Aelia Capitolina to Al-Quds

Hadrianus, among the Roman emperors, is considered as the third of the five good emperors. In Jewish history, he is referred to as “one of the greatest enemies of the Israelites.” After the bloody suppression of the Jewish rebellion, which lasted from AD 66 to 73, he also slaughtered the remaining Jews in the Palestine region and then rebuilt Al-Quds as a pagan city. Emperor Hadrian’s merciless attitude towards the Jews led to his name being associated with massacres and genocides in Jewish history.

After tranquility descended upon the land of Palestine, during a comprehensive tour of the eastern part of the Roman Empire in the year 130 AD, Hadrianus, arriving in Al-Quds, ordered the reconstruction of the city, which had turned into ruins. Hostile not only to Judaism but also to the budding Christianity, the emperor decided to eradicate all religious structures in Al-Quds and replace them with temples dedicated to the Roman gods.

The new city, which the Emperor specifically took interest in its construction, was named “Aelia Capitolina.” Aelia was derived from Hadrianus’s family name, Aelius. Capitolina, on the other hand, was the name of the famous triad of gods in Roman belief. Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva were referred to by Romans as the “Capitoline Triad.” Many ancient Roman cities had temples and statues attributed to these gods.

In earlier centuries, Al-Quds was known by the names Uruşalim and Yebus. Uruşalim, which is the Hebrew equivalent of the Arabic “دار السلام,” meaning “abode of peace,” while Yebus was a name given in honor of the city’s early inhabitants, the Jebusites.

While the name Aelia Capitolina, given by Emperor Hadrianus, briefly became known as Aelia, after he divided it into two massive main streets and built the Temple of Jupiter in the present-day area of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Arabs began using the Arabic translation of this name, which is “Ilya.”

When the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity as the state religion, the name of the city was not changed. Even when Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, traveled from Constantinople in 326 AD and built churches and monasteries in many cities along the way until she reached Al-Quds, she did not consider changing the name of the city. Despite evoking a pagan tradition, the name Aelia had gained such widespread acceptance.

In 638, the renowned Caliph Umar, known for his enlightened rule, personally departed from the capital, Medina, to take over the city, and he signed the famous edict, known by his name, addressing it to “the people of Ilya.” The Umayyads continued to refer to the city as Al-Quds.

Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, who commissioned the construction of the Dome of the Rock, had the word “Al-Quds” engraved on stones indicating the distance between Damascus and Al-Quds. The famous poet of the Umayyad period, Farazdaq, also mentioned Al-Quds in his poems.

The expression “Al-Quds” first appeared on coins minted in the first half of the Abbasid period. According to historical accounts, during this period, the people living in Syria began to prefer the word “Al-Quds,” meaning “clean and pure,” instead of the name Ilya for the city, thus establishing the present name of Jerusalem.

Sources note that Arabs in Iraq and other regions continue to refer to Jerusalem as “Bayt al-Maqdis.” Additionally, various Hadiths attribute the term “Bayt al-Maqdis” to the city, as used by the Prophet Muhammad.

Chapter 1: Where is Al-Quds

*Photo: Haley Black

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