While there are a number of interesting attractions in greater Jerusalem, the
reality is that they are overshadowed by the historical and religious
attractions in the Old City.
The original settlement of Jerusalem is thought to date to the time of King
David, approximately a thousand years before the birth of Christ.
Archaeologists believe that the Old City sits atop layer upon layer of older
settlements, but much of the history remains unknown as most of the Old City is off limits to “digs”, usually for
reasons related to religion and political protocols.
The stately, protective and somewhat menacing wall that surrounds and
defines the Old
City is relatively modern. The walls that you see today were rebuilt
on the ruins of older walls at the command of Suleiman the Magnificent of
the Ottoman Empire (at the time, he was regarded as the leader of the Islamic world) in the 16th century to protect the
city from raids by other regional powers.
Entrance to the Old City is by gate, each of which has a unique name (the
Jaffa Gate, the Dung Gate, Lions Gate, Herod’s gate, etc.), an interesting
history and equally numerous explanations of its name, design or purpose.
Indeed, other gates that are no longer “open” also have unique stories
sometimes tied to religion, history or the inclination of ruling powers in the past
centuries. Our map of Jerusalem shows the gates that are open and the
information box for each of these contains a short description.
Perhaps the most interesting of the closed gates is the
, located to
the east of the Noble Sanctuary, an area that includes the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa
Mosque. Known also as the Temple Mount, this area once was the site of
Solomon's Temple and later the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans
during an uprising in the mid-first century.
It is at the Golden Gate that many Jews believe that the Messiah will enter
Jerusalem at the End of Days. The Golden Gate was sealed by the Muslims in
the 8th century. While some say it was closed to prevent the
arrival of the Messiah (and
rebuilt closed by Suleiman in the 16th century), it is more likely that the
gates were closed to protect the sanctity of the Noble Sanctuary. Some
believers in Islam contend that this location will be the place of Allah’s
Final Judgment of humanity. If you view this location from outside the wall,
you will note that the valley and hillsides surrounding the Golden Gate are
filled with graves of both Muslims and Jews hoping to be among the first
welcomed to the afterlife.
The Old City is approximately a square kilometer in size and divided into
Muslim, Armenian, Jewish and Christian quarters. Each quarter has a number
of historic and religious attractions that will be of interest to most
differ somewhat in architecture and culture, but all of the quarters seem to
present city scenes from the ancient past.
Walking is the only way possible to explore
the Old City and we recommend that you tour the area in the daytime
and avoid it at night. Access to the Noble Sanctuary (also known as the
Temple Mount) is tightly restricted to a single gate and certain hours of
the day. Fridays (the holiest day of the week for Muslims) is not a day to visit.
Many of the best places to visit in Jerusalem are holy sites and you will
not be admitted with proper dress. Shorts and tank tops are not
permitted. In fact, the less skin showing, the better your chances of
gaining entry. Headscarves are suggested for women travelers.
Next - explore
Harod's Citadel, the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall and other amazing attractions
in the Old City.
Or - take a look at the index to the
ThereArePlaces Guide to Jerusalem that can be found on the upper
right-hand edge of this page.
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or Googling ThereArePlaces.