The Old City Of Jerusalem is not large. It is a is a 0.9 square kilometers walled area. And I visited the Old City at least two dozen times. Nonetheless, during each visit, I discover something new.
Note: for attractions near the Old City check Around The Old City Of Jerusalem post.
If you are planning to visit Jerusalem, the Old City is a must, and you need to reserve at least half a day. And in this post, we will be exploring different places in the Old City including, as I call them, “The Big Three”.
“The Big Three” are:
- The Western Wall – the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray.
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the church contains two holiest sites in Christianity.
- Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque which is the third holiest site in Islam.
Within one square kilometer, you can find the holy sites of three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Map of the Old City:
Reaching The Old City
There are three ways that I usually use to reach the Old City:
- Mamilla Parking – reaching by car to Mamilla mall and parking in the mall. The upside is the closeness of the mall to Jaffa Gate. The downside is that convenience comes at a price.
- Giv’at HaTahmoshet Parking – it is a park and ride site (free parking). And from there you can take the tram. Safra square tram stop is within ten minutes walk from Jaffa Gate. It is less convenient than Mamilla Parking, but it is cheaper, and kids love riding the tram.
- HaPa’amon Garden – there is free parking on soil (on the left of the paved parking lot). From the HaPa’amon Garden, it’s about a 10-15 min walk to the old city. It is the free option, but it has the longest walk, including an uphill walk.
The Road From HaPa’amon Garden
I will show you the way from HaPa’amon Garden since it is the most complicated one.
After about 500 meters you will reach Mendes-France Square. At that point, you will see Mount Zion. Here is a look over stairs climbing to the top of Mount Zion and you can see the clock tower that is next to Dormition (you can also see a part of the Dormition abbey’s dome):
As you climb mount Zion, if you look back you’ll see Mishkenot Sha’ananim neighborhood. It was the first area of Jewish settlement in Jerusalem outside the Old City walls. You can also see its iconic symbol, the Windmill (top left):
Usually, I climb the stairs towards Abbey of Dormition (stairs that can be seen on “Mount Zion” photo above). But, since this time we went to Western Wall, we choose the shortest way, and it’s along Ma’ale HaShalom street. I don’t like this street since there is no walkway for pedestrians and many choose walking either on stones along the road or on the road itself:
At 100% zoom, it looks that the last sister has pretty advances shoes. Looks like specialized trip sandals 🙂
Nachman Meuman Stickers
The car has many Nachman Meuman stickers. This slogan used by a subgroup of Breslover Hasidim and it’s referring to the founder of the Breslov movement, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, along with a reference to his burial place in Uman, Ukraine.
As you can see the slogan starts with one letter, then two, three and lastly four. In other words, the word is build up gradually, and each time one letter is added. I wasn’t aware of the cause, so decided to look it up. According to the net, the reason for building the word is to increase its spiritual power. Pesachim has the opposite example, where each time one letter is removed to decrease the spiritual energy.
We will start with the Davidson Center (official site), or by its full name The Jerusalem Archaeological Park – Davidson Center. It is located between Dung Gate and Western Wall.
Near the Temple Mount there is a site where archaeological finds dating back to the First Temple period are displayed.
The most critical and fascinating finds are dated to the Second Temple period.
The earliest find is dated to the First Temple period, to the time of King Solomon in the 10th century BC. This find includes the city wall itself, a tower, a royal edifice and above all, a gatehouse.
Note: unless stated otherwise all quotes were taken from the Official Sites.
Visiting Hours are Sunday to Thursday 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM,
Friday 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM. But please recheck before visiting.
At The Archaeological Park
I would suggest starting with watching a ten-minute video that interchanges the experience of Second Temple pilgrims with that of present-day visitors (there is a building on the right – not visible in the photo above).
Robinson’s Arch is the name given to an arch that once stood at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. It was built as part of the reconstruction of the Second Temple initiated by Herod the Great at the end of the 1st century BCE. The massive stone span was constructed along with the retaining walls of the Temple Mount. It carried traffic up from ancient Jerusalem’s Lower Market area and over the Tyropoeon street to the Royal Stoa complex on the esplanade of the Mount. The overpass was destroyed during the Great Jewish Revolt, only a few decades after its completion.
The arch is named after Biblical scholar Edward Robinson who identified its remnants in 1838.
Inside the Davidson Center, you can see part of the Western Wall. And if you exit the archeological center and walk for two minutes, then you will be able to reach another part of the Western Wall, the part where Jews pray.
The Western Wall, Wailing Wall or Kotel is an ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The wall was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple. Herod the Great begun the construction, which resulted in the encasement of the natural, steep hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount, in a large rectangular structure topped by a huge flat platform, thus creating more space for the Temple itself and its auxiliary buildings.
