The extraordinary Old City of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is one of the most sacred cities in the world and one of the most intriguing cities I have ever visited. Yet the Old City of Jerusalem is actually surprisingly small. It is barely a square kilometer and therefore perfect to explore during a walk through the city, past the most beautiful historical and cultural sites that make Jerusalem so fascinating. From the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, to the Holy Sepulcher. Be inspired to make the most of your visit to Jerusalem!
I enter the city through Jaffa Gate. I am in the Christian part of the city, built around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Old City of Jerusalem is actually not even a square kilometer in size. This small area then consists of an Islamic, a Christian, a Jewish and an Armenian quarter, each with its own atmosphere and character.
In the Old City of Jerusalem you’ll find close to each other the Temple Mount with the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall and the Holy Sepulcher. But also the Arab souks and a maze of alleyways, houses and numerous shops. It immediately feels busy and chaotic when you first walk through the city. It is precisely because of this that it intrigues. Jerusalem is a city that every time shows a different side of itself.
Tower of David
The city gate where I now stand, Jaffa Gate, is the place where for many people a walk through the Old City begins. They rush past the Tower of David and walk through the narrow market streets directly to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Dome of the Rock
I first turn right, to the Tower of David. Jerusalem has a long, complicated history and this museum helps you to get a better overview of it. The Tower of David is a citadel from the Ottoman Empire, with a fortified tower. It has little to do with the historic king David. After you have visited the museum, one of the towers of the museum offers a beautiful view of the citadel and the old city, the different neighborhoods, the layers of history that are stuck together.
I leave the tranquility of the museum and walk back into the busy city.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
If you walked from the Jaffa Gate and around the Tower of David, you would reach the Armenian Quarter. It is one of the oldest and most quiet areas in the Old City, but at the same time it is also the least open to visitors. I walk through the neighborhood to the Holy Sepulcher.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is one of the highlights of Jerusalem. The church is supposed to be built on the two holiest places of Christianity: the place where Jesus was crucified and the empty tomb of Jesus. The best time to visit the church is at sunrise, so you can admire the church in peace. Make sure you are on time to experience the special moment when a group of people brings the key to the church in order to open the doors.
When you walk into the church on your right you see the pilgrims. They are standing in line for a narrow staircase leading to the rock of Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. Right in front of you you see the stone on which, according to tradition, the body of Jesus was embalmed. People kneel, touch the stone and prayer cards are placed on top of it.
The church is administered by the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Armenian Orthodox, the Syrian Orthodox, the Coptic and the Ethiopian Church. Everyone has their own place and the church is a small maze of outbuildings and small spaces. Monks even live on the roofs. Here you will also find the chapel of the Ethiopian church.
Via Dolorosa: in the footsteps of Jesus
I’m actually going the wrong way from the Holy Sepulcher. The Via Dolorosa is believed to be the road that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. The Via Dolorosa starts at the Lion Gate in the Muslim Quarter and follows a path of fourteen stations that ends at the Holy Sepulcher.
You walk in the footsteps of Jesus, but I walk in the wrong direction, away from the Holy Sepulcher. Around me there are crowds of tourists. Many people who follow this route are pilgrims, alone or in large groups, sometimes with a heavy cross on their back. Along the road they stop at the stations marked by signs.
The streets of Jeruzalem
I walk towards one of the most famous places in the city. The Wailing Wall. It is easy to get lost on the way here. The streets of the old town are like a maze of small alleys that are supplied with handcarts. You walk past juice stalls and small restaurants, souvenir vendors who try to sell herbs, menoras and wooden crosses. Bowls full of halva, dried dates and scented herbal mixtures surround me. As you wander around here, people will try to lure you to their stores.
Everywhere in the city you see soldiers walking around, a machine gun dangling nonchalantly over the shoulder. After a day you hardly notice it anymore, until you walk into a street and suddenly allmost look in the barrel of a gun. In this city many religions live side by side, but this certainly doesn’t mean you’ll find a peaceful atmosphere. A second later, the soldier disappeares in the bustle of the souk and your attention is again with the shouting salesmen.
Before I can visit the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall, my bag is checked and I walk through a security gate. This is the holiest place in Judaism. The Western Wall is the retaining wall of the Temple Mount and was built some 2000 years ago.
It is a hive of activity. The paved square in front of the wall is divided in two by a fence. Men pray on the left side of the fence and women mutter their prayers on the right side and put their hands on the wall. Many women look over the fence to the other side, where for a number of boys their Bar Mitzvah takes place. Armed soldiers are standing next to the boys.
Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock
I walk towards Dung Gate to join the long line for the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock. The Temple Mount is a holy place for both Judaism and Islam. The Dome of the Rock is built on the spot where Abraham had to sacrifice his son. From the very same place Mohammed would have started his journey to heaven. On the ground of the Temple Mount, before the construction of the Dome of the Rock, the First and Second Jewish Temple were built, for Jews the most important religious structures in the world.
You climb to the Temple Mount via a wooden slope. The place is not to be missed, usually there are rows of visitors waiting. One of the best times to come here is early morning after the morning prayer. The Temple Mount is a extraordinary place. When Islam began to spread, the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock were built. The golden dome of this dazzling building shines in the sunlight.
Only Muslims may enter the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslims may only view the exterior of the buildings outside the times of prayer. The opening times are limited and the rows can be very long, but it is still an impressive place and worth to experience this holy place.
The City of David: older than the old city of Jerusalem
I leave the Temple Mount behind me and leave the Old City. Just outside the old city walls I discover the oldest part of Jerusalem. The City of David is the birthplace of Jerusalem and the place where King David established his kingdom. An archaeological site, but also interesting for those who are not only looking for dry history.
The most unique part of the visit is the Siloam tunnel. This underground water tunnel has been excavated on behalf of Hezekiah. This way the inhabitants of Jerusalem could be supplied with drinking water, thousands of years ago. Nowadays you can walk through the tunnel. In this place the overwhelmingly long history of Jerusalem becomes clear to me.
On water shoes and equipped with a flashlight I walk through a pitch-dark underground tunnel. The ice-cold water rises to my knees. With my hands I feel the cold walls of the tunnel on both sides. Slowly I find my way over the uneven floor. There seems to be no end and the only thing I hear is the flow of water.
Visiting the Mount of Olives
After the City of David I walk towards the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives has a great religious significance as the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world. There are tens of thousands of graves. For Christians, the Mount of Olives is also sacred, as the location where the gates of heaven will open on the day of judgment. The Mount of Olives looks out over the old city and gives visitors a great view of Jerusalem.
Via the Church of All Nations, and Gethsemane with its ancient olive trees, the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene and the Tomb of Absalom, I walk back to the Old City
A city walk through the old city of Jerusalem
It took a while before I could post a blog on my trip to Jerusalem. The city has impressed me so much. The smell of the herbs, the religions that live next to each other, the elusiveness of the city. The many cultures that have left their mark on this place.
It is a city that I know I will return to because my first visit was so impressive. Intense, you visit this place with all the senses on focus. In Jerusalem I immersed myself in the ancient history of religions. With every step I took in the cobbled streets, I discovered something new. Jerusalem is a fascinating place that everyone should visit at least once!
You might like to read:
- The West Bank from Jerusalem: traveling through Palestine
- Biking along the boulevard: Tel Aviv by bike!
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