It is always an impressive and unique experience to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, which is one of the most ancient and beautiful cities in the world. Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel, and it is considered holy to the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. If you plan to visit Israel, one of the first places to explore should be Jerusalem Old City. Indeed, it is an incredible and holy experience to visit Jerusalem, whose history dates back to more than three thousand years ago. The Old City is not comparable to other places in Israel; an exception is the Old City of Akko. The Old City of Jerusalem is a religious centre with its peculiar narrow cobblestoned alleyways and people of different faiths dressed in disparate ways. The old alleyways are crowded and smell of spices such as myrrh, frankincense and other exotic scents.
When planning a trip to Jerusalem, it is necessary to consider the holidays and holy days for the three main religions. Fridays/Saturdays for Jews, Fridays for Muslims, and Sundays for Christians, which could bring some problems in your tourist tour because most holy places will be open only for praying services. Besides the fact that on holidays the Old City is very crowded.
Landmarks Of The Old City In Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem is crowded with beautiful landmarks to visit, and it is not enough to spend only a day for it. Definitely, you would need days to explore this fantastic historical place whose surface is under one square kilometre.
Old city walls
Around 587/586 BCE Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ordered the destruction of the entire city of Jerusalem. During the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Suleiman I ordered the restoration of the walls that had been rebuilt in four years. The walls measure four thousand metres with a height of twelve metres. The walls have eight gates and thirty-four watchtowers. The walls of the Old City are remarkable landmarks that can be hiked along to enjoy a unique view of the old and new city of Jerusalem.
The eight gates of the Old City are:
- Damascus Gate is north-facing, and it dates back to the 16th century. It hosts markets, and archaeologists found a part of the entrance that had been built in the second century CE by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It was named after the city of Damascus, the capital of Syria.
- Dung Gate leads to the Southern Wall Archaeological Park and the Western Wall. This gate is mentioned in Nehemiah 2:13 and was named after the debris deposited there centuries ago.
- Gate of Mercy is a very well-known gate, and it is part of the Temple-Mount Wall. It is also known as Eastern Gate and Golden Gate. This gate has remained unopened for centuries, and in the Scriptures, it is written that only when the Messiah will come, this gate will be reopened miraculously.
- Herod’s Gate is also named Flowers Gate, and its north-facing portal is close to a cemetery. Above Herod’s Gate, there is a carved rosette and an Arabic word meaning “awakened”, which refers to the hope of resurrection for the dead.
- Jaffa Gate was the original gate preferred by Christian and Jewish pilgrims coming from the Old Jaffa Port. This gate leads to the Christian and Jewish Quarters. Moreover, it offers access to the museum of the Tower of David, also known as The Citadel and the popular areas of the market.
- Lion’s Gate is named after the pair of lions that are carved on both sides. Precisely, the animals carved are tigers that were the symbol of the Sultan Baybars dating back to the 13th century. Lion’s Gate is also called St. Stephen’s Gate, and it became notorious after the Six-Day War. The gate leads to Via Dolorosa, the markets and the Pools of Bethesda.
- The New Gate is the only gate that is not part of the ancient 16th-century walls. This gate was built at the end of the Ottoman Empire to enable the pilgrims to reach their holy places quickly through the ramparts.
- Zion Gate allows access to the Jewish and Armenian areas of the Old City. It is close to the Tomb of King David on Mount Zion.
The Four Quarters
The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters that divide the city culturally, historically and religiously. These four districts are the Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim quarters.
- The Armenian Quarter is the smallest of the four districts, and it develops like a city in the city. The Citadel, Armenian Museum and St. James Cathedral are located in this quarter. Other landmarks of the Armenian Quarter are the Cathedral of St. James and St. Mark’s Syriac Church.
- The Christian Quarter includes the Church of St. John The Baptist and the Church of the Sepulcher, on Saint Helena street, where Jesus had been crucified and buried. Moreover, Christian pilgrims can walk in the tracks of Jesus going through Via Dolorosa, which is in part in the Muslim Quarter. The route is 600 metres, and it includes narrow streets starting from Antonia Fortress up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus Christ was believed to be crucified and buried. The route consists of 19 stations, whose five are inside the church. Other landmarks of the Christian Quarter are the Church of Saint John the Baptist, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, and the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky.
