The Old City of Jerusalem is that part of Jerusalem surrounded by the impressive 16th-century Ottoman city walls and representing the heart of the city both historically and spiritually. In a city already divided, the Old City is further divided culturally and historically into four residential Quarters: (clockwise from the southeast) the Jewish, Armenian, Christian, and Muslim Quarters. A fifth area, the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, contains the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and other religious sites. The whole Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In clockwise order, starting in the south:
Located at the southern part of the Old City and has been inhabited by Jews for centuries (before the Crusades, Jews were concentrated in the northern part of the Old City). The Jewish Quarter was destroyed during the 1948 war but rebuilt by the Israeli government after 1967.
Located in the southwest part of the Old City. It is the smallest of the four quarters and has the smallest number of residents. Most of the quarter consists of a closed-off private area owned by the Armenian monastery and surrounded by walls.
Located in the northwest part of the Old City. The quarter contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of Christianity's holiest places.
Located in the northeast part of the Old City, this quarter is the largest and most populated one, with mainly Muslim residents.
|Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary
The holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest site in Islam. Also known as Mount Moriah, the first and second Jewish Temples stood here for over 1000 years. During the 7th century AD, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were built here.
The core of Jerusalem, Old City, has a history that stretches back more than 3,000 years. The present street plan dates largely from Byzantine times, with the walls and ramparts dating back to the 16th century. The crossroad of three continents, Jerusalem has been one of the most fought over cities in human history. Within the walls, the Old City is divided into four vaguely defined quarters: Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Muslim.
You do not need to be Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, or even be overly concerned with religion, to be overwhelmed. Anyone with a sense of history, spirituality or the human species should be absorbed by the tremendous weight of human civilization that cloaks nearly every part of the city. It is an inhabited, living city - not a deserted museum or monument. Humanity's passion play has been constant revival at this location for most of the length of recorded history.
The Old City surrounded by a wall built in the first half of the 16th century by the Ottoman Turk, Suleyman the Magnificent. The 4 km (2.5 mile) circuit is accessed by eight gates, of which seven remain in current use. The gates are, in clockwise order starting in the west:
- 1 Jaffa Gate. on the western side of the city (access from West Jerusalem), next to the Citadel. The busiest of the seven Old City gates, Jaffa Gate has a large taxi rank for easy access in and out of the Old City. The Jaffa Gate has access staircases for the Ramparts Walk (see below)
- 2 New Gate. on the northwestern edge of the Old City, the closest gate to West Jerusalem and convenient for entry to the Christian Quarter. It was the last gate cut into the city wall, in 1889. The New Gate has access to a hospital and some parking just outside the walls.
- 3 Damascus Gate. on the northern side of the city (access from East Jerusalem), it is the most monumental of all the gates. The Damascus Gate has access staircases for the Ramparts Walk (see below) via the Roman Square Excavations. A taxi rank and some parking are available just outside the walls. A bus station is located 2 blocks northeast of the gate
- 4 Herod's Gate. on the northern side of the city, faces Arab East Jerusalem. Its name originates from the 1500s when Christian pilgrims wrongly thought that the house inside the gate was the palace of Herod the Great's son
- 5 St Stephen's Gate (also known as Sheep Gate, or in Hebrew, Lions' Gate). on the eastern side of the city, it faces the Mount of Olives and is the start of the Via Dolorosa. Its name was adopted in the Middle Ages by Christians who believed that the first Christian martyr, St Stephen, was executed here. Prior to that, however, it had been generally accepted that St Stephen had been stoned to death outside Damascus Gate
- 6 Golden Gate. on the east wall of the Temple Mount, was long ago sealed shut by the Muslims in the 7th century. According to tradition the Messiah will arrive in the Temple via this gate
- 7 Dung Gate. on the southern side of the city, it provides direct access to the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall. This is the terminal of buses 1 and 2. Parking is available outside of the city walls near the City of David
- 8 Zion Gate. on the southern side of the city, it provides direct access to the Armenian quarter from Mount Zion. The outside of the gate is pockmarked by bullet-holes due to fierce fighting here in 1948 between the Israelis and the Jordanians. The Arabic name of the gate is Bab el-Nabi Daud (Gate of the Prophet David), because of its proximity to the traditional location of King David's Tomb. Parking is available just outside the gate
By light rail
The Jerusalem Municipality usually recommends light rail as the best way to get to the Old City, particularly on holidays when there are many visitors.
City Hall is the closest station to Jaffa Gate. Damascus Gate station is the closest to that gate. Each station is about a two minute walk from the Old City walls.
- 8: Jewish Quarter Parking lot - Yafo Street - Davidka Square - Yafo Street - Jewish Quarter Parking lot.
- 38: Jewish Quarter Parking lot - Yafo Street - Davidka Square - Yafo Street - Jewish Quarter Parking lot.
- 1: CBS - Sarei Yisrael - Malchei Yisrael (Geulah) - Meah Shearim - Shaar Shechem (Damascus Gate) - Kotel HaMa'aravi (Western Wall)
- 3: CBS (Center One) - Kiryat Mattersdorf - Sorotzkin - Kiryat Tzanz - Ezrat Torah - Golda Meir - Shmuel HaNavi - Yecheskel Street (Geula) - Shaar Shechem (Damascus Gate) - Kotel HaMa'aravi (Western Wall)
- 231: Bethlehem/Beit Jala - Talpiot - Jaffa Gate - Damascus Gate
- 218: Ramallah/Al-Bireh - Qalandia - Beit Hanina - (almost) Herod's Gate
- Other East Jerusalem - busses with blue stripes all terminate near the Damascus Gate; busses with green stripes all terminate 2 minutes walk from Herod's Gate.
If you arrive by car, be aware of the limited parking space. The streets outside the Old City walls are usually reserved for buses and taxicabs; parking of private cars is prohibited.
- 1 Karta parking garage. The simplest parking option. In the Mamilla district next to Jaffa Gate. Entrance to the garage is from Yitshak Kariv street.
- 2 First Station parking lot. There is a free shuttle bus service from here to Dung Gate (closest gate to the Western Wall); hours: Sun-Thu 08:00-20:00 (on Mondays and Thursdays from 07:00).
With a private guide
There's no doubt that Jerusalem is overwhelming not to mention scattered. If you only have a day or two to see the city and you'd like to visit many places in a short time, hiring a local private guide that has his own van might be the right thing for you instead of dealing with a rented car & parking for those days. (Note that there is virtually no vehicular access to the Old City, which is most conveniently accessed on foot and is within walking distance of many hotels in the New City.) However, when choosing a guide, try to ask the right questions and advise him/her with a plan that will fit your interest. You'll know the person is a good private tour guide if he will tailor a tour according to your needs.
The Old City is fairly diminutive in size compared to modern-day Jerusalem. Despite its small size, or perhaps because of it, the Old City is amazing. Much of the Old City is accessible only by walking because of very narrow streets and steps in the road. This is not a great inconvenience because the Old City is only about 1 kilometer across. The Old City is a maze of twisty alleyways and it's difficult to keep your bearings even with a map. Then again, getting lost is half the fun—you can't get too lost due to its size. Thought should be given to footwear, as the roads and paths are uneven stone and thin-soled shoes or spike heels could become uncomfortable.
Note: The Old City contains many small alleys and tiny streets that often do not appear in guidebooks and street maps. Major roads are almost always signed, so do not simply rely on the map and take the next left/right as it may not the road you are looking for.
The Jewish Quarter feels distinctly different from the rest of the Old City. Razed by the Jordanians after the partition of the former British Mandate of Palestine in 1948, most buildings in it have been rebuilt from scratch since Israel assumed control of the Old City in 1967. Despite strict laws mandating the use of Jerusalem limestone in all façades in order to maintain uniformity, the buildings look and feel new.
- 1 The Western Wall (Known in Hebrew as Ha-Kotel Ha-Ma'aravi- הכותל המערבי). open 24/7 and 365 days a year. Part of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, it was built by Herod the Great during his expansion of the Temple in 20 BCE. The wall became the Jews' chief place of pilgrimage during the Ottoman Period. In this period it become known as the "Wailing Wall", where Jews lamented the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD 70. This is still the closest site to the Temple where Jews can pray (many rabbis say Jews are currently forbidden by Jewish law from ascending the Temple Mount, and in any case secular and Muslim authorities do not allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount). The plaza in front of the Wall is divided by a fence, with a large area for men on the left and a smaller area for women on the right. Anyone is allowed to approach the wall - complimentary kippahs are provide for men who come bare-headed, while shawls are provided for women who do not come appropriately dressed (shoulders, chest, midriff, and thighs covered). The wall acts as an outdoor synagogue with written prayers inserted into the crevices between the large stones. Photography is not allowed on the Sabbath (Friday night and Saturday until sundown). Monday and Thursday mornings many bar mitzvahs are held, drawing large crowds of families and guests. Friday night at sundown there is the welcoming of the Sabbath (Kabbalat Shabbat) which includes prayers, singing and dancing.
- 2 Western Wall Tunnel Tour. This is a tour of the underground parts of the Western Wall, including the evolution of the Temple Mount from the First Temple period to today. A wonderful tour for those interested in the archeology and history of the Temple Mount. You will see enormous stones underlying the Western Wall, an underground synagogue (the nearest spot to the Temple site, where Jews are allowed to pray), a pool and a water tunnel from Herod's time. The tour must be booked in advance but is well worth the advanced preparation. During the low season, you can also try your luck and join an excursion without the reservation. ₪30 / ₪15 discount.
- 3 Saint Mary's Hospice. The ruins of a 12th-century German Crusader Hospice within view of the Temple Mount. Worth a short visit. A Jewish art gallery/shop is to the left of the door to the hospice's church (it's pretty obvious which of the buildings is the church).
- 4 The Cardo. Once running nearly the entire length of the Old City from north to south, the Cardo is an excavated and partially reconstructed section of the Jerusalem's main thoroughfare in the Byzantine era. Visitors can get a good idea of how the whole once looked by descending to the 200 m (650 ft) section alongside the Jewish Quarter. The central roadway was 12.5 m (41 ft) wide and lined with shops. The pillars from that time still stand. Today in part, the Cardo contains an exclusive, covered shopping arcade.
- 5 Hurva Square. In a maze of narrow and winding streets, Hurva Square is the heart and social center of the Jewish Quarter. Its open areas offer cafes, souvenir shops, and snack bars with outdoor seating. On the west side of the square is the site of the Hurva Synagogue (Hurva means "ruins"). Burnt down by its creditors in the 18th century, the synagogue was rebuilt in 1864 only to be destroyed during the 1948 fighting. After 1967, a lone arch was reconstructed from the remaining shell, making it a popular photographic attraction. In 2006, however, the arch was removed and reconstruction of the synagogue commenced. The synagogue was re-dedicated in 2010, and is now available for tours (must be pre-booked).
- 6 The Broad Wall. Following the 1967 Israeli victory, a vast reconstruction program in the Jewish Quarter resulted in many important archaeological finds. One of the most significant was the unearthing of the foundations of a massive wall. These fortifications, measuring 7 m (22 ft) thick and 65 m (215 ft) long, are possibly part of the fortifications built by King Hezekiah in the 8th century BC. This wall can be freely viewed outdoors.
- 7 Wohl Archaeological Museum. 9AM–4:30PM Sunday through Thursday. Lying 3 to 7 m (10 to 22 ft) below street level. This Museum offers a vivid excavation of daily life during the Herodian era, 2,000 years ago before the Romans rampaged and burned the wealthy Upper City in AD 70. Photography inside the museum is not allowed. ₪35 adult / ₪25 discount, includes the Burnt House.
- 8 Burnt House. This house was inhabited by a wealthy priestly family at the end of the Second Temple period, and burned down by the Romans in 70 CE. See Wohl Archaeological Museum.
- 9 Ophel Archaeological Park. Sun-Thu 8AM-7PM, Fri 8AM-2PM. This area on the southern side of the Temple Mount had been rebuilt many times over the centuries. Remains from the Herodian (34–4 BC), Byzantine (AD 395–661) and Omayyad (AD 661–750) periods can be found on the grounds. Audio guides are available for ₪6, but the map given at the front desk does not follow the audio guide's number arrangement towards the end of the tour. Audio guide is recommended though. ₪25 adults / ₪15 students.
- 10 Temple Institute. Sun-Thu 9AM-5PM, Fri 9AM-2PM, Closed Saturday.. A fairly interesting place which has reconstructed most of the more obvious ritual tools to be used in the Temple services in the hopes of one day restoring the Temple itself. The front of the store is a book store while the back is a four room museum with one room set aside as a theater to show a 15 minute movie. Dress appropriately when going here - long pants and sleeves for men, and modest wear for women. ₪20.
- 11 [dead link]Old Yishuv Court Museum, 6 Or Ha-Haim St, ☎ , fax: . Sun-Thu 10:00-17:00, Fri 10:00-13:00. The history of the Jewish community in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem from the beginning of the 15th century until the fall of the Quarter in the War of Independence. Adult ₪18, Student ₪12.
- 12 Karaite Synagogue, HaKaraim St (Take a left when you see the ruined synagogue and look for the sign KARAITE SYNAGOGUE), ☎ . , , Open Sunday to Friday (until sunset). The Karaite Jews, numbering 30-50,000 worldwide, are a unique sect of Judaism that has been at odds with mainstream rabbinic Judaism for centuries. The Karaites reject the Talmud (Oral Law) and only rely on the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. You must call ahead for a tour of the synagogue. Tours are only in Hebrew, but it might be possible to pre-arrange English or Russian.
- 13 Mughrabi Gate (Bab el-Magharibeh, Gate of Moroccan, Moor's Gate).
- One Last Day Museum, ☎ . Sun-Thu 9-3, Fri 9-1. A small museum which documents the day in 1948 on which the Jewish Quarter fell to Jordanian forces. Located on the Cardo.
The Armenian Quarter is the smallest and quietest of the four. The quarter runs itself as a city within a city (within a city...), shutting the gates of its courtyards when night falls.
- 14 Tower of David/Citadel, Jaffa Gate, ☎ . Sun-Thu,Sat 9AM-4PM; Fri 8AM-2PM. Now occupied by the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, the Citadel is an imposing fortress inside the city wall beside the Jaffa Gate. Utilized and expanded throughout the centuries as a means of protection, excavations have revealed remains dating back to the 2nd century BC and indicate that there was a fortress here in Herodian times. The museum provides visitors with 3 routes highlighting different aspects of the Citadel, namely: Exhibit, Panorama and Excavation. The routes are advisory only and provided for visitors' convenience. An 1873 model of Jerusalem is on display in an underground cistern near the exit. At night there is a sound-and-light show of Jerusalem's history, which is visually impressive but somewhat light in terms of content. Buy tickets for the show online ahead of time, it sells out. ₪30 adults, ₪20 students and seniors, ₪15 children.
- 15 St. James Cathedral. 6–7:30AM and 3–3:30PM daily. This Armenian cathedral is one of the most beautiful of all the sacred buildings in Jerusalem. It was constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries over the traditional tomb of St James the Apostle. Attending an Armenian Orthodox vespers service is a treat, even for non-believers. Vespers is held each evening (except Sunday) at 3:00 and lasts until 3:30. It is chanted by the seminarians of the Armenian Orthodox seminary across the street from the Cathedral. The chanting is very moving and has a bitter-sweet tone to it which is unforgettably beautiful. Each afternoon the service is signaled by a priest striking wooden bars hanging from the vaulted porch. The interior is dimly lit by hundreds of oil lamps hung from the ceiling. (Make sure to find out if there is an Armenian holy day where all of the lamps will be lit up during your visit.) Rather than seats, the floors are thickly laid with Oriental rugs. The cathedral contains a chapel that supposedly holds the head of St James.
- 16 Saint Mark's Syriac Church and Monastery. The monastery is open all day, simply ring at the gate. According to tradition, this church was built on the site of the house of Mary, mother of St Mark. Every weekday the three resident monks hold the 25 minute vespers service at 4PM for the small community of Syriac believers as well as visitors. Female visitors are not required to cover their hair during services.
- 17 Armenian Museum. Open 9AM to 4:30PM. Located slightly down the street from Saint James Cathedral, it is housed in what was once either the monastery or the guest house for the Armenian Monastery of Saint James. The museum holds an impressive and very well documented collection demonstrating the history of Armenia both religious and secular. Even for those who are not usually museum goers, it is an easily accessible, yet informative glimpse into Armenians long history. In addition, the grounds are very beautiful with a double story colonnade built around a central court yard. ₪5 adults / ₪3 students.
The Christian Quarter, the result of rapid expansion under Byzantine rule, is in the northwest corner of the city and is home to a bewildering array of churches, patriarchates and hospices of the city's many Christian denominations. The quarter is served by the Jaffa Gate and the New Gate.
- 18 Church of the Holy Sepulchre (accessible from Christian Quarter Road or a small opening from Souk el-Dabbagha). 5AM–9PM daily in the summer, and 4AM–7PM in the winter. The Holy Sepulchre is a large building spanning several areas in which Christ is believed by Christians to have been crucified and died, was buried, and then rose from the dead on the third day. Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Oriental Orthodox Christians are each allotted separate areas in the church dating largely to the time of Saladin. The Roman Catholics received their parts due almost purely to the Crusaders and, like all Roman Catholic shrines in the Holy Land, the Roman Catholic part is under the custodianship of the Terra Sancta (i.e. Franciscans).
- Parts of the Holy Sepulchre are controlled by several different branches of the Christian Church, who have historically been somewhat at odds with each other. It is important to note that the "church" is not one church in the sense of a building with an altar and podium near the front, but rather a "warehouse" of churches even for each denomination present: each has several altars and chapels. The Orthodox Church makes up the largest of the churches there and is situated in the center directly to the east and in front of the Sepulcher as well as at Golgatha. The Armenians have several smaller altars and chapels throughout the edifice as well as a fairly large church called "Saint Helen's" but often referred to as "Saint Gregory (the Illuminator of Armenia)." The Roman Catholics have two chapels, the Ethiopians have one in addition to a monastery on the roof, the Copts have a small altar behind the Sepulchre itself, and there is a small yet beautiful Syriac chapel up some stairs near the Coptic altar, though it is usually closed. There are even what are known as "ecumenical altars" set up on the sides in various areas which are apparently almost purely decoration and are rarely if ever used. There are many pathways and exploring here makes for a few hours of fun for those who love religious art and architecture.
- The best time to come is early in the morning and make your way out by 11AM. Even after sundown it is incredibly crowded. Be warned though, if you are wearing shorts, you might be barred access to the building itself but if not, then certainly to individual churches and without a doubt to the sepulchre. Women should have their shoulders covered, no cleavage, and dresses should go below the knee. Do not wear anything which might be considered even the slightest bit risqué. If you do not oblige, they will turn you back.
- Upon entering the church immediately in front of you is a stone slab set in the floor with a pillar at each corner. This is the Stone of Unction on which, it is claimed, Jesus' body was laid and prepared for burial. Turn right and ascend a steep, narrow flight of stairs to what is claimed to be Golgotha. There are altars here marking the location of the crosses on which Jesus and the two thieves were crucified. It is possible to crawl under the left-hand altar and feel a hole in the rock which is said to be the hole in which the cross was placed. Return down the stairs and go underneath Golgotha. A glass panel in the wall shows fractured rock, claimed to have been broken in the earthquake that followed Jesus' death.
- When you come out of this room turn right and follow around the passage. A long flight of stairs leads down to the underground Chapel of the Invention of the Cross (a slightly unfortunate name!) which is the cistern in which St Helena, mother of Constantine, found the True Cross. Note the thousands of small crosses carved into the walls flanking the staircase by Crusader period pilgrims.
- Come back up the stairs and continue round the passage past various chapels that mark the Stations of the Cross. This brings you to the Rotunda, beneath which is the Holy Sepulchre itself. There is usually a queue here as people line up to visit the tomb. The first small room is where the angels sat who announced the resurrection to the women who came to the tomb on Sunday morning. The second, which is a squeeze for three and impossible for four, contains a marble shelf supposed to be the spot where Jesus' body was laid. Photography - even flash photography - is allowed, but one should be discreet and respectful, as others in the room will regard this as the most holy of all sites and their visit to it as the emotional highlight of their pilgrimage.
- Unfortunately the tomb is almost certainly spurious, as 1st century AD tombs had a particular form exemplified by the Tombs of the Prophets on the Mount of Olives (see below). When you come out of the Sepulchre turn left and go round behind it. A low doorway leads into the often dusty and neglected Chapel of St Nicodemus and a further doorway takes you to a small room in the wall of which are genuine 1st century AD kokhim - coffin-shaped tunnels cut into the wall. If the tomb of Christ is anywhere in this building, these are more likely to be it than the official Sepulchre outside.
- 19 Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Muristan Rd. 9AM–1PM and 1:30PM–5PM M–Sa. This church was built by Kaiser Wilhelm II and completed in 1898. The church is most admired by tourists for its bell tower. At the top of its 177 steps, visitors are rewarded with some great views over the Old City. Bell tower: ₪15 for adults.
- 20 Christian Quarter Road (Start from Jaffa Gate). Along with David Street, is the quarter's main shopping thoroughfare. As with most shopping areas in the Christian Quarter, it specializes in religious items as well as handicrafts.
- 21 Muristan. Just south of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, this area was once a hospice for pilgrims from Latin-speaking countries. Today it serves as a quiet area of outdoor cafes and small shops centered around an atmospheric central fountain.
- 22 Church of St John the Baptist (David Street corner). Closed to the public. Adorned by a silvery dome, this church is visible from the Muristan even though the entrance is fairly difficult to locate. Founded in the 5th century, the church is significant as one of the most ancient churches in Jerusalem. The church was used as a hospice during the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099.
- 23 A Walk on the Roofs (corner of St Mark's Road and Khabad Street). It is possible to walk above the central souk along the rooftops of the city. Visitors can climb up to the rooftops via a small staircase at the corner of St Mark's Road and Khabad Street. A second set of stairs leads up from Muristan Road and visitors can exit into the courtyard of Khan el-Sultan, which allows exit onto Chain Street. The view from the rooftops offers delightful views of the bustling streets below, as well as unusual views of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock.
The Muslim Quarter is the largest and most densely populated quarter of the Old City. The quarter has changed hands many times from the 12th through 15th centuries, resulting in decay since the 16th century. It is one of the most fascinating and least explored parts of Jerusalem. The Noble Sanctuary/Haram al-Sharif is described separately (below).
- 25 St. Anne's Church. 8AM–noon and 2–6PM (winter: 4PM) Monday–Saturday. This Crusader-era church was built between 1131 and 1138 to replace a Byzantine church. It is traditionally believed to be the spot where Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin Mary, lived. the church fell into ruins until it was donated to France by the Ottomans in 1856. Outside the church are the extensive remains of curative baths as well as the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to the god of medicine. It is widely believed that this site is the Pool of Bethesda where, according to the Gospel of John (5:1-15), Christ cured a paralysed man. ₪7 adults / ₪5 students & children.
- 26 Monastery of the Flagellation (The Church of Condemnation). 7AM–6PM (October through March: 5PM) daily. Owned by the Franciscans, this site is traditionally held to be where Christ was flogged by Roman soldiers prior to his crucifixion. Opposite the courtyard is the Chapel of the Condemnation, built on the site popularly identified with the trial of Christ before Pontius Pilate. Admission is free.
- 27 Ecce Homo Arch. 8:30AM–12:30PM and 2–5PM Monday through Saturday. This arch, which spans the Via Dolorosa, was built by the Romans in AD 70 to support a ramp for the attack on the Antonia Fortress. The arch was reconstructed as a monument to victory when the Romans rebuilt Jerusalem in AD 135. Incorporated into the structure of the neighboring Convent of the Sisters of Zion, Christian tradition states that this is the place where Pilate presented Christ to the crowd and spoke the words, "Ecce homo" (Latin for "Behold the man").
