The Quarters, Jerusalem
the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem is the most important site of all christianity (whether roman catholics, eastern orthodox, eastern churches, coptic, mainline protestant, evangelical) as it is here where Jesus was crucified, died, buried and resurrected and Bethlehem nearby as the second important site. The Quarter is located in the Northeastern Side of the Old City and it has more than 40 attractions for Christians like the stations of the cross (via dolorosa), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Church of John the Baptist, Muristan Market, Church of the Redeemer and more. Many of the neighborhoods buildings were constructed in the 19th century AD but the Christian presence in the quarter dates back to the early Arab Period when Muslim rulers led by Omar Kattab guaranteed the protection of Christians in the areas immediately adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Christian Quarter is accessed by the Jaffa Gate, Old Gate and part of the Damascus Gate.
the jewish quarter is located at the Southeast Corner of the Old City and among the attractions in the quarter is the Western Wall Plaza, the Western (Wailing Wall), the old Roman Cardo of which some are restored as shops, and The Herodian Houses, The Hurva Synagogue, the Broad Wall, the Ramban Synagogue (built by famous Jewish Historia Maimonides) The quarter existed since the 8th century AD and was captured by the Jordanian legion in 1948 war and was recaptured along with the resit of the old city by Israel in the 1967 war. Entrance to the Jewish Quarter is via the Zion Gate and the Dung Gate.
the Muslim Quarter is situated at the Northeast of the Old City and occupies the largest part (including the Temple Mount). It became the muslim quarter after the crusaders were expelled from the holyland by Mamluks and by Saladin. Most of the Inhabitants here are Jordanian and Palestinian Arabs and a mixture of Christians and some of the religious sites of Christians lie at this quarter like parts of the via dolorosa, bethesda, Saint Anne Church. The quarter hosts many bazaars and souks and the Damascus, Lion's, Herod's Gate. The Closest Part of the western wall to the Temple mount lies at this quarter, at underground catacombs.
The former Crusaders hospital, the Muristan is now a warren of alleys and converted buildings, mostly housing restaurants, cafes and stalls definately targetting the tourist dollar.
Moreorless in the shadow of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Redeemer, there is a surprisingly open 'square' in this part of the old city (and is overlooked by Papa Andrea's Cafe - see separate restaurant tip).
To make movement around the city somewhat easier than to always have to fight through the crowds in the narrow alleyways, parts of the Old City are traversed by rooftop walkways and paths, passing mosques and yeshivas and providing a very different perspective.
The densest populated quarter of the Old City, accounting for more than 70% of the population, is the Muslim quarter. It's a warren of alleyways (covered or exposed) and, as you move away from the tourist tack of the Via Dolorosa and immediate surrounds, a surprising amount of 'normal' shops assail you - butchers, clothing, bakers, sweet and spice stalls etc. Damascus and the less used St Stephen's (also known as Lion's) gates are the main access/egress points for this section. Damascus gate epitomises the melee of the quarter, with thousands of people leaving and entering the city throughout the day.
There are some stunning examples of Mamluk architecture (13-16th centuries) here - but it's difficult to get the full 'picture' in such an enclosed space. There are a number of Christian sites within this quarter, with Via Dolorosa intersecting the quarter and leading down to St Stephen's Gate - as area that is considerably more spacious than its Damascus counterpart. Many of the narrow streets are grafitti'ed in the green of Hamas.
The map found at Madaba in Jordan shows that the single dominant feature of Roman Jerusalem was the Cardo, that ran from Damascus Gate through to an unknown point to the south (although believed to be the current old city walls).
The Cardo was the dominant north-south axis of any Roman town, normally approximately 22.5 metres wide (a six-lane highway!!) lined with shops, public galleries, religious buildings, vendors and was the economic hub of every town.
A map of the current Old City shows the route of the Cardo running from Damascus Gate and what is now Souk Khan el Zeit and onto Jewish Quarter Road. But what was once a wide avenue is now a narrow, Arab-style marketplace with the original pavement several metres below the current level.
Remains of the Byzantine Cardo were discovered in 1970s and within the Jewish Quarter a strip of shops have been built into the originals that lined the street several hundred years ago.
One of the most private parts of the Old City, the Armenian Quarter is dominated by high walls with little opportunity to see beyond. The Cathedral of St James is a case in point - only the inner front entrance and inner courtyard are accessible to the general public.
A Franciscan monastery, the clock tower of its church is one of the tallest buildings in the Old City and can be readily seen from a distance. It's virtually all 19th century and, to be honest, not that interesting compared to many of the other churches and monasteries in the Old City.
It's to be found in the north western corner of the city, within the Christian Quarter and near to New Gate.
Just inside the city walls less than 50 metres from Lion's Gate is the Church of St Anne and the ruins of Bethesda Pool.
The church, built between 1131 and 1138 by the Crusaders, is found atop what is believed to be the birthplace of Hannah, mother of Mary and grandmother of Christ. Unlike most christian churches, it was not destroyed by the Ottomans, and most of what we see today is original (with some restoration from the late 19th century),
Acoustics in the church are reported as pitch perfect and its become a site of pilgrimage specifically for the singing or religious songs (of any denomination).
Beyond the church are the ruins of the Bethesda Pool and a Roman temple, as well as the foundations of the original Byzantine church that stood on the site.
It can be quite a shock coming through the gate in the wall and seeing the courtyard, garden, church and ruins spread out before you - a hidden enclave behind the walls.
The Menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum, is one of the most ancient symbols of Judaism.
According to the Old Testament it was created according to God's explicit commands to Moses, and formed an important part of the Tabernacle, the "portable temple" used by Moses during the wanderings of the People of Israel in the Sinai desert on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Several generations later it was incorporated into the Temple built by King Solomon on Mt Moriah in Jerusalem. Its lamps were lit by the purest olive oil.
The Menorah used in the Second Temple was plundered by the Roman Emperor Titus when he conquered Jerusalem from the Jewish rebels, brought to Rome and paraded around the city during Titus' victory parade (see relief on Titus' Arch in Rome!).
An exact life-size replica of the Menorah was constructed from 24-karat gold by scholars in Jerusalem, and it now stands in a large glass box in the Jewish Quarter, overlooking the Wailing Wall and the Temple Mount. Its value is estimated as more than 4 million dollars!
During the extensive archaeological excavations in the Jewish Quarter after 1967, one of the most exciting and significant findings was a segment of an ancient city wall, which could be dated with certainty to the 8th century BC, during King Hezekiah's reign in the First Temple period.
The wall is 40 meters long and 7 meters wide, and these dimensions caused it to be called "The Broad Wall".
The significance of the discovery of the Broad Wall is that it put an end to a long controversy about the size and boundaries of Jerusalem during the First Temple period: It was clear that Jerusalem in those early days included David's City and the Temple Mount, where King Solomon built his temple. However, whether the city already spread to the "Western Hill" which was later to become "The Upper City" during the Second Temple Period was not clear.
The famous archaeologist Cathleen Canyon performed a few exploratory excavations on the Western Hill in the 1920s and did not find evidence for First Temple period dwellings, and concluded that the city in the First Temle period had not expanded to the Western Hill.
The excavation of the Broad Wall in the late 1960s changed this view and settled the controversy.
The time was the 8th century BC. The Land of Israel had been divided between the Kingdom of Judea and the Kingdom of Samaria. The Kingdom of Samaria was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and many refugees fled to the Kingdom of Judea, settled in the capital Jerusalem and helped expand it to the unfortified Western Hill.
Hezekiah, King of Judea, prepared for the Assyrians' 701 BC ampaign to conquer his kingdom and fortified Jerusalem, building the Broad Wall on the Western Hill.
Today the excavated Broad Wall can be seen in the middle of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City.
The Jewish Quarter of today is built on the site of the ancient city of Herod's period. On the upper slope of the hill overlooking Temple Mount stood the Upper City, home to Jerusalem's social and economical elite.
When the Jewish Quarter was rebuilt, after the Six Day War of 1967, archaeological excavations were carried out before the foundations of any new building were laid. This is how the Herodian Quarter of 2000 years ago was discovered. The compound consists of six ancient houses, which were preserved and incorporated into the Wohl Museum of Archaeology, which now forms the basement of a modern house. The remains are mainly the cellars of those aristocratic houses: Storage rooms, ritual baths, water reservoirs. They are one or two storey high. The museum displays the various artefacts, utensils, flasks and coins found in these houses.
The decorations attest to the wealth of the owners, with mosaics, stucco work and a colorful fresco. Although the decorations were made in a Greco-Roman style, the avoidance of depicting human faces is typical of the Jewish religion. The most impressive of the six houses is called the House of Measurements, which also had a balcony with a view of the Temple Mount.
Entering the Old City through Jaffa or Damascus Gates will immediately provide easy access to the alleys of the old city and the market stalls.
Entering through Jaffa Gate will provide easy access to the tourist orientated paraphernalia - a mix of crosses, crucifixes, jewelry, Judiaca, clothing (I Love Jerusalem t-shirts etc), wooden carvings, rugs - you name it, it'll be here. Search hard and (politely) bargain with the stallholders. There's a lot of junk to be found, but there are also some things well worth owning that will not necessarily cost the earth.
If you come through Damascus Gate, your experience will be very different as the stalls and market here sell 'everyday' things - foodstuffs, clothing, electrical items.
The two eventually merge in the vicinity the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In ancient Roman city planning, a cardo was a north-south-oriented street in cities, military camps, and coloniae. The Cardo in the Old City of Jerusalem is a good example.
The main north-south thoroughfare, the Cardo Maximus, was originally a paved avenue approximately 22.5 meters wide (roughly the width of a six lane highway) which ran southward from the site of the Damascus gate.
You can watch my 3 min 29 sec HD Video Jerusalem Old City in the Evening out of my Youtube channel.