From the sky, Jerusalem is a mass of white stone dwellings, spread over hilltops, with the walled Old City as a center point. Despite the city's buildings all being made from the same stone, (this is according to a planning law), the diversity from area to area is huge, with each neighborhood being its own little world. Within a matter of kilometers you can switch from the history and intensity of the Old City, to the cosmopolitan buzz of downtown, from the hubbub of a souk to the peacefulness of a panoramic look-out point, from hearing Arabic on Salah Al-Din Street to Hebrew in Malha Mall, from the religiosity of Mea Shearim to the dance club culture of Talpiot.
The walled Old City is the center of Jerusalem (but sometimes feels like the center of the world), with Jewish West Jerusalem on its one side and Arab East Jerusalem on its other. It's a wonderful place to get lost in by day and to marvel at its fairytale-like beauty when it is floodlit at night. A walk around the Ramparts Walk of the city walls is recommended to get a feel for the geography of the Old City, which is composed of several different areas: the Muslim , Christian , Armenian , and Jewish Quarters as well as the highly contested Temple Mount. These quarters within the Old City can be divided into East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem.
The Temple Mount is the location where it is said that Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son. Later, the First and Second Temples were built on this site, and it is believed that this is also the location from where the Islamic prophet Mohammed went to heaven. The gleaming gold-topped Dome of the Rock mosque, which dominates the Jerusalem skyline, stands in this compound as does Al-Aqsa Mosque .
The only remaining wall of the Temple provides the border between the Temple Mount and Jewish Quarter . This is the Western (Wailing) Wall and Judaism's most holy site, where worshippers pray verbally and stick written prayers into the cracks between the ancient bricks. The Jewish quarter also contains numerous religious institutions, museums and archaeological sites, such as the Cardo , an ancient Roman thoroughfare.
Another must-see area is West Jerusalem's Mea Shearim , which is inhabited by strictly Orthodox Jews living a life devoted to the Torah and dressing in the same way they have been doing for the last hundred years. Visitors should walk around this area with respect - in modest dress, without a camera, and refraining from public displays of affection.
The adjacent areas of Nahlaot and Mahane Yehuda Market are fascinating to walk through during the day - a bustling market and a pedestrianized residential area with the sound of song floating down alleyways and the poor and the gentrified living side by side in this old part of town.
Bordering the other side of the Temple Mount is the Muslim Quarter , which is rich in architecture from the Mamluk period (1250-1516). Its souks, which wind through countless alleys, are a treat for the senses, where you can experience the scent of Turkish coffee, the cries of the market sellers and interesting merchandise ranging from hair ribbons to chicken legs to feast your eyes on.
For people watching in East Jerusalem, the Damascus Gate area and Salah Al-Din Street are a hive of activity with vendors selling produce along the roadside and service taxis coming and going from Palestinian areas all over the country.
The differences in language, sights, and sounds between East and West Jerusalem will make you think you have arrived in a new country. Jaffa Gate is the entrance to the Armenian Quarter and Christian Quarters. On your way in, you will pass the Tower of David Museum . The Armenian Quarter is home to some 1000 Armenian residents, and much of the life of this community goes on behind the high walls of the Armenian Compound.
Within the Christian Quarter is the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is said to have been crucified. Many pilgrims follow Jesus' last footsteps to this church along the 500 meter (one third mile) Via Dolorosa , (which is best approached from Lion's Gate). The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and the Ethiopian Compound are also in this quarter.
Outside the Old City
One kilometer outside the walls of the ancient city (exit from Lion's Gate), more religious sites and wonderful views can be taken in from atop the Mount of Olives, home to the spectacular St Mary Magdalene , with its golden rooftop, the Chapel of the Ascension where they say Jesus rose to heaven and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary .
For fun, try the Russian Compund at night (West Jerusalem's bar area) and the touristy Ben Yehuda Street, Zion Square and surrounding alleyways, which have a lively mix of cafes, restaurants and specialty stores.
To get a feel for what hip locals like to do at night, go to the German Colony's Emek Refaim Street - a strip of eateries a couple of kilometers South of the Old City, with outdoor tables and specialty stores or the industrial zone of Talpiot (a few kilometers further south along the same road), which houses some of the city's dance clubs.
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