When you hear of visiting Jerusalem, two sequential thoughts come to mind: 1. That would be amazing experience seeing the scenic layout for biblical stories and 2. I wish I could go but it just seems too dangerous and sketchy over there. It is true that there is a conflict that has been waging on for many years and sometimes in certain areas it gets very dangerous. However, after living in Jerusalem for 3 ½ months I can say that the City of Jerusalem is safe enough to visit. There are thousands of tourists that have come from all over the world that visit year round. The Holy Land is no stranger to foreigners, and this does not exclude North Americans. If you are concerned about safety and the current status of the conflict you can always check to see if the BYU Jerusalem program is allowing students to go study in the Holy Land. They put in the due diligence needed to ensure parents of students that their precious ones will be safe. The security updates can be found here.
As I will be referencing them, I will explain a few things about the city. Jerusalem is a large city; the western side is the Jewish side and has a very clean, new European feel to it. The east side is the Palestinian side and is a little more rundown with more of a third world feeling too it; this is due to the Palestinians being under occupation and not having the infrastructure needed to have a nicer part of the city. One of the best things about Jerusalem is that there are many sites and points of interest that are only a 10-20 minute walk away from each other. The Old City is the central part of Jerusalem and is the original geographical site of biblical Jerusalem.
The Old City is divided into quarters:
- Muslim Quarter
- Jewish Quarter
- Armenian Quarter
- Christian Quarter.
Another point of reference in the Old City is the different large gates that are the only entrances in.
It is very hard for me to narrow down must see places in the Holy Land, but I will offer some of my absolute favorite things to see and do in Jerusalem.
1. Western Wall
The Western Wall is also known as the Wailing Wall and is located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located in the outer southwest corner of the Old City, you can access it through the city, but the easiest way to get there is to enter through Dung Gate. It is divided into male and female sections. Males have to wear a kippah (Yamaka) in order to go up to the wall; they have bins with kippahs you can borrow. This is one of the best places to visit during a Jewish Holiday because it is packed with various sects of Judaism with their differing religious garments and hats. Many people write prayers on small pieces of paper and then wedge them in the cracks of the wall. They clean the papers out every few months, so get it somewhere sneaky.
2. Monastery of St. Savior
Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, this Monastery is one of my personal favorites. The artwork and decorations are very ornate and beautiful. There is an office where you can get times of services.
3. Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock is the big golden Mosque that is the iconic building/image of Jerusalem. Along with the Al Aqsa mosque (Also found on the Temple Mount) the Dome of the Rock is one of the most Holy sites in Islam. The entrance is found just as you pass through Dung Gate in the southeast part of the Jewish Quarter right next to the entrance to the Western Wall. It is best to get there early in the morning, like 8:00am so that you don’t have to wait too long in line before entering the Temple mount to see the Dome of the Rock. There is no cost and no immediate time limit to your visit. They have a daily schedule for how long it is open to the public. The blue mosaic tiles of the Dome of the Rock are incredible. Only Muslims are allowed inside the Mosque.
4. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. It is the last sight of the Via Del Rosa. This church is one of two proclaimed sites of the Tomb Christ was buried in and rose from. This site is a must see. It is essentially a few large church structures blended together ran by the respective Christian sects. There are hundreds of thousands of people who make their pilgrimage there every year. The experience here is loud, crowded, and powerful. It was great to see so many people who have made many sacrifices to be there, come in and fall to their knees to worship the Savior. Aesthetically, it is very ornate in places and also very simple and beautiful in others. They have an early morning mass which is a great experience to be a part of.
5. Garden Tomb
The Garden Tomb is located just north of the Old City outside of Damascus Gate. It is in the middle of busy streets with the sounds of traffic, honking, and yelling. However, there is an amazing phenomenon that occurs. When you step past the walls of the garden and into the tree covered paths with flowers all around you, the empty tomb, and very kind British volunteers running the garden all the sound of the city seems to be muted. You have to make an appointment with the people running the garden before you can enter and see the tomb. It is hit or miss with the crowds. I went there a total of four times and there were times I had to queue up to go into the tomb and other times where I sat in the tomb by myself for as long as I wanted. There is a stark contrast between this site and the site in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but both are enriching and powerful.
stay tuned for the second half next week!