1. History of Jerusalem – a trip through the gates
2. The Jewish Quarter (Western Wall & Temple Mount)
3. The Muslim Quarter (Dome of the Rock & Al-Aqsa Mosque)
4. The Christian Quarter (Church of the Holy Sepulchre & Via Dolorosa)
5. The Armenian Quarter
Why is a trip through the old city gates the gateway to the history of Jerusalem? What is amazing about Jerusalem is that the city is the focal point of three main religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The main attractions in Jerusalem are the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) and the Temple Mount for the Jews, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque for the Muslims, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa for the Christians.
The Temple Mount (Moriah) is a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem with Islamic, Jewish, and Christian structures, including the Dome of the Rock, as well as the Al-Aqsa Mosque. These are two impressive landmarks in Jerusalem and a visit to the sites is a trip through significant cultural heritage and history. Moreover, the Old City of Jerusalem consists of four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter.
Jerusalem Hotel set just 450 m from the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The hotel is an elegant 19th-century Arabic mansion with Middle Eastern décor, air-conditioned rooms, and free private parking. The restaurant specialises in international and oriental cuisine.
Western Wall Luxury House hotel set in the heart of Jerusalem near the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock and Garden of Gethsemane. Guests can enjoy a terrace – and some rooms feature a kitchen equipped with a fridge, an oven, and a dishwasher.
Jerusalem is located at an altitude of about 750 metres, high enough to be covered in snow in winter – and yet a pleasantly warm climate in summer!
The city walls of Jerusalem date back to the Ottoman Empire (1535-1542) under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent. The Old City of Jerusalem, located above the City of David (believed to be the original settlement in ancient times), is surrounded by the ancient walls and gates, including the Golden Gate, Zion Gate, Jaffa Gate, Dung Gate, Herod’s Gate, Lion’s Gate, Damascus Gate, as well as the New Gate, as entry points. The triple-arched and double-arched gates in the southern wall, the Huldah Gates, have been sealed long ago and are no longer access points to the Old City.
The Jaffa Gate is one of the four primary gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, the only gate on the western side of the Old City, and the main entry point of vehicles. Next to the Jaffe Gate is the Tower of David Museum, where you can get an insight into the history of Jerusalem. The Tower of David was the site where the Muslims found protection during the Crusaders’ conquest of Jerusalem around 1100.
The Damascus gate on the northern side of the Old City is one of the other main gates to this part of ancient Jerusalem. As the largest and maybe most impressive gate in Jerusalem, it leads visitors directly into the Muslim Quarter.
The third major gate is the Zion Gate facing south towards Mount Zion. It was constructed by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1540 and leads directly into the Jewish Quarter.
The smallest gate is the Dung Gate which only allows pedestrians to pass. It is the closest entrance to the Wailing Wall.
Surprisingly, the area of the walled Old City is quite small – only about a kilometre wide – and this is really the heart and epitome of ancient Jerusalem! It is incredible how close some of the most important religious sites for three religions are. The history is concentrated within one square kilometre in the centre of the city of Jerusalem. This makes it easy to include the major historic landmarks in a day trip / shorter visit to Jerusalem.
The Temple Mount once housed both Jewish and Muslim shrines.
The Western Wall is one of the most important sites for the Jewish people in Jerusalem (and in the world) and an important symbol of the Jewish history. Anyone can enter the space next to the Wailing Wall and approach it to touch it. There are separate sections for men and women, and men are required to cover their heads (paper kippahs are available for visitors).
The Western Wall is today the remaining part of what was once a Jewish Temple, and it is considered the holiest site in the world for the Jewish people. It was here that Abraham was close to sacrificing Isaac in the ancient Bible story. The Western Wall is one of two ancient Jewish temples at this location – one built by King Solomon and later destroyed by the Babylonians, and the other one probably destroyed by the Romans.
The Jewish residents of Jerusalem gather along the Western Wall where they take their time to pray. It is customary to write prayers on a piece of paper and look for a crack in the wall to insert it.
The Jewish Quarter is still a lively section of the Old City of Jerusalem with private homes in the narrow alleyways where Orthodox Jewish families live and bake bread in the traditional way – and where there are schools for Torah study (Yeshivas).
At the times of Jewish festivals, the area can be very busy, and especially the intricate pattern of alleyways and tunnels can be a real maze to get through.
On the other side of the valley bordering the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives rises. The Jewish Cemetery is situated across the valley on the gently sloping hillside of the Mount of Olives.
Right above the Western Wall on the Temple Mount, you will find the golden-topped Dome of the Rock from 690 AD, today a characteristic landmark of Jerusalem! It is an important Muslim site where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Only Muslims are allowed to enter the building itself.
Nevertheless, a visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque can easily be included in your Jerusalem itinerary and trip since the mosque does allow visitors. It is huge, the third most important mosque in the world, and covers 144,000 square metres! The entire complex serves as both a house of worship, and a community centre in Jerusalem, preserving the Islamic culture and history. The name Al-Aqsa means both the ‘furthest’ (from Mecca), and ‘the supreme’. It is sacred to all Abrahamic faiths.
The Muslim Quarter is a busy section of the Old City of Jerusalem with many vendors selling a wide range of products, for instance in the unique Shuk (Mahane Yehuda Market). There is both a covered and an open-air market street, and the ambience, flavours, and enticing aromas create a perfect blend of ancient and new. In the market you will find fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fish and meet, clothes, and food specialities such as baklava, shawarma, falafel, spices etc. It is an authentic and popular place to come for visitors and locals alike.
The Old City of Jerusalem is really an intricate pattern of tunnels, historic sites, and market streets.
The Christian Quarter is located in the northwestern corner of Old Jerusalem – stretching from the Jaffa Gate along the Western Wall to the New Gate in the north.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the church containing the site (Golgotha) where the Christians believe that Jesus was crucified and buried. However, recent research indicates that the crucifixion site is 20 metres away from the official site.
The Via Dolorosa, the ‘Way of Suffering’ is a 600-metre route through the Old City of Jerusalem, following the path that Jesus walked before being crucified. It ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The path is marked by fourteen Stations of the Cross, nine along the streets, and five inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. From around 1350, Franciscan friars made it a pilgrimage route. In the beginning they started at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and ended at the House of Pilate, later the route was reversed. The stations commemorate events during Jesus’s walk, e.g. where he fell for the first, second, and third time etc.
Today, the path is a pilgrimage route with weekly processions. Every Friday a procession led by Franciscan friars takes place along the route, stopping at the fourteen stations along the busy market streets. However, it is not very likely that this was the accurate path walked by Jesus.
The Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, the smallest of the four quarters in the Old City, can be accessed through both the Zion Gate and the Jaffa Gate. This section dates from the 4th century AD, when Armenia adopted the Christian religion and monks came to Jerusalem to settle around the St James Monastery. Throughout the centuries, the Armenians have considered their part of the Old City as an integral part of the Christian Quarter.
If you have time to explore more history and visit more places in Israel / Jerusalem on your trip, you may find more inspiration here.
Old City of Jerusalem Trip & History (Western Wall & Gates, Temple Mount)
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Old City of Jerusalem Trip & History (Western Wall & Gates, Temple Mount):
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