The Western Wall is considered holy due to its connection to the Temple Mount. Because of the Temple Mount entry restrictions, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray.
The holiest place whereJews can pray, The Western Wall:
As you probably know, you can write your wishes/requests on paper and stick it between the rocks. Today, more than a million prayer notes or wishes are placed inside the Western Wall each year. Don’t they run out of space? Yes. Twice a year, Rabbi Rabinovitch and his assistants collect the notes left in the Wall and bury them in the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.
There is fence dividing the Western Wall into two parts: one for men (the larger part) and the other for women:
There are three exits from The Western Wall area. Two near Dung Gate and one in front of The Western Wall. I.e., if you stand near man’s area and turn around, you will see the stairs behind you. You can use these stairs and go up to the Jewish Quarter.
View From The Jewish Quarter
Dome Of The Rock And The Temple Mount
The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.
It was initially completed in 691 CE at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik during the Second Fitna, built on the site of the Roman temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which had in turn been built on the site of the Second Jewish Temple, destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The original dome collapsed in 1015 and was rebuilt in 1022–23. The Dome of the Rock is in its core one of the oldest extant works of Islamic architecture.
The entrance to The Temple Mount is free, but there are security limitations. If everything is calm then before entering your bags will be scanned, and you will be checked with metal detectors. If it is not calm, then the police forbid entrance to the site without prearrangement. It is recommended to call in advance to find out regarding changes. Telephone number: 972-2-6226250.
In calm times opening hours are:
Summer: Sundays – Thursdays: 8:30 am – 11:30 am, 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm.
Winter: Sundays – Thursdays: 7:30 am – 10:30 am, 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm.
The Temple Mount is closed to tourists on Fridays and Saturdays.
On The Temple Mount
I passed security pretty easily, regular bags check and metal scanner. Though, I saw that some people had their passport checked.
When on the Temple Mount you will also see al-Aqsa Mosque. But it is less photogenic than Dome of the Rock, and there were people in the al-Aqsa Mosque (though opening hours are only when there are praying). Thus, I concentrated on the Dome of the Rock.
When exiting Temple Mount, I was directed back to the “Touristic” entrance. There is a big entrance/exit, but it used only by Muslim prayers and leads to the Muslim Quarter. The “Touristic” entrance leads back to Western Wall.
When visiting the Old City don’t rush between different sites. Enjoy a stroll in the alleys of the cities. And on our way to Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we will take a small detour through the Jewish quarter.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre bears little if any resemblance to the churches most visitors know from home. And that, it seems, is the best reason to visit it.
Here, where Orthodox and Catholic Christians mark the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, Christians of other denominations can explore the world of what scholars call the “historic churches.” Six denominations celebrate their rites in and around the cavernous house of worship. These communities are some of Christianity’s most ancient. Among the lesser known churches in the West, the Ethiopians, for example, trace their Christian origins back to Philip’s conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-34), and listening to the Syriac Orthodox praying in Aramaic might be the only chance you’ll ever have to hear the language Jesus used on a daily basis.
Some Christians prefer to relate to the crucifixion and resurrection at the Garden Tomb, where a tomb in its garden setting can still be seen. But the Church of the Holy Sepulchre can be a significant stop in understanding both contemporary Christianity and its long and complex history. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you’ll need a flashlight to see the Tomb of Joseph of Aramathea, which is an original Second-Temple era cave-tomb. The tomb of Jesus, church historians say, was destroyed by the Muslim Caliph Hakim in 1009. Its surviving portions were covered up by the Edicule, a structure built in the Rotunda by the Russian Orthodox in the early nineteenth century when they wielded major influence in the church and the country.
This Church of the Holy Sepulchre is said to be one of the most complex structures in existence. The first building on this spot was, of all things, a pagan shrine built in the second century by Emperor Hadrian. To do so, he used stones from the ruined Temple as painful reminders to both Jews and Christians that the Romans were in charge of their holy places. When Constantine built the first church here in the fourth century, he placed it where his mother, Queen Helene, is said to have found a piece of the cross.
In front of the entrance, you have this mosaic that shows Jesus and his last three stops (all of which are inside the Church).
And beneath this mosaic, you can find The Stone of Anointing, where Jesus’s body is said to have been anointed before burial.
This is the “Christ Pantocrator” mosaic on the dome:
Lent Ceremonies at Church of the Holy Sepulchre
During one of our visits, we accidentally we arrived at the Lent Ceremonies. Here are several photos from the procession.
When there is no procession they let people walk freely and when another procession starts they put metal fences.
