Old City Of Jerusalem & Its Walls

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Old City Of Jerusalem & Its Walls

History

Jerusalem’s most important historical and religious sites are within the walls of the Old City. The Old City which is surrounded by solid walls is divided into four quarters- Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. It is also the centre of three sacred sites revered by the three most important religions born in Israel – Judaism (Western Wall or Wailing Wall), Christianity (Church of the Holy Sepulchre), and Islam (Haram ash-Sharif). The site was inscribed in the World Heritage List in the year 1982.

For Muslims, Haram ash Sharif or the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock are second only to Mecca in religious import. The Dome of the Rock, built by Caliph Omar between 688 and 691 AD, marks the spot from where the prophet Mohammad is believed to have ascended to heaven.

The 10th century Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum are within walking distance. Though one can exit by any one of the nine gates connecting the enclosure round the Haram to the narrow lanes, non-Muslims can only enter through two gates.

Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) is the only remnant of the Second Temple complex built by King Herod in 20 BC, the holiest of Jewish shrines. You can walk around the ramparts for the full circumference and get a birds-eye view of the old city.

The Christian Quarter is centred round the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Since the church was renovated several times, it is a queer mixture of styles not at all pleasing to the eye.

The Lutheran Church nearby offers a beautiful view of the Old City from its tower. Walk the Via Dolorosa, the Path of Sorrow, marking the Stations of the Cross along which Jesus carried his cross to Calvary. The Mount of Olives, where Jesus ascended to heaven, overlooks Jerusalem. Apart from several beautiful churches here, the Garden of Gethsemane (where Jesus spent his last night in prayer) and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary are also here.

Jerusalem has eight gates. Only seven of the eight gates are open. (Most of them have three names - in Hebrew, Latin and Arabic). The Jaffa Gate is the main entry to the Old City from the New City. The cynosure of all eyes here is the Tower of David or the Citadel and its minarets and towers, which also houses an impressive museum complex. At night there is a Sound and Light show at the Citadel.

Going clockwise you will see the New Gate which gives access to the New City; Damascus Gate gives access to East Jerusalem and is the most interesting. Herod’s Gate faces East Jerusalem and was the site from where the Crusaders first breached the walls of Jerusalem in 1099.

Next is St Stephen’s Gate, (named after the first Christian martyr who was stoned nearby) facing the Mount of Olives; Dung Gate probably because it is near the local rubbish heap; and Zion Gate which was the scene of several skirmishes during the 1948 War.

East Jerusalem is a district of small businesses, shops and old hotels. The Rockefeller Museum here has some interesting architectural and archaeological exhibits. Solomon’s Quarries beneath the north wall of the Old City is a vast cave, a cool place to step into on hot days.

The New City is centred on the triangle of Jaffa Road, King George V Street and the Ben Yehuda Street. The Yad Vashem is a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The Israel Museum, west of the city, has a major collection of art; the Shrine of the Book houses some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The incredible city of Jerusalem is 3500 years old but still it is well preserved. The walls that encircle the city were built at the time of ottoman Turks. The narrow alleys and beautifully stones buildings are done up in Roman and Islamic styles.

Best time to visit

The best weather to pay a visit to Jerusalem is in autumn and spring. Peak seasons are twice a year, in summer when students and tourists from North America and the Southern Hemisphere flock to Israel and in winter when the people from cold Europe visit Israel. The coast can be extremely hot and humid in August. The winter months have the heaviest rainfall and certain areas are very cold.

Trivia

More secular 'shouldn’t-be-missed’ highlights include a walk along the ramparts of Old Jerusalem- the solid stone walls of the Old City offer splendid views of both old and new. A complete circuit is not possible because some of it is sealed off for security reasons.

Timing

Entrance to the Haram is free but tickets have to be bought to visit the two mosques and the museum. Visiting hours are confusing because they are based around Muslim prayer schedules that follow the lunar calendar. Haram is open from Saturday to Thursday from 8 am to 3 pm. During prayers five times a day and during the month of Ramadan, the Haram is only open from 7.30 am to 10 am and is closed on Muslim holidays. Visitors need to be clad according to custom to be allowed in. The Wailing Wall is accessible 24 hours a day and should be visited at different times to see the effect of the different shades of light upon it. The church of the Holy Sepulchre is open daily.


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