- 28 Gate of Bath.
- 29 White Mosque (Between Museum of Islamic Art and al-Aqsa Mosque).
- 30 Lady Tunshuq Palace and Tomb.
- 31 Zedekiah's Cave. A large quarry located underneath the Old City. Used for several thousand years; the stones of the Western Wall were likely carved from here. Entrance is from just outside the Old City walls, a bit east of Damascus Gate.
Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary
The Temple Mount (Hebrew Har HaBayit, הר הבית) or Noble Sanctuary (Arabic Haram al-Sharif, حارم الشريف) is the most important site in Judaism and the third most important site in Islam. The site's massive rectangular platform (of which the Western Wall is one wall) was built by Herod the Great. Now the site is a showcase for Islamic architecture and design from the Umayyad to Ottoman times, and is an important religious and educational centre for Muslims to the present. Encompassing over 35 acres of fountains, gardens, buildings and domes, it is crowned by the magnificent Dome of the Rock, which stands on the site of the ancient Jewish Temples.
Entering the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount for non-Muslims is through an elevated wooden walkway leading to a gate called Mughrabi Gate (Moor's Gate), on the south-eastern corner of the Western Wall Plaza in the Jewish Quarter.
Visiting times are Saturday-Thursday, from 07:30-11:00 and 13:30-14:30 (summer time), or 07:30-10:00 and 12:30-13:30 (winter time), between Muslim prayer hours. Visiting hours during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan are from 07:30-11:00 only. (Notice that these prayer hours may vary, as the Muslim lunar calendar moves backwards about ten days each year as compared to the solar calendar, and the dates of Ramadan move backwards as well.)
Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the Noble Sanctuary on Fridays or during Muslim prayer hours, and may well be shut off entirely depending on the political situation of the day. The entry to the Noble Sanctuary itself (not the mosques) is allowed to non-Muslims outside these periods and is free of charge.
Entrance into the mosques themselves on the Temple Mount is granted if a Muslim man/woman asks the guard of the mosques for entrance (they usually ask you to recite a well known Quranic verse to prove you are a Muslim). For others who wish to enter the Muslim sites for media purposes etc., write to the Director of the Islamic Waqf via the following address:
- Director of the Islamic Waqf
- Islamic Waqf Council
- P.O. Box 19004
- Jerusalem, Israel
In the request, make sure to include your nationality, some information about yourself (ex. your occupation), and the reason why you want to enter the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Do not call the site the "Temple Mount" (a Jewish name); refer to it as "Haram-el-Sharif".
The sights of the Noble Sanctuary are:
- 32 Dome of the Rock. (Arabic: Qubbat Al-Sakhra, Hebrew: Kippat HaSela), located in the middle of the sanctuary opposite of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is probably the most dazzling and well-known landmark of Jerusalem, with its golden dome and octagonal blue walls adorned with calligraphy of Quranic verses. The Dome was built between 687-691 by the ninth Omayyad caliph, Abd al-Malik, atop the ruins of the Jewish Second Temple. The Dome is probably the most spectacular building in the Old City, thanks to a recent renovation in which dazzling gold donated by the King of Jordan in 1993 was layered over the bronze. Despite common conceptions, the Dome is not a mosque, but a shrine which protects beneath its high ceiling a large piece of rock sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians. The rock is variously believed to be the "Foundation Stone" from which the world was created, where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son (Isaac or Ishmael, depending on the tradition), where Mohammad left the Earth on his Night Journey (a small indentation was reportedly left by his foot), and the site of Solomon and Herod's Temples.
- 33 al-Aqsa Mosque. The point from where Mohammad is believed to have ascended to heaven. This association has made the building the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. Construction of the mosque began less than 20 years after the completion of the Dome of the Rock. Al-Aqsa has undergone many changes since its original construction. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in the 11th century, al-Aqsa became the headquarters of the Templars. The mosque's design pales in comparison to the Dome of the Rock and is permanently off-limits to non-Muslim visitors.
- 34 Museum of Islamic Art (Southwest corner of Noble Sanctuary). Housed in the Crusader-era refectory of the Knights Templar, this filled museum contains wonderful Islamic architectural remnants. An admission is required, but it is recommended that guests interested in Islamic art visit the LA Mayer Museum in the new city.
- 35 Solomon's Stables (Southeast corner of Noble Sanctuary).
- 1 Ramparts Walk. Visitors can walk along two sections of the Old City wall, from Jaffa Gate clockwise to St Stephen's Gate, and counter-clockwise from Jaffa Gate to the Dung Gate. Access to the ramparts is only possible at Jaffa and Damascus gates, although walkers can descend at any gate. Hours are 9AM–4PM (2PM on Fridays) daily. Wear shoes suitable for hiking, as the ramparts are quite bumpy. ₪16 adults / ₪8 students & children.
- Walk the Via Dolorosa - the "way of sorrows" traditionally traces the last steps of Christ from where he was tried to Calvary, where he was crucified, and the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where he is said to have been buried. There is no historical basis for the 0.25 km (0.16 miles) route, which has changed over the centuries. Nevertheless, pilgrims traditionally walk the route, identifying with Jesus' suffering. Along the route are 14 Stations of the Cross, each connected with a particular story or event. "Guides" hanging around the beginning of the Via will give you a tour for a small fee, accompanied by informed commentary, but this is not necessarily the best plan. Paying a token amount to get yourself started is not a bad plan, but if you have a guide book you can likely handle it better on your own from there, due to the crowded and winding nature of the Via through the Old City's narrow streets. Not all the guides are as respectful of the religious sites along the Via Dolorosa as they could be, sometimes walking headlong into occupied churches mid-service.
- First Station - Jesus is condemned to death. The traditional site of the Roman fortress where this took place lies inside a Muslim college.
- Second Station - Jesus takes up his cross after his flagellation and coronation of thorns. This takes place in front of the Monastery of Flagellation.
- Third Station - Jesus falls beneath the weight of his cross. This is commemorated by a small chapel with a marbel relief above the door.
- Fourth Station - Jesus meets his mother Mary. A sculpture above the door of the Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm represents this.
