While wandering around the Downtown area was really a highlight for me in Jerusalem, it’s not exactly the reason people travel from all over the world to this city. They come because it’s full of history and I’m going to share that with you, most of which is in Old City Jerusalem.
“The Old City is home to several sites of key religious importance: the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims, the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1981.”
Mount Olives, Jerusalem
I took a tour with Abraham Hostels who is one of the top hostels in the world and run unique tours around the city. We started at Mount Olives for the first view-point, which is named after the Olive trees that covered this area. This is a grave site for 3,000 years and there are over 150,000 graves. While it is important to Jews, this is also the place Jesus supposedly ascended to heaven so for Christians this is an important site too.
There is a lot of information in this city as you can imagine. I recommend a tour, because without the information you won’t understand what makes these sites so important. Often, the stories are what make you feel you are somewhere special more than the sites themselves. There’s a lot to see in Jerusalem.
According to the bible (Zechariah 14:4) when the messiah comes, he will first start at this gravesite and resurrect people. So I guess you can see why so many want to be buried here. Back in the 40’s this was owned by Jordan and Jews weren’t even allowed to visit as they couldn’t go to Jordan at that time. Hotels were built, graves were destroyed. Now this is Israel’s land and they can again visit this sacred place.
This was our group!photo via Matanya Tausig
Old City Jerusalem
From here we hopped back on the bus to go way into the Old City to the Armenian and Jewish quarters. We had lunch in the Muslim quarter’s market. So, it might seem odd and I probably can’t explain it well but the inside is really divided by religion or original nationality, if you’d rather put it that way as the arabs stay in one part, Christians in one, Jews in another. They of course are getting along and mingling in the markets. There’s a Moroccan Quarter too!
You cannot just wander everywhere here as this is home to many and there are guards who won’t let you pass certain areas, as it’s people’s apartments.
There are shops throughout, mostly overpriced and set up for tourists. I didn’t buy anything at all in Israel actually as most of what I saw was Indian or Chinese made.
People were dressed totally casually here and not covering shoulders and head while walking around. Like most religious areas, you need to cover once you go into a church or holy place like the Western Wall so bring a scarf with you and wear longer (looser) trousers.
Couldn’t help getting a sneaky shot of this Orthodox Jew as he walked down the alley. Maybe you’re from NYC and see this a lot, but I’m from middle of farm land Ohio and we didn’t have any Orthodox Jews in my hometown so I will admit I was very curious about their lifestyle and asked a hundred and one questions!
For example, why do I see so many cats and no dogs? Well, Muslims don’t love dogs most times because in their scriptures it says dogs are unclean. Jew and Christians do love dogs and so wouldn’t want to leave one on the street. You won’t see strays here.
Above is an example of an actual house here we walked past while wandering. Can you imagine living here? For one it would suck to have tourists always in your business. But on the positive, these are religious people who wouldn’t want to be any other place – plus look how cute the homes are!
Everything is just ancient here (5,000 years old) and the photo opportunities were endless. Things are mostly peaceful here, but they are kind of divided. You’ll see people who are walking together and chanting while dragging a cross. You’ll see the Ethiopian Quarters where they are dressed completely different.
The photo below and above are from the Ethiopian Quarter, outside the Ethiopian church.
You can see this sign says “JEWISH QUARTER”, there were quarters for all the other religions too.
In the Muslim Quarter, you can get lamb kebabs and these are apparently the most famous. While walking down the Arab market you can’t miss it because the line is very long and people are all wanting to eat here. It was served simple with just tomato, onion, and yogurt.
The coffees and teas here were delicious and made the Old School way. Fresh Orange juice and pomegranate juice were so flavorful. We had dessert and ordered kanafeh which is an Arab classic.
While this is a favorite all over Israel you won’t find this at a Jewish Shabbat dinner… which is another example of how things are a little divided.
While it felt totally peaceful while we were there, there actually was an attack in the Old City (6 all together in Israel while we were there) where an angry man stabbed a couple Israeli military who were stationed here as guards.
When there are times of tension (before holidays for example) it’s best to avoid the Old City.
These crosses are actually for rent (pictured above) and people do rent one in groups then walk around singing and chanting. To be honest, I am not sure why.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
A highlight of the Old City is visiting The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is where Jesus is meant to have been crucified on the cross. They have the stone the cross was standing on and people weep at the stone and pray.
He was washed before being buried and they have that stone too where people kneel and pray. Is it the real stone? I don’t think anyone knows but people certainly believe it. After being washed, he was put in a tomb (on Good Friday), which you can also stand in line to see. This is the tomb he arose on Easter Sunday, 3 days later.
photo via Matanya Tausig
Here you can see the stone he was washed on before burial.
Here you can see a box, inside in the stone the cross stood on
Inside this church it is divided by religion. There are Greek Orthodox, Catholics, and more who each have their own area within the church. It’s all VERY organized. You can see services happening and it’s a large area. This is an example of a place you need to cover up at, as well as the next place I’ll mention: the Western Wall.
Western Wall AKA Wailing Wall & Mount Temple
This is a small part of what was once a much larger wall built by Herod the Great around the Temple Mount as part of an expansion and encasement of the Second Jewish Temple. While it’s Temple Mount to Jews, it is called Haram esh-Sharif by Muslims.
This is the holiest place for Jews and is meant to be where they can feel God’s presence the most. This is where God gathered dust to create the first human, Adam. In the Hebrew bible, it was once referred to as Mount Zion.
This is also a sacred place to Muslims, and is considered their third most sacred place after Mecca and Medina. The al-Ḥaram al-Šarīf is in Mount Temple as well as the Dome of the Rock. It was discussed in the Quran. They believe this is where Muhammad ascended to heaven.
“Jewish prayer on Temple Mount is completely forbidden. Jews may enter only to visit the place, and only at limited times. Muslims are free to pray on Temple Mount, however, Christians and Jews may only visit the site as tourists. They are forbidden from singing, praying, or making any kind of “religious displays”.
You can see it’s very complicated and being there a day doesn’t mean I understand it any more than you might. I was told that it’s to do with Isrealis keeping the peace which Isrealis enforce the no- Jewish prayer rule on Mount Temple.
Because Jews can’t pray at Mount Temple, the Western Wall or “wailing wall” is the holiest place they can pray as it’s the closest to it. It’s the wall West of Mount temple, so that is why the name. The “wailing” comes from people crying here over destruction of temples and isn’t used by everyone. Jews have pilgrimaged here since 16th century and at times in history were banned from the Western Wall.
photo via Matanya Tausig
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I was in Israel hosted by Vibe Israel, a non profit, non political company. Thanks Vibe!
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It looks like an exciting place to visit! I loved the pictures as well. :) Thanks for sharing your experience Rachel.
Stunning!!! What a great experience. I love the alley ways in the photos. It does have a real old feel to the city in the pictures. Very interesting read.