Armenian Quarter Walking Tour, Jerusalem

Armenian Quarter Walking Tour (Self Guided), Jerusalem

Smaller and quieter than the Old City's other three quarters, the Armenian quarter contains a series of winding cobblestoned streets and alleyways teeming with people, shops, coffee stands, ceramic workshops and hookah bars. A city in miniature with distinct language, alphabet and culture, it has been in place since the 4th century, when Armenia adopted Christianity as a national religion.

Accessible through the Jaffa and Zion gates, its star attractions include the Tower of David – one of the city’s most interesting historic sights, home to a spectacular sound and light show in the evening; the captivating St. James Cathedral and its amazing choir; and what is considered to be the first church after Jesus’s resurrection – St Mark’s. At the quarter’s southern end, the Zion Gate, built by Suleiman the Magnificent’s engineers, provides access to neighboring Mount Zion.

In between these sights, make sure to stop by the open Arabic bazaar at David Street, the elegant Neo-Gothic Christ Church (oldest Protestant building in the Middle East!), and the Armenian Museum, whose most powerful exhibit depicts the nation’s genocide in Turkey during World War I.

As with the other quarters, a visit to the Armenian quarter is a must, so take this self-guided tour to walk your way through!
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Armenian Quarter Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Armenian Quarter Walking Tour
Guide Location: Israel » Jerusalem (See other walking tours in Jerusalem)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Jaffa Gate
  • Tower of David
  • David Street Arab Market (Shuk)
  • St. Mark's Monastery
  • Christ Church
  • St. James Cathedral
  • Armenian Museum
  • Zion Gate
Jaffa Gate

1) Jaffa Gate

The Jaffa Gate is one of the eight points of entry to the Old City Jerusalem, and was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century. It is also the only structural opening in the wall surrounding the city that is set at a 90 degree angle; no doubt, this was done as a defensive measure. Located on the western side, it faces in the direction of the eponymous town of Jaffa – hence the name.

The gate goes by several other different names as well, including “Sha'ar Yafo” in Hebrew and “Bab el-Khalil” in Arabic which means "the gate of a friend." The ''friend'' part refers to prophet Abraham, “the friend of God”. Legend has it that the prophet was buried here somewhere, and since Hebron was his hometown, another name for this place is the "Hebron Gate." It is also often referred to as the “prayer niche of David.” During the Crusader period, it was known as “David’s Gate” because of its proximity to the Tower of David.

It was also from this spot that the Biblical character Jonah embarked on a sea voyage, and pilgrims used to debark here on their trip to the Holy City as well. Even today, the old road starting from the gate is still in use, converted to a superhighway linking Jerusalem with Tel Aviv.
Tower of David

2) Tower of David (must see)

The Tower of David is an old stronghold near the Jaffa Gate, and was built to create a sense of security in what traditionally had been a very unfortified part of Old Jerusalem. The structure is named so due to the Byzantine Christians who used to live nearby and believed that this was the original site of the palace of king David.

The tower dates back to the 2nd century BC and, like many other buildings in the area, was destroyed and rebuilt several times – by the Christians, Muslims, Mamluks, and Ottomans. Some of the archaeological findings here are aged almost 3,000 years.

In 1989, the Jerusalem Foundation opened a museum within the tower, recounting a nearly 4,000-year stretch of history, all the way back to the Canaanite period. The top of the tower offers a beautiful full-circle view of Jerusalem. The place is also a very popular venue for concerts, musical shows, craft exhibits and other public events, all of which bring almost 3.5 million visitors to this site each year.

A spectacular sound-and-light 45-minute show runs here every night and is worth seeing – just make sure to book early, as it sells out quickly.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu, Sat: 9am-4pm; Friday, holiday eves and holidays: 9am-2pm
David Street Arab Market (Shuk)

3) David Street Arab Market (Shuk)

Running downhill from the Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall, David Street is a pedestrian pathway separating the Christian Quarter from the Armenian. The proximity of the Jaffa Gate and the beauty of the street itself regularly draw a large varied crowd, attesting to which is a constant hustle and bustle: Jews heading for service to the Western Wall, Christian pilgrims proceeding to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Muslims going up to pray on the Temple Mount, and thousands of tourists and visitors just hanging around.

Too narrow for motor vehicles and with just about enough space to push through an occasional three-wheeled cart, this part of the Old City is a home to the most famous tourist market in Jerusalem, the Arab Market (or “Arab Shuk”), comprising several different parts. The one in the Christian Quarter is mostly tourist-oriented with a major emphasis on Christian-themed gifts. There are a few nice bakeries and small supermarkets found in the area, too, that serve local residents.

NOTE: Haggling is appropriate only with regards to tourist items, household goods and so on. Produce stalls have fixed prices (sometimes written on signs, often only in Arabic, and sometimes not written). You DON'T haggle over prices at produce stalls; the shopkeepers will find it amusing at best and slightly offensive at worst if you try to do so.

Opening Hours:
Sat-Thu: 9am–7pm
Trading on Friday, the Muslim holy day, is quite restrained
St. Mark's Monastery

4) St. Mark's Monastery

Editor's Note: Closed for renovation until May 2020 at the least.

One of Jerusalem's many hidden treasures, this ancient monastery is home to one of the smallest Christian communities in Jerusalem, but also the setting for a remarkable set of traditions — including the claim to be the site of the house of Mary, mother of St. Mark the Evangelist, and the Upper Room of the Last Supper of Christ with His disciples. Because Jerusalem has been destroyed and built over many times, this Upper Room is now beneath the church and is known as the 'upper room down below'.

