Meleke (Arabic: ملكي, "royal", "kingly")—also transliterated
melekeh or malaki—is a lithologic type of white, coarsely
crystalline, thickly bedded limestone found in the
Judean Hills in
Israel and the West Bank. It has been used in the traditional
Jerusalem since ancient times, especially in Herodian
architecture. Though it is often popularly referred to as Jerusalem
stone, this phrase can refer to a number of different types of stone
found and used in, or associated with, Jerusalem.
4 In archaeological excavations
5 See also
Meleke is an Arabic word that originated in the jargon of local
stonemasons. Translated as "kingly stone", (or "queenly"),
"royal stone", or "stone of kings", the source of the word's meaning
may derive from meleke's use in all the monumental tombs of
Jerusalem. Israeli building stone authority Asher Shadmon
cites the word as one of the local or colloquial "mason's terms" that
have been "adopted by geologists" and are applied in the technical
Meleke is quarried from the Upper
Turonian Stage of the Bina (Baana)
Formation of Late
Cretaceous age, a layer about 10 meters in thickness
and about 90 million years old. When freshly cut, it is a pure
white limestone. It may retain its white color for many years or it
may be insolated to a light golden yellow. The aged stone has a
typical golden hue, but may range in tone from pinkish to off-white.
When quarried it is soft and quite workable, but upon exposure it
hardens and develops a clear surface that will take on a high polish.
Meleke withstands natural erosion very well and provides a
high-quality building stone, as well as commercial marble.[citation
Jerusalem (Old postcard).
Used as a building material since ancient times, this "royal stone"
has been of great importance to the history of the city of Jerusalem.
When it is first exposed to the air it can be soft enough to be cut
with a knife, but exposed to the air it hardens to make a stone of
considerable durability, useful for building. Hundreds of caverns,
cisterns, tombs and aqueducts in
Jerusalem have been excavated from
this stone. According to a long-standing legend, "Zedekiah's Cave",
a large ancient meleke cave/quarry near the
Damascus Gate in
Jerusalem's Old City, was the source of the building material for
Solomon's First Temple. Richard S. Barnett writes that ashlars in
Western Wall and the outer retaining wall of the extended Herodian
Temple platform were apparently cut from meleke quarries near
The courtyard of the
Helena of Adiabene
Helena of Adiabene was originally a
meleke stone quarry, and the staircase once a ramp upon which the
blocks extracted were hauled. Of the four types of limestone found
Jerusalem region, two were used in building during the Islamic
period in Palestine: meleke and mizzi, the latter being a harder
stone, also known as "Palestinian marble".
The use of meleke was popular among the Frankish stonemasons of the
Crusader Kingdom of
Jerusalem in Palestine, who quarried it to make
fine, carefully drafted building stones for use in door and window
features, among other architectural features. Frankish markings
from the distinctive diagonal tools used by their stonemasons can be
seen on meleke stones put to secondary use in the walls surrounding
the Old City of Jerusalem.
In archaeological excavations
Meleke in the Gerofit Formation (Turonian) near Makhtesh Ramon,
High quality, meleke limestone has been found wherever excavations in
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre have reached bedrock. Beginning in
about the seventh or eighth century BCE, the area where the church is
now located was a large quarry, with the city of
Jerusalem lying to
the southeast. Traces of the quarry have been found not only in the
church area, but also in excavations conducted nearby in the 1960s and
Kathleen Kenyon in the
Muristan enclave of Jerusalem's
Christian Quarter, and by Ute Lux, in the nearby Church of the
Meleke stone was chiseled out in squarish blocks and
partially cut ashlars still attached to the bedrock after being left
by the workers were found. East of St. Helena's Chapel in the Holy
Sepulchre Church, the quarry was over 40 feet deep and the earth and
ash therein contained
Iron Age II pottery, from about the seventh
According to Virgilio C. Corbo, professor of archaeology at the
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem, the quarry continued to be
used until the first century BCE, at which time it was filled, and
covered with a layer of reddish-brown soil mixed with stone flakes
from the ancient quarry. It became a garden or orchard, where cereals,
fig, carob, and olive trees were grown. It also served as a cemetery,
and at least four tombs dating from this period have been found,
including a typical kokh tomb thought to be that of
Joseph of Arimathea.
A salvage excavation conducted by the
Israeli Antiquities Authority
Israeli Antiquities Authority in
June 2006 in the Sanhedriya neighborhood of
Jerusalem exposed another
ancient masonry meleke quarry. Larger than the area excavated, the
quarry abutted onto the southern end of the Second Temple-period Tombs
of the Sanhedrin, between which extensive ancient quarries had
previously been discovered.
The quarry seems to have been in operation in the Roman period, though
precise dating was difficult because the quarrying debris was devoid
of coins and potsherds, and modern debris had entered the site. A few
pottery fragments from the end of the first century BCE to the first
century CE found on the bottom of the quarry units formed the basis
for the dating put forward, and the quarry's proximity to the
Sanhedrin tombs of the
Second Temple period has also led
archaeologists to assume it was in use during that time.
The exposed quarry is just one of a number of ancient quarries
discovered in the Sanhedriya-Mahanayim region whose stones were
utilized in the public construction of Jerusalem.
List of types of limestone
^ Shadmon, Asher (1972), Stone in Israel, Jerusalem: Natural Resources
Research Organization, Ministry of Development, State of Israel, pg
^ a b Yaacov Arkin and Amos Ecker (July 2007). Geotechnical and
Hydrogeological Concerns in Developing the Infrastructure Around
Jerusalem (PDF). The Ministry of National Infrastructures Geoological
Survey of Israel. Archived from the original (PDF) on
Ilene Prusher (January 4, 2000). "Palestinians' stones cut both
ways". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
^ Lexique stratigraphique international. Centre national de la
recherche scientifique. 1956. p. 70.
^ a b BAS Archive
^ a b c Richard S. Barnett. "The Gold of That Land: Biblical Minerals
and Rocks". Biblical Geology. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
^ Shadmon, Op. cit., pg 21. (In his 1972 book, Shadmon advanced "King
Solomon Stone" as a proposed commercial name for meleke, but this
apparently did not catch on.)
^ Entry, “Jerusalem”, The International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia (1994), 4 volumes, Hendrickson Publishers
^ Friedman, Thomas L., “Quarrying History in Jerusalem, The New York
Times, 1 December 1985
Jerome Murphy-O'Connor (1998). The Holy Land: An Oxford
Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700. Oxford University
Press. p. 139. ISBN 9780192880130.
^ Andrew Petersen (1996). Dictionary of Islamic Architecture.
Routledge. pp. 134–135. ISBN 9780415060844.
^ Boas. 2001, p. 5.
^ Adrian J. Boas (2001).
Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades:
Society, Landscape, and Art in the Holy City Under Frankish Rule.
Routledge. p. 204. ISBN 9780415230001.
^ a b Dan Bahat. "Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of
Jesus?". Archived from the original on 2009-02-18. Retrieved
^ a b c Rahel Bar-Natan (August 19, 2008). "Jerusalem, Sanhedriya".
Hadashot Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Jerusalem. Israeli