Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and it is considered the holy city to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Jews, King David established Jerusalem as the capital and his son, King Solomon, commissioned the building of the First Temple. For Christians, the New Testament accounted of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion here. And for Muslims, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. According to the Quran, it is here in Jerusalem where Muhammad ascended to heaven and spoke to God. As a result, this small area of less than 1 sq km became of religious importance to the different religions.
Jerusalem has been settled since the 4th millennium BC, the beginning of the Bronze Ages, and has been destroyed at least twice. The Old City within the Ottoman walls was divided into four quarters – Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, and these people lived in overall harmony next to each other.
We stayed at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which is a convenient walk to the Old City where all the main attractions are located. The hotel does need some updating even though it is considered the best hotel in Jerusalem where all the foreign celebrities and dignitaries stay. The hotel arranged for a local guide to show us the highlights of the Old City.
The first quarter we explored inside the walled Old City was the Armenian Quarter. Armenian monks first settled in Jerusalem in the 4th century AD when Armenia adopted Christianity as a national religion.
From the Armenian Quarter, we moved on to the Jewish Quarter heading towards the Western Wall.
The Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem is now a small segment of the original western wall of the Second Jewish Temple atop Temple Mount. Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the Western Wall is where Jews come to pray because it is the closest to the former Temple. Western Wall is often referred to as the Wailing Wall because Jews came to the site to weep over the destruction of the Temples. This section of the wall faces a large plaza whereas the rest of the wall is concealed behind structures in the Muslim Quarter.
Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the Dome of Rock which is a shrine atop Temple Mount and one of the oldest examples of Islamic architecture. There are specific times when non-muslims and tourists can access Temple Mount and on the day of our visit, it was closed to tourists. In addition, non-muslims and tourists are not allowed into the interior of the Dome of Rock. The Dome of Rock is constructed on the site of the Second Jewish Temple which was destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem. The site’s significance stems from the Foundation Stone from where Islamic scholars believed that the Islamic prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven.
After wandering around the Muslim Quarter without being able to visit Temple Mount, we arrived at the Christian Quarter. The Christian Quarter was built around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is recognized as the grounds on which Jesus Christ was crucified and buried. It is a prominent pilgrimage destination for Christians. Another important pilgrimage destination in the Christian Quarter is Via Dolorosa or The Way of Suffering. The trail is marked by the 14 Stations of the Cross, said to be the path Jesus walked from the time of his arrest to his crucification and subsequently to his resurrection.
Do join one of the Western Wall tours where you are taken into the underground tunnels along the Western Wall prayer area to the north west side of the Temple Mount. Along the tunnels are the remains from the second temple period, as well as structures from later periods. A limited number of visitors can join each tour, so advanced booking is advised.
Outside the Old City of Jerusalem, we visited the Israel Museum and specifically the Shrine of the Book which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is said that the Shrine of the Book is built based on the imagery of the Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of some 981 different texts written between 150 BC to 70 AD, discovered in eleven caves called the Qumran Caves near the Dead Sea. These texts are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the third oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon.