A day and a half was my itinerary allotment to see Jerusalem’s Old City. That appears to be enough to see all of the major points of interest, although in a city with such wealth of historical context, you will feel like you rushed through some of the sights no matter how much time you give yourselves.
At the danger of losing some of my readers here and now, I’ll start with a tinge of blasphemy: Jerusalem did not impress me the way I had thought it would. It must be in large part due to my secular identity – religious Jews or Christians will surely be awed by being so near the sacred sights, much more so than I can ever be. It is also in no small part due to me being a visual person – inside the city, the fairly monochrome palette leaves a relatively muted impression (with the clear and obvious exception of the Dome of the Rock), even accounting for sights of surpassing historical significance .
Elevated views over the entire Old City from a distance are always among the most stunning perspectives found in Jerusalem, such as this canonical view from the terrace on the Mount of Olives.
We are looking at the city from the east, so the Temple Mount is front and center. The Golden Gate used to be a main access point to this area from the east, but it was walled shut as far back as the end of the 12th century.
Mount Zion, immediately to the south of the Old City, is headlined in all perspectives by the Dormition Abbey.
The onion golden domes of the Russian Orthodox church of Mary Magdalene are another eye-catching highlight on the slopes of the Mount of Olives.
A perspective of the Dome of the Rock from inside the Dominus Flevit catholic church.
The present church is just over 60 years of age, built on the site of a much earlier Byzantine one.
Its shape symbolizes the tears shed after Christ’s prediction that the Second Temple would be destroyed. In the 1st century CE, the Second Temple stood where the Dome of the Rock stands today, and was reputedly a breathtaking sight as seen from the Mount of Olives.
Under the Dominus Flevit dome.
The church of Mary Magdalene is also relatively young, completed in 1888.
Another peek at the Golden Gate from a terrace in front of the Russian Orthodox church.
And here are a couple of functional gates to the Old Town, the western Jaffa Gate…
…and the southern Zion Gate.
No place in the Old City attracts as many visitors than the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The vast compound shared by 6 different Christian denominations holds the two holiest sites in Christianity – the Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus – plus the last few stations of the Via Dolorosa. The original church dates from the 4th century, but it was destroyed and subsequently rebuilt in the 11th.
One of the stations of the Passion of Christ, Altar of the Crucifixion, where the pious visitors can touch the glass encasing the Rock of Calvary.
This is the Aedicula, the enclosure containing the tomb of Christ in the main church Rotunda.
And this is the Greek Orthodox Katholikon, the most cathedral-like component of the church.
This ladder in the main courtyard of the church is called “immovable” – it has been here since 1757.
The division of ownership of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem between denominations, known as The Status Quo and established in 1757, stipulates that no property can be changed or rearranged without the consent of all of the six denominations. This ladder belonged to the Armenian Orthodox clerics and used as means to get fresh air on a ledge when their ability to step outside the church was rather limited by Ottoman rulers in the 18th century; the restrictions are long gone, but the ladder cannot be disposed of because the 250-year-old statute prohibits that in the absence of a formal consensus to do so.
Moving on to Jewish places of worship, this is Hurva Synagogue.
It was originally built in early 18th century but destroyed soon thereafter and remained in ruins for nearly a century and a half. When it was rebuilt in 1864, its unofficial name as “the Ruin Synagogue” stuck. It was destroyed once again in 1948 and only rebuilt very recently, in 2010.
The synagogue’s two-level Torah Ark has the space to hold 50 scrolls.
The four medallions near the ceiling of the prayer hall depict the holiest places in Judaism. This is the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the burial place of Abraham and Jacob.
And this is Tiberias, whose modern shape we briefly encountered in Galilee.
The exterior platform under the dome of the synagogue offers great perspectives over the Old City. Here is the southward view towards Mount Zion…
… and the eastward view headlined by the Dome of the Rock with Mount Olives in the background.
The remains of the colonnaded Roman Cardo are located right in the middle of the Jewish Quarter.
A vivid depiction of what the marketplace looked like anchors this archaeological sight.
We are now on Mount Zion.
One of the biggest draws here is the Tomb of King David, which is likely not the actual place where the King of Israel is buried. It is a bit of a weird sight to visit, being a functioning place of worship.
Another attraction on Mount Zion is the Room of the Last Supper, which is only mildly visually interesting. Here are a couple of details.
The Abbey of the Dormition is just over a hundred years old. The circular Basilica of the Assumption, seen on a couple of shots above from the outside, offers quite a few dazzling details inside.
Let’s walk a bit around the Old City. The differences between its parts are not too obvious. You will see the variety in locals: in the Jewish Quarter you see more religious Jews, and in the Muslim Quarter you see a lot more women wearing hijab, and the Armenian Orthodox priests can be met primarily on the streets of the Armenian Quarter. Architecturally, though, the four quarters are not significantly varying. Here are a few snippets from here or there.
A good portion of the Muslim Quarter is the shuk.
And then, of course, there is the Wailing Wall.
This is but a small section of the overall western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, the latter being the holiest place in Judaism but also one that cannot be set foot upon by the religious Jews – and not because it is under Muslim jurisdiction in our times, but because of a halakhic prohibition issued by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel back in 1967. The Western Wall is thus the closest place to the Temple Mount where Jews are allowed to pray – which makes it the holiest praying site in all of Jewish world. And a clear unmissable attraction for any visitor to Jerusalem.
I stepped all the way to the wall, touched it, and tried to imagine what I might have prayed for if I was at all religious.
An evening view of the Jaffa Gate and the nearby Tower of David.
And here is the modern complex of David’s Village facing the walls of the Old City.
This is the dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount as seen from an elevated remote viewpoint.
And here it is much closer by, as the backdrop to the first perspective that you see upon entering the Temple Mount.
Non-Muslims can enter Temple Mount only as tourists and only at limited times during the day. They are also prohibited entry to the interiors of the buildings in the compound. The visiting hours limitation means that a wait in line of upward of 45 minutes is practically unavoidable. And yet, the 7th-century Dome of the Rock is so obviously the most stupendous sight in Jerusalem that all of that inconvenience is definitely worth it in order to see it up close.
I am normally very choosy in including only the best angle or two in these photo-essays, but in this particular case I cannot decide between various angles and a couple of close-ups.
Muslims are allowed freely on the Temple Mount, and I suspect that the tourist hours follow very closely after the standard Muslim prayer times, so the vast majority of the people around appear to be locals who just finished a religious ceremony.
A few other details of the Temple Mount.
The very brief Jerusalem WH inscription is all about its significance to the three main monotheistic religions, and being an adherent of one is likely to be an important ingredient for a true spiritual connection to the city. For a secular visitor, there is still plenty to see and do, and plenty to look forward to on a future return visit.