What springs to mind when you hear the word Jerusalem? Is it ancient stone alleyways brimming with Jews and Arabs on their way to prayer? Or perhaps a picture postcard vista of the Western (Wailing) Wall? Or perhaps the hustle and bustle of a Jerusalem market, with market traders howling out their latest prices and bargains in Hebrew and Arabic?
What you feel for Jerusalem will, of course, depend on your faith. But forget that for a second, because however much you might convince yourself that you’re a non-believer, there’s something raw and empowering about being in the Holy City that it makes you want to start to believe…in whatever.
Jerusalem is a fascinating city; a city where old meets new, holy meets secular, and where nature and beautiful architecture merge into a melting pot of smells, sounds and sights. I will never forget my first visit to Jerusalem and the Old City, many moons ago, it was amazingly inspiring!
Jerusalem is, of course, the meeting point of the three main faiths: for centuries, Jerusalem has played a significant role in Christianity as the place of Christ’s crucifixion, while for Jews Jerusalem is the place of David’s ancient throne, and the indivisible capital of modern Israel. To Moslems the city is a sacred place of worship, centered on the Dome of the Rock.
Located in the Judean Mountains, just north of the Dead Sea, Jerusalem is home to some 747,600 residents over an area of 125 square kilometers (including the disputed East Jerusalem). Out of that 125 km it is, in fact, one square kilometer which holds incredible importance to so many over the world – the area known as the Old City.
The Old City is home to sites of key religious significance, including the Temple Mount, the Western Wall (a remnant of the supporting wall of the Second Temple), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. The old walled city, has been traditionally divided into four quarters — the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters, and as you can imagine, tensions and squabbles often break out: you might not be surprised to hear that the Old City is historically the world’s most fought over city….
So, yes, we highly recommend you check out the Old City. The places listed above should all be visited, though some may be off-limits, depending a little on your faith and the security situation (which very occasionally takes a turn for the worse). Also check out the narrow streets of the Old City, which are lined with shops where merchants sell foodstuffs and traditional handicrafts (TIP: bargain ferociously – what starts at 50 shekels can often be bought for 5 shekels!). For more information on the sites to see in the Old City, check out our full guide to the Old City here.
And yes, although the Old City of Jerusalem makes this Holy City an absolute must see on your trip to Israel, there is much more beyond that old walled city…we’d highly recommend a look at the Top 10 ESSENTIALS in Jerusalem before you go anywhere, but among those essentials you really have to check out the following:
- Yad Vashem: The Holocaust Museum
- The Knesset: The Israeli government buildings
- Israel Museum: The national collection of art
- Machane Yehuda: A slice of Middle Eastern life in one of the best shuks (markets) in Israel.
- Ben Yehuda Promenade: A street full of life, shops and tourists
Some things you can use to see even more of Jerusalem: