Jerusalem - Table of Contents
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The entrance to Jerusalem is nothing special. It's not like crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to enter San Francisco, spying the Empire State Building and World Trade Center on the way to Manhattan, riding down the Champs-Elysées into the heart of Paris or taking the vaporetto across a canal into Venice. Still, when you enter Jerusalem, you feel that something is different and, intellectually and spiritually, you know this is a place unlike any other on earth.
Jerusalem is a place where you can have fun, but it is more spiritual than spirited. Of course, sometimes the spirit moves people a little too far. In fact, psychologists have identified something they call the "Jerusalem syndrome" to describe people who become so intoxicated with the city they act irrationally, sometimes to the point of believing themselves to be the messiah.
Around the year 1010 B.C.E., King David defeated the Jebusites in Jerusalem and decided to make the city his administrative capital. When he brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city, he stripped the Twelve Tribes of the spiritual source of their power and concentrated it in his own hands.
King David wanted to build a great Temple for God as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant. According to Jewish tradition, David was not permitted to build the Temple because he had been a warrior. The task was to fall to a man of peace, David's son, Solomon. The Temple would become the focus of Jewish veneration from that point to the present.
After Solomon died in 931 B.C.E., a civil war led to a split in the Israelite nation. Jerusalem became part of the southern kingdom of Judah, while ten of the northern tribes formed the new kingdom of Israel. That kingdom lasted until 722 B.C.E., when it was conquered by the Assyrians.
Meanwhile, Judah staved off the Assyrians and other potential invaders until the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, led his army into Jerusalem and captured the city in 597 B.C.E. He deported thousands of Jews and appointed 21-year-old Zedekiah, a descendant of King David, to serve as king, expecting him to be a puppet ruler. Zedekiah had different ideas, however, and mounted a revolt. After an eighteen-month siege, Nebuchadnezzar razed Jerusalem. Most of the population was deported to Babylon in 586 B.C.E.
In 560 B.C.E. a new empire emerged, the Persians, led by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus conquered Palestine and then unexpectedly told the Jews they could return to their homeland. While he was probably motivated primarily by the desire to have someone else rebuild Palestine and to make it a source of income for the Persian Empire, the impact on the Jews was to reinvigorate their faith and stimulate them to reconstruct the Temple. The Second Temple was completed in 516 B.C. Over the next 150 years, Judea flourished as the Jews rebuilt Jerusalem and developed the surrounding areas.
In 332 B.C.E. a new power swept through the Middle East. This time it was Alexander the Great who became Palestine's ruler and introduced Greek culture and ideals -- Hellenism. Though many Jews had been seduced by the virtues of Hellenism, the extreme measures adopted over the years helped unite the people. When a Greek official tried to force a priest named Mattathias to make a sacrifice to a pagan god, the Jew murdered the man. Responding to Greek reprisals, the Jews rose up in 167 B.C.E. behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation. Three years later, Jerusalem was recaptured from the Greeks by the Maccabees and the Temple purified, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Chanukah.
The last Jewish kingdom survived only 76 years. The grandsons of the Maccabees who had won Jewish independence lost it in large part because of their jealousy and greed. In all likelihood however, with their own empire expanding, the Romans would not have permitted the Jews to keep their kingdom much longer anyway. After three years of fighting, Herod's Roman-backed army wrested control of Jerusalem and the rest of Judea from the Jews in 63 B.C.E.
The most significant of Herod's projects was the rebuilding of the Second Temple in the first century B.C.E. It took 10,000 people and a thousand priests nine years to complete the project. The original Temple of King Solomon was a relatively small building on top of Mount Moriah. Herod doubled the area of the Temple Mount and surrounded it with four massive retaining walls. The western wall is the longest, about 1600 feet (485 meters), and includes the Jewish area of prayer known as the Kotel or Western Wall.
In 66 A.D., after the procurator Florus provoked the Jews through a variety of activities that ranged from stealing silver from the Temple to desecrating the vestments of the High Priest, the Zealots started a revolt. The Jews initially met with success, routing Roman armies in Jerusalem, but the Romans returned with a larger force. The Jews hoped to hold off the Romans in fortified Jerusalem, but they began a fratricidal battle in which the Zealots murdered Jewish leaders who refused to go along with their rebellion. The Romans laid siege to the city and in the year 70 A.D. overwhelmed the remaining defenders and destroyed the Second Temple. Some of the Zealots escaped and made their last stand at Masada.
Though the mighty Romans had been held at bay for four years, their ultimate victory was never in doubt and the consequences of the Jews' defeat was devastating. Not only was the Temple destroyed, but perhaps as many as one million Jews were killed and many survivors enslaved.
After the suppression of the Jewish revolt, relative calm settled on the Holy Land for nearly 60 years. The Emperor Hadrian had even talked at one point of rebuilding the Temple. He did build a temple; however, it was in honor of Jupiter rather than the god of the Jews. He also renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina and made it a Roman city.
This insult, along with other indignities that went along with being Roman subjects, provoked yet another rebellion beginning in 132 A.D., this time under the charismatic leadership of Simeon Bar-Kokhba. It took nearly three years for the Romans to pacify the country and, when they were done, roughly 600,000 Jews were dead (including Bar-Kokhba) and Judea had been devastated. The Emperor renamed the entire province Syria Palaestina, Jerusalem became a pagan city that Jews were forbidden to enter, and the persecution of Judaism became widespread.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, the center of Jewish life shifted from Jerusalem to Yavneh, where Yochanan ben Zakkai established an academy to train scholars. Meanwhile, the influence of Christianity began to grow in the region, culminating in 330 C.E. with Emperor Constantine's decision to move the capital of the empire from Rome to the city of Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople (now Istanbul).