One can visit with the (free) guidance of church staff who give a quick (English) explanation in the small worship hall. You will see the decorative and gilded altar, an ornately-carved patriarchal throne, and iconic images including a parchment painting of the Virgin and Child which the monks ascribe to Luke the Evangelist. Given the age and delicacy of this ancient artwork, it is strictly off-limits for photography.

For those inclined to think of worship more liturgically, St. Mark's employs the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity, based on the rite of the early Christian Church of Jerusalem. The language used is Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic that Jesus spoke.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-1pm / 3-5pm
Christ Church

5) Christ Church

Built in 1849, this elegant Neo-Gothic style church just across the street from Jaffa Gate proudly holds the title of the oldest Protestant building in Jerusalem, and indeed all the Middle East. Often called the "Jewish Protestant Church", it is as unique as it is controversial; when writing about the establishment of this community of faith, a historian once called it one of the weirdest moments in all Christendom.

Taking the Apostle Paul's example seriously, the foremost mission for the group was to evangelize the Jews. The founders also felt that Biblical prophecy pointed to the fact that Zion would come to know Jesus as the true Messiah. As far as the outside world goes, the building would be a reminder of the need to always remember the contribution of God's chosen people, hence why it was built with lots of symbolic artwork that point back to promises made in the Bible. One can also find ornate stained glassed windows – which sport Jewish symbols – in the sanctuary, while the altar area is adorned with a beautiful version of the Hebrew Ten Commandments.

Adjacent to the property, Christ Church also manages a well-priced guest house, along with a coffeehouse, a restaurant, and a bookstore with good postcards and souvenirs. If you just want a full meal, go through the coffeehouse and up to the restaurant (but don't forget to buy a meal ticket at the guest house).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am–8pm; Sunday worship (English): 9:30am, 6:30pm
St. James Cathedral

6) St. James Cathedral

Nestled within a walled compound in the ancient Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, the Church of St. James – dedicated to two martyred saints of that name – is one of the most artfully decorated worship places in the Holy Land. According to Armenian tradition, within the church are buried the head of St. James the Great – one of the first apostles to follow Jesus, and the body of St. James the Less, believed to be a close relative of Jesus, who later became the first Bishop of Jerusalem.

Here you will see a church decorated in Byzantine and early Christian style and witness a centuries-old ritualistic service, with lovely hymns and chants that are unique to the Armenian liturgy. It's an educational and enlightening way to spend 30 minutes of your time if you are visiting the Armenian Quarter during the afternoon. At other times, you can enter the peaceful courtyard to see the exterior, which is decorated with khachkars (stone crosses surrounded by intricate tracery) and tiled murals depicting the Last Judgement and the Apostles.

Dimly lit by a forest of golden oil-lamps hung from the ceiling, the church interior is quite ornate with frescoes, engravings, tiling, metalworks, hanging incense burners, chandeliers, decorative altar, and even a second-floor globe. There is much to keep the eyes busy while you listen to and witness the service. At the end, you can take pictures for around 10 minutes before church staff kindly usher guests out of the building.

Only open during daily services, so plan your visit to coincide.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 6:30–7:30am / 3–3:40pm; free admission
Armenian Museum

7) Armenian Museum

Set in a rather magnificent open courtyard just off the main road to the Armenian Quarter, this museum gives a rare glimpse into the art, culture and history of Jerusalem's Armenian community. Its rich collection is arranged in nearly 40 rooms and features Roman and Byzantine mosaics alleged to have been made by Armenian artisans, but perhaps the most substantial and exquisite exhibits are the jewel-encrusted, brightly colored, illuminated manuscripts, some dating back to the 10th century.

Other highlights include the first printing machine of the Middle East and some of the first photos of Jerusalem, depicting 19th-century everyday life in the Holy City, intricate 17th-century filigree artifacts, and ritual objects such as jeweled crosses, miters, and embroidery.

Another section is devoted to the Armenian Genocide, with numerous testimonies and facts about the crimes committed in the name of ethnic purity and religious supremacy.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9:30am–4:30pm
Zion Gate

8) Zion Gate

One of the eight gates built into the walls of the Old City, the Zion Gate – also called David's Gate – leads directly into the Armenian and Jewish Quarters, and if the legends are true about the famous Jewish king being buried here, then the name fits well.

Built by Suleiman the Magnificent's engineers circa 1540, it allowed direct access from the city to the holy sites on Mt Zion. In the 19th century, the area close to the gate became famous as a gathering place of lepers.

In 1948, during the Arab-Israeli War, this territory saw severe fighting when Israeli soldiers were desperate to breach the walls to relieve the Jewish Quarter under siege by Palestinian Arab forces. A testament to that event is the gate's exterior terribly pockmarked with bullet holes. A short distance to the west reveals conspicuous damage to the base of the wall where soldiers attempted to blast their way through with explosives.

When the last of the British troops left Jerusalem on May 13, 1948, the then president of the Old City's Jewish community, Mordechai Weingarten was presented with a key to the gate.

The Zion Gate retained its angular features designed to prevent invaders from entering – but you can come in the opposite direction and 'invade' the Old City 24 hours a day.

The walls along here are especially nice and make for some fine photos in the afternoon sun.

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