A Tour of Jerusalem

#1 Jul 31st, 2013, 17:53
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Jerusalem is a city I've been able to visit on many occasions, and I've been fortunate enough to have spent a month living there in 2011. There can be few places on earth quite like it. Its religious and political significance are wholly entwined - in Indian terms, it is as if Amritsar, Varanasi and Ayodhya were combined and then dumped in the middle of downtown Srinagar.

The geography of the city is equally confused - Jerusalem is situated on a number of hills at around 750m, and no matter how many times I visit, its highways, side streets and tunnels never seem easier to comprehend. Nevertheless, for conveniences sake, the city may be divided roughly into three main components - Jewish West Jerusalem, Arab East Jerusalem, and the Old City between them, itself divided into four quarters (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian).



While many of the elements dividing the city date back millennia, the political boundary between East and West only goes back to 1948 and marks the ceasefire line at which Jewish and Jordanian Arab forces faced each other when fighting ended during Israel's War of Independence/the Palestinian nakbah. The boundary was abolished when Israel conquered and then annexed East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, but remains firmly established in many people's minds as the most suitable border between Israel and the future state of Palestine.

In any case, the remaining ethnic boundary makes Jerusalem one of those places where two quite distinct cultures, societies, economies, etc. meet head-on. Like taking the ferry from southern Spain to Morocco, or walking across the border from Greece into Albania, a 15 minute walk (or 3-stop tram ride) from West Jerusalem's Zion Square down to East Jerusalem's Damascus Gate area transports you from what on the surface appears to be a modern, Westernized city into the Arab Middle East.


But this simple binary division between Jewish and Arab Jerusalem does not tell the whole story. West Jerusalem itself is in fact divided between secular Jewish areas and ultra-orthodox neighborhoods such as Mea Shearim, while the numerous Jewish neighborhoods (settlements) built in East Jerusalem since 1967 only serve to further confuse the East-West/Arab-Jewish dichotomy.


While Israel claims the entire, undivided city as its capital, all government institutions are in West Jerusalem. It is almost entirely Jewish, although as noted above, many social, religious and economic factors serve to divide the various Jewish communities. One place where they all congregate, and one of my favorite places in the entire city, is at the Mahane Yehuda Market off West Jerusalem's main thoroughfare, Jaffa Road. Here, you will find shoppers of all backgrounds - secular, ultra-orthodox, Ashkenazi (of European origin), Mizrachi (of North African/Middle Eastern origin), Arab, tourists, etc. - mingling together peacefully. On Friday afternoon, before the Shabbat shutdown, things get especially busy:


If you're lucky, you might come across a sing-song:


Apart from the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, there's not a whole lot else in West Jerusalem to attract tourists, a few old churches and synagogues aside. East Jerusalem has more of interest, from both a historical and current geopolitical point of view. The most notorious feature is the construction called, depending on your politics, the 'security fence'/'separation barrier'/'apartheid wall' which surrounds East Jerusalem on three sides, and was built in the early 2000's during the Palestinian uprising known as the second or 'Al-Aqsa' intifada.

[The wall from both sides]
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[View from East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina across the separation barrier to the West Bank city of Ramallah]

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East Jerusalem is also the location of a few sites of interest to Christian and Jewish visitors, most obviously the Mount of Olives and the Garden and Church of Gethsemane:

[Mount of Olives]
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[Church of Gethsemane with Russian Orthodox Church in background]
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Mostly, however, East Jerusalem is a residential Arab city, with large neighborhoods such as Silwan stretching out north and south of the Old City:

[Silwan]

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#2 Jul 31st, 2013, 17:54
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While it is often impossible to physically distinguish between Arabs and Jews in Israel (this is particularly so among the youth, who dress similarly and who mix Hebrew and Arab vocabulary on a scale unknown to their parents), in Jerusalem this is less of a problem, primarily due to the distinctive types of dress often favored by the devout on both sides. While devout Muslim women generally favor the standard hijab common in the region, and Palestinian men tend to go for some form of slacks & shirt combo perhaps with the famous keffiyeh head-dress, religious Jews display a dizzying array of outfits which reflect the vast number of different sects within Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Judaism.

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Everyone comes together in the Old City, home of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the site of Jesus' crucifixion and most holy place in Christianity), the Western Wall (the remains of the second Jewish Temple and most holy site in Judaism) and the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (site of the ancient Jewish Temple and now home to al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, both sacred in Islam for their association with the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail, and the prophet Muhammad's famous night journey from Mecca and subsequent ascent into Heaven).

