Amazement! A plethora of feelings and emotions, provoked by contrasting history and fascinating discoveries! Buzzing nightlife! Yes, Jerusalem is characterised by all these and more.
The Holy City epitomises history, culture, and religion in such a way that you are left in awe while marching its fabled streets, souks, and cardos. It’s a journey through one of the most captivating boulevards of ancient history, remarkable architecture, and social relations.
Let’s go on this voyage through time.
Leave your Prejudices at Home and Courageously Immerse Yourself in the Old City of Jerusalem
You cannot be indifferent when you are in Jerusalem and you are experiencing its history. You cannot be indifferent before you have been there and after you have come back.
It’s absolutely astounding how three monotheistic religions and people from very different walks of life live between the same walls. And they have done so for thousands of years. Despite the conflicts and clashes, they still continue to reside together.
This fact just moves you. It massages your wits, it smashes your reality, and yet it soothes you.
The people, marching with AK-47s and M-16s everywhere in the Old City and throughout Jerusalem, did not scare me. On the contrary, when I saw them praying, wailing, and mourning, I felt a sense of safety.
And this will be absolutely mind-blowing for the majority of people who have not been there and who are vicious worshippers of the jibber-jabber media produce every single day.
The Old City Walls Hold the Secret to both Millennia of Historical Battles and Quaint Living Together
The history of Jerusalem is multi-layered, multi-faceted, and multi-fascinating. The Old City is like a cake with layers. The good thing about it is that these layers, coated during the reigns of Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, come with zero calories for your wanderlust diet but with tonnes of sweet historical hints.
The buildings around the Old City are packed with different and very fragrant coatings, characterising the palatable Jerusalem history, and the streets are paved with slippery but gorgeous limestone.
Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, counting more than 30,000 people, are the inseparable layers that reside in the Old City. In spite of the many conflicts that were happening and still happen from time to time, the place somehow seemed peaceful and harmonic. Let’s take a look at the different neighbourhoods.
The Christian Quarter
By passing through the Jaffa Gate, you immerse yourself in the Christian Quarter where you will find the upper-mentioned layers, as well as humble people, chit-chatting. Wander around the streets and just beside the Tower of David (see a description about it below), you can head to the Armenian Quarter and courageously march Ararat Rd or you can turn left and go to the holiest temple for Christians.
The Magnificent Church of the Holy Sepulchre
After admiring its imposing appearance and before you decide to enter inside, take a look up. On the walls just over the holy entrance, you will notice a ladder. This ladder represents the rising up of Jesus. It has stayed there for around 165 years. Every day, priests will look up to see the ladder and if it’s there, they will enter inside the church’s chambers relieved.
Immediately after you walk inside, you will see people on their knees, paying their tributes and kissing an empty tomb where Jesus Christ is believed to have been buried and then resurrected.
If you take the stairs to your right, you will feel the energy of Golgotha (or Calvary) – a place where Jesus is considered to have been crucified. Γολγοθᾶς in the New Testament is Greek transcription of the Aramaic term Gagultâ, which is translated as the “place of the skull”.
If you take a left at the entrance, passing by the empty tomb, you will notice the place where Jesus is assumed to have been resurrected.
The church might have a bit rugged look from the outside, but inside it’s lavishly decorated and deeply impresses with all its gorgeous icons, majestic organs, and fascinating murals. After all, it’s probably the holiest place for Christians and one of the richest when it comes to the history of Jerusalem.
The Armenian Quarter
All streets inside the Old City have names, attributed to different saints, sacred places, or events related to the four religions. Irrespective of the fact that Armenians are also Christians, there are both a Christian and an Armenian Quarter inside. That’s due to the fact that Armenians kept leaving and coming back to the city.
You will easily recognise that you have entered the Armenian Quarter by the way people are dressed – Armenians wear hats that have a triangle, resembling Ararat. Ararat was the ancient kingdom of the Armenians and is a mountain in the Caucasus.
The Jewish Quarter
Since Israel was under the dominance of the British Empire between 1917 and 1948, you will recognise that you have arrived in the Jewish Quarter by all the red post-boxes (exemplary of Britain).
If we think about the scrumptious, historically-layered cake, we should mention Jewish temples. They are built one over another. When one is destroyed, another is built on top.
For instance, the three walls of the Jewish temple compound were destroyed and the only one remaining nowadays is The Western Wall, also regarded as “The Wailing Wall”. It’s a wall not only for praying but also for mourning, crying, and wailing. People pray and wail there as this wall is the only remainder of the Temple Mount. Although it is regarded as holy owing to its connection to the temple and Jews are permitted to pray there, it is not the holiest site in the faith of the Jews. It is just the closest spot to the holiest area of the destroyed temple (since 70 A.D).
