A city whose history has been fascinating and troubled from its beginnings in the Canaanite Period 2400 BC til today. It’s been conquered by nearly every great ancient empire from the Egyptians to the Ottomans, right up to the British. And home to all three Abrahamic religions.
Today, the city is popular with pilgrims, history buffs and tourists, so I fought my way through the crowds to bring you the top five places to visit.
1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This holds the last five stations of Christ’s passion. You won’t find much peace or spiritual enlightenment here due to the volume of tourist and pilgrims that pour through a building that could give Ayia Sofia in Istanbul a run for its money. The huge domed building holds the site where Jesus was crucified and buried. The most noticeable thing about this magnificent cathedral is the lack of iconography in the dome – as this is where Jesus ascended to heaven after the resurrection, so paintings are not needed to depict that.
2. Dome of The Rock/Temple Mount
This is the region’s most sacred site for two of its main and warring religions. Temple Mount was originally built by King Solomon (King of Israel and son of David) and rebuilt by the son of the penultimate King of Judah on the site believed to be Mount Zion (as cited in the Book of Isaiah), where the universe began and God created the first man, Adam. The second temple was destroyed by the Romans.
The site then came under Arabic control, as it’s also revered in Islam as the place where Mohammed ascended to heaven to lead the prophets in prayer. Although there is no archaeological evidence to prove any of this, it’s still worth a visit for its majesty and peace. Despite it being hotly contested and fought over since it fell into Muslim control around 600BC.
3. Via Dolorosa
The walk from Lion’s Gate near the Mount of Olives to the Church of The Holy Sepulchre is said to have been the last steps of Christ. It’s also a good way to see the old city and a taster of both the Christian and Muslim Quarters.
There are metal disks with Roman numerals mounted on the walls, indicating the different stations of Christ’s passion, the first being the place he was condemned to death and finally at the place he was laid to rest. You’ll walk through narrow lanes, passed ancient buildings and bustling souqs that look distinctly Byzantine, although it was under Saladin’s rule that significant investment was made.
4. The Muslim Quarter
Although largely neglected, the Muslim Quarter makes up for it with vibrancy. Shops, cafes and souqs bustle with people offering refreshing pomegranate juice, textiles and antique wares. The smell of shawarma fills the air as children dart around the ramparts.
Don’t be surprised if you start off browsing and end up staying for an Arabic coffee with the shop owners.
Right next to Jaffa Gate is the Tower of David and the citadel. As well as offering a great place to explore the city’s ancient history, there is a Spectacular Night Show (running most nights, apart from on the Shabbat) where the story of Jerusalem is told in the most innovative way, using the ancient stones of the city as a backdrop.
But if you’re a bit “templed-out”and in need of something more modern, head through Jaffa Gate and out of the old city. Jaffa Street is packed with bars, restaurants, cafes and the most amazing tram system you’ll find outside of Amsterdam.