Jerusalem Old City Walking Tour, Jerusalem

Jerusalem Old City Walking Tour (Self Guided), Jerusalem

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, the Old City of Jerusalem is best explored on foot, since its narrow streets and alleys make it almost an entirely vehicle-free zone. In addition to hosting four ethnic quarters, – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian – it is packed with major historical and religious sites, which all make a trip here unique, unforgettable and not to be missed.

The area is home to the holiest sites of three Abrahamic religions, namely Judaism’s Western Wall, Islam’s Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Particularly noteworthy is the Temple Mount, believed to be the site of King Solomon’s Temple, which was completed in 957 BCE and then destroyed by the Babylonians. The mount is extremely important to Muslims because of the present al-Aqsa Mosque – the main place of Islamic worship in Jerusalem. It’s just as much revered by Jews around the world who pray towards the former Solomon Temple’s direction, believing that God’s divine presence is manifested there more than anywhere on earth. Jews also believe that the Third Temple will be built on the Temple Mount before the coming to earth of the future messiah.

The walled city is entered by one of seven entry gates, most convenient of which is the Jaffa Gate. Next to it is the city’s citadel, known as the Tower of David, which not only provides Jerusalem’s history, but also affords full-circle views of its old and new architecture.

Don’t miss a visit to St Anne’s Church – a superb example of Crusader architecture with a grotto underneath, believed to be the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. Near its quiet grounds you’ll find the site of one of Jesus’s miracles – the Pools of Bethesda, as well as the path on which he carried the cross from Pilate's palace to the hill of Golgotha.

Join us on this self-guided orientation walk to be amazed by the key historical sights of Jerusalem’s Old City!
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Jerusalem Old City Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Jerusalem Old City Walking Tour
Guide Location: Israel » Jerusalem (See other walking tours in Jerusalem)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Jaffa Gate
  • Tower of David
  • David Street Arab Market (Shuk)
  • Western Wall Tunnel (Kotel)
  • Western (Wailing) Wall
  • al-Aqsa Mosque
  • Temple Mount
  • Dome of the Rock
  • Lions’ Gate
  • St. Anne's Church
  • Pool of Bethesda
  • Ecce Homo Convent
  • Via Dolorosa
  • Damascus (Shechem) 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
Western Wall Tunnel (Kotel)

4) Western Wall Tunnel (Kotel) (must see)

Visitors to Jerusalem can see the relatively small, 200-foot long above ground portion of the Western Wall by going to the Old City near the Al-Aqsa Mosque. They will see the preserved limestone wall built in 19 BCE by Herod the Great.

Those who want to see even more of the wall can head to the tunnels. The Western Wall Tunnel is a 1,601-foot expanse of wall that is entirely hidden underground. It is located under the Old City and much of the Muslim Quarter.

The goal behind erecting the Western Wall was to double the size of the Temple Mount. In 70 CE, the structure was destroyed by Romans. The area that was exposed became a venerated place of prayer, but the rest was built upon and left unseen.

Excavation on the Western Wall Tunnel began in 1864. They continued for about 20 years. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation was formed in the late 19th century with the goal to maintain and renovate the site.

Access to the Western Wall Tunnel is at the Western Wall Plaza. Visitors must be a part of a guided tour that is booked in advance.

If you are claustrophobic, stay calm – some areas are narrow but there are alcoves throughout to provide enough breathing space. Also, in winter, it is quite warm down there, so no need to dress a lot.
Western (Wailing) Wall

5) Western (Wailing) Wall (must see)

The Western Wall – otherwise known as the Wailing Wall, the Place of Weeping, or the Buraq Wall – is part of the last remaining wall of the Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem, and was built in 19 BCE by Herod the Great. The king expanded the Temple Mount area artificially and had the wall built to retain the soil and filler added during that period.

The wall stands about 100 feet high from its foundation, of which only approximately 60 feet are showing above ground. Out of total 45 stone courses laid, only 28 are visible. The first seven layers are dating from the time of Herod the Great, four more layers were added by the Umayyad Caliphate – around 600 CE, and another 14 during the Ottoman period in the 1860s. Finally, the last three layers were added by the Mufti of Jerusalem in the 1920s. No further additions have occurred since the Six-Day War of 1967.

The size of the stones used in the construction is enormous, some weighing between two and eight tons, and one huge stone near Wilson’s Arch weighing alone a staggering 570 tons!!! The amount of effort put into the project of such magnitude is hard to overestimate.

The Wailing Wall has been the site of Jewish pilgrimage and prayer since at least the 300s CE, and is considered to be one of the holiest places for Jews because of its proximity to the Temple Mount. The name “wailing” derives from the Jewish practice of mourning the loss of the Holy Temple on the Temple Mount. The plaza in front of the wall was built after the Six-Day War as a gathering place for worshipers.

