The City of David
Continuing on our tour in Israel, we move onto the tourist destination number one in the country. One of the oldest cities in the world. Considered the holy center of the three Abrahamic Religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A city where continuous fight has never stopped through the curse of history. Palestinians claim it as their land, while Israelis do the same. Sacred for over 3000 years to Judaism, for 2000 years to Christianity and 1400 years to Islam. Three religions colliding with each other in a rather small piece of land.
It is believed Jesus was brought here after his birth, and that the Last Supper took place at the Mount Zion at the same building housing the tomb of King David. It is also also place where the crucifixion took place at the Calvary, known as Golgotha.
Although not unanimously approved by all nations, it acts as the capital of Israel, yet there are no embassies in the city as all are located in Tel Aviv instead. And then is Palestine that also claims the city as their territory, considering it the capital of the State of Palestine. Not far from the city you can see the separation walls built by Israel in order to control the border and land of each of the territories acting as a security measure too between the ever conflicting nations.
Since its foundations back to the Copper Age, the city has been thereafter part of the Egyptian civilization, Jebusite, Persian, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic Caliphates, Crusader State, Ottoman, British, Jordan/Israeli ruled, and since 1967, under Israel rule. With such an incredible mix through the millennia, no wonder the city has such a vast amount of history and therefore countless sights to visit. The Old City is listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Site.
The city walls, erected in 1538 are still in place and act as a clear (and visual) division into the 4 quarters Jerusalem is split: Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. With so many to see and do, plan accordingly your stay; 1 day will be too short, 2 won’t be still enough but ideally 3 as you should definitely complete your stay with the visit Bethlehem just across the border in Palestine, barely 30 minutes away from Jerusalem by bus.
I honestly did not expect there could be so much to see and do within the Old Town, and then outside, at Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives. I thought a day could be good to see all around at least within the walls but it was not. In any case and after mt own experience, if you are a first time traveller in Jerusalem, start your visit by going up the walls and walk around them from the top. This way you will get the finest perspective of the city from above and great skyline views. You will soon see how incredibly compact everything is, with narrow streets. Space is prime, and there is physically not more space inside while everything is already built up.
Amazingly, the city you see is not only that. An entire city also lies below ground. From the original site of the City of David, to the Roman City and more. Many parts have been made museum and therefore accessible. Roads and even shop fronts lies beneath the current streets, but due to time limitation, I stick on seeing the city from street level.
It is easy to get “lost”, and hard to find a good map online where all the streets are shown. Even I was carrying with me some maps, those were not good enough yet fortunately we got a much better one at the hotel (and quite large too), but gladly something I can tell you about and totally recommend is to download the application called Here, by Nokia. Once you get it (iOS, Android or Windows) you can pre-download the maps of the country you plan to go and use the maps offline! Really accurate, similar to Google Maps but way better. Zoom in and you will be able to see the shape and 3D model of a key building in the area, and much more. This saved us lots of time and from having to open a large paper map and try to figure out where we were. Here will locate you immediately.
For more information about Jerusalem check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Israel’s currency is the Shekel (ILS). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Jerusalem
- Old City Divided in 4 quadrants by the 1534 walls into what is known as the Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Muslim quarters.
-Gates Originally 12, currently 8 in use, being the most important and of notable architecture
-Jaffa Gate To the west, is the busiest of them all providing access to the Christian quarter. You can access a section of the walls through this gate.
-Damascus Gate To the north, the most beautiful and large of them all. The main bus station is not far from here. There is another access to the walls at this gate.
-Herod’s Gate To the north facing the Muslim quarter.
-Saint Stephen’s Gate To the east facing the Mount of Olives and it’s the starting point of Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows).
-Moors Gate To the south facing the Jewish quarter.
-Zion Gate To the south, providing access to the Armenian quarter and Mount Zion.
-Christian Quarter Rapidly developed and expanded under Byzantine rule is locatedto the northwest of the Old City and served by the Jaffa Gate and the New Gate.
-Church of the Holy Sepulchre One of the key destinations in the Christian world. The place in which Jesus is believed to have been crucified. It is a large complex of buildings where even the name of church is not what you would expect, but rather a collection of churches within the building, each with their altars and podiums, and chapels. To name a few, the most important are the Orthodox Church which is the largest of them all, centrally located and at the front of the Sepulcher and Golgotha. The Armenian Saint Helen’s, also known as Saint Gregory (the Illuminator of Armenia). The Roman Catholic, Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian, etc. Please bear in mind how you plan to dress the day you come here. Short trousers are not the most appropriate as you might be barred from entering some areas. Even at the heat of summer, don’t risk it and have long thin trousers. Opening times are from 4.00 or 5.00 am until 19.00 or 20.00 pm depending if summer or winter time. The access is either at the Christian Quarter Road or via a small opening from Souk el-Dabbagha.