The Islamic conquest of Palestine, which began in 633, was the beginning of a 1,300-year span during which more than ten different empires, governments, and dynasties were to rule in the Holy Land prior to the British occupation after World War I.
In 638, the Jews in Palestine assisted the Muslim forces in defeating the Persians who had reneged on an agreement to protect them and allow them to resettle in Jerusalem. As a reward for their assistance, the Muslims permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to guard the Temple Mount.
The Muslims fended off their rivals until the end of the 11th century. In 1095, Pope Urban II called for Crusades to regain Palestine from the infidels. They succeeded in 1099 and celebrated by herding all the Jews into a synagogue and burning them alive. Non-Christians were subsequently barred from the city.
Saladin succeeded in expelling the Crusaders and recaptured Jerusalem for the Muslims in 1187. Two years later, the Christians mounted the Third Crusade to retake Jerusalem, but Saladin's forces repelled them.
The next important phase in the history of Jerusalem was the conquest of the Ottoman Turks at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Turkish sultan then became responsible for Jerusalem. The Holy Land was important to the Turks only as a source of revenue; consequently, like many of their predecessors, they allowed Palestine to languish. They also began to impose oppressive taxes on the Jews.
Neglect and oppression gradually took their toll on the Jewish community and the population declined to a total of no more than 7,000 by the end of the seventeenth century. It wasn't until the nascent Zionist movement in Eastern Europe motivated Jews to return to Palestine that the first modern Jewish settlement was established -- in Petah Tikvah in 1878.
The Ottoman Empire held its own against rivals from Europe and Asia for roughly 400 years. They chose, however, to engage in a battle they could not win -- World War I -- and lost their empire. Palestine was captured by the British, who subsequently were awarded a mandate from the League of Nations to rule the country.
Ever since King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago, the city has played a central role in Jewish existence. The Western Wall in the Old City — the last remaining wall of the ancient Jewish Temple, the holiest site in Judaism — is the object of Jewish veneration and the focus of Jewish prayer. Three times a day for thousands of years Jews have prayed, “To Jerusalem, thy city, shall we return with joy,” and have repeated the Psalmist's oath: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”
Jews have been living in Jerusalem continuously for nearly two millennia. They have constituted the largest single group of inhabitants there since the 1840's (map of Jerusalem in 1912). Today, the total population of Jerusalem is approximately 662,000. The Jewish population in areas formerly controlled by Jordan exceeds 160,000, outnumbering Palestinians in "Arab" East Jerusalem.
Muslims also revere the Holy City. According to Islam, the prophet Mohammed was miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem, and it was from there that he made his ascent to heaven. Still, despite controlling the city for more than a thousand years, Jerusalem was never the capital of any Arab entity. In fact, it was a backwater for most of Arab history.
For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus lived, preached, died, and was resurrected. While it is the heavenly rather than the earthly Jerusalem that is emphasized by the Church, places mentioned in the New Testament as the sites of his ministry and passion have drawn pilgrims and devoted worshipers for centuries.
When the United Nations took up the Palestine question in 1947, it recommended that all of Jerusalem be internationalized. The Jewish Agency, after much soul-searching, agreed to accept internationalization in the hope that in the short-run it would protect the city from bloodshed and the new state from conflict. The Arab states were as bitterly opposed to the internationalization of Jerusalem as they were to the rest of the partition plan. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, subsequently, declared that Israel would no longer accept the internationalization of Jerusalem.
In May 1948, Jordan invaded and occupied east Jerusalem, dividing the city for the first time in its history, and driving thousands of Jews — whose families had lived in the city for centuries — into exile. For the next 19 years, the city was split, with Israel establishing its capital in western Jerusalem and Jordan occupying the eastern section, which included the Old City and most religious shrines.
During the War of Independence, fire from Arab League forces, made it impossible to reach the positions on Mt. Zion. At the time, a tunnel linked Mt. Zion with Yemin Moshe (in Western Jerusalem). The tunnel was very narrow, so Uriel Jefetz (a commander of the Irgun) designed a unique cable car to evacuate the wounded and bring supplies to the soldiers on Mt. Zion. As a result of the reinforcements of this cable car, the Harel Brigade conquered Mt. Zion on May 18, 1948. While it was only in use for half a year the IDF kept the car a secret and in working order from 1948 to 1967.
In 1950, Jordan annexed all the territory it occupied west of the Jordan River, including east Jerusalem. The other Arab countries denied formal recognition of the Jordanian move, and the Arab League considered expelling Jordan from membership. Eventually, a compromise was worked out by which the other Arab governments agreed to view all the West Bank and east Jerusalem as held "in trust" by Jordan for the Palestinians.
From 1948-67, the city was divided between Israel and Jordan. Israel made western Jerusalem its capital; Jordan occupied the eastern section. Because Jordan — like all the Arab states at the time — maintained a state of war with Israel, the city became two armed camps, replete with concrete walls and bunkers, barbed-wire fences, minefields and other military fortifications.