Both men and women are allowed to pray at the wall, although they must use separate entrances. The wall is particularly busy at Sabbath which commences at sundown on Friday and lasts until sundown on Saturday. It has now become a tradition to bring to the wall a prayer request written on a small slip of paper to be stuck between the stones. These papers are removed once a month and taken to the Mount of Olives.

When visiting, make sure to bring along a valid ID (passport); expect tight security, and dress modestly.
No pictures are allowed during the Sabbath. The entry is free.
al-Aqsa Mosque

6) al-Aqsa Mosque

Translated as "the Distant Mosque", al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest mosque in Jerusalem. It stands on the Temple Mount, also known in Arabic as Hara mesh-Sharif, which means “Noble Sanctuary”. Quite possibly, it sits on the site of the very first mosque built in Jerusalem in 638. Over the course of the millennium, al-Aqsa has been destroyed twice by earthquakes, damaged multiple times by natural and man-made causes, and rebuilt several times.

While most of the additions to the building made by the Crusaders, Fatimids, Mamluks, and Ayyubids have not survived to our day, some of them are still visible. In 1951, king Abdullah of Jordan was assassinated in the southern wing of the Mosque. Bullet holes in the stonework and a small memorial at the site remind of that tragedy.

The southern portion of al-Aqsa is known primarily for the Mihrab of Zacharia (Crusader chapel), which is a niche facing in the direction of Mecca, lavishly decorated by Saladin. Its lovely mosaics around the central aisle arch and the dome have stood the test of time, much as the stunning rose window and the Double Gate (original entrance to the Temple Mount). The pillars have been reconstructed, but the columns are all originals built by king Herod.

Although most of the mosque interior is from the 20th century, it is not less beautiful and includes seven aisles, more than 120 stained-glass windows, 45 columns supporting the building, of which 33 are made of white marble. The lower part of the mosque – al-Aqsa Qadima (ancient al-Aqsa) – is a restricted area, usually closed to the public.

Non-Muslims are not allowed in without a guide. If so, you can still enjoy the outside architecture for a few minutes, as part of a visit to the Dome of the Rock.
Temple Mount

7) Temple Mount (must see)

The Temple Mount is one of the sacred most spots in Jerusalem and, perhaps, the entire world. From a topographical standpoint, it represents an elevated plateau located in the oldest part of the city, while politically, this piece of land is governed by the Supreme Muslim Religious Council.

Subject to claim by three major religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), this holy place is known in Hebrew as Har haBáyit (“Noble Sanctuary”) and in Arabic as Haram esh-Sharif. For Christians and Jews, the Temple Mount is sacred primarily for its association with the Temple of Jerusalem that once stood here. In the apocalyptic texts of the Bible, it is also said that Jesus will descend upon the Earth here once again to start the Kingdom of God. The Muslims, in turn, consider this place important because, according to the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad ascended from here to Heaven.

This sacred ground has also been the mythical location of the binding of Isaac, where the presence of Yahweh came to rest, and even the place where, according to the Bible, Adam was created from the proverbial dust of the ground. It might therefore be a good idea for those visiting the Temple Mount to study the myths associated with it beforehand, so as to appreciate the importance of this place in its entirety.

It is probably best to have an experienced guide take you around the Temple Mount, so as to ensure coming at the right hours, getting access, etc.
You can access through the wooden bridge on the Western Wall plaza. There is a strict security check at the entrance, so don't forget your passport.
Whatever you do, try and come early while the others are still asleep, as this is one of those places worth visiting in a completely serene and relaxed atmosphere.
Dome of the Rock

8) Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock is a Muslim shrine located at the top of the Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem, and was built in 691 CE by Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik. It is believed to be standing over a stone that is regarded sacred by many religions.

Muslims claim it was on this stone that Archangel Gabriel brought Muhammad to pray with Abraham, Jesus, and Moses, and where from Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven during the Night Journey to Jerusalem. A monument to that is the oldest preserved Mihrab in the Islamic world. Jews reckon it was on this rock that Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, and both Christians and Muslims also believe that it was the site of Solomon’s Temple later destroyed. In fact, several subsequent churches built by the Knights Templar follow the same design as that of this shrine.

On the outside, the Dome of the Rock is covered in exquisite tile-work and white marble, while its inside features octagonal shape with an outside ring and inner circle. This is to represent the circular movement around Ka’ba in Mecca made by pilgrims who visit there. The sacred rock is protected by a wooden screen that replaces the wrought iron one erected by the Knights Templar. That screen is now kept in the Islamic Museum.