- Fifth Station - Simon of Cyrene is ordered to help carry the cross of Christ. This point at the start of the ascent to Calvary is marked by a Franciscan oratory.
- Sixth Station - Veronica wipes away Jesus' blood and sweat and her handkerchief reveals an impression of his face. This story, not recorded in the Bible, is commemorated by The Chapel of St Veronica.
- Seventh Station - Jesus falls for the second time, as indicated by a large Roman column in a Franciscan chapel.
- Eighth Station - Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:28), and is marked by a Latin cross on the wall of a Greek Orthodox Monastery.
- Ninth Station - Jesus falls for the third time. This place is marked on a Roman column at the entrance to the Ethiopian Monastery.
- Tenth to Thirteenth Stations - These four stations (Jesus is stripped of his clothes, nailed to the cross, dies, and is taken down from the cross) are all in the place identified as Golgotha (Calvary) within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
- Fourteenth Station - the Holy Sepulchre itself, the purported tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea who asked Pilate for Jesus' body.
- Attend a church service, if you're that way inclined.... For Christian services and addresses of churches (most denominations are represented in Jerusalem), call the Christian Information Centre, Jaffa Gate, telephone 6272692, open Monday through Saturday, 8:30PM–1PM
- Jerusalem Free Tour, starts near Jaffa Gate. A great (and free!) tour of the Old City, taking in all the main sites in all four quarters. Moki, the tour guide, is fun and knowledgable. If you enjoy the tour they encourage you to tip at the end. Lasts about three hours.
Beware of your Tour Guide
A great sign when entering from the Damascus Gate says: "Dear Visitor. Welcome to the Old City of Jerusalem. The Tour Guide takes 35% commission. Do your shopping alone.." ... and it is the truth. Leave your guide at the gate and shop/explore around for yourselves. Having said that, don't buy anything if you don't feel comfortable with the price. Naming your final price and walking away, even if the shop owner says the price is too low, often does the trick and many will agree.
Prices for snacks, water, and other drinks are inflated in the Jewish Quarter and near the Jaffa gate and the Muristan. As you move closer to Damascus Gate you can find 1.5 liter bottles of water for ₪5, while a 0.5 liter bottle may cost you as much as ₪9 in the more touristy areas.
Souk Khan al-Zeit and El-Wad streets are the main arteries of the Muslim Quarter. Souk Khan al-Zeit begins just east of the Muristan while El-Wad begins at the outlet of the tunnel to the Western Wall Plaza, with both leading north towards the Damascus gate. While these streets contain numerous souvenir shops and cafes catering to tourists, the majority of shops serve the local population. Butchers, Western clothing stores, hardware shops, and groceries can be found throughout the area.
The Suq El Attaria is the primary shopping area in the Arab quarters of the Old City. You will find shops ranging from souvenirs to greengrocers to traditional clothing.
The lanes and alleys in and near the Christian quarter abound in shops displaying icons and other churchy items. The quality ranges from kitsch to alright - and prices are mostly grossly inflated. Credit card scams are not unknown. Shop proprietors are seasoned masters at gentle but effective commercial manipulation - inviting bypassing tourists into their shops, involving them in innocuous conversation and directing them into 'you must buy this' situations.
The Old City of Jerusalem is known for its Armenian ceramics. With white and a rich blue as the base colors, and bright paintings on them, they are a distinct souvenir. The street signs throughout the old quarter are made of Armenian ceramics, and a few shops will produce custom nameplates and tile signs with a short turnaround time. Ceramics from Hebron are also popular with tourists.
The Cardo is the most prestigious shopping precinct in the Jewish Quarter. Built on the excavated remains of late Roman era Jerusalem (many of which can still be seen), the shops here specialise in arts and crafts, jewelry, Judaica, Dead Sea beauty products, quality souvenirs and T-shirts, amongst other things. But souvenirs here tend to be significantly more pricey than elsewhere in the Old City.
- Sinjlawi, 25 David St., Old City (Jaffa Gate, straight down the main shopping alley), ☎ 547.698886. STAY AWAY FROM THIS SHOP!! Subtle harassment and haggling is the modus operandi and the father/son owners will not hesitate to be untruthful. Beware of being scammed into believing that all shop proceeds on the Armenian Christmas Day go to the children in Bethlehem.
The Old City tempts the taste buds with Arabic, Jewish, Mediterranean and International fare. Visitors on the go can grab food from street vendors, while those desiring a more formal meal can find numerous restaurants scattered throughout each quarter.
Common appetizers and quick treats may include Kibbe, an oval-shaped croquette of cracked wheat filled with meat and onions; Hummos, a chickpea paste with olive oil; Tabuleh, finely-chopped parsley with tomato and cucumber; and Tahini, a sesame seed paste with parsley, oil and garlic.
Main dishes usually consist of lamb or chicken meat with occasional beef, but never pork. Meats can be cooked in a variety of ways, but is most often cooked on a spit. Take-away restaurants offer favorites like falafel (deep-fried balls of mashed chickpeas) and shwarma (lamb grilled on a spit and eaten in flat bread).
Dessert options range from exotic or citrus fruits to sticky, sweet Middle Eastern confections. Baklava is a layered pastry filled with powdered pistachio and covered in honey or syrup. Kanafeh, a recipe that differs throughout the Middle East, is served in Jerusalem as pistachios in a crisp coating of pastry threads.
An issue that may be confusing to many travelers is the issue of Jewish dietary laws, or Kashrut. These laws state that certain meat is considered impure (anything that does not chew the cud and have a split hoof, including pork and rabbit), as well as certain types of seafood (anything without scales or fins). Animals that are permitted for consumption have been slaughtered according to Jewish religious practices and cleansed of all traces of blood before cooking, allowing the food to be declared kosher. Other complications revolve around the fact that meat and dairy products can never be eaten together in the same meal. In Jerusalem you will find that all types of restaurants can be kosher, not just Jewish ones.
Ask if there is a discount or ask for the 'harova' discount. This is for people who are living or staying inside the Old City, but merchants don't know where you are staying or how long you have been here. If you are feeling cautious, say you are staying at the Heritage House. You can ask for the discount in English as there are many Anglophone guests and residents.
Be careful where you sit. There are dairy and meat only eating areas.
- Quarter Cafe, Tiferet Yisrael St, ☎ . Known more for its scenery rather than for its food, the Quarter Cafe offers a view over the Western Wall and Temple Mount. Under ₪60.
- Bonkers Bagels, 2 Tiferet Yisrael St, ☎ . Open Sunday - Thursday 9AM - 6PM. Friday 9AM - two hours before Shabbat. Motzei Shabbat from one hour after Shabbat. Closed Shabbat. This restaurant is located between the Hurva Square and the Kotel. The menu consists of a wide selection of bagels and toppings, including vegetables and spreads. Under ₪20.
- Tzaddik's Deli, Tiferet Yisrael St, ☎ . At Tzaddik's you can find deli sandwiches, hot dogs, chips, a selection of drinks, and even Thanksgiving dinner during the appropriate season.
- Rami's Pizza, 131 HaYehudim. You can buy pizza, calzones, soft-serve ice cream (American ice cream) and a variety of drinks.
- Menorah Cafe, 71 & 73 HaYehudim. This cafe is actually two restaurants, one dairy and one meat. The dairy menu has fish, pastas, salads, soups, sandwiches, and cakes. The meat cafe serves hamburgers, salads, kabobs, hot deli sandwiches, fries (chips), steak, and chicken. A meal for about ₪40.
- CoffeeBagel, 18 Tiferet Israel. This cafe is in the Jewish Quarter, and is dairy-Kosher. Any combination of delicious things on a bagel is served with a smile. A quick and delicious bagel with just about anything you can imagine.
- Burgers Bar, Tiferet Israel. Kosher.
- Joseph Kohen, Tiferet Israel. Chicken Shnitzel, Falafel, Shawarma ₪28-48.
- Mehadrin (Beit El Road). Good pizza, delicious omelettes, slushies. ₪10-20.
- Ne'eman Pastries (מאפה נאמן), Cardo St. They sell two "personal pizzas" for ₪20. The cheese is thin and the bread is puffy, but good. There is little or no sauce. The bakery has a good selection of pastries.
- Papàs, Tiferet Israel. Pizza, Falafel, Ice Cream
- Pizza Cardo Café, Cardo St. Standard triangle pizza that Americans will be used to. It is fairly comparable in quality, however the taste is a little off. Kosher. ₪10 per slice.
- Amigo Emil, Al Khanqa St (El Khanka St. Bazaar (left side as you go downhill)), ☎ . 9AM-10PM. This friendly place, set on a quiet bazaar street at the edge of the Christian Quarter, is a good choice for a Western-style meal and a break from the bustle of the Old City. You can order chicken wings in barbecue sauce; omelets; old-fashioned chicken soup; meat lasagna; boneless, breaded chicken breast stuffed with Israeli feta cheese; a mezze of Arabic appetizers; or grilled meats. There are special touches, such as delicious carabage halab (a wonderful Arabic pastry made by the owner's family); fresh tangerine juice in season; and there's even espresso. As this is a Christian-owned establishment, there's a wine and beer list. ₪20-60.
- Grand Shisha Bar & Cafe, ☎ . inside Jaffa Gate as you enter the archway under the New Imperial Hotel. A nice place to spend great time with family & friends. Traditional middle eastern oriental setting and colorful divan seats .Enjoy world and local beers (Taybeh), wine, soft/hot beverages,shishas and much more and listen to your favorite music.Internet/WiFi.Jerusalemite family business since 1954.
- 1 Lina Hummus, ☎ . 8:00-16:00.
- Versavee Bistro Bar & Cafe, 41 Greek Catholic Patriarchate (second left past the Tourist Information Office inside Jaffa Gate, into historical Versavee Building (part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate)), ☎ . 08:30-00:00. A lovely bistro/cafe/bar where you can enjoy and chill, listen to cool music, and watch TV. Soft drinks, beers & beverages, fresh fruit juices, snacks, munchies, full cocktail bar, tobacco & free wifi. Try the local Palestinian beer called Taybeh—only ₪18. One of the nicest and cleanest cafes in the Old City. This small indoor/outdoor cafe/restaurant/bar is a nice spot for lunch, dinner or late night snack. The atmosphere is lively, the food very good, prices reasonable, service prompt and friendly and English speaking. It is also one of the few eateries open at night in the Old City.
- Armenian Tavern, 79 Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Rd (from Jaffa Gate, turn right at the Citadel/Tower of David and continue straight down the street past the post office; the restaurant is on the right hand side down a small flight of stairs), ☎ . 11AM–10:30PM Tu-Su; reservation required Fr–Sa evenings. Traditional Armenian food in an atmospheric setting: a Crusader period arched cellar complete with indoor fountain, wooden tables and the ubiquitous hand-painted Armenian tiles. Alcoholic beverages available. ₪30-60.
Some of the best and cheapest falafel and shwarma joints can found on Saladin Street, just outside Damascus Gate. In addition to the restaurant listed below, there are numerous of pushcarts and stands right outside the gate serving fresh off the grill (and into a pita) food for around ₪6 a serving (usually not kosher).
There are plenty of small Arab restaurants in the Old City but in January many closed at nightfall. (They are of course Halal.)
- The restaurant in the Austrian Hospice is reputed to be poor and pricey. (It has a nice garden though.)
- The Arabic restaurant at the Jerusalem Hotel, and the little upstairs restaurant just round the corner from there, on Nablus Road just outside Damascus Gate, are recommended.
- Abu Shukri, 63 El Wad Rd (corner of Via Dolorosa), ☎ . 8AM–5PM daily. A small, simple restaurant that is known for its quality hummus and serves a variety of Middle Eastern favorites. Not kosher. Under ₪60.
- BASTI Restaurant, 70 El Wad Road , opposite to the (AUSTRIAN HOSPICE) & 3rd station of Via Dolorosa, ☎ . 9AM-10PM. A family-owned restaurant that has been open since 1927. If you don't like the pizza it's free. Also offers shawrma, chicken shishkabab and lamb shishkabab (all are served with saldes and humus and chips) as well as natural lemon with mint juice. Less than ₪55.