[Entrance to Church of the Holy Sepulchre]
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[Dome of the Holy Sepulchre]
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[Site of the Crucifixion]
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The Old City is divided into four - the quiet, pleasant and touristy Christian Quarter, the tiny Armenian Quarter, the large, growing and increasingly modern Jewish Quarter, and the bustling, residential Muslim Quarter. It is a 1km2 of narrow alleyways, busy shopping streets, ancient arches, churches, mosques and synagogues. As it currently stands, the layout is largely a legacy of the Crusader occupation of the city, with the walls having been completed during the first century of Ottoman rule (1500's).

[City Walls]
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[Packed street in Muslim Quarter]
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The aim for most tourists and all the pilgrims is one of the religious sites. Here you can watch Indian Christian pilgrims worship outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Good Friday:


My favorite time to be in the Old City, however, is Friday evening, when Jews head to the Kotel (Western Wall) where a large plaza in front of the Wall acts as an open-air synagogue and worshippers engage in devotional chanting and singing. It really is a magical experience to find yourself in the midst of it all:


Unfortunately, during prayer time non-Muslims are barred from visiting the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the massive platform which dominates the south-east of the Old City and which serves as the primary source of religious tensions and conflict between Muslims and Jews in the Old City.

[Al-Aqsa Mosque]
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[The Kotel (Western Wall) with Dome of the Rock in background]
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However, at most other times it is possible to visit, although since the second intifada, only Muslims have been allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock to see Muhammad's footprint and the site of Ibrahim's proposed sacrifice of his son Ismael (Jews and Christians believe the son in question was Isaac.)

[Old City Panorama]
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(Edit): some recommended reading - there are countless books written about Jerusalem. Two that I've actually read and enjoyed very much are by Amos Elon and by Simon Montefiore.
#3 Jul 31st, 2013, 18:10
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Some final photos which I couldn't fit into the main posts:

Orange sellers inside Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter:
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Old City stalls
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Damascus Gate from the inside
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Church at Mount Zion, site of the death of the Virgin Mary, the Tomb of King David, and the Last Supper.
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Statue of King David
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Roof-top view of the Old City - you can see the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the left, and the Dome of the Rock on the right with the Mount of Olives behind it.
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#4 Jul 31st, 2013, 19:24
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Absolutely stunning! Thanks very much for the write-up, the photos, and the videos. I really enjoyed it all!
#5 Jul 31st, 2013, 20:52
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Thank you Daisy, it really is one of the most amazing places I've been.

For anyone interested, here's an excellent 3-part BBC documentary on Jerusalem presented by Simon Montefiore:





This website also has lots of interactive features - Jerusalem.com
#6 Jul 31st, 2013, 22:47
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shiver me Timbers View Post Jerusalem is a city I've been able to visit on many occasions, and I've been fortunate enough to have spent a month living there in 2011. There can be few places on earth quite like it. Its religious and political significance are wholly entwined - in Indian terms, it is as if Amritsar, Varanasi and Ayodhya were combined and then dumped in the middle of downtown Srinagar.
How true. Old Jerusalem is the souk of all souks, Chaos and Calm, Crowded and deserted, believers and infidels, born-agains and sinners, holier-than-thou's and devils-playmates, all more tightly packed than a bumble bee can of tuna

An excellent place to people watch and let the day walk by !



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#7 Aug 2nd, 2013, 03:05
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Shiver me timbers; what is that bread caled in the third picture of post #6?
#8 Aug 2nd, 2013, 03:37
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I believe the Arabs simply call them 'cake', they're a kind of bagel. You can get them all over the Old City and East Jerusalem.
#9 Aug 2nd, 2013, 03:54
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You didn't mention the Tomb of the Garden, just across the road in the Arab quarter, which is the (very believable) actual tomb where Jesus was laid. Otherwise excellent article.
#10 Aug 2nd, 2013, 05:47
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My picture of the Tomb you mention is not great, but it is certainly a pleasant little place amidst the busy Damascus Gate area:

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#11 Aug 2nd, 2013, 22:06
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ashyashwin View Post Shiver me timbers; what is that bread caled in the third picture of post #6?
Sesame bread. You snack between meals. Sometimes, if you sit down to eat, oil and hummus-asli maybe.
#12 Aug 3rd, 2013, 16:18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nycank View Post Sesame bread. You snack between meals. Sometimes, if you sit down to eat, oil and hummus-asli maybe.
The oil you refer to is olive oil which you dip the bagel in together with powdered Thyme also good with Labaneh (a form of soft creamy goat cheese). Best to buy the bread from the bakery ,nice and hot

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