Widely considered to be the center of the world, Jerusalem was named the capital of Israel by King David in 1004 BCE/BC after his conquest of the Jebusites. The Old City walls of today were built in 1535–1542 by the Ottoman Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
The old city boasts numerous gates—some opened, some sealed—towers, houses of worship, shops, and vendor stalls, a surrounding wall that measures almost 2.5 miles in length, which surrounds four distinct neighborhoods, roughly divided into sections or quarters, each named for the cultural affiliation of most of the people living there. Between Jerusalem’s ancient structures and sacred claim, it’s winding alleyways and narrow streets are seemingly endless. Jerusalem’s Old City is nothing short of alluring and captivating.
Overview of the city of Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives. In the foreground is a large Jewish cemetery; mid-picture is the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem, in the background is the modern new city of Jerusalem.
The current walls surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem were rebuilt between 1535 and 1542 by Sultan Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire. While the current wall does not completely follow the original outline, much of this wall has been here since the first century or before. The Tower of David, or Jerusalem Citadel, pictured in the background, was built during the Mamluk or Ottoman periods on the site of ancient Herodian fortifications.
The Tower of David Museum is in the Jerusalem Citadel, just inside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City. The museum depicts 4,000 years of Jerusalem’s history, from its beginnings as a Canaanite city to modern times.
The remains of the Pools of Bethesda which are mentioned in chapter five of the Gospel of John (John 5). Here Jesus healed a paralyzed man.
Next to the Pools of Bethesda is the Church of Saint Anne, built by Crusaders in AD 1138 over a grotto that was traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church was named for Mary’s mother, Saint Anne. The church was given to Napoleon III of France by Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid I in 1856 and renovated and rededicated in 1862. The church exhibits extraordinary acoustics, which makes it a fabulous site for soloists and choirs.
The Via Dolorosa is a street within the Old City of Jerusalem, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. The winding route from the Antonia Fortress west to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a celebrated place of Christian pilgrimage. The current route has been established since the eighteenth century, replacing various earlier versions. It is today marked by nine Stations of the Cross; there have been fourteen stations since the late fifteenth century, with the remaining five stations being inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The ancient streets of Jerusalem are picturesque. The ramp in the middle of the steps allows carts to be used to transport products throughout the Old City.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The church contains, according to traditions dating back to at least the fourth century, the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site of the crucifixion at a place known as “Calvary” or “Golgotha,” and Jesus’ empty tomb, the site of the Resurrection. The tomb is enclosed by the eighteenth-century shrine, called the Aedicule (Edicule). Within the church proper are the last five stations of the Via Dolorosa.
The Old City of Jerusalem souk (meaning marketplace or bazaar) boasts over 800 shops featuring everything from olive wood carvings and Bedouin apparel to souvenirs and spices. Haggling is the major sport of the souk … and it has been for centuries.
The colorful shops in Jerusalem’s Old City are filled with exotic treasures, foods, spices, and incense.
The Kotel is the holiest of all sites in Judaism. It is a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the “Western Wall.” The wall was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple by Herod the Great. The wall encased the natural, steep hill known as the Temple Mount (Mount Moriah)—and provided a large flat platform, creating more space for the Temple itself and its auxiliary buildings.
Over one million prayer requests are placed in the Kotel
The Southern Temple Steps are the steps that would have been used by Jesus and the disciples to enter the temple in Jerusalem. Although the temple has been destroyed and the entrance tunnels have been closed, the steps remain intact.
The Garden Tomb is celebrated by many Christians around the world as the place where Jesus was laid for three days until the Resurrection.