In violation of the 1949 Armistice Agreement, Jordan denied Israelis access to the Temple Wall and to the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where Jews have been burying their dead for 2,500 years. Jordan actually went further and desecrated Jewish holy places. King Hussein permitted the construction of a road to the Intercontinental Hotel across the Mount of Olives cemetery. Hundreds of Jewish graves were destroyed by a highway that could have easily been built elsewhere. The gravestones, honoring the memory of rabbis and sages, were used by the engineer corps of the Jordanian Arab Legion as pavement and latrines in army camps. The ancient Jewish Quarter of the Old City was ravaged, 58 Jerusalem synagogues — some centuries old — were destroyed or ruined, others were turned into stables and chicken coops. Slum dwellings were built abutting the Western Wall.
Jews were not the only ones who found their freedom impeded. Under Jordanian rule, Israeli Christians were subjected to various restrictions, with only limited numbers allowed to visit the Old City and Bethlehem at Christmas and Easter. Because of these repressive policies, many Christians emigrated from Jerusalem, leading their numbers to dwindle from 25,000 in 1949 to less than 13,000 in June 1967.
In 1967, Jordan ignored Israeli pleas to stay out of the Six-Day War and attacked the western part of the city. The Jordanians were routed by Israeli forces and driven out of east Jerusalem, allowing the city's unity to be restored. Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s mayor for 28 years, called the reunification of the city "the practical realization of the Zionist movement's goals."
After the war, Israel abolished all the discriminatory laws promulgated by Jordan and adopted its own tough standard for safeguarding access to religious shrines. "Whoever does anything that is likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the various religions to the places sacred to them," Israeli law stipulates, is "liable to imprisonment for a term of five years." Israel also entrusted administration of the holy places to their respective religious authorities.
Muslim rights on the Temple Mount, the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa Mosque, have not been infringed, and the holy places are under the supervision of the Muslim Waqf. Although it is the holiest site in Judaism, Israel has left the Temple Mount under the control of Muslim religious authorities.
Since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Christians — many from Arab countries that remain in a state of war with Israel — have come to Jerusalem to see their holy places. Arab leaders are free to visit Jerusalem to pray if they wish to, just as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did at the El-Aksa mosque.
Along with religious freedom, Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem have unprecedented political rights. Arab residents were given the choice of whether to become Israeli citizens. Most chose to retain their Jordanian citizenship. Moreover, regardless of whether they are citizens, Jerusalem Arabs are permitted to vote in municipal elections and play a role in the administration of the city.
The Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DoP) signed September 13, 1993, leaves open the status of Jerusalem. Other than this agreement to discuss Jerusalem during the final negotiating period, Israel conceded nothing else regarding the status of the city during the interim period. Israel retains the right to build anywhere it chooses in Jerusalem and continues to exercise sovereignty over the undivided city. Meanwhile, the Palestinians maintain that Jerusalem should be the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
Jerusalem is one issue on which the views of Israelis are unanimous: The city must remain the undivided capital of Israel. Still, efforts have been made to find some compromise that could satisfy Palestinian interests. For example, one suggestion is to allow the Palestinians to set up their capital in a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem — Abu Dis.
Only two countries have embassies in Jerusalem — Costa Rica and El Salvador. Of the 184 nations with which America has diplomatic relations, Israel is the only one where the United States does not recognize the capital or have its embassy located in that city. The U.S. embassy, like most others, is in Tel Aviv, 40 miles from Jerusalem. The United States maintains a consulate in east Jerusalem that deals with Palestinians in the territories and works independently of the embassy, reporting directly to Washington. While Congress has voted to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, successive Presidents, the final arbiters of the nation's foreign policy, have refused to do so.
In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones threatens to blow up the Ark of the Covenant. His nemesis pats the ark and says: "You and I are just passing through history. This is history." That is the feeling one gets in the Old City of Jerusalem. Just walking through the narrow streets and alleys, never mind the shrines holy to three faiths, one is immersed in history.
The Old City covers roughly 220 acres (one square kilometer). The surrounding walls date to the rule of the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566). Work began on them in 1537 and was not completed until 1541.
The Old City has a total of 11 gates, but only seven are open (Jaffa, Zion, Dung, Lions’ [St. Stephen's], Herod’s, Damascus [Shechem] and New).
One of the closed gates is the Golden Gate, located above ground level and below the Temple Mount. It is only visible from outside the city. According to Jewish tradition, when the Messiah comes, he will enter Jerusalem through this gate. To prevent him from coming, the Muslims sealed the gate during the rule of Suleiman.
You may notice the original gates are angled so that you can't enter directly into the city without making a sharp 90-degree angle turn. This was to prevent attackers from charging full-speed, straight ahead through them.
The main entrance to the city is the Jaffa Gate, built by Suleiman in 1538. The name in Arabic, Bab el-Halil or Hebron Gate, means "The Beloved," and refers to Abraham, the beloved of God who is buried in Hebron. A road allows cars to enter the city here. It was originally built in 1898 when Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany visited Jerusalem. The ruling Ottoman Turks opened it so the German Emperor would not have to dismount his carriage.
A great way to visit the Old City is simply to wander through the labyrinthine paths and let yourself get lost. For safety reasons, it's best not to travel alone and to be careful about wandering beyond the main thoroughfares of the Muslim Quarter. It is also prudent to explore during the day, though the views of many of the sites -- when you know how to find them -- are often best at night.
Just inside Jaffa Gate, on the left beyond the Tourist Information Office, is a small enclosure with two graves nearly hidden beneath the trees. These are believed to be the graves of the two architects whom Suleiman had rebuild the city walls. They were supposedly murdered either because the Sultan wanted to be sure they could never build anything more impressive for anyone else, or because he was angered by their failure to include Mount Zion within the walls.
