Perhaps it is due to the glorious history of the towering stone walls and ancient buildings, or the sacred atmosphere that surrounds the holy sites of Jewish, Christian, and Moslem religions. The enchanting quality of Jerusalem may also come from the colorful markets and narrow alleyways, or from the city’s dynamic history - a history woven with war and peace, love and hate, destruction and resurrection.
The Old City was originally built by King David in 1004 B.C.E. and has always been considered the center of the world. Ancient maps show the three continents known at the time: Europe, Asia, and Africa, situated in a circle with Jerusalem at their center. Since then Jerusalem has been cherished and glorified by kings, rulers, and conquerors who attempted to storm its walls and adored by ordinary people who made it the loadstone of their faith. This was the place where the Jews built the Temple, where Jesus was crucified, and where Mohammed rose to Heaven. Pilgrims, beggars, merchants, students of great scholars, warriors and slaves have all walked its streets, and have praised and revered Jerusalem.
Over the years the Old City has undergone many changes which have made it one of the most interesting cities in the world as well as an important focal point for tourism in Israel.
The city, resting on the original hills of the City of David and surrounded by a wall over four kilometers long with seven gates, 34 towers, and a citadel (the Tower of David), is divided into four residential quarters:
The Armenian Quarter
The Armenian quarter is the smallest quarter of the Old City. The Armenians settled in Jerusalem in the 4th century CE for religious reasons, and the St. James Cathedral was built in the 12th century. This church later became the center for the Armenian people in Israel. It is one of the most beautiful churches in the country and is built upon the remains of a Byzantine church. At the center of the church is a dome resting on four pillars, through which the sun shines and sheds light on the paintings on the walls.
The seminary for Armenian priests and the Armenian Museum, which presents the cultural and national history of the Armenian people, are also located in the Armenian quarter. The most important site in the quarter is the building that houses the Armenian Patriarchate.
The Christian Quarter
The Christian quarter has more than 40 churches, monasteries, and hostels that were built for Christian pilgrims. In the heart of the Christian quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Church of the Resurrection, which, according to Christian tradition, was the site upon which Jesus was crucified and buried following his final walk along the Via Dolorosa, or the Stations of the Cross. The Via Dolorosa begins at the courthouse - which was located at what is now the Lions’ Gate – also known as St. Stephen’s Gate-- and ends at Calvary Hill or Golgotha, where the Church is now located. Many Christian pilgrims walk along the Via Dolorosa following the final path of Jesus.
There are several sites that are important to the Christian tradition inside the Church of the Resurrection, including the Stone of Anointing, the tomb, and the rotunda.
The market - one of Jerusalem’s most popular tourist attractions, is located in the Christian quarter and is a noisy, colorful market where one can buy decorated pottery, candles, souvenirs, ethnic costumes, mats, rugs, beads, and jewelry, glass lamps and decorative items. The merchants call out their wares and the food stands emit tantalizing aromas. One of the most outstanding attractions of this market is that shoppers are expected to bargain for wares, and if you insist, you can bargain shopkeepers down from their original price.
The Jewish Quarter
The Jewish quarter is the main residential area for Jews in the old City. This quarter also contains the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall - which is a holy place for the Jews since it was part of the Temple and close to the Holy of Holies within the Temple.
The Jewish quarter also contains interesting archeological sites such as the Burnt House - the remains of a house from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans 2000 years ago. The Cardo is a typical Roman street built in the 6th century consisting of stores situated between two rows of columns. The remains of the tall columns, arches, and stone floor can still be seen in the Cardo.
All these sites make the Old City of Jerusalem a place that visitors will never forget.
The Moslem Quarter
The Moslem quarter is the largest quarter in the old city, and most of its population arrived after its original Jewish and Christian residents moved to newer neighborhoods. The Moslem Quarter has churches and mosques, and there are several Jewish homes and Yeshivas still remaining. The most important sites in the Moslem Quarter are sacred sites for the Moslem faith such as the Dome of the Rock on Mount Moria (also a holy place for the Jews).