Over the course of the centuries, the temple has been refurbished several times with an extensive renovation to the tile-work (adhering to the original design much as possible), grand inside mosaics and dome renovation which saw the original gold replaced with aluminum covered in gold leaf (a gift from king Hussein of Jordan) making it a truly spectacular sight.

There is a combined fee charged for the entry to the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Islamic Museum. Opening hours vary and only Muslims are allowed to enter at certain times. Non-Muslims use a separate entrance.
If your clothing doesn't meet the dress code, you will be loaned a pair of pants to cover your legs or a scarf to cover your head.
Lions’ Gate

9) Lions’ Gate

The Lions’ Gate takes its name after the pairs of stone animals carved into the design. Legend has it that sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who built the wall around Jerusalem in the 16th century, had a nightmare in which he saw lions about to devour him as he had failed to secure defenses for this part of the citadel.

Waking up, he ordered a wall to be built with the lions placed at the city gate. There are speculations as to whether the carvings are actually lions and not panthers, in which case they may depict animals from the crest of the Mameluke sultan Baybars, and thus be part of an older building.

Another name for this point of entry is “Bab Sitt Maryam” and it refers to Mary, mother of Jesus. Legend has it that she has been laid to rest somewhere around the Kidron Valley. In Christian tradition and lore, this gate is also known as St. Stephen's, the first Christian martyr who was stoned to death. On a Palm Sunday, there is a procession recreating the historical route of Jesus from Scripture, passing through the gate from the Mount into the Old City.

The Arabic name for the gate is "Meshikuli", which in more modern terms means “wicket” – a small opening in a wall – through which, back in the day, people could watch those approaching and, in case of attack, pour boiling oil or tar onto the enemies' heads.

Why You Should Visit:
Impressive and incredibly well-preserved historic sight, considering it has never been restored!

Can get crowded, especially on Fridays, because of the influx of Muslims coming for prayer at the nearby al-Aqsa Mosque.
St. Anne's Church

10) St. Anne's Church (must see)

St. Anne’s Church is found next to the Bethesda Pool by the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem, almost at the outset of the Via Dolorosa and, as with most structures in the city, the history of this location is fascinating. This church is a great example of a 12th-century Crusader house of worship. Although throughout centuries the building has been used in many different ways, most of its original design, rather severe in appearance, has been preserved, in large part, due to the 19th century restoration.

St. Anne’s was built in 1131-1133 over the presumed site where grandmother of Jesus, Anne, gave birth to his mother, Mary. As such, the church replaced the destroyed Byzantine temple that stood on this site previously. One of the interesting things about it is the asymmetry. When visiting, be sure to check out the asymmetrical style, count the number of steps on the one side and then the other.

Another peculiarity is the incredible acoustics of the building. Designed to accommodate Gregorian chants, the church is open to singers, but only those with religious repertoire. Music from any religion is welcome. The reverberations are simply phenomenal, particularly for the tenor or soprano solo voices.

Why You Should Visit:
Landmark location – at the start of the Via Dolorosa, above street level.
Attractive architecture – rebuilt by the Crusaders in the 12th century, the church is also historically interesting.
Extremely beautiful church garden.
Excavations of the Pools of Bethesda may induce those archaeologically-minded to stick around a bit longer.

If you intend to visit, come early in the morning so as to enjoy this place while it's not so crowded.
If you come here to sing alone or with a group, take advantage of the acoustics and hold the last note to let the room sustain it for you. The reverb is measured in seconds.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 8am-12pm / 2-5pm
Pool of Bethesda

11) Pool of Bethesda

The Pool of Bethesda is a small body of water found in the Muslim part of Jerusalem, en route to the Beth Zeta Valley. In the Bible, there is an account of such place near the Sheep Gate, encircled with five grand colonnades. Its water is considered to have healing properties.

While there is no conclusive evidence that this is the pool mentioned in the Gospel (the only recorded mention of it is that in the writing of John), many a people regard this place sacred all the same.

The existence of this place was confirmed in the 19th century when archaeologists discovered remnants of the pool which coincidentally matched to a tee the detailed description from the New Testament.

This tranquil location is a must-visit for those in the belief that this is the source of healing water mentioned in the Bible. However, even the non-believers may find it interesting from a purely archaeological standpoint.
Ecce Homo Convent

12) Ecce Homo Convent

Thousands of pilgrims each year walk under the impressive stone arch spanning the narrow Via Dolorosa in the Muslim Quarter, near Station I and II, without realizing the extensive remains of first-century Jerusalem lying beneath their feet. For centuries many believed this arch was part of an ancient arch in the Antonia Fortress where, according to the New Testament (John 19-15), the Roman governor Pontius Pilate presented Jesus — beaten, crowned with thorns and clothed in a purple robe — to a hostile mob with the words: “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the man” or “This is the man” in Latin), prior to sentencing him to death.

