Old City, Jerusalem
What makes the Old Walled City so fascinating is that in the midst of all this ancient history and oblivious to the turmoil that surrounds its very existence, beats a vibrant life that continues to defy and consternate. If you observe long enough the conondrum that is Jerusalem, perhaps you can come up with a solution to its dilemma....
Tight, narrow, claustrophobic streets soaked in ancient history make up the old city of Jerusalem. It's divided into four distinct quarters. The Christian and Armenian quarters are old and peaceful, the Jewish quarter was razed during fighting in the last war and is very modern, but the Muslim quarter is oldest of all, and is chaotic and lively.
In the Christian quarter you will find the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Dividing this quarter from the Muslim one is the ancient Cardo that runs down through to the Jewish quarter. In one corner, abutting both the Muslim and Jewish quarters, you will find Temple Mount, now home to the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, and the Western (Wailing) Wall of which is where the Jewish quarter begins.
Old City, roughly 220 acres surrounded by walls built by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. This is the heart of the city and has both political and religious significance. The Old City is divided into quarters — Jewish, Armenian, Muslim and Christian. The holiest place for Jews is the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. Two of Islam’s most important shrines, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aksa Mosque are in the Muslim Quarter on the Temple Mount. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter is revered by Christians as the site of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here you can imagine life centuries ago and even walk on original 2,000-year-old stones.
The Old City has a total of 11 gates, but only seven are open (Jaffa, Zion, Dung, Lions’ [St. Stephen's], Herod’s, Damascus [Shechem] and New.
One of the closed gates is the Golden Gate, located above ground level and below the Temple Mount. It is only visible from outside the city. According to Jewish tradition, when the Messiah comes, he will enter Jerusalem through this gate. To prevent him from coming, the Muslims sealed the gate during the rule of Suleiman.
The main entrance to the city is the Jaffa Gate, built by Suleiman in 1538. The name in Ottoman, Bab el-Halil or Hebron Gate, means "The Beloved," and refers to Abraham, the beloved of God who is buried in Hebron. A road allows cars to enter the city here. It was originally built in 1898 when Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany visited Jerusalem. The ruling Ottoman Turks opened it so the German Emperor would not have to dismount his carriage.
Walking down the narrow market lanes of the Old City of Jerusalem is an unforgettable experience. The sights, sounds, tastes and aromas are strong and overpowering. Locals and tourists shopping and haggling, sellers cajoling their potential customers to step into their shops, colorful draperies hanging outisde on display, religious artefacts, antiques, backgammon boxes, hookahs, street foods, spices, sweets, and of course the ubiquitous souvenirs. All of these add up to an amazing jigsaw. The market is usually crowded with people, and Arab kids shouting to make way for their wheelbarrows add to the mess.
In the old times every street and lane was dedicated to one kind of market: Butchers' market, perfume market and so on. Today some of these still exist, but most streets have a mixture of different types of shops.
So, take your time, check out the shops, have a conversation with the merchants (they may ask you inside and offer you tea if they think you are a serious buyer), haggle until both you and the shopowner are happy, stop in one of the many eateries for a quick meal, a drink and maybe a game of backgammon: This is the Jerusalem Old City Market experience.
There are seven different gates that lead into the Old City of Jerusalem. We took the tram from central Jerusalem and stopped in front of Damascus Gate which is the biggest one located on the NW side of the Old City on the highway that leads to Nablus and further far into Damascus of Syria. It was built in 1537 by Suleiman the Great although originally it goes back many centuries before, some remnants of 2nd century AD roman triple-arched gateway were found underneath the gate we see today.
The Jews call the gate Shechem(Nablus) Gate while the arabs Bab al-Amud (gate of the column, because of the tall pillar that stood in front of the gate during the roman/byzantine eras.
Unlike Jaffa Gate where we had to walk up the stairs here the stairs descend towards this beautifully restored gate. The open plaza in front of the gate was full of people coming in and out (you could see locals, Palestinians and Israelis but also pilgrims and soldiers) but that was nothing comparing to the people we saw when we got inside the gate with (mainly arabs) going to shop from the lively arab market that spread in the small alleys, it was noisy and smelly but we felt excited and followed the crowd for a while with no direction going through this bazaar of fruits, vegetables, spices, arab sweets, bread and clothes. It was really lovely and so different than Jaffa Gate which is occupied by tourists.
You should spend at least one day here, and you will probably want to come back again too. I would start at Jaffa Gate and walk into the market, (the street narrows to be for pedestrians only, then you are in the market) walk straight down the market road that you are on until it suddenly stops and starts again a bit off to the right. Think of this as the point you have to remember, and come back to it once you have explored each area. I will call it ' the intersection'. At this point, when the you hit the dead end you have to turn right and then left again to get to the Kotel (a funny right turn off the path you are on). You can also get to th mosque from here, but tourists are only alowed in before 12:30 and even then I am not sure how easy it is to get for non-Muslims. Back at the intersection, If instead of turning right and left again you had just gone right and continued straight you would have gotten to the Jewish quarter with a lot of history, and the Cardo. If you had turned left here, you would have gone into the Muslim Quarter into a market that is not for tourists but for the Arabs themselves, for a more authentic feel. COntinue on to Damascus Gate, exit the Gate, and look back at how pretty the Gate is. Then enter the Gate again, go up the market again, and turn right at the intersection to get back to Jaffa Gate. There you can go up to the Ramparts walk to walk up on top of the walls and look down. Also here is the Tower of David Museum which I highly recommend. Get a map of the old city if you can because I havent' been for a while and I don't want anyone to get lost following my directions.
Narrow streets of old town Jerusalem are simply fascinating! There are also many little shops in there.