I make semi-regular trips to Jerusalem, which is about an hour’s drive from Ariel, and I have mentioned some of those trips in previous blog posts, but I realized that those of you who have never been to Jerusalem might enjoy a glimpse of the Old City experience. I ran some errands in Jerusalem earlier this week, so I tried to capture a few photos that capture the essence of the city. They fall short, of corse, since they can only portray the sights, not the sounds, smells, and atmosphere of the city. But, perhaps they will provide at least an idea of what Jerusalem is like.
The Old City
Modern Jerusalem has spread far beyond the walls of the Old City, but the Old City is still the heart of Jerusalem. High stone walls surround it, broken occasionally by gates. The upper part of the city wall is about 500 years old, but it stands on the foundations of previously built walls. In one section of the city wall, construction is visible from the Iron Age, the Hellenistic period, the Roman period, the Byzantine period, the Early Islamic period, the Ayyubid period, and the Ottoman period.
Jerusalem has been an inhabited city for thousands of years, and its streets and structures show the effects of much remodeling over time. The streets, paved with stones, are uneven. New stones have gradually replaced broken ones, and now old and new pavers lie intermingled. Some of the stones still paving the streets may be over 2000 years old. The structures, too, show signs of hundreds, if not thousands of years of use and remodeling. Blocked up archways appear in the walls of homes and businesses, and narrow alleyways twist and turn between, and sometimes through, structures.
Walking the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem is a unique experience, particularly in the shopping areas. The crowded, narrow streets appeal to all the senses. As you enter the city, you become part of a living mass of foot traffic moving slowly through the streets. The ebb and flow of the traffic stream jostles and pushes you. If you want to exit the flow, you must be assertive and push your way through.
Vendors set out their prettiest wares to catch the eye of the shopper. The smell of spices fills the air, wafting from open bins. All manner of sounds reach the ear. Vendors hawk their wares. Church bells ring, and the call to prayer sounds from mosque minarets. Motorcyclists honk, trying to force their way through the crowds. And, there is always the babel of voices chattering in a vast variety of languages, since the city attracts tourists from around the world.
The Four Quarters of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is home to a variety of people groups. There are four quarters in the Old City: The Jewish Quarter, the Moslem Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Each quarter is unique and testifies to the very different cultures inhabiting this ancient city.
The Jewish Quarter is clean and tidy. The streets and structures are all of white limestone. Residents put flowering plants on their windowsills, beautifying the streets.
For Jewish people, Jerusalem is the place that King David established as the capitol of Israel. It was here that Solomon built the temple. It was to this city that they returned after the Babylonian exile, and this is the place to which Jewish people from all over the world long to return.
Muslims also consider Jerusalem as a holy site, revering the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount as the place from which Muhammad ascended into heaven.
The Muslim Quarter of the Old City features street after street of small shops. There are hardware stores and shops that sell household supplies, clothing stores, and butcher shops. No matter what you are shopping for, there is a good chance that you can find a shop that specializes in that particular item in the Muslim Quarter. Although the shop fronts are crammed close together, some of the shops are surprisingly large, opening out behind smaller shops and giving one the sensation of having stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia.
Jerusalem is also a special place for Christians, since it was here that Jesus taught, healed, died, and rose again. Jerusalem was the home base of the early church, and it was from here that Christianity spread.
The Christian Quarter has a few main thoroughfares dedicated to tourism. Here, the shops sell everything that a tourist could possibly want to take home as a souvenir. You can find everything from toy camels to hand-crafted silver jewelry. Other portions of the Christian Quarter house churches and Christian schools, mostly Greek Orthodox and Catholic. Some of them comprise large complexes of buildings and courtyards. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most famous church in the Christian Quarter.
The Armenian quarter of Jerusalem dates back to the fourth century AD. In a sense, it is an extension of the Christian Quarter, yet it has a unique character all its own. Its streets are clean and quiet. A few shops appear here and there along the main thoroughfare selling higher-end goods such as dishes that are hand-painted in the shop. The Saint James Monastery takes up a large portion of the Armenian Quarter.
The Temple Mount
The holiest site in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. This is the traditional site where Abraham sacrificed a ram in the place of his son Isaac, or in the Muslim tradition, his son Ishmael. This is the place of the threshing floor that David purchased and the site at which Solomon built the first temple. It was to this place that the exiled Jews returned from Babylon and rebuilt a much smaller, less glorious temple. Later, Herod expanded the Temple Mount platform and remodeled the second temple, making it the pinnacle of Jerusalem architecture.
After the Roman destroyed the temple in AD 70, they built a temple to Jupiter on the site, and later, in the Byzantine period, it is likely that a church stood on the Temple Mount. In the seventh century AD, Muslims constructed the al-Aqsa mosque in the southern portion of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock over the rocky surface of the mountain top. These structures still stand today.
Since the Temple Mount is a holy site for both Jews and Muslims, it is a source of constant conflict. The site is under the management of the Islamic Waqf authority, and entry to Jews and tourists is severely limited.
The Western Wall, one of the retaining walls for the Temple Mount platform, is the closest that one can get to the original location of the Jewish temple without going onto the Temple Mount. For that reason, many Jewish people come to the Western Wall to pray.