This belief persists in many publications, although archaeologists prove that this arch was built after the times of Jesus. Some say it was originally a city gate from the Herod Agrippa I period (41-44 AD), while others reckon it is a remaining part of the monumental ramp built by the Romans in 70 AD during the Jewish Rebellion, whereas others claim it was part of the three-arch Roman victory gate that served entrance to a great public forum (plaza) constructed by emperor Hadrian during reconstruction of the city in 135 AD — a century after Jesus was crucified.

A big central arch seen in the street today used to have smaller arches on both sides. Eventually, the small northern arch was integrated into the adjacent Convent of the Sisters of Zion, built in 1857; one can enter the monastic church and view the northern arch free of charge. The Church of Ecce Homo, also known as the Basilica of Ecce Homo, is named for Pontius Pilate's Ecce Homo speech, which is likely to have taken place on the pavement below this church.
Via Dolorosa

13) Via Dolorosa (must see)

Via Dolorosa is the Latin for the “Way of Grief” or the “Way of Suffering”. It is interesting that while most signs in Jerusalem are in Hebrew, English and Arabic, this road is the only one known by its Latin name. The road is popular among Christian pilgrims who believe it traces the steps of Jesus carrying a cross en route to his crucifixion.

14 Stations mark the path along this route, including five of them within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Although anyone can walk the Via Dolorosa at any time, every Friday around 3pm, a group is lead by the Franciscan monks along the path, offering the best way to experience the walk. This area can be very crowded and the signs a bit hard to find. At spots, the walk backtracks a bit and station IX can be particularly difficult to locate. Some may find the noisy streets a bit distracting while searching for a quiet spot to pray or contemplate the area's religious significance.

There have been several different versions of the path throughout history; the current one was set in the 1700s and follows the route charted by the early Byzantine Christians. The stations are marked with the round signs, showing Roman numerals, marking the Stations of the Cross. Different religious groups start the walk at different sites.

Usually, the journey begins at the site where Jesus was tried and convicted, in the Muslim part of Old Jerusalem – near Lion’s gate, although some may opt for Herod’s Palace at the Jaffa Gate. The route ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and covers approximately 500 meters.

There is no entrance fee to the Via Dolorosa. There are many churches along the way to visit and several gift shops offering religious items. Re-enactments are frequently held along the Via Dolorosa, especially around the Holy Week.

The cobbled stone path can be very slippery. If it rains, some of the road sections must be walked with extreme caution. Certain parts can be rather steep, with many stairs and inclines.
Unless you wake up at 5am, don't expect much time for a quiet contemplation here, as there's too much hustle & bustle around and you will need to walk quickly or be run over by a motorcycle, human, or a goat!
Best come with a tour guide or bring a very comprehensive map/book and have a camera ready! Besides the spiritual significance of the area, the artwork and architecture are quite impressive too.
Damascus (Shechem) Gate

14) Damascus (Shechem) Gate

One of the main entrances to the Eastern part of Old Jerusalem, this gate is named after the Syrian capital which lies some 135 miles (or 220 kilometers) up north. The structure has remained pretty much intact since the time it was built, between 1537 and 1542, under the reign and direct supervision of Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. The size of the gate, however, resulted from the work commissioned centuries before that by another ruler – Roman emperor Hadrian – and it was a column, owing to which is yet another name for this gate, “Bab al-Amud” (Gate of the Column).

Today, this is by far one of the busiest and most colorful spots in the Old City. In many ways, this gate symbolizes a sort of opening to a microcosm of the Palestinian world. Here, vendors heading to and from the Old City bring their goods, and the life boils with activity pretty much as it has done for centuries before.

A sign of modern day reality, however, is the presence of the Israeli soldiers standing guard on the steps of the nearby buildings. Still, the area is dominated primarily by the vendors offering herbs, fresh produce and other goods to the passers-by. Local women are distinctively famous for wearing embroidered dresses that are a part of their dowry and identity.

Why You Should Visit:
This is one of the Old City's prettiest gates with the castellated wall. Truly majestic!

The gate area is super busy, if not intimidating, towards the end of Ramadan. When it's Friday in Ramadan, DO NOT try to exit the gate, for it will be like swimming against the tide!
Right outside the gate there are few stalls selling all kinds of fruits and vegetables, as well as dry and canned goods and other household stuff. The prices here are quite affordable and the produce is always fresh.

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