History enthralls and surrounds the city as you walk the many alleys and the narrow streets, never mind the many holy shrines dedicated to the three different faiths. In the now infamous movie ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ the adventurer Indiana Jones is seen threatening to destroy the Ark of Covenant. Indiana Jones’s nemesis retorts as he pats the ark, “You and I are passing through history, this is history!”
The city of Jerusalem is one of the most prized and important in the entire world. It is not due to any precious metals or vital minerals or anything of any intrinsic value that the city has access to. It controls access to something that exists in the minds of the people and is sustained by the religious activities. It has a plethora of holy sites and is a holy city by itself. It is also the focal point of violence related to religion either as the place where the violence is seen or as the inception point where it is planned.
Violence of historical and contemporary nature can be understood by taking a look into the geography, demographics and history of Jerusalem. The old city of Jerusalem spans about 220 acres. The walls of the city date back to time of Ottoman sultan. It was during the rule of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent that the city walls were built.
The Gates to the City:
The Old city of Jerusalem has 11 gates which allowed access to the city. Only seven of the gates are open today they are the Jaffa gate, Lions gate, Dung gate, Damascus gate, new gate, Zion gate and Herod’s gate. The sealed gates include the Golden gate which is situated over the ground level and lies underneath the Temple Mount.
The Golden gate is visible only from the outside of the city. In the Jewish tradition it is believed that when the Messiah enters the city of Jerusalem it will be through this gate. To stop the messiah from coming back during the reign of Suleiman the Muslims sealed the golden gate. A feature of the gate is that it is angled in such a way that one needs to make ninety degree turn on entering the city. This was a deterrent for enemies who charged in on horse back.
Another feature seen at some of the gates such as the Zion gate is that above the gate there is a hole through which boiling liquids were poured on the attackers. The Zion gate is situated outside the Jewish and Armenian Quarters of the city.
The Suleiman built the main entrance to the old city of Jerusalem which is the Jaffa gate in the year 1958. The Arabic name of the gate Hebron gate means the beloved. It is a reference to Abraham who is the beloved of God and has been buried in Hebron. Cars can enter the city through the road present here. It was built by the Ottoman Turks for the German Emperor Kiaser Wilhelm II in 1898.
The Four Quarters of the Old City
The old is divided and demarcated in terms of the ethnicity of the living residing into four sections or quarters. The four quarters are rectangular grids but aren’t equal in size. The city is divided into east and west by the streets the run from the Damascus gate to Zion gate. And the city is demarcated north to south by the streets from the Jaffa gate to the Lion’s gate.
Getting lost in the city is the best way to travel and sight see in the old city. Walking through the labyrinthine like paths makes for a great visit. The Christian quarter can be seen in the left while entering from the Jaffa gate to the David Street. Walking further down the David street one can reach the Armenian quarter. The Muslim quarter lies to the left of the Jews Street. And to the right side is the Quarter of the Jews.
One must travel in a group or with a local companion for safety concerns and avoid wandering beyond the Muslim quarter main roads. Exploration of the city is best during day time while if you know the whereabouts of the city many of the sites are best viewed at night. To the left side of the Information office for tourists in a tiny enclosure almost hidden under the shady trees are two graves.
The graves are widely believed to be the resting place of the architects who rebuilt the city for Suleiman. The architects are said to be either murdered because the Sultan did not want them to create anything more beautiful or as they failed to include the Mount Zion within the city walls.
The citadel known as the David’s Tower is a stunning landmark which can be seen from the Jaffa gate of the city. The citadel was built by Herod and is a tall square tower which is two thousand years old. One can visit the grand courtyard present inside the Citadel. Also found here is a museum where various exhibits of the citadel and the Old city can be seen. A great way to immerse oneself into the spirit of the city is to visit the Arab market down the David Street from the Jaffa gate.
The Arab market is known as ‘the souk’ where there is always something to buy from the shopkeepers as they entice you with the local fare. Bargaining here is an art! From the souk the fork in the road to the left can take you to the Muslim or the Christian quarters. The Jewish quarter is on the right down the souk. The paths to important shrines such as the Church of Holy Sepulcher, Temple Mount and Western Wall are not well marked. Asking someone or a local guide for directions can make it easy to reach your destination.
The Jewish quarter of the city looks sparkling clean and brand new. The important synagogues found here below the street level. The four hundred years old synagogues includes the Elijah the Prophet and the Yohanan Ben Zakkai. Then the buildings were prohibited from being higher then the structures of the Muslim.
Pray at the Wall:
The Western Wall of Second temple is the most sacred Jewish building and is present near a large plaza. The wall is 65 feet tall and awesome size of the structure will awe you as you feel the texture of the ancient stones. For many worshippers praying at the wall is the closest one can get to the almighty. Scraps of papers with messages are tucked in the cracks of the walls by many people.
A stunning view of the city beyond the city walls can be seen from the top of Ramparts. One can climb the Ramparts to gain a unique perspective into the life of the people of the city especially the Muslim Quarters. By entering the Lion’s gate one can follow the route of the suffering where Jesus is said to have carried the cross. The route is known as the Via Dolorosa which is a tradition seen even during the Byzantine era.
Experience this wonder of a place for the glorious history which enacted through the walls of the city.