The Muslim Quarter
This is the most gigantic and the most populous of the 4 quarters in the Old City. Spreading from the Lions’ Gate to the Damascus Gate-Western Wall route in the west, it is a crucial part of the fascinating history of Jerusalem as Via Dolorosa starts there. Via Dolorosa, translated as “Way of Sorrow” or “Way of Grief”, is a winding route that is assumed to be the path which Jesus trudged on the way to his crucifixion.
Just behind where the Jewish part of the Western Wall meets the Muslim part lies the Dome of the Rock – the second holiest Islamic shrine in the world after the one in Mecca. It is a striking temple with a resplendent golden dome, measuring 80 kgs (176 lbs) of gold. It is assumed that Muhammad, together with the angel Gabriel, ascended to heaven from here.
The Old City of Jerusalem is a place where all Gods blend into one and it doesn’t even matter which religion you worship as long as you are promenading around the city, and especially inside its fortifications.
The Tower of David – Where a Magnificent Light Show Walks you through History
The Tower of David, nestled in Christian Quarter of the Old City, is a 450-year old minaret. Since Israel and Jerusalem stand on the tectonic plates between Asia and Africa, you may now notice stabilisers around the tower as many earthquakes have left it almost destroyed.
As a part of TBEX, many travel bloggers and I decided to join the Tower of David light and sound show (also known as the “Night Spectacular”) which was mesmerizingly hypnotising. The whole cavalcade of colours and Biblical scenes, together with the almost hypnotic music, made me watch in amazement.
The Tower of David finds its walls lighted at night in the brilliantly restored old citadel that protects the entrance of the Jaffa Gate to the Old City. Currently, it is a contemporary and innovative museum that provides its avid visitors with a wide-ranging introduction to Jerusalem’s history, which spans a range of more than 3,000 fascinating years.
Enter the walls of this imposing citadel and saunter the scenic courtyard where significant archaeological excavations have taken place. Trace the city’s timeline by wandering the fabled past of the Holy City and march around thousands of years that lightly touch King Herod’s Palace and its stones.
The City of David – the Place Where Jerusalem Exploded into Existence
Some more than three millennia ago, King David decided to say his farewell to Hebron city, put his equestrian gloves, and “set sail” to a small town – Jerusalem. Mentioned more than 700 times in the Bible, the city was chosen as a capital, unifying all Israeli tribes at the time.
The hilltop site turned into one of the most important in the world, following the construction of the First Temple just next to the City of David. It was built atop of Mount Moriah by King Solomon, the son of David.
Nowadays, the story of the City of David is ongoing as Jews continuously identify themselves with the city. It is also one of the most peculiar tours I took part of in the Holy City.
The tour commences by offering its participants a stupefying view from an observation point, overlooking Biblical Jerusalem. This catapults visitors approximately 3,800 years ago when Abraham laid the initial foundations of the city.
As you work yourself through the ancient site, you are presented with archaeological excavations and amazing biblical discoveries that are just drained in history.
The tour follows its way underground through tunnels, reaching to the Gihon Spring. Just before that, we were told that King Solomon was in possession of a private toilet and Syrian furniture, adorning his abode. This is a testament to his wealth and well-being then.
Adrenaline junkies can immerse themselves in a journey through a tunnel with knee-deep water. It was King Hezekiah, the founder of the ancient Assyrian Empire, who trapped the water inside the tunnel in an effort to save the city citizens from drinking contaminated water as many of his rivals were trying to poison it.
Of course, if you are not feeling like drenching your feet in cold water and wearing a helmet with a torch (as the tunnel is pitch black), there’s another tunnel you can follow. That’s what I did, in fact.
The Mount of Olives – a Place of Reverences, Barbed Wire, and Magical Wonders
Standing adjacent to and east of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives derives its name from the olive groves that covered its slopes in the past. Here, you will stumble upon numerous Jewish graves (over 150,000), marking a significant part of Jerusalem’s history as they have been erected there in the last 3,000 years.
Jesus believers ascend the not-so-steep hills of the mount to visit the Church of Ascension where Jesus is believed to have presented himself to heaven. The sight is also associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and for that reason, has been a place of Christian reverence since old times. Nowadays, it is a huge pilgrimage site for Eastern Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Protestants.
Walking around the countless Jewish graves, while ascending the hill to the Church of the Ascension, was a piece of experience like no other. As if you are teleported in Biblical Times when tranquillity and serenity were predominant. Probably that’s due to the myriads of souls still hovering around the Mount. : )
Jerusalem Is not Only a Home to Fascinating Historical Sights but also to a Buzzing Nightlife
Pub crawl in Jerusalem? I bet that’s a thing you didn’t expect. Yet, just outside the walls of the Old City tiny gay bars welcome tipsy foreigners and locals that want to drink the night away. Should you require more space to showcase your flawless (read “naughty”) dance moves or you’d just like to have immense amounts of fun, there are numerous other discos to do so.
I would most certainly suggest you stop at one of the hundreds of bars, scattered around the bazaar alleys of the Mahane Yehuda Market – indubitably one of the most colourful open markets I have ever had the pleasure to sip beer at. The best thing is that most of the vendors work until very late, so whenever you feel like your hoppy golden ale necessitates nuts, shawarma, baklava, or halva, you will be able to purchase some. The hubbub and clamour at Mahane Yehuda are absolutely fascinating, so make sure to pay this place a visit.
At most bars, the music is what you will probably listen to in American and European clubs, so should you be a fan of these music styles, I promise you will have a wonderful time. However, I was quite surprised to find out that most of them closed at around 2-3 in the morning – just as my fellow travel bloggers from TBEX and I were really warming our feet for the true dance battles. Keep in mind that Friday afternoon marks the beginning of Shabbat and with that, the market closes.
Jerusalem Has its Peculiarities and Inconveniences, Too
Yes, the history of Jerusalem definitely captivates you and leaves you seething with versatile emotions, but there were things that struck me negatively.
Let’s commence with contrasts! Contrasts are good most of the time, but what I discovered as really striking is the filth outside the Old City’s walls. Slums, trash, rotting fruit and vegetables were a common occurrence every 50 metres (165 ft).
Orthodox Jews are incredibly pushy – so much to the point that they will step on your feet occasionally and won’t even apologise. On the bright side, most people are quite friendly and helpful, so don’t be too judgmental.
Prices, especially for alcohol, are quite high. At a regular bar, you will have to dig at least 25-30 NIS (7-8 USD) out of your wallet for a decent beer. Belgian ales could reach as high as 40-45 NIS (10-12 USD). Even Americans and people from Western Europe were struck by these prices. I will refrain from commenting. : )
The History of Jerusalem Should be Explored like Abraham Did it
You have to sleep somewhere in an effort to cover more ground when exploring a city, right? Well, the best place for a social person like me are definitely hostels.
That’s how I ended up booking my stay at Abraham Hostels. This hostel surely knows how to treat its guests. Not only did I receive a personal welcome note and the staff were absolutely amazing, but also the hostel is crammed with activities.
Hummus workshops, all kinds of tours in and outside of Jerusalem, shuttles to the airport, live music, and pub crawls are just some of the multitudes of things, which you can do there. Prices are absolutely affordable (read “cheap” for Israel), the rooms are comfortable (with many electric outlets to charge your devices), and when a scrumptious breakfast is included, it all falls into one place.
I strongly believe a big part of travelling is the people you meet on the way and this is a wonderful location to do so.
Indispensable Tips for a Smarter Exploration of the History of Jerusalem and its Holy Sites
Now that you are considering diving into the historical layers of Jerusalem, here are some practical tips:
- Since Jerusalem is at an elevation of more than 800 metres (2,625 ft), the nights were quite cold in the second part of March when I was there, so pack accordingly if you are heading there in winter.
- There are (at least) two places to ponder at Jerusalem’s Old City from above:
- By far the best place to contemplate Jerusalem, in my opinion, is ascending the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and taking a couple of shots from there. However, a fee of 15 NIS is required and you need to put your leg strength to the test as 150 steps and a very narrow ladder await you.
- The second place that offers an amazing view of the city, especially at night, is atop the Tower of David.
- Should you like to get to the Dome of the Rock and capture the resplendent mosque with its enormous golden dome, the only time that’s possible for non-Muslims to visit it is from 12:30 to 13:30. However, bear in mind that a mind-boggling queue line forms even before 12:00, so if you arrive there after 12:20, I strongly suggest you don’t wait. Jerusalem’s history is not complete without this holy temple, but for non-Muslims, it’s a challenge of patience to get there.
- Jerusalem has only one tram line and it is jam-packed with people, so if you are standing inside, work your way out, as they are not moving.
I am certain that I provoked throngs of emotions in you. Don’t mind expressing them and sharing your own thrilling pieces of experience.
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