-Central Souk As any other market, you will find pretty much everything. Something different you could do here is to walk the roof! As nicely explained from the Wikitravel page: A set of stairs lead up at the corner of St Mark’s Road and Khabad Street. A second set of stairs leads up from Muristan Road and visitors can exit into the courtyard of Khan el-Sultan, which allows exit onto Chain Street.
-Lutheran Church of the Redeemer Of recent construction compared to the surrounding city structures, was built upon orders of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898. Don’t miss the chance to climb the bell tower from where you will get great views of the Old City. ₪5 adults, ₪3 students.
-Church of Saint John the Baptist Built in the 5th century is one of the oldest in the city. Unfortunately not open to the public.
-Christian Quarter Road and David Street Are the main arteries in the quarter, and main shopping areas.
-Muslim Quarter Is the largest and most populous quarter in the Old City. Security is specially tighten in here, notably in the Temple Mount where the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Unfortunately to non-Muslims entering to the mosque and Dome is forbidden, yet you can walk around them and see them from the outside.
-Dome of the Rock One of the key places in the Islamic world; he 3rd holiest site after Mecca and Medina. Built between 687-691 by the ninth Omayyad caliph, Abd al-Malik has become pretty much a symbol of Jerusalem. The building has no other reason than being a shrine to protect the rock, sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians believed to be where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac (or Ishmael) and where Mohammad left the Earth.
-al-Aqsa Mosque Built merely 20 years after the completion of the Dome of the Rock. It’s a marvelous example of Islamic architecture.
-Saint Anne’s Church Is a Crusader church built in 1138 on the place believed to be where Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin Mary, lived.
-Pools of Bethesda Right outside Saint Anne’s Church are those remains of curative baths and ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to the god of medicine. It is believed to be the place where Jesus cured a paralyzed man. ₪7 adults, ₪5 students.
-Ecce Homo Arch Originally built by the Romans in AD 70, spamming what is now known as Via Dolorosa. It is said to be the place where Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd and spoke the words Ecce homo (meaning in Latin for “Behold the man”).
-Monastery of the Flagellation Yet again another of the places strongly linked to the life of Jesus. It is said to be the location where he was flogged by Roman soldiers prior to his crucifixion. Right opposite the courtyard is the Chapel of the Condemnation, believed to be in the place where Jesus was put on trial before Pontius Pilate.
-Jewish Quarter Unfortunately it is the area that lost all of the ancient buildings when the Jordanians razed the entire area after their occupation in 1948, when they also expelled all Jewish from the city. It is only since 1967 when Israel took over control that the rebuilding started to take place. Excavations also lead to new archaeological discoveries of the millennia that lies beneath
-Western Wall or Wailing Wall In Hebrew Ha-Kotel Ha-Ma’aravi, is by all means the world wide symbol of the city and the Jewish world. At over 2000 years old it is a surviving remnant of the Temple Mount’s western edge containing wall. Built by Herod the Great in 20BC, it become the place of pilgrimage for Jewish during the Ottoman Period, where they lamented the destruction of the Temple Mount in the hands of the Romans in 70AD. It is the only structure the Jews can approach from the Temple Mount to pray, and the wall itself acts as an outdoor synagogue with prayers written inserted into the cavities between the large stones.
-Western Wall Tunnels The area comprises the early foundations of the wall, which as a curious fact it’s the world’s 5th largest megalith to have been moved by humans; an underground synagogue, former remains of a Roman road, and even a water tunnel from Herod’s time. Please note you will need to pre-book a tour in order to access this site.
-Saint Mary’s Hospice Located near the Western Wall by the steps leading down towards it. Dating from the 12th century, although ruined was a German Crusader Hospice.
-The Cardo As the name indicates, was the main Roman road crossing the entire city with shops aligning both sides. Was still during the Byzantine era the main thoroughfare. It is currently partially excavated where you can see some of the pillars of the shops still in place.
-Hurva Square Is the heart of the Jewish Quarter. A maze of little narrow streets connect to the square.
-Hurva Synogogue The ruined synagogue as the name translated was burnt down in the 18th century, rebuilt and destroyed in 1948. Only one arch was reconstructed after 1967, having the whole synagogue rebuilt by 2010.
-Rambam Synagogue Is the only synagogue from the medieval times although rebuilt after 1967.
-Archaeological sites You will see many places, some of them free of access or straight away directly to see, while on others you will need to pay access since they’ve been transformed into museums. The most important are Ophel Park, Broad Wall or Machase Square.
-Armenian Quarter Can be considered a city within the city, with all the gates closing at night. It is also the smallest of the quarters the Old City is divided in.
-Citadel Is the landmark on this neighbourhood, located by the Jaffa Gate. A fortress for as long as since Herodian times in the 2nd century BC. ₪30 adults, ₪20 students and seniors.
-Saint James’ Cathedral Dating from the 12th century is one of the most beautiful buildings in Jerusalem. It is dedicated to the Apostle Saint James, where the supposed tomb is also located at one of the chapels.
