The Old City
Four Stories from within the Walls
Behind the Ottoman-built walls dating to the 1500's sits the Old City of Jerusalem. Although not equally divided, the Old City of Jerusalem is made up of four distinct quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Muslim Quarter. (To read about the different sites in each quarter, see the links listed below.)
I have been to Israel on four different occasions. Every time I go, one of my most favorite places to go is inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The city wall gives one a sense of going back in time, a time when the entire city was contained within the walls. Every time I walk in one of the gates to the Old City, I feel as if I am entering a whole different world.
Here are four stories from my visits within the walls:
The Armenian Quarter
My usual entrance into the Armenian Quarter was the Zion Gate. From my room at Jerusalem University College, I hiked up a number of stairs which led directly to the gate. Once inside I crossed a busy street to a row of shops, most of which were filled with beautifully decorated ceramics: bowls, plates, cups, plaques, etc. On one of my trips, I was a part of a group of students taking part in an archaeological dig. As a gift to our professor, we all chipped in to buy her a set of three ceramic bowls, which we knew she absolutely loved because her favorite place to buy ceramics in Jerusalem was in the Armenian Quarter. If you’re looking for ceramics, this is the place to go!
The Jewish Quarter
From the Armenian Quarter I could easily find my way to the Jewish Quarter. Each of the quarters has its own feel, its own atmosphere. The Jewish Quarter was my place to go when I needed to relax, to not feel rushed, to sit and watch people, to see children at play, and to chat with the locals. There is a small bookstore in the Jewish Quarter called Shorashim of the Old City. It sits tucked in a corner. Its owners are two brothers who are more than willing to talk with their customers. They remember you when you come back. Right outside their store is a lovely café where you can sit and enjoy the atmosphere along with some good food. You should definitely stop in.
The Christian Quarter
My usual entrance into the Christian Quarter was through the Jaffa Gate. This was my first entrance into the Old City on my first visit. After the initial entrance into a wide open street, moving directly ahead you funnel down into the narrow, slippery streets lined with all kinds of shops. The shopkeepers stand at their entrances, inviting you to come inside. On several occasions, shopkeepers not only invited us into their stores to shop, but also sent one of their children down the street to buy cookies or crackers and drinks for us. One such shop is a small olive wood store, which sells beautiful handcrafted olive wood crosses. It is not a large shop. In fact, it is one of the smallest ones that I remember. It is located on a corner as you make your way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Even though the streets are narrow and crowded, and it feels as if I am walking through a maze, I have found this shop and visited it every time I have been in the Old City. I hope you can find it too.
The Muslim Quarter
I quickly learned that it is much easier, especially for those of us who tend to be a bit claustrophobic in crowds, to enter the Muslim Quarter through the Damascus Gate. On one visit, I and two friends unintentionally ended up in the Muslim Quarter. As I mentioned above, the streets often feel like you are walking through a maze and it is very easy to become disoriented until you get the hang of it. We had been walking through the streets, not realizing the time. And the time was soon to be the Muslim call to prayer. Thus, the already crowded streets in this quarter quickly became wall to wall people. My face was in my friend’s back. Really, in his back. My other friend was immediately behind me holding onto me. All of a sudden I heard shouts. I couldn’t see what was going on, nor could I understand what was being said! All I knew was what was my friend in front of me told me—that there was a man waving a gun! We found out that the shouting and gun-waving was all part of a celebration!! What we also found was some of the best falafel in all of the Old City! Make sure you try some.