A local expert shows us 10 of the best things to see and do as ancient meets modern in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is an ancient city going back more than 3000 years, layered with hundreds of years of history whilst also being a modern city. Local expert Tripbod Shmuel shows us around.
The first three sites in Jerusalem that you must see are connected to the three monotheistic religions that make up Jerusalem’s religious fabric.
1. Western Wall
Judaism’s holiest site, this is the supporting wall built by Herod 2000 years ago during his renovation of the Second Temple. Standing at the wall, you can follow the tradition of writing your personal prayer on a scrap of paper and sticking it in one of the spaces between the large Herodian stones.
2. Church of the Holy Sepulcher
This is the holiest site to Christianity and commemorates the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. The original church was built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century and extensively rebuilt by the Crusaders in 1149. It’s really a church of churches as six different Christian groups – Greek Orthodox, Franciscan (Catholic), Armenian, Syrian, Coptic and Ethiopian – share space and time for their traditions.
3. Haram el-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary
This is a large plaza on which stands the Dome of the Rock – a shrine in blue tile and gold, which is one of the earliest examples of Islamic architecture – and the Al Aqsa mosque. The latter is the third holiest site to Islam, and both were built originally in the 8th century by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik.
4. Biblical cuisine at Eucalyptus
For a restaurant that combines Middle Eastern food in a fusion of nationalities and wonderful local ingredients, check out the Eucalyptus restaurant and try one of the three tasting menus. I love to come here and enjoy some of chef Moshe Bassan’s Biblical cuisine, based on his mother’s recipes (as all the best recipes are). Here you can dine on Iraqi meatballs, Biblical couscous from the days of King Solomon, and ‘Oriental Cerviche’.
14 Hativat Yerushalayim Street, just down from Jaffa gate. Open Sunday to Thursday 12:30pm – 11:30pm, and Saturday from after the Sabbath.
5. Ramparts Walk
You can walk the alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City but for a birds-eye view of the old and new city, take the Ramparts Walk. Starting at Jaffa Gate where you actually walk on the stone walls built in 1538 by the Ottoman Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. The circumference of the city walls is only 4km so it is possible to walk around the entire Old City. Check out the eight gates in the city walls, including the remains of the Roman Gate below today’s Damascus Gate and the Golden Gate, closed since the 7th century and waiting for the Messiah’s arrival.
6. White Father’s compound
One of my favorite sites in the Old City is the White Father’s compound, a quiet retreat from the frenzy of the Arab shuq. The ruins of a Byzantine church and a Crusader chapel rest on a dike between two reservoirs built in the 8th and 3rd centuries BCE. This is where Jesus performed one of the two miracles in Jerusalem, curing the cripple of 38 years (John 5). There is also an intact Crusader church with incredible acoustics so try it out by singing Amazing Grace or another liturgical melody.
To see all of Jerusalem, you have to get up high. Here are some locations for great views of the city: climb the 750 steps of the Church of the Redeemer bell tower; go out onto the narrow walkway up on the dome of the Hurva synagogue; go up on to the roof of the Austrian Hospice; or climb up the Herodian tower inside the David Citadel museum; or you can just take the elevator to the top of the carillon tower of the International YMCA.
8. City of David
Tour the ancient City of David, the city that King David made the capital of his kingdom, and you will come to understand the importance of water in the history of Jerusalem. Bring ‘water shoes’ and a flashlight and walk 45 minutes through Hezekiah’s Tunnel cut in the limestone, which still has running water up to your knees – quite an experience. The tunnel brought the water of the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool inside the walls of the city. The pool is where Jesus performed the second miracle in Jerusalem, curing the blind man (John 9).
Spend a day at the Israel Museum, the largest cultural institution in Israel. It houses an encyclopedic collection of more than 500,000 objects, including pieces dating from prehistory to the present day, in its Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Jewish Art and Life wings, and features the most extensive holdings of biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world. Visit the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts from Qumran are on display. Beside it is the 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem in 66 CE just before the Jewish Revolt against Rome which led to the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by Titus. Walk around and enjoy the Billy Rose sculpture garden designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Don’t miss the monumental exhibit (on until January 2014) on the life of King Herod and his building projects.
10. Mahane Yehuda market
Take a guided tour of the Mahane Yehuda market, which is a great place to walk around to get a feel for the characters and local cuisines of Jerusalem. This is your opportunity to try some Middle Eastern delicacies, traditional foods from the many nationalities that make Jerusalem their home. Here are some suggestions to get you started: oranges, grapefruits and pomegranates grow here so get a juice freshly squeezed right before your eyes; try a pitta bread with zatar, a Mediterranean spice in the oregano family and olive oil or stuffed with hummus, with falafel and eggplant and Israeli salad (diced tomato and cucumber); bureka, a Turkish pastry filled with potato or cheese; khachapuri, a Georgian yeast bread with cheese and egg; kubeh, a crispy, fried dumpling made of bulgur stuffed with meat and/or mushrooms. Leave a little room for a coffee or mint tea with a sweet and cheesy dessert like mtabak or knafe.
_Tripbod Shmuel lives in Jerusalem where he is a licensed tour guide and works with individuals, families and groups to create personalised itineraries._
_For advice and help planning your trip to Jerusalem, you can contact Shmuel directly on Tripbod.com_