Things to see in Jerusalem

by Frank Boerhave

With In2Jordan, you can combine Jordan discovery with other neighboring countries of the Holy Land. One of the must-sees here is obviously Jerusalem, the eternal city, replete with history and religion. Every inch of this city is full of treasures, but here are the things you will surely want to see in Jerusalem!

Gethsemane Garden

Experience the everlasting impact of three major religions. The Temple Mount has been in use for almost three millennia and has an air of divinity. See the passion at the Western Wall. Follow Christ’s footsteps of his last trip on the Via Dolorosa to the Holy Sepulcher, the messy church that transpires inspiration and devotion. Every empire and every civilization that ruled this city left its mark. Explore the countless traces of Herodians, Romans, Byzantines, early Muslims, Crusaders and European colonialists. Here too you can feel the heavy cloak of contemporary conflict. Walk the small and narrow and often roofed streets are bustling with life. Hear, see and smell the busy shops.

Temple Mount

The Temple Mount sits on a hill called Mount Moriah. This is believed to be the site where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac. The temple mount was built in 9th or 10th century BC -possibly by King Solomon- and housed the First Temple, mentioned in the bible. The Babylonians destroyed it in the 6th century BC, but King Cyrus of Persia allowed the reconstruction. King Herod enlarged the Temple Mount and the Second Temple in the 1st century BC. The Romans destroyed the temple in the first Jewish revolt in 70AD and placed statues of Zeus and Emperor Hadrian -who actually visited the city- instead.  Before the building of the Dome of the Rock in the 8th century, the Temple Mount stood empty for a couple of centuries and was used to grow vegetables. Currently, the custodian of the Temple Mount is the King of Jordan.

Al Aqsa Mosque from the Western Wall area

Stroll around the site and enjoy the serenity of this place. Have a look at the Dome and the Al Aqsa. Al Aqsa means the farthest mosque and is believed to be the site that the prophet Mohamad visited in a dream. Both buildings are not accessible to non-Muslims, after an activist Christian tried to set fire to the Al Aqsa in 1969 and actually destroyed a 12th century pulpit, known as the minbar of Saladin (who defeated the Crusaders at the end of the 12th century).

Western Wall

People at the Western Wall

This wall was known until the Israeli conquest of 1967 as the Wailing Wall, and it is one of the things to see in Jerusalem. At that time, the wall stood in a small alley. The big square was created after the conquest, flattening the neighbourhood that stood here. Officially, Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, because it was absolutely forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies of the original temples, and it is not clear where the precise location was. Christians and Jews are allowed to enter the location as tourists. The Wall was for many centuries the closest Jews could get to their lost temple. The stones of the wall most likely date from the reconstruction by Herod. There are separate prayer areas for men and women. Note the little notes between the stones. These are prayers from believers, hoping they will come true.

Holy Sepulcher

This is a divine site. Faithful Catholics believe that this is the place where Christs’ crucifixion and resurrection took place. The bishop of Jerusalem ordered the construction of the original church in the 4th century, shortly after Christianity became the State religion of the Roman Empire. The building was huge, even by today’s standards.

After the Muslim conquest in the 7th century, the new rulers were very tolerant and left the church in peace. The Caliph Omar even refused to pray inside the church upon conquering Jerusalem in order not to set a precedent. He prayed outside, where is now the Omar Mosque. A wicked Sultan destroyed the church in the early 11th century -who was killed shortly after.

The rebuilding started soon after, but due to lack of funds, the church was a lot smaller. Most of what you see today, the crusaders built in the 12th century.

Holy Sepulcher Entree

Crucifixion and resurrection

At the entrance, you find the stone of the anointment. Here the body of Jesus was cleaned after his death. At the right side of the entrance, you can go up to the place where the crucifixion is believed to have taken place.

Go back down again and go left, to the rotunda. Here you find a chapel that is in great need of repair. This is thought to be the site of Jesus’ burial. You can go inside, although often you will have to brave long lines. You could also go into the room right behind the chapel, on the eastern side of the church. Here the walls contain the original 4th century stones. In the left corner you find two graves from the 1st century BC. These probably resemble the original grave of Jesus.

Walk along the northern corridor and notice the variety of pillars that support the building. This shows how architects dealt with the structural challenges throughout the centuries. At the west side of the building, you find stairs leading down. Note the vandalism: the crosses marked in the walls were the I-was-here-signs of pilgrims in the crusader times. At the bottom of the stairs, you find an exquisite mosaic. Further down you will find the place where early Christians found the True Cross, marking the spot where they built the original church. Note the original colouring of the walls (flashlight will damage this ancient paint!). Look at the roofing above the colouring: you can see that this place was a quarry long before it was a church.

The other candidate for the burial location, The Garden Tomb, is also a lovely site just outside the city walls where many Protestants go to worship and meditate.

Unexpected Adventure

If you have the time, go on an unexpected adventure: when you leave the church through the main doors into the square, take the door immediately to your left. Follow the hall ways and the stairs through the Ethiopian part of the church to the roof. Here, the Ethiopian monks live. Do you feel like more adventure? Leave the roof through the green gates and enter the Helena cisterns around the corner to your left. Leave a small voluntary gift before you descend some of the smallest and narrowest stairs of the Holy Land. Mind your heads! At the bottom of the stairs you’ll reach some ancients cisterns, probably of the same age as the Holy Sepulcher.

