religious buildings.


  1. ^ Golan 1986.
  2. ^ Bosanquet (1915) discusses at some length the use of Hippodamian street plans in Roman towns. See also Ward Perkins 1995: 141-43.
  3. ^ Avigad 1984: 226.
  4. ^ Avigad 1984: 221.
  5. ^ At least until the end of the Byzantine period, the open space of the agora or forum was still the locus of economic activity in the city. The Cardo most likely did not eclipse the open markets in economic importance until after the Islamic Conquest. See Kennedy 1985: 4-5, 12-13.
  6. ^ Avigad 1984: 221; Chen 1982: 45.
  7. ^ Avigad 1984: 221, Fig. 273.
  8. ^ Avigad 1984: 221.
  9. ^ For a detailed discussion of the relationship between state and business under the Roman Empire, see Jones 1955.
  10. ^ See Geva 2000 for the final report on stratigraphy of the area. Volumes 1-3 have been published, and the Byzantine Cardo is expected to be included in the 4th volume.
  11. ^ Avigad 1984: 216.


  • Avigad, N. 1984. Discovering Jerusalem. London: Basil Blackwell.
  • Bahat, D. 1990. The Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem, translated by S. Ketko. New York and London: Simon and Schuster.
  • Bosanquet, R. C. 1915. “Greek and Roman Towns I: Streets.” The Town Planning Review, Vol. 5, No. 4: 286-93.
  • Chen, D. 1982. “Dating the Cardo Maximus in Jerusalem.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly, Vol. 114, January-June: 43-45.
  • Geva, Hillel, ed. 2000. Jewish Quarter Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem, Vol. 1. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University.
  • Golan, D. 1986. “Hadrian’s decision to supplant ‘Jerusalem’ by ‘Aelia Capitolina.” Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 35, No. 2: 226-39.
  • Jones, A.H.M. 1955. “The Economic Life of the Towns of the Roman Empire.” Recueils de la Societe
  • Jean Bodin, VII: la ville. Brussels: La Librairie Encyclopedique.
  • Kennedy, Hugh. 1985. “From Polis to Madina: Urban Change in Late Antique and Early Islamic Syria.” Past and Present, Vol. 106: 3-27.
  • Ward Perkins, J. B. 1955. “Early Roman Towns in Italy.” The Town Planning Review, Vol. 26, No. 3: 126-54.

External links

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