Muslim Quarter & Temple Mount (Self Guided), Jerusalem

The largest, most populous and perhaps most chaotic of all Jerusalem's quarters, the Muslim Quarter is worth exploring for its unique atmosphere. Spending a day here may take you back to a simpler time, but be prepared for many sights and sounds as you pass many vendors, stores and restaurants on your way from site to site.

Some of Jerusalem's most interesting city gates (Damascus and Lion's) are located in this area. Importantly, this is also the location of the Temple Mount, sacred to three great monotheistic religions, and the Dome of the Rock, probably the most easily recognizable landmark. Christian visitors to Jerusalem will want to invest additional time visiting historic church sights like St. Anne's and the Church of the Flagellation.
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Muslim Quarter & Temple Mount Map

Guide Name: Muslim Quarter & Temple Mount
Guide Location: Israel » Jerusalem (See other walking tours in Jerusalem)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Lions’ Gate
  • Bethesda
  • St. Anne's Church
  • Dome of the Rock
  • Dome of the Chain (Qubbat al-Silsilah)
  • al-Aqsa Mosque
  • Islamic Museum of the Temple Mount
  • Dome of the Ascension (Qubbat al-Miraj)
  • Cotton Merchants’ Gate and Market
  • Church of the Condemnation / Flagellation
  • Ecce Homo Convent
  • Souk Khan El-Zeit (Beit Habad Street Market)
1
Lions’ Gate

1) Lions’ Gate (must see)

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!

Tip:
Can get crowded, especially on Fridays, because of the influx of Muslims coming for prayer at the nearby al-Aqsa Mosque.
2
Bethesda

2) 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.
3
St. Anne's Church

3) 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.

Tip:
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
4
Dome of the Rock

4) Dome of the Rock (must see)

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.

Tip:
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.
5
Dome of the Chain (Qubbat al-Silsilah)

5) Dome of the Chain (Qubbat al-Silsilah)

Adjacently east of the Dome of the Rock, at the very center of the Temple Mount compound, the 7th-century Dome of the Chain (Arabic: Qubbat al-Silsila). While its original purpose is so far unknown, the name derives from a legend that, during King Solomon's time, a chain hanged from its roof, and if two men approached it to solve a point of litigation, only the honest and upright man could take hold of it; the unjust man saw it move out of his reach. In Islamic tradition, it is the spot where Judgment Day will occur in the "end of days" and where a chain will stop the sinful and let the just pass through.

The inside of the dome displays delicate blue and white tilework from the Ottoman period (16th century) and the mihrab (or prayer niche) in the structure's single wall is typically Mamluk, with lots of stripey ablaq, including the almost flame-like triple-colored arch which surmounts it.
6
al-Aqsa Mosque

6) al-Aqsa Mosque (must see)

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 1959, 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.

Tip:
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.
7
Islamic Museum of the Temple Mount

7) Islamic Museum of the Temple Mount

Sited on the Temple Mount toward its Moroccan gate (or to the right of al-Aqsa Mosque), this small museum has an excellent range of rare exhibits/artifacts from ten periods of Islamic history – from 16th-century copper soup kettles, to coins, stained glass windows, wooden panels, ceramic tiles and iron doors from the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. Also on display are a cannon used to announce the breaking of Ramadan, a large collection of weapons, a large wax tree trunk, the charred remains of a minbar built by Nur ad-Din Zangi in the 1170s and destroyed by an Australian tourist in 1969, and the blood-stained clothing of 17 Palestinians killed in the rioting on the Temple Mount in 1990.