From the Jaffa Gate side of the city, the most striking landmark is the Citadel, which is marked by David's Tower, a misnomer given that the cylindrical structure dates from the 16th century. By contrast, the tall, square tower is 2,000 years old and was built by Herod. Inside the Citadel is a courtyard and museum with exhibits on the history of the Citadel and Old City.
The best way to immerse yourself in the city is simply to head straight down David Street from Jaffa Gate into the Arab market, the souk, where you can expect to be verbally accosted by shopkeepers trying to entice you into their stores and to keep you occupied long enough to buy something. It's a great place to bargain, but keep in mind the shopping tips offered under trip preparation.
As you make your way through the souk, you'll reach different forks. Head to the left to go toward the Christian or Muslim Quarter and the right to reach the Jewish Quarter. The path to the major shrines, the Western Wall, Temple Mount and Church of the Holy Sepulcher, are not very well marked, but anyone you ask should be able to direct you.
If you head toward the Muslim Quarter, or enter the Old City coming from the North from Mea She'arim or somewhere else off Suleiman Street, you'll want to look for Damascus Gate. This is where most Arabs enter the city and you'll find a bustling open-air market filled with people, carts, food and trinkets. Below the gate is a surviving arch built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 135 as the main entrance to the city he called Aelia Capitolina.
The current Jewish Quarter, which today looks almost brand new and usually sparkling clean, dates to roughly 1400. The oldest synagogues — the Elijah the Prophet and Yohanan Ben Zakkai — are roughly 400 years-old. These synagogues are below street level because at the time they were built Jews and Christians were prohibited from building anything higher than the Muslim structures. In the main plaza, an arch stretches skyward where one of the walls of the Hurva Synagogue once stood.
Just off the plaza is the Cardo, which was a Byzantine road, roughly the equivalent of an eight-lane highway, that ran through the heart of the city. Today, a small area is preserved with some of the original Roman columns. Just beyond the columns is an underground mall with a number of Jewish stores and art galleries.
When Rome destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E., only one outer wall remained standing. The Romans probably would have destroyed that wall also, but it must have seemed too insignificant to them; it was not even part of the Temple itself, just an outer wall surrounding the Temple Mount. For the Jews, however, this remnant of what was the most sacred building in the Jewish world quickly became the holiest spot in Jewish life. Throughout the centuries, Jews from throughout the world traveled to Palestine, and immediately headed for the Kotel ha-Ma'aravi (the Western Wall) to thank God. The prayers offered at the Kotel were so heartfelt that non-Jews began calling the site the "Wailing Wall."
A large plaza offers access to the Wall. You may take pictures — except on Shabbat — from outside the fenced enclosure near the Wall. The area is open 24-hours and is especially nice to visit when it is quiet late at night or during holidays and bar-mitzvahs when the area is filled with worshippers.
The area near the Wall is divided by a fence — a mechitza — with a small area for women only on one side and a larger area for men on the other. If you don't have a yarmulke, a box at the entrance has paper ones to use while you're near the Wall.
Go right up to the Wall and feel the texture of the stones and take in the awesome size of the structure. The largest stone in the wall is 45 feet long, 15 feet deep, 15 feet high, and weighs more than one million pounds. The Wall is 65 feet (20 meters) high.
Praying at the Wall is a unique experience, one that makes believers feel as close as it is possible to get to the Almighty. You'll notice scraps of paper in the Wall when you are standing up close. These kvitlach, are messages and prayers that people write and put in the Wall, hoping they will be answered.
Entering a tunnel at the prayer plaza, one turns northwards into a medieval complex of subterranean vaulted spaces and a long corridor with rooms on either side. Incorporated into this complex is a Roman and medieval structure of vaults, built of large dressed limestone. The vaulted complex ends at Wilson's Arch, named after the explorer who discovered it in the middle of the 19th century.
Along the outer face of the Herodian western wall of the Temple Mount, a long narrow tunnel was dug slowly under the supervision of archeologists. As work progressed under the buildings of the present Old City, the tunnel was systematically reinforced with concrete supports. A stretch of the Western Wall — nearly 1,000 feet (300 meters) long — was revealed in pristine condition, exactly as constructed by Herod. In this confined space, you are walking on the original pavement from the Second Temple period and following in the footsteps of the pilgrims who walked here 2,000 years ago on their way to participate in the rituals on the Temple Mount.
At the end of this man-made tunnel, a 65 foot (20 meters) long section of a paved road and an earlier, rock-cut Hasmonean aqueduct leading to the Temple Mount were uncovered. A short new tunnel leads outside to the Via Dolorosa in the Muslim Quarter.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews oppose organized women's prayer services at the Wall; prayer services they maintain, may only be conducted by males. Public pressure has grown over the years to allow women to pray collectively at the Kotel. Similarly, Jews from the Conservative and Reform movements have been fighting with the Orthodox authorities who control access to the Wall for the right to conduct their own services. Clashes have unfortunately turned violent in recent years; however, the political trend has been moving in the direction of greater pluralism.
Near the Wall, men are often approached by Orthodox Jews who want them to put on tefillin. A few rabbis also hang out in the area and will approach young people and ask them for the time or strike up a conversation. Their intent is to persuade you to go with them to a yeshiva. Going with them can be a rewarding experience -- some people stay for years -- but don't let yourself be intimidated or misled about their purpose.
