In terms of beauty and cultural diversity, Jerusalem is a bit like if the most diverse cultures had piled up everything that was sacred and important to them on the just one square kilometer of Jerusalem’s Old City over 5000 years. The deeper you dig, the more treasures are revealed.
Thus, the Old City looks like a gigantic religious exhibition hall of biblical-oriental grace. The Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim quarters lie side by side in the smallest of areas, with no transitions immediately apparent to the layman. The Temple Mount represents the epicenter of the Middle East conflict between Judaism and Islam, since here two religions, hardly willing to compromise in this matter, lay their respective exclusive claim to an extremely manageable area without any buffer zone. The city’s landmarks are also located there: While the Wailing Wall is one of the most important religious sites for Judaism, the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqṣā mosque is the third holiest site for Muslims after Mecca and Messina.
With such a history and constellation, it is little wonder that the number of sights and their quality is enormous. But even outside the Old City of Jerusalem there are many places where you can experience the magic of the Holy Land.
Tip 1: Temple Mount
A significant part of Jerusalem’s Old City is occupied by the Temple Mount. It is located in the southeastern part of the Old City and is one of the biggest attractions of the city. The center of the hill is the Dome of the Rock. The first temple was built on this site as early as 957 B.C.
Today, in addition to the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa Mosque is also part of the attractions on the Temple Mount. The hill has a high historical significance in all three world religions, because according to various traditions some milestones of history are said to have been laid here. Thus, according to the Talmud of Judaism, the mountain is the place from whose earth Adam was formed. Believers who do not belong to Islam may only enter through the Moroccan Gate. Be prepared for strict security checks there.
Tip 2: Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, is located in the Old City of Jerusalem and is also called the Church of the Resurrection (Anastasis) by Orthodox Christians. According to tradition, the crucifixion of Jesus took place here and his tomb is located in the immediate vicinity. The church is the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Catholic Archpriest of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. Like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Beatitudes, it is of great importance for religious Christians.
There are six Christian denominations responsible for its administration. Mainly the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Franciscan) and Armenian Apostolic Churches administer the sanctuary. They were joined in the 19th century by the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Copts and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Accordingly, the emphasis on tasks and shrines within the church is different. The Ethiopian Christians live as a small group on one of the church roofs. They used to be in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well, but were relegated to the roof after they could no longer provide the financial resources.
The prayer times are meticulously regulated. All denominational representatives pay equal attention to this.
Tip 3: Wailing Wall
The Wailing Wall – also called the Western Wall – is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is an important religious site for the Jews. It represents the former western wall of the plateau of the Second Temple, which was located on this site. The wall is not – as is often assumed – a wall of the Temple itself, but it serves to secure the actual Temple Mount. The first temple, built under King Solomon, had already been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. After the occupation of Jerusalem by the Persians, a simpler (the Second) Temple could be rebuilt on the same site around 515 BC, which was magnificently expanded around 20 BC under King Herod the Great and destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD during the Jewish War.
Today, many people visit the Wailing Wall every day to pray. Among them are also many who put prayers or wishes written on slips of paper into the cracks and joints of the stones. For many Jews, the Wailing Wall represents a symbol of God’s eternal, existing covenant with His people.
Tip 4: Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem is “Israel’s central memorial to the Holocaust and heroism” in Jerusalem. It was opened in 1953 and is located just outside the city center on the slopes of the “Mount of Remembrance”, in Hebrew “Har Hasikaron”. This place is not only the world’s most important and largest Holocaust information center and memorial, but the six million murdered Jews are commemorated there for eternity.
Yad Vashem houses thousands of documents and testimonies on the life and suffering of Jews during and after the Holocaust. The memorial was founded in 1953 with the intention of properly commemorating the victims and documenting the history of the Holocaust.
The tour of Yad Vashem is not easy, it is decidedly emotionally draining but meaningful and unavoidable for all people of the world – ordinary citizens and state representatives alike.
Tip 5: Mount of Olives
From the Mount of Olives you have the most beautiful view over the Kidron Valley to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount with its walls and the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock, as well as the numerous towers and buildings of the Old City of Jerusalem. The view was and is a popular subject of countless paintings, pictures and photos.
The Kidron Valley, located between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives, is crossed by a wadi that only occasionally carries water during the winter months. The Kidron Valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives is worth seeing because of the historical necropolises from ancient times. Noble officials and clergymen from the Hellenistic and Roman eras were buried here. They had rock tombs and chapels built – a tradition also known from the rock city of Petra in neighboring Jordan. Some tombs consist of a facade carved into the rock with corridors and chambers behind it, others are free-standing in the shape of a cube.
From the Kidron Valley it goes up to the Mount of Olives. Numerous churches dominate the image of its western slopes, visible from the Old City.