- Jerusalem Star, 32 El Wad Rd. 10AM–10PM daily. Not kosher.
- Nasr Restaurant. An excellent hole-in-the-wall shawarma place inside the Old City with delicious French fries and all the fixings you can put in your pita. Not kosher.
Coffee and tea are the two most common drinks among Jews and Arabs, although each has a preferred way of making it. In Jewish areas, coffee and tea are drunk in European or American-style cafés. Espresso is offered, but is weak compared to katzar, a stronger coffee. In Arab areas, coffee (qahweh) is served thick and strong and is meant to be consumed in small sips. If Western-style coffee is preferred, ask for Nescafé or filtered coffee. Tea (shay) is stronger than Western-style tea and is drunk with lots of sugar. If Western-style tea is preferred, ask for shay Libton (Lipton tea).
Fresh pomegranate (and grapefruit) juice is available all over the Old City. Note, any price beyond ₪15 for 0.3 liters (not 0.2) is a rip-off.
Bottled water is inexpensive (usually, be careful where you buy) and readily available throughout the Old City. Carrying an extra bottle of water is recommended due to the dry, dusty climate.
Some restaurants serve alcohol. The main beers are Israeli Maccabee/Goldstar and Arab Taybeh beer. Spirits are less widely available but are commonly sold in hotel bars.
Accommodation within the Old City itself is distinctly downmarket. Be sure to investigate people renting out private residences.
For those on a tight budget, youth hostels are ideal (although occasionally somewhat dodgy), and often the cheapest places to stay in Jerusalem. Religiously-based hospices and guest houses, located mainly near the holy sites, is a popular and inexpensive alternative to hotels. Hospices and guest houses tend to maintain stricter rules than hostels.
- 1 Chain Gate Hostel, ☎ 054 436 8053. Gives a good impression if the religious tension here, because you always have to pass by the police and justify yourself. Usually, passage is only allowed for Muslims wanting to enter through the Chain Gate. The hostel itself is not very spacious and the staff is quite grumpy, but it is a good choice. The "10 beds dorm" for booking is actually a 13 beds one, but there are worse options out there. Dorm bed from ₪54.
- 2 Abraham Hostel Jerusalem, 67 HaNevi'im at Davidka Square (Twenty-minute walk from the Old City along Jaffa St.; fifteen minutes from the Central Bus Station.), ☎ . No curfew. Popular, larger hostel that keeps a community feel. Free breakfast, WiFi, and Old City tour. Dorm: from ₪80; Private Room: from ₪280.
- 3 Petra Hotel and Hostel, 1 David St, ☎ . , No curfew. Just inside Jaffa Gate with views across the Old City to the Dome of the Rock. Breakfast included. Roof: ₪40; Dorm: ₪70; Private Room: ₪180.
- 4 Citadel Hostel. Dorm bed from ₪70.
- 5 Golden Gate Inn, Khan al-Zeit St. Breakfast included in the price and has free WiFi. Very near Damascus Gate and about a 8 minute walk to Jaffa Gate. Rooms are clean but tiny as you would expect for the price. ₪150 or so for a private single.
- New Swedish Hostel, 29 David St, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 10AM, check-out: 10AM. Central location in the old town with free coffee and tea. Wireless internet is ₪6 extra for the password, lockers are ₪3 extra per night and the laundry and drying is a ₪2 charge for each. There is no smoking or drinking in the hostel and there is a curfew of 2AM. ₪62.
- Heritage House, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Heritage House provides safe and comfortable lodging for young Jewish travelers and students so that they can best experience and develop their connection with Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people. They provide guests with a warm bed, fresh bedding, laundry facilities, food options, WiFi, long-distance calling, an extensive library, and information on numerous tours and educational/service opportunities throughout Israel. Only provides beds for travelers and students ages 18-30 and Jewish. free.
- Hebron Hostel (formerly known as 'Tabasco Hostel'), 8 Aqabat Etkia (Through Damascus Gate, downhill until the fork: El Wad on the left, Suq Khan El Zeit on the right. Go right. After 500m sign showing hostel, turn left Aqabat Et Tekieh, Tabasco is situated a couple of shops further on right.), ☎ . Dorm: ₪25-30; Private Room: ₪80-100.
- Al-Arab Youth Hostel, Souq Khan el-Zeit, upstairs from Internet Cafe, ☎ . Dorm: ₪20-25.
- 6 Austrian Hospice, 37 Via Dolorosa (Muslim Quarter). Lock out between 9AM and noon; curfew is midnight. Dorm: ₪58; Single: ₪206; Double: ₪323.
- 7 Casa Nova Hospice, 10 Casa Nova St (Christian Quarter). Doors locked at 11PM. High quality and comfort and a good location for the money, this hospice is popular with Catholic groups, so it is a good idea to book well in advance. Under ₪224.
- 8 [dead link]Christ Church Guest House, Omar ibn el-Khattab Square (Jaffa Gate, Armenian Quarter), ☎ , fax: . One of the oldest Christian hospices in the Old City, this location has plain, comfortable rooms and good range of services. Its location makes it very popular, so book well in advance. ₪448-784.
- 9 Al Hashimi Hotel and Hostel, Souq Khan El-Zeit # 73, Old City, ☎ 9277 - 628-4410. Air-conditioned rooms, all of which have a cable television, private toilet and bath, telephone, and internet connection. Recently renovated and great 5th floor/roof view of city. Single ₪400.
- 10 Lutheran Guest House, St Mark's Rd (Christian Quarter), ☎ . , Lock out between 9AM and noon; curfew 10:30PM. Single: ₪137; Double: ₪231.
- Our Lady of Zion, 41 Via Dolorosa (Ecce Homo Convent, Muslim Quarter), ☎ , fax: . Doors locked at 11PM. This hospice has clean and simple rooms and a great view of the Old City from the roof. ₪224-448.
The facilities in the Old City are recommended for those on a tight or mid-range travel budget. For those looking to splurge on accommodations, there are quite a few recommended locations in modern parts of the city, particularly West Jerusalem.