The cardo (also cardo maximus) was a north-south oriented street in Roman cities, military camps, and
coloniae. The cardo, an integral component of city planning, was lined with shops and vendors, and
served as a hub of economic life.
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.
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. Like many Roman colonies, Aelia Capitolina was laid out with a Hippodamian grid plan of
narrower streets and wider avenues. 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. Along its
length, the roadway was divided into three parts: two colonnaded covered walks flanking a 12 meter
wide road. 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 to gather and interact. The central open pavement provided commercial access as well as
ritual space. The Cardo’s most striking visual feature was its colonnade, clearly depicted on the
Simple bases supported monolithic shafts, spaced 5.77 meters apart. The shafts 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.
Despite aesthetic differences, the approximate height of the base, column, and capital units of the
colonnade was five meters, a height which contributed to the spaciousness of the porticoes. The
wall of the Cardo’s eastern portico featured an arcade that housed various stalls and workshops
leased by craftsmen and merchants.
The line of the Cardo Maximus is still visible on Jewish Quarter Street, though the original pavement
lies several meters below the modern street level. In the 7th century, when Jerusalem fell under
Muslim rule, the Cardo became an Arab-style marketplace. Remains of the Byzantine Cardo were found in
the Jewish Quarter excavations beginning in 1969.
In 1971, a plan for preserving the ancient street was submitted by architects Peter Bogod, Esther
Krendel and Shlomo Aronson. Their proposal relied heavily on the sixth century Madaba map, a
mosaic map of Jerusalem found in 1897 in Madaba, Jordan. The map clearly showed the Roman Cardo as
the main artery through the Old City. The architects proposed 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. 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.
Beit She'an --
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 -
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