5 Reasons to Visit the Old City of Jerusalem
Author: Jasmine Jenkins "Make You Wander"
Walled inside Jerusalem lies the heart to the three great monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Here, worshippers have celebrated the foundations of their faith for 3,000 years in the sacred Old City which is home to some of the oldest examples of religious architecture.
Whether you are religious or simply curious, The Old City of Jerusalem is considered
the holiest place on Earth and is guaranteed to intrigue
The Walled City
The walled city is free to enter and can be accessed by any 1 of the 11 gates. The most common access point being the Jaffa Gate due to its convenience to and from Jerusalem city centre. The Old City is divided into subsections referred to as the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian Quarters. A fifth section used to exist, the Moroccan Quarter, however, this was destroyed in 1967 to create space for what is now the Western Wall plaza.
"A labyrinth of indistinguishable, narrow alleyways weaves the path through the Old City,
lined with stalls selling trinkets and treasures"
Although small in proximity, the Old City is packed with hundreds of religious sites including churches, mosques, synagogues and an abundance of ancient and historical architecture which has been impressively preserved.
When we visited, we wandered around finding our own way, however, the best way to experience the Old City is with a tour guide to navigate the maze of alleyways and provide information along the way as many of these sites are still active places of worship and are not catered towards tourism.
For a great overview of the Old City, the Ramparts Walk takes you along the outer walls from either the North or South side and is an excellent tour to get your bearings and see the Old City from a birds-eye perspective. Only accessible on weekends, this walk is a hidden gem from locals and tourists alike.
#1 Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Entering from the Jaffa Gate brings you directly into the Christian Quarter, which is home to 40 holy sites and at the heart lies the most important shrine in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Shrine inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Dating back to the 4th Century, the church is a special place of pilgrimage for Christians all around the world and many believe that it is here that Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
Admission: The Church is open to everyone, free and open during set times all year-round. There is no crowd control so early visits are recommended to avoid queues and overcrowding.
#2 The Mount of Olives
In biblical times, the Mount of Olives was covered with ancient olive trees and the Gardens of Gethsemane which lie at the foot of the hillside are both mentioned heavily in the Bible.
In Christianity, here is believed to be the spiritual link between heaven and earth or life and death and is considered the holiest of cemeteries. In terms of geographical interest, this site also links the desert to the fertile hills of Jerusalem.
From the top, a panoramic view of the Old City and many religious sites can be seen.
Admission: The Mount of Olives and Gardens of Gethsemane are open to everyone, free and open all day, year-round.
#3 The Western Wall
In the Jewish Quarter stands the remaining remnant of the most important religious site in Judaism, the Western Wall. The Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray, though the holiest site in the Jewish faith lies behind it.
Also known as the ‘Wailing’ Wall in reference to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of the Temples approximately 2,000 years ago beyond the wall which at one time, surrounded the Temple Mount.
Formed of 46 layers of stone from different time periods, the remaining section in the Prayer Plaza is rather unimpressive, however, recent excavations have discovered that the layers reach a further estimated 20 metres underground.
Tours of these subterranean Western Wall tunnels can be arranged but must be booked prior.
Admission: The Western Wall is open to everyone, free and open all day, year-round.
#4 The Temple Mount
Beyond the Western Wall, the Temple Mount is an area which has been a focal point of inter-religious tension for decades and is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
The Temple Mount is most commonly recognised for the Dome of the Rock shrine which crowns the hillside. However, it is the sacred stone the Dome is built on which is of religious significance to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
The Temple Mount is home to a further 100 different religious structures spanning from various time periods including arches, fountains, prayer spots and sites of biblical reference.
Admission: Visiting hours to the Temple Mount are restricted to set times and only accessible to tourists and non-Muslims through the Moroccan ‘Mughrabi’ Gate which is past the Western Wall and accessed via a long wooden walkway. There are also strict security procedures so it is advised to be considerate of your attire, keeping your shoulders, legs and head covered and also not taking in any religious items or souvenirs.
#5 Dome of the Rock
Sitting atop this elevated plaza stands the oldest surviving Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock, otherwise referred to as the Al Aqsa Mosque, which can be seen from all over Jerusalem.
This beautifully iconic blue mosaic shrine featuring a gold dome is highly preserved and it is hard to imagine that the original structure dates back to 685-691 AD.
Admission: Access to the Dome of the Rock is prohibited to non-Muslims.
What can we do as responsible travellers?
It is advised that men and women dress modestly, keeping legs, shoulders and heads covered
Avoid religious holidays
It is advisable to check if there are any upcoming religious holidays which may take place in Jerusalem and avoid visiting during these times as the city may experience political unrest or heightened tensions. Also, public transport, shops and restaurants may be closed for events.
Learn local language
The native languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic, which are both very difficult to translate into English as both have their own alphabets. It is always customary to learn basic gratuities and phrases.
Respect times of prayer
As these are still places of pilgrimage and worship, we should show respect by keeping noise to a minimum and allowing people space and comfort to pray.
Some sites request no photography, however, visitors often do not listen. So as not to offend or violate, photography of religious sites and other people should be limited.
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