The Old City
Jerusalem is a city of overwhelming
emotions, a city that promises a religious and spiritual experience, excitement
and pleasure, interesting tours and entertaining adventures. Here, alongside
Jerusalem’s fascinating historic and archeological sites, there are amazingly
modern tourist attractions for all lovers of culture, the arts, theater and
music, architecture and gastronomic delights.
At Jerusalem’s heart is the Old City, which is surrounded by a wall and divided into four quarters – Jewish, Armenian, Christian, and Muslim. Inside the walls are the important holy sites of the three major religions: the Western Wall, which is holy to the Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. The Western Wall plaza is visited by millions of worshipers. Here, at the base of the massive wall that is a remnant of the Holy Temple, prayers are offered and notes containing heartfelt wishes are wedged between the crevices.
Surrounding the Western Wall are other important Jewish sites – the Western Wall Tunnels, the unique Davidson Center, the Jewish quarter with its magnificent Cardo and David’s Citadel, towering proudly in its beauty. South of the Old City is the City of David, from which the ancient Can’anite and Israelite Jerusalem grew. This is a fascinating site with amazing findings that provide an unforgettable experience.
Jerusalem is also very important to Christianity, as Jesus Christ lived and died here. The Christian quarter alone houses some 40 religious buildings (churches, monasteries and pilgrims’ hostels). One of the most prominent and important sites in the Christian quarter is the Via Dolorosa, the “Way of Sorrows,” Jesus’ final path, which according to Christian tradition led from the courthouse to Golgotha Hill, where he was crucified and buried. Many pilgrims come to Jerusalem to follow Jesus’ footsteps along a route that starts in the Muslim Quarter, at Lions’ Gate, and passes the 14 stations of the cross, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Several of the most important Christian relics are housed in this church, including the anointing stone (on which Jesus’ body was laid before his burial) and Jesus’ grave. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a pilgrimage site for millions of Christians from all over the world.
Southwest of the Old City is Mt. Zion, where the Dormition Abbey was built on the site Christian tradition believes Mary spent her last night. The abbey was built about 100 years ago and in the basement there is a statue of the sleeping Mary. Beside the abbey is the Room of the Last Supper, where Jesus ate his last meal.
East of the Old City is the Mount of Olives, where there are other important Christian sites, and several churches: The Ascension, Pater Noster, Dominus Flevit, Mary Magdalene, Gethsemane, Lazarus and Abraham’s Monastery. According to Christian tradition, Mary’s tomb is in the Kidron Valley, below the Mt. of Olives.
Apart from the holy places throughout the Old City, there are several charming sites that are well worth visiting. There is the wonderful market, which is one big sensual celebration. Here you can buy Armenian-style decorated ceramics, beautiful strings of beads, authentic clothing, embroidered cushions, colorful wool carpets, candles and amazing glassware, and countless different souvenirs. From the promenade along the tops of the Old City walls you can look out over the Old City and the New City. Tours along the walls are a wonderful night-time activity, too, when the city’s lights sparkle making the sights even more unforgettable. The Armenian Quarter has its own unique charm and is well worth visiting.
Discover the New City
The construction of the new city’s Jewish
neighborhoods began in the late 19th century. Some of the neighborhoods have retained
their original picturesque charm, and wandering among the houses is a real
pleasure. Some of these neighborhoods are Even Yisrael, the German Colony, Yemin Moshe, Me’a She’arim, Makhane Yisra’el, Nakhla’ot,
Nakhalat Shiv’a, Ein Karem, Komemi’ut, Rekhavia, the Bukharian
Quarter and the Ethiopian Quarter. There are many other interesting and unique
sites from different periods throughout the city, such as Armon HaNatsiv
and the Promenade, Ammunition Hill, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the Monastery of the
Elias Monastery and the YMCA building. Among the more modern sites are the Supreme Court, the Israel Museum, the Biblical Zoo, the Knesset, Mt. Herzl, Makhane Yehuda market, with its unparalleled variety of
exciting sounds, colors, flavors and aromas.
Young people who like to go out in the evenings will love Jerusalem’s main night life regions: the German Colony, the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, Nakhalat Shiv’a, Shlomtsiyon HaMalka Street, and the Russian Compound.
Museum lovers will be delighted to discover that Jerusalem is dotted with dozens of museums full of rich exhibits, such as the Israel Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Bloomfield Science Museum, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Rockefeller Museum, the Bible Lands Museum, the Islamic Art Museum, the Old Yishuv Court Museum, the Armenian Museum and the Museum of Italian Jewish Art.
Children will enjoy the Time Elevator (an interactive, three-dimensional presentation on the history of Jerusalem), the spacious Biblical Zoo, Ein Ya’el – which offers workshops in Biblical arts and crafts, the Armon HaNatsiv tunnels, the beautiful botanical gardens and the hands-on interactive exhibits at the Bloomfield Science Museum.