Around the corner from the Western Wall, below the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount, is the Ophel Archeological Garden. This excavation reveals 2,500 years of Jerusalem's history in 25 layers of ruins from the structures of successive rulers. The ancient staircase and the Hulda Gate, through which worshippers entered the Second Temple compound, and the remnants of a complex of royal palaces of the 7th century Muslim period are among the antiquities excavated.
A path up from the Western Wall plaza leads to the Temple Mount, or Haram es-Sharif (the Noble Enclosure in Arabic). This 40 acre plateau is dominated by two mosques, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa. The mosques, built in the seventh century, made definitive the identification of Jerusalem as the "Remote Place" that is mentioned in the Koran.
Muslims remove their shoes and express their devotion to Allah inside the Dome of the Rock, which was built around the rock on which Abraham bound his son Isaac to be sacrificed before God intervened. According to some old maps and traditions, this is the center of the earth. This is also the place where the Koran says Mohammed ascended to heaven. Muslim tradition also holds that the rock tried to follow the Prophet, whose footprints are said to be on the rock. For many years, pilgrims would chip off pieces of the rock to take home with them, but glass partitions now prevent visitors from taking souvenirs. A special wooden cabinet next to the rock holds strands of Mohammed's hair.
Under the rock is a chamber known as the Well of the Souls. This is where it is said that all the souls of the dead congregate.
At the southern end of the Temple Mount is the gray-domed Al-Aksa mosque. The name means "the distant one," and refers to the fact that it was the most distant sanctuary visited by Mohammed. It is also the place where Mohammed experienced the "night journey," which is why it is considered the third holiest Islamic shrine after Mecca and Medina. In 1951, King Abdullah of Transjordan (Jordanian King Abdullah's great-grandfather) was assassinated in front of the mosque.
Between the mosques is a great water fountain used by Muslims to wash their feet before entering the holy places. Visitors must also remove their shoes. Both mosques are closed to tourists during the five times each day when Muslims pray. The Temple Mount also has a small museum .
A radical group of Orthodox Jews have periodically issued threats against the Muslim shrines in hopes of rebuilding the Temple there. These threats are treated seriously by the Israeli authorities and the group is kept away from the Temple Mount. More mainstream Orthodox opinion forbids Jews from walking on the Temple Mount because of the possibility of unwittingly defiling the place where sacrifices were once offered. Non-Orthodox Jews typically accept the opinion of other authorities who argue the sanctity of the Temple Mount ended when the Temple and altar were destroyed and that it is permissible for Jews to go there so long as they show respect for what was once a holy place.
Visitors tour the inside of the walled city, but most do not know they can climb on top of the ramparts to get a different perspective. Not only do you get a spectacular view of the city beyond the walls, you get a unique look, especially in the Muslim Quarter, at how people live inside the city.
The path along the walls can be accessed from Jaffa, Damascus, Lion's and Zion Gates. The entrances are surprisingly difficult to find, but worth the effort.
The walls are approximately two-and-a-half miles long. It is not possible to circumnavigate the city atop the walls. The street separates the Citadel and Jaffa Gate at one end of the city. At the opposite end, the wall walk ends at St. Stephen's (Lion's Gate), because you cannot walk along the wall surrounding the Temple Mount. This is where the walk beginning at the Jaffa Gate ends. The walk from the Citadel ends short of the Dung Gate, opposite the Jewish Quarter.
From the Citadel, it is possible to look at what once was a moat surrounding Herod's palace. The Citadel was built by the Crusaders in the Middle Ages as a lookout to guard the road to Jaffa. The walk actually ends atop the police station. Beyond the walls, one gets a spectacular view of the new city, Yemin Moshe, the hotels, and the new Hilton hotel and shopping mall outside Jaffa Gate.
As one walks around the wall, you can look inside at an Armenian seminary and a huge vacant lot in one of the most ancient parts of the Old City. It is no doubt invaluable as real estate and as an archaeological site. The Armenian authorities, however, will not allow any excavations.
From the top of the wall, you can see the 1948 border where Arabs shot at Jews living in Yemin Moshe, identifiable by its non-functioning windmill, until the border was settled with Jordan. Just to the right is the King David Hotel and behind it the tip of the YMCA tower is just visible. The Hilton and the other few "skyscrapers," also hotels, mark the skyline of what is otherwise a low-level city.
It is also possible to see the cemetery of Dormition Abbey just beyond the SE corner of the walls. This particular route is separated from the Jewish Quarter by a road inside the wall so that it is not possible to see much. Beyond the walls, however, it is possible to get a panoramic view of what the rest of the world calls the occupied territory. Closer to the Old City, it is possible to see the Arab village of Silwan and, if someone points it out, the City of David excavations. Toward the exit it is possible to see large depressions that are the ruins of cisterns from the 4th and 5th century Byzantine period.
The path along the ramparts in the Muslim Quarter is even more interesting. Making your way toward the Temple Mount from Damascus Gate, it is possible to look inside the courtyards of Muslim homes. Outside, across Suleiman Street, you can see the Rockefeller Museum, which houses antiquities found from archaeological excavations and other exhibits. When you reach the far corner of the City, you can get a wonderful view of Mount Scopus, the Hebrew University, Mount of Olives and various churches.
