“A fast walker could go outside the walls of Jerusalem and walk entirely around the city in an hour. I do not know how else to make one understand how small it is.”
You might be surprised because The Old City of Jerusalem is quite small and not really fancy compared to other famous cities around the world, Just 0.9 square kilometers.
But 0.9 square kilometers of chaos!
Old City of CHAOS
Ancient things next to a modern building in a complete mess which is really confusing. there are buildings which have parts that are 2000 years ago and parts which are 400 years ago. An ancient church next to a modern mosque, a synagogue which was built in 2010 but is actually a reconstruction of an older one from the 18 century. From the physical aspect of you, it is built on a hill with a lot of slopes and staircases so it is also a chaos to your lungs.
The Old City of Jerusalem is surrounded by a wall, many visitors who come here think that it's an original wall from the biblical times and that how the city used to be. A question you have to ask here, what is original?
The city was destroyed and rebuilt so many times and according to that, also the city borders have changed. Parts that used to be inside the city are now outside and the opposite. It’s a key factor to understand this place.
It's also a chaos on the side of the people. You might see on the same street Muslims in traditional clothes next to catholic priests, rabies, and Christian orthodox nuns. And of course, tourists taking photos of everyone.
Walking in a Jewish area with Haredim and hearing the Muezzin. And church bells at the same time, for example, can be quite surrealistic.
4 quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem
Today the Muslim is the biggest one and the Armenian is the smallest one. one might ask himself, why there is an Armenian quarter? Well, they are Christians, so why they have a special quarter?
The answer is: because they were first. The Armenians were one of the first people who accepted Christianity as a nation. They came here and there was a space.
How To Get To The Old City Of Jerusalem?
On the map
- The old city is located along the tram tracks. Its 30 min walk from the central bus station.
15 min walk from city center. Just walk east along the tram line until you see it.
- Take the tram and get off at city hall station if you want to get to Jaffa gate or in Damascus gate station if you want to get to…well, Damascus gate.
3 Things You Should Do Before Exploring The Old City of Jerusalem:
1.Get a Map!
How do i orient myself in this maze?! As you will enter Jaffa gate on the left there will be a tourist information. They will give you a map of the Old City of Jerusalem which will be the best map you will ever use to orient yourself. They will answer your questions and will be happy to sell you stuff.
-Remember! You came here for the map!
-Don’t worry, you will still experience the authenticity of getting lost.
2.Visit Tower of David
My personal advice, go to the Tower of David Museum. It’s the best place to understand the city history since ancient times to make some order in the chaos.
Otherwise, you will visit places, read the information sign and will have no clue who are the mamelukes, that the Dome Of The Rock used to have a cross during the time of the crusaders, Egyptians, Mongols and much more were visiting here. You will also learn that the tower has nothing to do with King David and it's actually.... a Mosque.
The place is also an archaeological site. It is an independent fortress inside the old city and it is very impressive to see from the inside.
3.Go to the Free Tour of The Old City
They will give you a good preview of the city for free and you will pay them at the end for their good vibes. It's not a must, But it is a good place to meet with other travelers and make friends for your upcoming adventure or at least for sharing hummus at the end.
-I Can Orient Myself and I have a Historical Background! What Should I do in the Old City?
Now that your head is exploding with information and you have a map, you can start exploring the place, there is no start and finish here. It's not chronically arranged, it is a small place with chaos remember?
There are so many stuff to see in the Old City of Jerusalem that if I will write on everything it can fill a whole site and a bookshelf. I will write about the big stuff which is the most important to visit and add my personal recommendation. If you are interested in a specific topic like the Crusaders, Greek Orthodox churches or ottoman mosques, I'm sure Google will help.
The Ramparts Walk
Walking on the walls gives you a spectacular view over the old city of Jerusalem. This elevated position puts you in a spectator mode and gives you a unique view on some of the famous sites, but also on the people's daily life.
You will see corners or people that you wouldn’t see by walking inside the narrow alleys. You will discover soccer fields, private beautiful gardens and more. It also gives you interesting view to surrounding of the old city, a great opportunity to take some amazing photos.
The part above the temple mount compound is closed for visitors so it's divided into 2 parts.
- Northern part from Jaffa gate to the lion's gate.
- A shorter part from Jaffa gate to the dung gate.
make sure to do both parts!
The Old City has several levels to it. Underground level, street level, and the rooftops.
There are several places where you can walk on the roofs of the building and feel like you are the Prince of Persia or Assassin creed.
- Chabad street view
Go down David Street and towards the end to your right, you will see a small street called Habad Street. As you turn and go up this street you will see a metal staircase that leads to a roof.
This point is unique because it's in a way where the Muslim, Jewish and Christian quarter meets. You can walk over the roofs towards the Redeemer Church in the Christian quarter and if you will walk towards East you ca go through a small passage to a beautiful view over the western wall and Temple Mount.
- Aish-Israel building
The best view over the Western Wall and Dome of The Rock.
Cost 10 ILS and you can visit the Jewish center in the building.
Hatamid Street 4.
- The Austrian Hospice
a famous rooftop view which gives you a look on the dome of the rock.
In recent years they charge money for the view. Around 5 ILS.
Via Dolorosa 37 Street.
- The Citadel Hostel
only for guests.
A cool video of a guy free running the Old City
3 Best Ancient Jerusalem Archaeology Sites:
1.Western wall tunnels
The temple mount is one of the most interesting sites for archaeological excavations, but for political and religious reasons it is not possible to dig there at the moment.
The western wall tunnels is a result of a few excavations next to the Western Wall and outside of the Temple Mount. In the past, the place used to be a gorge that was covered by the Mamelukes for easy access to the worshipers who visited the temple mount. it created 2 platforms, the one we see on the surface and the underground platform which is under the surface.
On this site you can see:
- The bottom part of the western wall and the huge stones at the base of it.
- Building and remains from the time of the temples
- A crusader church
- Much more
check their page
If you pick one site, pick this one.
2.City of David
Want to learn more about ancient Jerusalem? Learn things like that ancient Jerusalem is actually located outside of The Old City?
The place is an archaeological site which is mostly underground in the Arab village of Silwan.
the place is a hotspot for significant archaeological findings. you can walk through the city ancient water system which provided water to the city. It is said in the scripture that when they dug the tunnel the diggers were digging a tunnel from both edges and met in the middle of the tunnel.
“Wading through a dark, 2,700-year-old [Hezekiah’s] tunnel with gushing water is a real Indiana Jones experience.”
On the map.
The biggest man-made cave in Israel. The cave entrance is located outside of the old city not far from Damascus gate. This cave is 300-meter length 100 meters wide and 15 meters tall. So as you can understand it's quite big and it goes under the old city.
It is unclear what is the exact time that this cave was starting to operate and its use. However, the common believe that it was used as a quarry for building ancient Jerusalem. The cave is also known as Solomon quarry. The stones of the Western Wall are geologically identical to those of the cave, and the quarrying style is identical to the one from the second temple time.
According to the Jewish tradition the cave used by King Zedekiah as a hidden escape route from the city during the conquest of Jerusalem. There is a part of the cave that is blocked by a rockslide and it believed that it goes all the way to the Temple Mount compound.
This place is also known as Freemasons gathering place. King Solomon is one of the freemasons favorite figures and until this day they have gatherings in the cave.
Markets of The Old City of Jerusalem
The main streets of the Old City of Jerusalem are actually markets. If you passed the markets and forgot to buy the glowing in the dark Jesus you always wanted, don’t worry, even on the streets which are not actual markets there are markets.
If you have been traveling before in some touristic areas of the world you will start to think that there is some factory in China that produces all the touristic stuff by sections. If you have been to Kaho-san or Illampu Street in La Paz it will feel the same. Different products, same atmosphere and same behavior of the shop owners.
It's one of the most crowded Narrow Street in the Old City of Jerusalem, It leads to the church of the holy sepulcher and the Western Wall.
- Almost pure touristic souvenirs and funny T-shirts.
- The shop owners aiming for everyone and at the same shop, you will find many styles of crosses, Jesus portraits together with Jewish Hanukiya and stars of David. Also Middle Eastern stuff like camels, kufiyah, and shishas.
Beit Ha-Bad Street
- Cloths, bags, spices, food, and candies. Actually everything. The most diverse market.
- Next, to it, there is a small street with butcher market, Ha-Katzavim Street. No pork around here huh...
- on Fridays, you will see the villagers around selling spice leaves.
- You can get some really good coffee at one of the coffee shops to take back home.
- Try to get diabetes at Ja'afar sweets. It has a famous knafeh which is just too sweet for me.
Christian quarter, Ha-Notzrim Street and Muristan Square
- Like David Street but with more exotic Jesus stuff. Glowing in the dark Jesus for example.
- On Ha-Notzrim Street you can see some 3-4 Century street pavement.
Outside of Damascus Gate
- Mainly fruits and vegetable market.
Usually a bit cheaper than Machne Yehuda market.
- good cheap falafel.
More Things To Do:
the path Jesus was walking on the way to his crucifixion. It's a street with stations which marks events that happen to Jesus on that spot. For example station 4 is where Jesus met his mom, Station 6 is where Veronica wipes his face and so on. The last 5 stations are inside the church of the holy sepulcher.
As you already know, the Old City of Jerusalem was destroyed and was re-built many times. The actual path Jesus was walking is probably not what you see today. Walking along the path is more of a spiritual experience of connecting with Jesus and the experience rather than the accurate historical site.
The stations don’t have some unique or interesting things on it, so unless you are a devoted Christian I don’t see a reason to follow this path. If you are into Christianity visit the church of the holy sepulcher and the Garden of the Tomb.
-The path is actually a street. Via Dolorosa Street starts at lion's gate.
The Garden Tomb
Some Protestants see this place as the burial spot of Jesus. In the Bible, it says that Jesus was crucified and buried outside of the city wall while the church of the Holy Sepulcher is inside the city. But... we have to remember that how we see things now it's not necessary how it used to be.
In the 16th century when the protestant church was established, the church of the holy sepulcher was already split between the different sects of Christianity and they had no chance of getting a space there. Combine it with the fact that the holy sepulcher is inside the Old City of Jerusalem wall and they were motivated to look for alternative and the "real" place.
The place was identified at 1883 outside of Damascus gate because of the small hill with what look like a skull face (Golgotha in Hebrew means a skull) on it and ancient tombs next to it.
Today archaeologist agrees that both sites were outside of the city wall during the time of Jesus.
The place has a nice garden and a different atmosphere from the church of the Holy Sepulcher.
-It is located in front of Damascus gate behind the market.