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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrKnown as the “Holy City”, Jerusalem is important to all three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Today, an important pilgrimage site, the city has an abundance of incredible sites to see.
HistoryJerusalem has a long history, during which it has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, and attacked 52 times. It is one of the oldest cities in the world; part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BC.
It is hard to write about the history of Jerusalem without indicating some bias towards either Judaism or Islam. Both religions, and today, Israelis and Palestinians have different versions of the history of Jerusalem.
6,000 years ago, ancient peoples came to what is today known as Jerusalem, and developed the city into an agriculture center – it remained this way for thousands of years. 3,500 years ago, Philistines arrived causing havoc in the region and in Egypt, who lost its control over Jerusalem. Shortly after, King David established the Kingdom of Judea, with Jerusalem as the capital city.
From 733 BC to 538 BC, Jerusalem was controlled by the Assyrian Empire, then the Babylonians, and finally King Cyrus II of Persia. King Cyrus was determined to make the exiled Judeans his allies, and contributed funds so that they could rebuild their temple. In 516 BC, the second temple was constructed, and Jerusalem became the center of the monotheistic, Judean people.
In 1516, the Ottomans took control of Jerusalem, and ruled uninterrupted for nearly 400 years until World War I. In 1917, General Edmund Allenby conquered Palestine and entered Jerusalem as victor on behalf of the British Government. The British promised both Palestine and Jerusalem to the Jews and Arabs, creating the tension that still exists today. The tension increased after World War II, when a large influx of Jews from Europe began to arrive in Palestine. British rule in Palestine ended in 1948, war began, and Jerusalem was split in two – the Eastern half was controlled by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, while the Western half was controlled by the Jewish State of Israel. Today, Jerusalem is a thriving, metropolitan city, the city remains divided under international law, and is still a great point of contention.
Sights to SeeThe Old City of Jerusalem is still today surrounded by a wall, with the gates to the city largely still intact. There are four quarters of the Old City, each with its own characteristics; the Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, and finally the Armenian Quarter.
The Old City of Jerusalem holds special importance for any monotheistic believers, but even for those who are not religious, the sites on display are extremely interesting. Temple Mount holds importance for both Jews and Muslims. The Wailing Wall, accessible to foreigners after passing through a security scan, is the part of the site most important to Jews, as it is the remainder of the Second Temple. There is no entrance fee, and the wall is open at all times. On Friday evenings there is a special Shabbat celebration, open to all visitors. Visitors to the Wailing Wall are reminded that this is a holy site and appropriate clothing should be worn.
Dome of the Rock, located on Temple Mount is the third most important religious site for Muslims. Although the actual mosque is not open to non-Muslims, you are able to access the Temple Mount site, and it is worth it to catch a glimpse of the famous gold-covered dome. Opening times to Temple Mount are restricted to non-Muslims, and it is best to go as early as possible to avoid disappointment. The entrance for non-Muslims is through the Wailing Wall and is controlled by Israeli soldiers. More recently, there have been clashes between Israeli extremists and Palestinians on Temple Mount, but the soldiers will make it clear if entrance is not allowed.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre , situated in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, was built in the 4th century and is one of the most important shrines for Christians, preserving the moments of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Expect there to be lots of crowds, and give yourself enough time to walk around the entire church – it is much larger than it first appears. To the left of the entrance is a path to the Saint Helena Church, which features a large well, and an interesting cave.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial is located in West Jerusalem near Herzl Boulevard, and is a truly emotional experience, even if you have no personal connection. The museum has been designed to take you on a journey from one room to another, and features photographs, testimonials, and videos. The memorial site is a sprawling 45 acres, and encompasses the museum, as well as outdoor exhibitions, memorials, and monuments. The experience can be particularly disturbing for young children. There is no entrance fee for the museum, but you are able to make a donation. To get there, take the tram to Mount Herzl, the last stop on the metro line, and turn right, walking towards what looks like a forest, but is in fact the start of the museum's campus.
RestaurantsWhat you eat in Jerusalem will very much depend on what part of the city you are in. In the old town, your best bet is to go for falafel. Located in the Muslim quarter, there are an abundance of falafel stands and sit-down restaurants selling falafel and chicken sandwiches. All of the food is fresh, but make sure you don’t pay more than 10 NIS for a falafel sandwich – they may try and rip you off.
For dessert in the old town, stay in the Muslim quarter for some kanaffeh. Originally from Nablus , this tasty treat is comprised of stringy cheese, flour, and sweet syrup.
In West Jerusalem, bagels are your best bet for something quick for lunch. The main street, Jaffa Street, is adorned with bagel places offering just about any filling you can think of. One of the best places is Holy Bagel, where you can create your own sandwich with all the fillings, salad, and bagel types on offer. The service can be hit and miss though, and it is a little pricey.
AccommodationThe American Colony Hotel, located in East Jerusalem, is a luxury hotel previously used to house the American-Swedish community known as the American Colony. Located close to the center, and just five minutes from Damascus Gate, it has all the amenities. The restaurant also serves great food and the bar is often frequented by the international NGO crowd living in Jerusalem. It is, however, one of the more expensive options at around $ 300 USD a night.
In West Jerusalem, the David Citadel is another five star hotel, and slightly more expensive than the American Colony at $ 400 USD a night. The hotel has a pool, and a spa area, as well as a fitness center, restaurant, and bar.
The Jerusalem Tower hotel, located in downtown West Jerusalem, is reasonably priced at around $ 140 USD a night, and has all the amenities you would need, including free WiFi and free breakfast. The Old City is only a ten minutes’ walk away, so it is perfect if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing.
The Austrian Hospice, located in the middle of the Old City, in the Muslim Quarter, is now a hotel, as well as a lovely café. The building is very grand, and has a lovely court yard area, with a café that sells Austrian delicacies. You can also go to the roof, which provides a magnificent view across Jerusalem. The entrance is a little hard to find, but ask around the Old City and someone should be able to help you out.
The Jaffa Gate Hostel, is located as it suggest, at the entrance of the old city. At around $ 30 USD a night, prices are expensive for a hostel, but this one comes with all the amenities, including WiFi, a BBQ area, as well as a fantastic view. They also offer a free tour of Jerusalem, which is well worth taking as soon as you get to the city.
PoliticsAs you will soon discover upon arriving in Jerusalem, the city is largely consumed by politics and religion. Israeli soldiers are present always, and there is still a clear divide between Palestinian Jerusalem in the East, and Israeli Jerusalem is the West. Although there is not always problems, tensions do flair up, especially around Israeli national holidays, or when there has been a high number of arrests of Palestinians or house demolitions. Of course you can choose to avoid politics completely, though there are a large number of options of political tours if you should want a change from the religious sites. One of the best organisation is ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), and if you visit their website you can arrange a free tour.
Getting ThereFrom Ben-Gurion International Airport, you can take a shuttle to almost anywhere in Jerusalem. It will cost you 64 NIS, and the length of the journey will change depending on where each passenger has to get to, however you will be dropped off at your hotel's door!
From the center of Tel Aviv, you can take a bus that will bring you to the central bus station in Jerusalem. From there you can take the tram to the center.
From all over Israel, it is pretty easy to get to Jerusalem, with most major cities running a direct bus service. The buses in Israel are fairly cheap and almost always run on time, but as the schedule is almost always only in Hebrew, it can be a little confusing.
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Author: hannahbarkan. Last updated: Jan 18, 2015