The best way to follow the Via Dolorosa, or way of suffering, is to enter Lion's Gate (St. Stephen's Gate) from the eastern side of the City (beside the Temple Mount). This is the route Christians believe Jesus traveled carrying the cross from his trial to the place of his crucifixion and burial. The 14 stations commemorate incidents along the way. The first seven stations wind through the Muslim Quarter. The last five are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The tradition of following the Via Dolorosa dates to the Byzantine period.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is revered by Christians as the site of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the 4th century, Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine and a convert to Christianity, traveled to Palestine and identified the location of the crucifixion; her son then built a magnificent church. The church was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The building standing today dates from the 12th century.
Control of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is zealously guarded by different denominations. The Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenians and Copts are among those that oversee different parts of the Church. In the 12th century, fighting among different denominations over who should keep the key to the church led the Arab conqueror Saladin to entrust the key to the Muslim Nuseibeh and Joudeh families.
Today, eight centuries later, the 10-inch metal key is still safeguarded in the house of the Joudeh family. Every morning at dawn, Wajeeh Nuseibeh, who took over the job of doorkeeper from his father 20 years ago, picks up the key and opens the massive wooden church doors. Every night at 8:00 p.m. he returns to shut and lock them.
For years, Israel tried to convince the Christian denominations to open a second exit to the Church for safety reasons. In 1840, a devastating fire caused a panic that led to many deaths, and Israeli officials became especially concerned about the danger with the expected crush of tourists arriving for the year 2000 celebrations. Agreement was finally reached in June 1999 to open another exit, but this has provoked a new dispute over who will have the key to the new door.
The original City of David, Jerusalem of ancient times, is not synonymous with the Old City. In fact, it was located on a narrow ridge south of the present-day Old City. This is the traditional site of King David's tomb. During the early First Temple period, King David, "slept wit hhis fathers and was buried in the city of David" (1 Kings 2:10). Bust the earliest reference to David's Tomb in this area comes from the Roman historian Josephus, who claimed that King Herod built a shrine over the tomb. The area is also sacred to Christians because the "coenaculum" or the Upper room of the Last Supper is located nearby. This is also the room, during Pentecost, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, "The Holy Spirit" came and visited the disciples (Acts 2:1-4).
The City of David borders the Kidron Valley where the Gihon Spring, the city's water source, is located. King David understood then, as do Israel's leaders today, that control of the water supply is vital to the nation's survival.
One of David's successors, Hezekiah, King of Judah in the 8th century B.C.E., also recognized the importance of Jerusalem's water supplies. After Judah was invaded by the Assyrian king Sennacherib, Hezekiah built a tunnel to divert the city's water supply to a reservoir. The men dug the tunnel from both ends at once and met in the middle. It is possible to wade through the water still in the tunnel and follow its snaking path about a third of a mile (533 meters) under the city and exit at the Pool of Siloam.
In 1860, British philanthropist Moses Montefiore built new housing on a hill overlooking the Old City to help relieve the congestion and poverty in the Jewish Quarter. The first of several developments was called Mishkenot Sha'ananim. Today, a unique guest house is located there, which is used by visiting writers and artists.
This area is called Yemin Moshe, and easily identifiable by the large windmill at the top of the hill overlooking the Hinnom Valley on King David Street. The windmill, was originally built to serve the milling needs of the residents of Montefiore's new developments, but it was never operational because of the lack of wind where it was situated.
A lovely (and pricey) restaurant is also located just down the stairs from the windmill, which offers a spectacular view of the Old City walls. To the left are much sought after homes in what was once an artists' colony. The popularity of the area, however, has driven prices up to the point where only one art studio remains.
A great route into the Old City is to walk down the stairs past the windmill and through the Yemin Moshe gates to the street and walk across and up the hill to Zion Gate. This takes you into the city right near the Jewish Quarter and is a relatively quick way to get to the Western Wall.
Just down the street from Yemin Moshe is a beautiful park that also offers a great view of the Old City and, just beyond that, the famous King David Hotel, the most luxurious (read expensive) hotel in Israel. Along with its reputation for its accommodations, the hotel is probably best known as the target of a bomb by the Irgun, the Jewish underground organization led by Menachem Begin during the fight to gain independence from Britain. The hotel was then the British military headquarters. The bombing on July 22, 1946, killed 91 people.
Across the street from the King David is the International YMCA, one of the most beautiful Ys in the world. Its 152-foot tower is visible from much of the city and the view from the top is unparalleled. The Y also has a hotel that offers reasonable accommodations and inexpensive meals.
The heart of the city is located around King George Street, Jaffa Road and Ben-Yehuda Street. This is where you'll find a bustling pedestrian mall filled with people from all over the world, restaurants, souvenir shops and street musicians and artists. It is also where you can find some of the imports from America, such as McDonald's.
If you want a more "sophisticated" evening out, go for tea at the King David Hotel. To see where the foreign journalists congregate, go to the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem.
Jaffa Road leads into the Old City. If you head in the opposite direction, you'll pass Mahane Yehuda, the outdoor market where you'll find all sorts of fish, meat, vegetables, fruit and odds and ends. On Friday, the place is really hopping as people stock up on supplies for Shabbat.
Up King George Street toward Yemin Moshe, you'll see the impressive Great Synagogue just across from Independence Park and the Sheraton Hotel. Hechal Shlomo, adjoining the synagogue, is the former headquarters of the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis.