- The Jewish Quarter has a more modern aspect compared to the Armenian Quarter. Nevertheless, it dates back to three thousand years ago. The streets of the Jewish Quarter are paved with the famous Jerusalem stone, and they are quiet and clean. The Jewish Quarter includes the Western Wall, which is also known as Wailing Wall or Kotel, the holiest place for Jews. In this quarter, there are many ancient synagogues. The most renowned landmarks of the Jewish Quarter are the Tower of David, the Wohl Museum of Archaeology, the Archaeological Park Davidson Center, and the Burnt House.
- The Muslim Quarter has a hectic atmosphere with its markets and crowded streets. It includes the Dome of Rock, which is part of the Noble Sanctuary and it is home to the sacred Foundation Stone. In the Muslim Quarter, the most famous landmarks are the Pool of Bethesda, Zedekiah’s Cave, also known as Solomon’s Quarries, and The Terra Sancta Museum.
The Three Most Popular Holy Places In The Old City
The Western Wall
The Western Wall is the holiest place for the Jewish people, and it is the only remnant of one of the support walls of the Second Temple on the western side. King Herod ordered to build this wall during the extension of the Second Temple in 20 BCE. In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Temple leaving only the left wall. After the Six-Day War, in 1967, a team of Israeli archaeologists digging underneath the wall discovered two levels of additional walls. The Western Wall is also known under different names such as HaKotel Hama’aravi, Kotel, and Wailing Wall.
Women and men pray separately, and each area has chairs and prayer books. It is customary to write a little note and prayer on a small piece of paper and put it inside one of the several cracks of the Kotel, so it is recommended to bring paper and pen.
Before getting to the Western Wall, people have to pass security checks at the gates, but it doesn’t take more than ten minutes. There are water fountains for the Jewish traditional hand washing ritual. It is recommended to wear modest clothes, which means that shorts, miniskirts, short sleeves are banned when approaching the Kotel. At the entrance to the Wailing Wall, in the women section, there is a stand with foulards in the eventuality a lady wears a deep decollete and short sleeves.
Dome Of The Rock And Al-Aqsa Mosque
The Dome of the Rock is an important holy place for Muslims. It is a shrine built over a sacred stone that is believed to be the place where Prophet Muhammad took his journey into Heaven. The sacred rock was holy to Jews before the appearance of Islam in the Old City. Indeed, in Judaism, Jews believe that Abraham was arranging the sacrifice of Isaac at the sacred rock under the Dome. In both Herod’s Temple and Solomon’s Temple, the Holy of Holies is believed to be under the Dome. It is a place that is crowded with security guards because it is the heart of conflicts between Jews and Muslims.
The entire complex is called Haram Al-Sharif, and it is managed by local Palestinian men even though it is part of Jerusalem under the Israeli government. The Dome is the oldest Islamic monument and also the oldest surviving mihrab. Mihrabs indicate the qibla, which is the location of the Kaaba in Mecca. The Dome was built with circular proportions and dimensions. The external walls, height and diameter of the dome are all about 21 metres long. The Dome is topped with an illustration of a full moon, and if you look through the moon, you are looking towards Mecca. The lower part of the exterior is made of white marble with a display of blue tiles. Muslims can visit inside both the beautiful structures as well as the outside. Non-Muslims can only enter during visiting hours, and they are not allowed inside the structures. The dress code is strict, and it requires that both knees and elbows are covered. Nevertheless, the headcover is not needed.
General Tourist Information
When you plan a visit to Jerusalem, please include modest clothes that cover elbows and knees in your luggage because they will be primarily helpful when you visit holy religious places. If you bring with you foulards, a shawl or pashmina, so you can wear short sleeves or a sleeveless shirt.
The Old City of Jerusalem is a place full of history and archaeology. Regarding the accommodation, the hotels in the Old City are smaller than those in the city centre of Jerusalem. In the Old City, there are small boutique hotels and hostels. Close to Jaffa Gate, there are different hotels, such as the New Imperial Hotel, which is between the Christian and the Armenian quarters with rooms featured by the traditional Jerusalem stone on the walls.
Between the Muslim and Christian Quarters, there is the Hashimi Hotel. Legatia offers studio apartments in the Jewish Quarter if you are looking for more privacy.
Suppose you want a cheap option, so the hostels are the best choice, and you will share a bathroom and the bedroom with others. Beautiful hostels are the Hebron Youth Hostel and the Chain Gate Hostel. Another convenient accommodation is the famous Abraham Hostel that is very popular among the youths, which is located in the city centre.
In Mamilla, you will find the Sweet Inn with luxury apartments close to Jaffa Gate. Moreover, other cheap options are the Zion Hotel and the Malka Hotel.