Jewish Quarter Walking Tour, Jerusalem

Jewish Quarter Walking Tour (Self Guided), Jerusalem

Entirely rebuilt in the 1980s after having been largely destroyed during the 1948 War, the Jewish Quarter is quite distinct from the rest of the Old City. Good signposting, spacious passageways, art galleries and a somewhat less buzzing atmosphere make the area a relaxing place to spend some time.

With its rebuilt residential buildings, some almost consider this area the "New Jerusalem"; however, while here, one is surrounded by religious, archaeological, cultural and historical sites, any one of which one could spend hours or even days at.

While, arguably, the quarter’s most impressive synagogue is the thrice-rebuilt Hurva, two of the four Sephardic synagogues date back even further to the early 17th century. These all contain much ornate decoration and are so close together that as you leave one, the same door takes you directly into the next. Rather curiously as well, the adjacent Ramban Synagogue – 2nd-oldest of its kind in the Old City – is believed to have been built on Mount Zion and then moved there in the 14th century.

Also worth noting, today’s Old City streets still broadly follow the pattern laid down by the Romans, as proven by the Cardo – an excavated and partially reconstructed section of the main street of Byzantine-era Jerusalem. By booking a tour in advance, you can even explore a below-street-level tunnel dug by archaeologists under the Western Wall – Judaism’s holiest site, awaiting at the end of the itinerary.

Take this self-guided walk to explore the Jewish Quarter’s main points of interest, both above and below ground!
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Jewish Quarter Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Jewish 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: 1.1 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Zion Gate
  • The Four Sephardic Synagogues
  • Ramban Synagogue
  • Hurva Synagogue
  • Wohl Archaeological Museum
  • The Cardo
  • Western Wall Tunnel (Kotel)
  • Western (Wailing) Wall
Zion Gate

1) 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.
The Four Sephardic Synagogues

2) The Four Sephardic Synagogues

This delightful complex of small interlinking synagogues, built by the first Sephardic community settled in Jerusalem in the late 13th century and recently restored to its splendor with furniture and articulate designs collected from similar synagogues in Sephardic countries, is a beautiful testament to times that were.

As the Sephardic community grew, new synagogues were built according to the Ottoman Empire's requirement that "no infidel prayer house could stand higher than a neighboring Moslem holy place" – this stipulation was circumvented by having the ground floor below street level. Later on, during Israel's War of Independence, the Jews of the Old City's Jewish Quarter sought refuge in these synagogues.

When the Old City fell into the hands of the Jordanian Legion, the synagogues were destroyed; thereafter, the Jordanians used the area for livestock stalls. In the aftermath of the Six-Day War (1967), Jewish organizations around the world and the Israeli government worked together to meticulously restore the synagogues to their former status and appearance. Pictures of the synagogue before and after the war are displayed.

If you're interested in synagogues and/or Sephardic Judaism, this is a must-see. The history here and the lack of tourist traffic make it a beautifully peaceful, special place on the edge of the Jewish Quarter.
Ramban Synagogue

3) Ramban Synagogue

Lying directly adjacent to and on a lower level from the newly restored Hurva Synagogue, the Ramban Synagogue is considered the oldest active such house of worship in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was instituted by famous medieval scholar Nahmanides, who arrived in Jerusalem as a refugee from Spain in 1267 and inspired the return of a Jewish community to the city, after the Crusaders had murdered all the Jews therein in 1099, and denied them further access.

The synagogue was damaged in an earthquake in the 15th century and abandoned until being rediscovered in 1972, during the restoration, after 1967, of the Jewish Quarter, destroyed by the Jordanians during their occupation (1948-1967). Intriguingly, the house of worship was re-opened 700 years after its first restoration. Its entrance is to the left, by the olive tree, if facing the Hurva Synagogue from the square. One goes in through the stone gateway and descends the steps, and is politely received, except during the prayers; and please, modest dress (no tank tops, revealing clothing or shorts on either sex; covered heads for men), and no photography or cellulars on Shabbat. Entry is free!
Hurva Synagogue

4) Hurva Synagogue

The Hurva Synagogue is a testament to the perseverance of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. It has been built and destroyed no less than three times in its 300-year history, and even its name means "ruins" in Hebrew, yet it has risen, phoenix-like, from its ashes. Restored to its former 19th-century Neo-Byzantine style and finally re-inaugurated in 2010, it is beautifully decorated – though not over-ornate – inside, and a very curious synagogue to visit, too.

Since it is used day in day out, you can watch believers on the ground floor studying the Torah or working with computers (apparently the most natural thing to do), albeit you cannot join them as a non-Jew. What you can do, for a fee, is take a lift to a walkway around the dome, from which you can see the synagogue's interior and admire its monumental ark, its stained glass windows, and the 19th-century ruins that have been incorporated into the current construction. From the footbridge, you can also access an outdoor gazebo that offers beautiful views of the Jewish Quarter, the minaret of the Mosque of Omar right next door, and the charming sunny plaza in front of the synagogue – the social center of the Jewish Quarter.

Entrance is at the backside, on HaYehudim Street, a little bit hidden away.
There's an interesting audio guide available that takes you around the building.
Wohl Archaeological Museum

5) Wohl Archaeological Museum

An impressive archaeological site within the Jewish Quarter, the Wohl Museum offers a glimpse at the remains – some very well preserved and all well presented – of six priests' mansions in an Upper City neighborhood destroyed by the Romans at the end of the Jewish Rebellion in 70 AD. At a time when Jerusalem was enjoying rising prosperity, this area – inhabited by affluent, aristocratic and priestly families – became one of the most desired living locations. The remains alone give one a good suggestion of the opulence of the buildings in their glory days, and a general perception of the art, culture, and day-to-day life of some of the city's more affluent citizens.

Descending from street level, you are able to walk on platforms above and within the excavation area. There are brochures, wall maps and general information to help understand what you are looking at. In addition to building foundations, there are surviving mosaic-tiled floors, frescoed wall fragments, elegantly carved stone furniture, and many ritual baths. All houses had an inner patio and cisterns to collect rain – the only source of water at the time; as for the thick ash layer covering the whole site, it is undoubtfully a mark of the devastating destruction caused by the Romans.

Suitable for families, lovers of history in general and of the Jewish people in particular; also a good way to stay cool on a hot day!
The Cardo

6) The Cardo

During the Roman-Byzantine era, the Cardo (Latin for "central axis") used to be the 'pulse' of the city – a colonnaded street all lined with shops, starting at the Damascus Gate (in the Muslim Quarter) and running right across the city to the Zion Gate (in the Jewish Quarter). The section of Cardo in the Jewish Quarter has been excavated and beautifully restored. Selling assorted Judaica, jewelry and souvenirs, the present-day shops here and throughout the area on the many narrow, cobbled pedestrian streets are like an oriental bazaar.

If you are a shopper, then you will love this place; if not, then a pass-through with a stop at the Roman ruins and the many art galleries that have taken up residence in the ancient structures will meet your needs. It's a tasteful combination of the old and the new, with several little pizza shops and cafes for a quick/lite bite.

Just be careful in the evening as the locals don't particularly enjoy tourists wandering the streets and alleys of their neighborhood.

Don't miss Chaya – a gift shop with Judaic, jewelry and more.
Western Wall Tunnel (Kotel)

7) 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

8) 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.

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