In 1873, Orthodox Jews founded a settlement a short distance from the Old City, just north of Jaffa Road. The name Mea She'arim means "one hundred gates" and comes from the biblical passage, "Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold" (Genesis 26:12). Today, it is a unique neighborhood where strict interpretations of Jewish tradition rule and people dress in a manner common to Jewish ghettos of 18th and 19th century Europe. Women wear long-sleeved shirts and skirts and those who are married usually have shaved heads covered by wigs (sheitels) or scarves. The men wear long black coats and fedoras or round, fur-covered shtreimels. Some have long white stockings and knicker-like pants, and most have tzitzit hanging below their shirts. Young boys often have very long hair (their first haircuts usually are not until they're three) and older ones long sidecurls (peyis).
Mea She'arim is especially fascinating on Shabbat. People are constantly in the street, coming to or from shul. Dozens of tiny synagogues -- stiebels -- are scattered throughout the neighborhood. Men and women sit separately, usually on different floors of the bigger shuls. Go inside and you may find yourself in a world you don't recognize, where the prayers, songs and rituals are very different from those in even Orthodox synagogues elsewhere.
This is also the home of some of the more ardent guardians of Judaism, who put up barricades to prevent cars from driving by on Shabbat and protest the building of roads or archaeological excavations in areas they believe may have been Jewish burial sites.
Whatever your views on Orthodoxy, you should behave respectfully when in Mea She'arim and other religious neighborhoods. Signs are posted on buildings saying the Torah obligates women to dress appropriately. See our tips on how to dress.
Ever since the Hyatt chain built a luxury hotel on Mount Scopus, it has become a more common base from which to tour Jerusalem. Coming from downtown, however, it's quite a hike up to Scopus, so you'll probably want to go by taxi or bus. The main attraction is the spectacular panoramic view of the city, the Hebrew University and the Mount of Olives.
The Hebrew University is one of Israel's seven universities and an excellent school that has outstanding departments in a wide range of disciplines. The university also has numerous connections to the United States, from the large number of students who spend their junior year of college studying there, to the various institutes named after or funded by Americans. To name just two, there is the The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive.
The University opened in 1925 and was followed by the building of Hadassah Hospital in 1934. In April 1948, an Arab force ambushed a Jewish convoy on the way to Hadassah Hospital, killing 77 Jews, including doctors, nurses, patients, and the director of the hospital. Another 23 people were injured. Mount Scopus was subsequently isolated from the rest of Jerusalem by the Jordanians, and, though it remained under Israeli control, the university and hospital were both closed and relocated in West Jerusalem. After Jerusalem was retaken in 1967, they reopened.
A controversial addition to Mount Scopus was the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies built by the Mormons. A beautiful building with a stunning view of the city, it provoked a national debate because of concerns about Mormon missionary activities. The Mormons agreed not to proselytize in the city and they were subsequently allowed to create their center just down the street from the university.
Visitors to the Mount of Olives stand on holy ground. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus stood on this hillside overlooking the Old City making prophesies that would change the world. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will come through the Golden Gate (or Gate of Mercy) of the Old City and bring about the resurrection of the dead in the cemetery on the Mount.
Unlike the lush expanses of grass associated with American cemeteries like Forest Lawn or Arlington, the Mount of Olives is a mountainside of stones. One does not even see flowers adorning the markers because Jews place a small stone on the grave to indicate they have visited.
The cemetery sits atop a hill that was once dotted with olive trees. Given the sanctity of the place, the cemetery's terrible condition comes as a shock. Grave stones are broken and scattered. Most of the damage dates to the Jordanian occupation (1948-1967).
According to Christian tradition, Jesus had a prophecy that Jerusalem would be destroyed and went down to the Mount of Olives with his followers on Palm Sunday. He then wandered around the city for about a week and taught his disciples in caves on the Mount of Olives.
On Thursday, the Jewish holiday of Passover, Jesus went to his mother's house on Mount Zion (where Dormition Abbey now stands at the southeast corner of the Old City) and ate the Last Supper. He and two disciples then left Jerusalem and went to Gethsemane and sat among the olive trees. The grove, at the base of the Mount, is maintained as it was nearly 2,000 years ago. The olive grove is within the walls of the Basilica of the Agony, which stands on the spot where Jesus prayed prior to his arrest. It is located on Jericho Road facing the Golden Gate.
Inside the Basilica, pilgrims try to empathize with the suffering of Jesus. The church itself is spartan by European standards, though it has impressive murals depicting the events that took place In Gethsemane. A sculpture of thorns surrounds the spot in the middle of the church where Jesus prayed. A beautiful colored mosaic over the entrance depicts the acceptance of Jesus by the world.
After Jesus was arrested, he was taken a short distance up the hill to where Dominus Flevit ("The Lord Wept") now stands. It is beside the cemetery with a narrow road in between. The grounds also contain a cave where Jerusalemites buried their dead centuries ago. Families put the bodies of loved ones in sarcophagi. Some time later, after the flesh had rotted, the bones were removed and put In small boxes on shelves in caves. Some of these boxes are still in the cave. What is particularly significant about them is that Christian symbols were found carved on the tombs of people with Jewish names. These are the oldest remains of Jews who became the first converts to Christianity.
According to Christian tradition, after the crucifixion Jesus wandered 40 days on the Mount of Olives and ascended to heaven from a point on the hill. A small shrine inside the walls of the Greek Patriarchate contains stone stumps with crosses carved on the tops that mark the spot where the disciples watched the ascension.
