There are some places you visit in the world that you instantly know will never compare to anywhere else you have been in the past or will ever be in the future. Jerusalem is unequivocally one of those. This is a holy city that has undergone turmoil throughout the ages and been fought over by the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Today, the city is sectioned into four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, Christian Quarter, Muslim Quarter, and Armenian Quarter. While on the surface there is peace and prosperity in modern day Jerusalem, the reality beneath the layers of history shows not only the struggle of the past but also the present, over this ancient city that was once considered the centre of the world. The layers of history are not only figurative but indeed very literal, as this city has been destroyed and rebuilt more than a dozen times throughout history. Each time the city has been rebuilt it has risen higher on top of another layer of rubble, making for a very unique glance into history throughout the ages.
While it appears peaceful on the surface (and by most interpretations of the word it is), there are many underlying struggles that have ceaselessly carried throughout history to the present day and will undoubtedly continue for years to come. For instance, the call to prayer rings loudly periodically throughout the day, whilst on Friday afternoons the Old Town is filled with Jews coming to pray at the Western Wall – the most sacred site for Jewish people. However even the Western Wall doesn’t come without a complex backstory, having been the closest structural remains after the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, therefore being recognised as the most suitable replacement as the holiest site for Jews. Nowadays, in the place where the Temple once stood resides an impressive gold-domed Mosque… see what I mean about complex!?
It’s important to ask questions everywhere throughout Israel to sift through the history, but nowhere is this more true than in Jerusalem – there’s just so much history to take in. For instance, you would be forgiven for being in constant confusion at the many complexities of this city, particularly if you are interested to learn about it in an impartial manner. Do not be surprised if your guide asks you your religion before commencing the day and catering your day toward that, as for Christians a visit to Jesus’ tomb would be unmissable, whilst Catholics would prefer to spend their time in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. If you aren’t religious at all then be sure to ask plenty of questions, as without a background understanding it would be incredibly overwhelming to try and take it all in.
Be sure to walk through all of the quarters to experience the authenticity of each. I particularly enjoyed the Muslim Quarter for its markets and visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter. Another highlight for Christian visitors is the Stations of the Cross – located on Via Dolorosa and to be honest I could carry on for quite a lengthy article to cover all of the biblical sites and references in the city of Jerusalem.
If you can look past the complexities and appreciate this Holy city for its admirable beauty and unique history, then you will thoroughly enjoy Jerusalem and the paradoxes it presents. The Old Town is almost certainly where you should spend most of your time here, though don’t be afraid to venture beyond it and get a feel for local life in Jerusalem – the capital of Israel and the largest city.
Beyond the Old Town, a unique highlight for weekend visitors is to make their way to the Machane Yehuda Market on a Friday afternoon to see the chaos unfold as locals try to collect their market products in a hurry before Shabat in the early evening on Friday, lasting through til the same time on Saturday evening.
There is also much to see beyond Jerusalem and one should not pass up the opportunity to venture into the West Bank to experience Bethlehem and see the contrast in living for Palestinians, as well as taking the opportunity to support their local community as they invariably miss out on tourism dollars.
I visited Jerusalem with my Israeli guide Eyal, who arranges private tours in Israel.
I visited Bethlehem with a local Palestinian guide, arranged through my guide Eyal.
I stayed at the Dan Boutique Hotel which has a fantastic view of the city.
Vegetarians will be spoiled for choice at Cafe Mamilla.
Be sure to treat yourself to authentic falafel at the Arab Shuk (market – in the Muslim Quarter).
My trip was arranged by Go Israel.