Via Dolorosa

Follow in Jesus’ last steps. Look for the roman numerals in the wall among the things to see in Jerusalem. These are the signals of the “stations of the cross”, for example where he fell, where he saw his mother and where Veronica wiped his face with a cloth. The Via ends at the site where Fort Antonia stood (right hand), possibly the site of Jesus’ trial. Ahead you see St. Stephens Gate.

Via Dolorosa

City of David

This museum starts with an introduction into the origins of the city, embedded in the biblical narrative. You can stroll through archaeological remains of the early city. Note the reused base of the statue of Hadrian that once stood on the Temple Mount. It sits upside down in the northern wall. Also see the pile of rubble of big stones just below the south-western part of the wall. These could be remains of the Jewish Temple, as the Romans shoved the rubble off the Temple Mount after its destruction.

St Anne and the baths of Bethesda

This is a crusader church under French custodianship. The architecture of the building shows the transition from the old and heavy Romanesque style to the modern (to Middle Agers) and light Gothic style. Outside the church are the baths of Bethesda. Here you can find various stages of ancient history using the baths. The spas were believed to be healing and maybe it is not surprising that Jesus healed a man here.

St. Anne

Mount of Olives

Leave the Old City through St Stephens Gate and stroll towards the garden of Gethsemane. Note the ancient graves on both sides of Kidron valley. People buried here believed that on the day of judgment the rising of the dead will start here and they basically want to be the first in the line. Some of the grave monuments are from biblical times. The garden of Gethsemane is the scene of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. The olive trees are truly ancient and some may date from the days of Jesus, or most likely a bit after that. Note that cemented rocks support some of the ancient trees. Continue further up to the Mount of Olives. Around you is the Jewish cemetery. On top of the hill you find a small chapel that commemorates the spot where locals believe Jesus ascended to heaven.

Tower of David

Another possible candidate for Pilate’s court, this is the location of an ancient palace, as well as the bases of the Roman 10th legion (which had a boar as its mascotte). The Citadel houses a museum of the origins of Jerusalem, again embedded in the biblical narrative. It’s a good chance to get your knowledge of the Old Testament back in order. At night, you can visit the Sound and Light Show, which is worth your while. Again, it’s a good opportunity to refresh your chronology of the Old Testament.

Ancient Streets, gates and walls

Don’t forget to take your time to stroll through the ancient streets and souqs of the Old City. The street pattern of Hadrians city of 134 AD is still mostly intact. Even though many of the shops sell tourist items, many others still provide for daily shopping.

Damascus Gate: Note that the ground at this gate is much lower than the surrounding area. This was actually the street level in Roman times and the base of the gate is originally Roman. Just inside the city was once a square, with a statue of Emperor Hadrian on top of a column – since the 10th century the Arab name of the gate is Bab El Amud, Gate of the Column.

Jaffa Gate: Local authorities created a large opening next to the Gate, that allowed the German emperor to enter in style on horse back in 1898. From the Jaffa Gate, you can buy tickets and stroll over the Turkish walls for a while. Another fun stroll is through the park, just outside the Walls.

Zion Gate: Here the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem started in the 1967 war. The Gate still carries the many scars of the bullet impacts.

Mount Zion

In the antiquity, this hill was within the city wall, but now it’s not. Here you find the Dormition, the church that commemorates where the virgin Mary ascended to heaven, though not as literal as her son Jesus. On this hill, you also find the 12th century building where Jesus’ last supper took place on the second floor.

Christ Church

Among the things to see in Jerusalem, there is an odd Anglican church. The Reformation in Europe happened at the time when the Turks conquered Jerusalem. Only in the 19th century did Anglicans and protestants manage to get a foot hold in Jerusalem. As you can see, the church resembles a synagogue. This fit the belief of some British and American evangelicals in the 19th century that the Day of Judgment would come when all Jews had converted to Christianity. The synagogue style of the church was supposed to help speed things up.

Yad Vashem and Holocaust Memorial

The holocaust is enshrined in the national psyche of Israel. Yad Vashem is an impressive place to improve your understanding of this horrendous part of history. This chilling exhibition shows you the reality of the mass murder in detail. In contrast, the Holocaust Memorial is a large, mostly empty hall, where your thoughts can go their own way.

Museum of the Seam

This museum is not really noteworthy for its collection (unless you’re into weird modern art), but more because the building was right on a dangerous border from 1948 and 1967. It is included among the things to see in Jerusalem because on the front, you can still see the severe damage of repeatedly being shot at and the windows still have the narrow slits where shots were being fired from.

Our favourite places to eat and drink  

  • Austrian Hospice: In the middle of the busy Old City this hotel is an oasis of calm. Built in the 19th century, it provided a place to stay for European pilgrims -all major European powers had such a hospice at the time.
  • Jerusalem Hotel: traditional Palestinian dinner in East Jerusalem
  • Llink: modern cuisine, always excellent quality food and always excellent wines (try the Pelter Trio!)
  • Cinemateque: (15 minutes walk from Jaffa Gate, outside the Walls) hip restaurant

View from the Mount of Olives, among the things to see in Jerusalem

Get in touch with us to include things to see in Jerusalem and the Holy Land in your itinerary, even if you have just one day!

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