Ironically, the Chapel of the Ascension is now run by the Muslims, who built a dome over the rock from which Jesus ascended to the heavens and upon which his footprint can be seen. The Chapel is off the Mount of Olives Road, just above the cemetery as you travel from Mount Scopus. Further down the road is the Tower of the Ascension, today a small Russian Orthodox Church, where Mary watched Jesus ascend to heaven.
Though it has no particular historical significance, the most impressive looking church in Jerusalem is probably the Church of Mary Magdalene. This is the building that looks like all the pictures you see of the Kremlin with golden onion domes rising from the trees.
From the Mount of Olives, you can also see the conical-roofed Absalom's Tomb and the pyramid-roofed Zechariah's Tomb. These are tombs of anonymous second century citizens of Jerusalem and have nothing to do with their biblical namesakes.
Jerusalem is a wonderful city to explore on foot, but it is a large and hilly place and a few of the more interesting and important sites are not really within walking distance of the hotels where most visitors stay. They are easily accessible, however, by bus or taxi.
One of the premier "modern" attractions in Jerusalem is the Israel Museum where the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls are exhibited in a special building known as the Shrine of the Book. The distinctive white, domed-shaped ceiling of the building is modeled after the clay jars in which the scrolls were found. The scrolls are the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament ever found.
The Museum also has a wonderful sculpture garden with masterpieces by Rodin, Henry Moore and others, galleries with works by modern and classical artists, including Rembrandt, Chagall, Picasso and Miró, and archaeological relics dating as far back as the Early Stone Age. The Museum is also known for having perhaps the world's finest collection of Judaica.
Not far from the Israel Museum are many of the Israeli government ministries and the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The Knesset took its name and fixed its membership at 120 from the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly), the representative Jewish council convened in Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemiah in the 5th century B.C.E.
When visiting the Knesset and other government offices, be sure to bring a passport. Security is tight and the lines to pass through the gates are sometimes long. Once inside the building, the highlight of the tour is the State Hall where three tapestries and a mosaic created by Marc Chagall decorate the walls and 12 mosaics cover the floor.
Just as most visitors to the U.S. Capitol are surprised when they find few, if any, members of Congress in the chambers most of the time, it is likely the Knesset will also be empty, or nearly so, unless a major issue is being debated while you are there. Unlike Congress, debates in the Knesset are free-wheeling, with frequent shouting and finger pointing. Like the British Parliament, the opposition also heckles the Prime Minister and other government officials.
Across from the entrance to the Knesset is the impressive bronze menorah given to Israel as a gift from the British government in 1956. It depicts events in Jewish history from the time of Moses to modern times. The inscription, from the prophet Zecharia, reads: “Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts.”
Also nearby are the new Israeli Supreme Court buildings, which have been acclaimed for their contemporary architecture.
As you head out of the center of town, up the hill on Herzl Street you'll reach the memorial park and cemetery dedicated to the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, whose tomb is at the summit of the mountain. Along with Herzl, many of Israel's other leaders, such as former Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol, are buried in the cemetery. Since his tragic murder in 1995, Yitzhak Rabin's grave has also become a magnet for tourists. Israel's principal military cemetery -- it's Arlington -- is also located here. If you've never been to a Jewish cemetery, you'll notice flowers are not placed at the graves; instead, it is traditional for visitors to place small stones on the tombstones.
One of the world's premier hospitals is about ten minutes further up the road. Besides being an internationally renowned medical facility and research institution, Hadassah Hospital, is known for the spectacular stained glass windows of its synagogue. The 12 windows created by Marc Chagall represent the sons of Jacob from whom came the tribes of Israel. The hospital, founded by the women's Zionist organization, was originally built on Mt. Scopus. When that area was lost in the 1948 war, the modern hospital was built here in 1962.
A little beyond Mt. Herzl is the Israeli Holocaust museum. Yad Vashem was established by Israeli Law in 1953 to commemorate the six million Jews and their communities wiped out in the Holocaust. It has the largest and the most comprehensive archive and information repositories on the Holocaust, housing more than 50 million pages of documents and hundreds of thousands of photographs and films.
The Historical and Art Museums, as well as the Hall of Remembrance, the Valley of the Communities, the Children's Memorial, and other monuments attest to the tragic events that befell the Jewish people and instruct visitors to Yad Vashem on the uniqueness of the Holocaust and its universal lessons. The Hall of Names is part of an effort to collect the names of every Jewish man, woman and child murdered in the Shoah.
Yad Vashem also pays tribute to the courageous non-Jews, such as Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, who risked their lives to save Jews from certain death. These rescuers are awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations and given a certificate and a medal with the Talmudic inscription “Whoever saves a single soul, it is as if he had saved the entire world.” A tree is then planted on the walkway, marked by a plaque bearing the name and nationality of the Righteous Person.
Some of the most impressive sites in Israel are natural ones. In Jerusalem and its outskirts are some magnificent forests. The Jerusalem Forest is not far from Mount Herzl and is an excellent place to physically contribute to the greening of Israel by planting your own tree. This forest is also home to a special memorial to President Kennedy. The building resembles the stump of a tree that was chopped down in its prime. It consists of 51 columns in a circle, representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Inside, an eternal flame burns in front of a bust of JFK. The surrounding trees were also planted in the President's honor.
Even this lengthy description of Jerusalem does not do justice to all there is to see and do. Get off the tour and immerse yourself in the city. Until you return, you will never be in a place like this again.
Copyright © 2012 The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise