The Old City
the holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem has always had a high
symbolic value. The Old City, situated in the heart of East Jerusalem, was founded as
early as 4000BC and captured by Israel during the 6-day war of 1967.
The first impression you get when entering the city is its Middle Eastern appearance and
architecture, with its narrow crowded streets and unique bazaars. The holy City covers
roughly 220 acres. The surrounding walls date to the rule of the ottoman Sultan Suleiman
the Magnificent (1520-1566). The city is divided into quarters - the Jewish, Muslim,
Christian and Armenian. The Old City has a total of 11 gates, but only seven are open. The
main entrance to the city is the Jaffa Gate.
The Heart of the Old City is the
Temple Mount/ Haram ash Sharif, recognized by all three religions as the site of Abraham's
sacrifice .The Dome of the Rock, built in the 7th century and decorated with beautiful
geometric and floral motifs dominates this vast esplanade. When the Romans destroyed the
second Temple in 70 AD, only one outer wall surrounding the Temple Mount remained
standing. This remnant of what was the most sacred building in the Jewish world became the
holiest spot in Jewish life. Throughout the centuries, Jews from throughout the world
traveled to Palestine and immediately headed for the Western Wall to thank God. The
prayers offered at the Western Wall were so heartfelt that non-Jews began calling the site
the "Wailing Wall."
The Christian Quarter, developed
around the Holy Sepulcher, lies to the northeast of the old city.
The original church built to commemorate the place in which Jesus Christ was buried was
built in the 4th century AD by Emperor Constantine and was bigger that the present day
sanctuary. Its ruins can still be seen among the surrounding buildings.The church was
destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout the centuries, until the three leading
Christian communities (Latin, Greek and Armenian) finally came to an agreement regarding
its definitive repair in 1959.
Nearby, the square area of the
Muristan encloses the newest church in the old city: the Lutheran church of the Redeemer,
built in 1898 and on the opposite corner, the oldest church still intact the church of St.
John the Baptist with its characteristic silver dome, built in 1070 by merchants from
Amalfi. The name Muristan comes from the Persian word for hospital or hospice and the area
was given this name as a result of the welcome afforded to Christian pilgrims.
Situated on the rooftop of the
Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is directly above the Chapel of St Helena, the
Ethiopian Village or Deir al-Sultan (Monastery of the Sultan) has been home to a community
of Ethiopian monks since 1808. In that year, after a great fire that besides material
destruction also caused the loss of precious documents, the "Big Five" (Roman
Catholic - or Latin, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Coptic Church)
took over joint control and maintenance of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in practice
evicting the Ethiopian Monastery from the holy site. Whatever the monks may feel about
their present home, to an outsider they appear to be better off in the calm silence and
beautiful surroundings of this reconstructed African village than they would be in the
chaotic and crowded area just downstairs.