-Armenian Museum Located few meters from Saint James’ Cathedral and housed in the former monastery or guest house for the Armenian Cathedral. It hosts a great collection of Armenian art, and large ecclesiastical history. ₪5 adults, ₪3 students.
-Saint Mark’s Monastery Is a Syriac church a little bit more hidden specially to enter. You might need to ring at the gate. Tradition says it was built on the site of the house of Mary, mother of Saint Mark.
- Mount of Olives The easiest way to get to the top is by bus from Damascus Gate, otherwise a taxi will cost around ₪20. Then you can make your way down on foot.
-Mosque of the Ascension A place sacred to Muslims and Christians. It became a mosque after Saladin’s conquest in 1187. The chapel was built in AD380 and it is the place believed to be that of Christ’s ascension.
-Church of the Pater Noster Built atop a grotto believed to be the one Jesus taught the Paternoster. Of special attention are the tiled panels with the inscribed Paternoster in 130 languages.
-Dominus Flevit Chapel Believed to be the place where Jesus wept over the fate of Jerusalem.
-Church of All Nations The original church dates back to the 4th century although the current one is a reconstruction. It is built over the place said to be where Jesus agonised about his death.
-Garden of Gethsemane Next to the Church of All Nations is this historical garden with ancient olive trees. Again, another of the places said to be part of the life of Jesus, in this case where he was supposedly coming with his disciples to pray.
-Tomb of the Virgin Right next door to the Church of All Nations it is the place believed to be where the disciples entombed Mary.
-Cave of Gethsemane Next to the Tomb of Mary is believed to be the place of Juda’s betrayal of Jesus.
-Church of Saint Mary Magdalene Is a Russian orthodox church built in 1885 by Tsar Alexander III in memory of her mother.
- Mount Zion Is another of the hills outside the city walls, and historically associated with the Temple Mount.
-Basilica of Dormition Located in Mount Zion was built in 1910 over the remains of a Byzantine church in which ground floor stands the David’s Tomb. It is believed that Virgin Mary died around this spot
-David’s Tomb Is the burial place of the first King of Israel. Located on the remains of the Byzantine Church of Zion, below the current Dormition Basilica.
-Cenacle or Room of the Last Supper Also known as Upper Room. It was the place where the apostles use to stay, and also first Christian Church. Site supposed to be where the Last Supper took place. The current building is a reconstruction in Gothic style.
- City of David Is the oldest part of Jerusalem, an archaeological site comprising remains from the 13th century BC up to the 6th century AD. Walls, fortifications and even some fractions of the believed to be Palace of David. The site also includes some tunnels of the original 10th century BC water system. The entrance cost for both is ₪25.
Arriving to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv is perhaps the most common way as a tourist. Both buses and trains are frequent and take around hour and a half. But if arriving from elsewhere within Israel, the most likely option will be by bus as those criss-cross the country. Please take special precaution in planning your journey remembering that from Friday afternoon and until Saturday evening is Sabbath and no buses and trains will run at all, leaving you the solely option of taxis.
By train is a rather beautiful journey than a fast service, taking 1.30h with frequencies of 1 train every hour. You will cross nice landscapes and it will become part of the joy and another sightseeing point itself in your way. Trains arrive to the south of Jerusalem from where you can take buses 8 or 18 head towards the city center MerKaz Ha-ir or Kikar Tzion (Zion Square).
In the other hand, the easiest and fastest way to reach the city from Tel Aviv is by bus, although the journey is not even half the nicer than by train, but at least the bus station in Jerusalem is centrally located. Buses from /to Ben Gurion airport are also very frequent.
Within the city there is a good network of public transportation comprised of buses and a very useful tram line linking most of the tourist destinations or nearby those. The major transportation hub within the city center is located near Damascus Gate.
Being the capital city of Israel and tourist destination number one in the country, the amount of hotels reflect this status. You should not have any trouble in finding what suits you the best, but in any case mind that the average prices are higher that what you might have expected. Hotels in Israel overall, are expensive, and this is further aggravated during high season months. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the National Hotel, in Al Zahra Street, few minutes away from Damascus Gate. A modest 4* property with an unexpected service and treat of a 5*! Everyone was superb, caring and nice, and made everything possible to make a memorable stay. They for sure succeeded on that and beyond. When we did check-in, was some 3 hours before usual check-in time, but the receptionist quickly contacted their housekeeping and re-allocated the rooms in order to give us access to a fresh room already. Usually when you arrive at a hotel hours before normal check-in time, all they let you do is taking care of your luggage and nothing else. It was nice from them to make sure that we get a room within minutes after arrival. Another nice surprise was coming in the evening to find a nice plate with freshly baked baklava done by the hotel cooks. It was so good and so different to the usual super sweet baklava that we asked if we could buy from them to take with us back home. They kindly made everything possible even with such a short notice, but got 2 nice packages that we really enjoyed back home. I will for sure not look any further should I return to Jerusalem. National Hotel will be my prime choice.