Your visit can begin by descending a flight of stairs whose walls are covered with crosses incised by hundreds of pilgrims over hundreds of years. Deep below ground level is the Armenian chapel, abutting a First Temple-period stone quarry where tradition says Queen Helene found the cross. The centerpiece of the main floor is the Edicule. Its icons and lanterns may be unfamiliar to some, but visitors often say they feel spiritually uplifted from the moments spent in the utter silence of the tiny interior room marking the traditional tomb.
Nearby is a stone slab where tradition says the body of Jesus was prepared for burial, and where you may see pious Orthodox and Catholic Christians praying fervently. Visitors are moved by the beautiful mosaic behind the stone, which shows with sadness and hope the moments when Jesus is taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. Up a steep flight of stairs, the site of the crucifixion itself is marked by both a Greek Orthodox and a Catholic altar, where Christians from around the world stand patiently in line waiting to touch the rock they hold sacred.
Visitors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre find themselves steeped in the Christian history as well as experiencing living testimony to the tenacity of Christians to revere their piece of Jerusalem from earliest times to the present.
Church of the Redeemer
The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer located about 50 meters away from Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Church of the Redeemer – Visiting The Tower
From the top of the tower, you can see all four directions, but it’s quite a small place. So I guess they won’t take big groups there.
You can see the top of the top of the Church of the Redeemer. Farther away from the Dome of the Rock and on the mountain above it Augusta Victoria Hospital. They conduct many organ concerts in the Augusta Victoria church. On the left side, you can see the Muslim quarter and further away (on the mountain in the left top corner) the Hebrew University.
View of Christian Jewish Quarters
In the following photo, you can see the Christian quarter (right side) and the Jewish quarter (left side).
In the Christian quarter, you can see Muristan. The Muristan (“Hospital” in Persian) is a complex of streets and shops. The site was the location of the first hospital of the Knights Hospitaller. The Muristan fountain is in the bottom-right corner.
Reconstruction of Hurva Synagogue (in the far end a little to the right) was completed several years ago. Today you can see not only one arch (as it was until about 15 years ago) but the whole building. And in the photo, you can see the upper level with the dome.
If you take a look further ahead and a little to the right then you will see Dormition on mount Zion.
The photo above amazes me. I’ve been to Jerusalem many times and nonetheless, I’ve never walked on the roofs on the left. Some tours will include roof walks, and I’ve been to several, but not in this area.
The Old City in Jerusalem is a multi-level city. When new construction was made, it was on the top of previous buildings. So, there are layers upon layers. It is heaven for archeologists 🙂
You’ve seen the photo above of Temple Mount. But where is the mount? Dome of the rock is on the same level as buildings around it. When the temple was built, it was on a hill. The Western Wall plaza is much lower than the temple mount. How much?
“In the past, it stood as high as 60 meters (about 197 feet); it now stands only 40 meters (131 feet) tall at its highest exposed point, with the rest remaining underground.” – Western Wall Heritage Foundation
When Israel gained control over Jerusalem’s old city (Six Day War), the state bought many houses in the Western Wall area. These houses were ruined, which allowed revealing the Western Wall as seen today.
Archeological Park and Museum in Church of the Redeemer
Beneath the main hall, you will find “Archeological Park & Museum” (this is what the ticket says). In there you have several stands with tablets and a dedicated app. You can choose the language, what interests you and the appropriate movie will be shown:
They found several interesting things while digging under the Church of the Redeemer. First of all, they found a quarry. Stones from the whole area where collected and used for the construction of the temple. I’ve mentioned the height of the temple mount before, quarries added height since the surrounding area became lower.
Secondly, they found that old city walls passed beneath the church. That means that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, actually not the church, but its location was outside of the city walls when Jesus lived. It makes sense since graveyards in that period were outside.
But what about Via Dolorosa? Over the centuries, the route has changed several times. And probably when it was modified, the old city has grown, and the walls were in different place (then when Jesus lived).
The main hall in archaeological park and museum:
As you exit from the Church of the Redeemer, you’ll see the market:
From there we went towards Jaffa Gate. Exited old city and passed Tower of David (Migdal David) and back to the parking.
This time we did not visit the Tower of David, but you can join us for Night Spectacular at Tower of David.
For most people visiting the Old City Of Jerusalem is a must. There is so much to see, so much history and so many holy places. As I mentioned in the beginning, dedicate at least half a day to the Old City. And if you are short on time (have only half – full day) then take a tour, this will allow you to see more in less time. Also, keep in mind that this post is a combination of many visits and it will be hard to cover all the mentioned places in one day. Moreover, there are many more attractions in the Old City, and I covered only the main ones.
If you are looking for additional places to visit then check out Around The Old City Of Jerusalem.
Have you ever visited the Old City Of Jerusalem? What is your favorite place? Let us know in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
For additional points of interest nearby check out Jerusalem page.