Jerusalem: Thousands of Years in the Making

Andy Mossack, a well-known British travel writer and the creator and presenter of BBC Radio’s “Where in the World is Andy” travelogue series, describes his visit to Jerusalem in his latest installment for Be sure to check back in for other insightful reviews from his travel exploits.

It was a sound that instantly transported me back thousands of years. The muezzin’s call to prayer from the minaret of the ancient mosque reverberated around the Old City of Jerusalem. For me, standing in the middle of the ancient Via Dolorosa, it was as if modern time had evaporated.

It was an extraordinary feeling. Jerusalem does that to you. It’s a city that evokes emotion — after all, Jews, Muslims and Christians see it as the spiritual center of their religion, and it’s the only city in the world that officially celebrates three Sabbaths in a week.

Jerusalem is a city of two parts, the old and the new. The old is unquestionably the reason why so many people come and visit every year. And it is truly a magical place, perched high on a hill and surrounded by a wall built in 1538 by the Ottoman king Suleiman the Magnificent, although there were many other walls built and destroyed over the years. But the new also has a lot to offer visitors, and you should put time aside to explore its many attractions too.

The Old City of Jerusalem

This ancient city is effectively split into four different quarters — Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian — and each is accessed via specific “gates,” although these days there are no doors to open or close. It is roughly a kilometer in size, so it is walkable but hilly in parts. In fact there is a Ramparts Walk that will take you around the top of the wall, and for first-timers is an excellent way to orient yourself.

Dominating a large chunk of the Muslim and Christian quarters is the Arab souk, a teeming windy maze of merchants who’ll try to sell you everything from “antiques” to T-shirts. Be on your guard, and don’t hesitate to haggle furiously if you really want to buy something to take home. You might even be approached by people offering to show you parts of the “real cross” or to take you a guided tour. Just thank them, decline, and move on. It’s all part of the culture, so don’t get too grumpy. The food part of the souk is especially interesting, and it’s entertaining to watch locals bartering for a good deal.

What to do in The Old City

The Old City contains the holiest sites of the three religions: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place where it is said Jesus was crucified and resurrected; The Dome of the Rock, where Mohammed rose up to Heaven; and The Western Wall, the last remaining supporting wall of the destroyed second Jewish Temple.

Walk the Via Dolorosa in the footsteps of Jesus, and go to the Mount of Olives east of the Old City and visit Mary’s tomb and the Garden of Gethsemane. Book a tour of the newly opened tunnels under the Western Wall, where there is another 200 feet of the Western Wall with stones dating back to Herod’s time. Just outside Zion Gate is The City of David excavations, a fantastic tour of the original site of city of Jerusalem and walk through Hezekiah’s water tunnel hewn out by stonemasons thousands of years ago. Eat with the locals and go to Abu Shukri on the corner of el-wad and the Via Dolorosa for the best hummus and falafel anywhere.

The New City of Jerusalem

Among the tree-lined boulevards and parks, you’ll find a city where traditional thinking lives side by side with modernism. From the ultra orthodox area of Mea Shearim to the architecture of the Knesset building, from the bustling Mahane Yehuda market to the recently opened Mamilla shopping precinct. Outside the Old City, Jerusalem continues to evolve, expand and regenerate seemingly without losing any of its charm and draw. It’s now a very big city, and you’ll need to travel by bus or taxi to see all the sights. There are many high-end hotels and restaurants here, and art galleries, museums and cultural centers that are the envy of counties all over the globe.

Things to do in New Jerusalem

Ben Yehuda Street, King George Street and Jaffa Road are the main areas of shopping activity, but for a taste of local life go to the Mahane Yehuda food market. Visit the Israel Museum and see the Dead Sea Scrolls; go to The Knesset, Israel’s parliament building; and make sure you have time to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s revered Holocaust campus.

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