The holy city of Jerusalem can be traced back at least 7,000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.This place just blew my mind, literally walking in the footsteps of Christ, and visiting some of the most important biblical sites in the world. You can literally feel the history surrounding you.
The Old City of Jerusalem
Many of the historic sites in Jerusalem are found in the Old City, a walled labyrinth of alleyways, where three distinct religions come together to worship.
The wall of the Old City was built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, a great ruler of the Ottoman Empire, and entrance to the city is only possible through designated gates. The most famous is Jaffa Gate, since Jaffa is a historic port city in Israel, and the arrival point for many people making their pilgrimage to the holy land.The shape of the gate is a small curved entryway; however, a larger paved entryway now exists next to the gate. This recent expansion was made to fit the giant ego of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. 😛
You see, he wanted to enter into the city on a royal chariot, but the existing gate was too small. To feed his ego, a portion of the wall was knocked down, and its surrounding moat was paved as a roadway for his grand entrance. 😮Now, next to Jaffa Gate is the Tower of David, a citadel constructed by Herod the Great, and rebuilt numerous times. This is noted when comparing the variety of bricks that make up the existing tower.Now after entering through the gate you’ll discover that the Old City is divided into four distinct quarters: the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian quarter. To find out more facts about these historic quarters, I took a free walking tour.
The Old City: Armenian Quarter
The Armenian Quarter had the most perplexing history. The other quarters represent the different faiths, while this one represents the nationals of Armenia.
What I learned from our guide was that the Armenians were living here during the crusades, and most crusaders would end up marrying an Armenian woman. Because of this alliance, the Armenian people gained a lot of power, which led them to gain their own residence quarter in the most sought-after district, closest to the king. Oddly enough, you won’t find any Armenians in this quarter today. They’ve all migrated outside of the Old City, yet continue to receive money from the churches and mosques that now reside on their land.
The Old City: Jewish Quarter
The main attraction in the Jewish Quarter is the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall.
This wall is a remnant of the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism.According to the Talmud, it is the place where the presence of God is strongest. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in the 1st century AD, and even though the Old City was destroyed and rebuilt nine times, the Western Wall remained.The Western Wall is also called the Wailing Wall. In the Talmud it is written that when the temple was destroyed, all the gates to heaven were closed except one: the Gate of Tears. Spiritual believers making pilgrimage to Jerusalem, come to this wall to weep, and pour their hearts out to God.Now the wall is divided into male and female sections, but men and women often meet at the dividing fence to converse with one another. I even saw a family of men and women gathering together at the fence to sing.
The Old City: Muslim Quarter
Behind the Western Wall is the Muslim Quarter, which is home to the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
According to Islam, the Dome of the Rock is where Muhammad ascended to Heaven, and Al-Aqsa Mosque is the second prayer house ever built, next to one in Mecca.This quarter also offers great Views of the Old City, from the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice. It costs 1.5 USD to enter, but it’s undeniably worth the view!This quarter is also the starting point for the street, Via Dolorosa.Via Dolorosa, translated as, “Way of Sorrows,” is the path that Jesus took on the way to His crucifixion.
More street kitties. 🙂
The Old City: Christian Quarter
Via Dolorosa ends in the Christian Quarter, and near the entrance to St. Anne Church, known for its amazing acoustics. Perfect for a sacred hymn! ❤
The site is also said to be the childhood home of the Virgin Mary.Now the most important site within the Christian Quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church contains two chapels, one of them containing the rock of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. The spot on the rock where the cross once stood is now identified by a silver disk, which visitors kneel down to kiss. The second chapel is the location where Jesus was nailed to the cross, depicted in this hanging mosaic mural.Another mosaic, hanging above the Stone of Anointing, depicts the preparation of Jesus’ body prior to burial.This church is also where you’ll find Jesus’ empty tomb.
Outside of the Old City, there are a few notable biblical sites as well.
Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives is an important site to Christians, as it is the place where Jesus ascended to heaven. It’s also important to Jews, since it has served as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years.Rocks are placed on the tombs rather than flowers, since flowers die, yet rocks will forever remain.This mountain ridge is literally covered in olive trees, hence the name, and Gethsemane, a garden amongst the trees is where Jesus and his disciples slept the night before the crucifixion. The Church of All Nations is also located near this garden, and contains a rock where Jesus is said to have prayed on that very night. Additionally, the mountain ridge overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem, so it’s a great sightseeing spot for religious and non-religious travelers alike.
North of the Old City is the Garden Tomb, a rock-cut tomb within a beautiful garden, which apparently challenges the idea of where Golgotha is located.There were many groups signing choir hymns in this garden, which made for an incredibly harmonious retreat.
The New City
In contrast to the Old City of Jerusalem, the New City of Jerusalem is incredibly impressive as well.
Similar to Jaffa Gate, the most famous street in the New City is Jaffa Street, which is a wide-open boulevard, filled with quaint cafes, restaurants, and the location of the light rail public transit.Cats rule the streets. ❤Walking straight down Jaffa Street, I could easily navigate to my hostel, and to the Mahane Yehuda Market nearby.
Mahane Yehuda Market
This local food market sells all sorts of Mediterranean specialties, like olives, fresh cheese, produce, sesame bread, and dried fruits.All the sellers were eager for me to try their items, scooping literal handfuls of dried muesli into my palm.Popular desserts in Israel include kanafeh, a cheese pastry soaked in syrup and topped with pistachios, and halva, an incredibly dense and decadent confection, made from nut butter and sugar.
I tried the espresso halva sample, which reminded me of a fudge. Good in small doses. 🙂During my time in Jerusalem, I had to make a personal choice about what places to visit, and although I only scratched the surface, I was in awe and wonder of everything that I saw. Next up I headed to Tel Aviv. Stay tuned to hear all about it. 🙂