Since Jerusalem is a city that has become home to people from many different faiths, traditions and ethnic groups, the city’s culinary culture offers something for everyone. Alongside Bohemian gourmet restaurants you will find eateries where the food is cooked slowly over ancient stoves, coffee shops with style, ethnic restaurants, fast food stands and bars that come to life in the evening hours. In addition to an abundant variety of dining opportunities, Jerusalem also has many different types of tourist accommodations, from luxury hotels to inexpensive youth hostels.
If you are wondering how Jerusalem became
such a center of religions and spirituality and a pilgrimage site for millions
of tourists from around the world, the answer begins thousands of years ago.
Jerusalem’s history is one of wars and struggles. Its strategic location
attracted many nations that wanted to capture the city, and some of them did
rule over it for various periods. This city has known war and peace, love and
hate, riches and poverty, destruction and renewal, happiness and pain.
According to Jewish tradition, the creation of the world began (5766 years ago) with the foundation stone on Mount Moriah (under the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount). This is where an important royal Can’anite city was built (about 4,000 years ago), and which was conquered from the Jebusites by King David in 1004 BCE and became the capital of his kingdom and a holy city. David’s son Solomon built the First Temple and his descendents (Hezekiah, Zedekiah and the Judean Kings) continued to enlarge and fortify the city’s boundaries, and to build a water supply system (Hezekiah’s tunnel). These efforts paid off, and when King Sennacherib of Assyria besieged Jerusalem he could not subdue the city and withdrew. Only in 586 BCE did Nebuchadnezzar conquer the Jewish capital. The city was destroyed and most of its inhabitants exiled to Babylon. In 538 BCE Xerxes, the King of Persia, who has conquered Babylon, permitted the exiled Jews to return to Judea and Jerusalem, where they rebuilt the city and built the Second Temple. For 370 years Judea was an autonomous district, first under the Persians and then under the Greeks. After the Hasmonean Revolt in 168 BCE, Jerusalem again became the capital of a Kingdom, that later became under the rule of the Roman Empire. King Herod the Great further expanded the Temple in the years 73-4 BCE.
At the end of the Second Temple period Jerusalem was a city of great social and religious tension. It was during this period that Jesus was preaching in Nazareth. In 66 CE the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire and took over Jerusalem. The suppression of this revolt ended in 70 CE, and the Romans, led by Titus, conquered the capital, destroyed the Temple completely and exiled the city’s inhabitants. For the next 60 years Jerusalem was desolate, until the Bar Kokhba Revolt, when the Jews returned for a short while. In 135 CE, the Romans rebuilt and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina and barred the Jews from living there.
After the Roman Empire accepted Christianity in 324 (and later became the Byzantine Empire), Jerusalem again became an important city. The site’s connected with Jesus’ life and death were located and declared holy, and many magnificent churches were built, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the Church of the Resurrection) and the “Mother of all the Churches,” on Mt. Zion.
In 638 the Muslims conquered Jerusalem and built the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque over the next few centuries. Following the Muslim conquest the Jews returned to Jerusalem, and around the 10th century this city again became the spiritual capital for the Jews of the Land of Israel.
The Crusaders also wanted to rule Jerusalem. They conquered the city in 1099, massacred the Jewish and Muslim residents and made Jerusalem their own capital. Less than 100 years later, in 1187, the Crusaders were defeated by Saladin a battle at Khitin. At that time the Jews returned to Jerusalem and have been here ever since.
In 1250 the Mamluk dynasty rose to power in Egypt and its rulers conquered this region and became the new lords of Jerusalem. In 1517 the Ottoman Empire spread to Jerusalem and for 400 years was under Turkish rule. During the first 100 years the city flourished and its walls were rebuilt. In the second half of the 16th century, as the Ottoman Empire began to decline, so did Jerusalem’s fortunes.
By the beginning of the 19th century Jerusalem was a small neglected city inside its walls, and only toward the end of the century (from 1860 onward), did the New City begin to grow, thanks to the generosity of British philanthropist Moshe Montifiore, who financed the construction of Mishkenot Sha’ananim. The success of this new neighborhood led to more neighborhoods being built outside the walls. More Jews began moving to Jerusalem, becoming a majority of the population in 1873.
In 1917, with the start of the British Mandate period, Jerusalem retained its status as the capital of the land. When Israel was established in 1948, Jerusalem was declared the state capital, and all the major government institutions were built here. These including the Knesset (Israel’s parliament building), the Supreme Court and the various government offices.
During the War of Independence, following bloody battles and ceasefire agreements, Jerusalem was left divided between Israel and Jordan, until the capital’s liberation in the Six Day War in 1967, when the two parts of the city were united and Jerusalem became Israel’s largest city.
From the very beginning, Jerusalem has been the one and only, a unique city second to none in the whole world.