Also of note are the museum's 600 Qur'an copies donated to the al-Aqsa Mosque during the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman eras by caliphs, sultans, emirs, ulama and private individuals – each differing in size, calligraphy, and ornamentation. One such copy is a hand-written Qur'an whose transcription is attributed to the great-great-grandson of Muhammad, while another is written in Kufic script dating back to the 8th-9th century. In addition, there is a very large Qur'an measuring 100 by 90 cm (3.3 ft × 3.0 ft), dating back to the 14th century.
8
Dome of the Ascension (Qubbat al-Miraj)

8) Dome of the Ascension (Qubbat al-Miraj)

The Dome of the Ascension is a small, free-standing domed structure built by Crusaders that stands just north the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Although called "Dome of the Ascension" in Arabic, Arabic tradition to mark the spot from which Prophet Muhammad began his ascent to the Divine Throne, it is understood by scholars as having been built as part of the Christian Templum Domini, probably as a baptistry. An Arabic inscription dated to 1200-1 describes it as rededicated as a waqf.
9
Cotton Merchants’ Gate and Market

9) Cotton Merchants’ Gate and Market

Built during the Mamluk period (1336-37), this covered souk, looking quite similar to Damascus markets, was originally designed as a commercial center for one of Egypt's most celebrated Sultans, An-Nasir Muhammad, and served to improve the landscape of Jerusalem with its monumental gate that leads onto the al-Aqsa Mosque. Once again fully operational, it is mostly used by Muslim worshippers who pass through on their way to or from the Temple Mount. While entering through the gate it is usually out of range for non-Muslims, they are allowed to depart from the Temple Mount by this route.

In addition to numerous small shops, still in existence to today, the souk used to have living quarters running over its whole length, as well as two luxurious bathhouses which, until the early 1970s, were used by Old City inhabitants. Between the two bathhouses stands the beautiful Khan Tankaz – a former hostel (or "caravanserai") for merchants and pilgrims – the first of its kind in the city – that has been recently restored with funds from the European Union; although not officially open to the public, a quick look around the place is almost certainly possible if you ask.

Tip:
Less than 50 meters (160 ft) south of the souk, on El-Wad Road, notice the small 16th-century public drinking fountain, one of the six erected during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent.
10
Church of the Condemnation / Flagellation

10) Church of the Condemnation / Flagellation

Belonging to a Franciscan monastery, these two churches in one site mark the second station of Via Dolorosa (after the Church of St Anne), traditionally held to be where Jesus took up his cross after being sentenced to death by crucifixion.

On entering the grounds just off the main street, you arrive in a picturesque courtyard with beautiful plants. On the left lies the Church of the Condemnation topped by five white domes, each of them sitting on drum containing stained-glass windows depicting themes from Christ's Passion. Further illustrations can be seen on the walls: Pontius Pilate washing his hands, and soldiers imposing the cross on Jesus. Another interesting feature is the Roman-period floor next to the building's western wall, made of very large, striated stones that kept animals' hooves from slipping.

On the right you will find the Church of the Flagellation. It is simple but offers stained glass windows and an attractive mosaic on the domelike ceiling; although not obvious at first glance, the latter is designed as a circular pattern of thorns. The northern window depicts Pontius Pilate washing his hands, the central one behind the altar depicts the Flagellation, and the southern one the victory of Barabbas.
11
Ecce Homo Convent

11) Ecce Homo Convent (must see)

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.
12
Souk Khan El-Zeit (Beit Habad Street Market)

12) Souk Khan El-Zeit (Beit Habad Street Market)

Standing just behind Damascus Gate, this colorful and fascinating market has been operated the same way for centuries, bursting with culture on every cobbled lane. It's a bit of a step back in time which can at times be hard to deal with, as some customs of the Western world, familiar to most of Israel, do not apply here – but don't let that stop you.

At the more genuine and authentic Khan El-Zeit and El-Wad streets, the shops and street sellers are dealing out spices, fruits, falafels and other consumables for locals, but also embroidered dresses, leather goods, antiquities and countless other handicrafts. Walking further to the markets along Via Dolorosa, you will encounter traditional souk shops as well as tourist shops. Chain Street – an extension of David Street from the Christian Quarter – is lined with one shop after another with mostly tourist souvenir shops; the perfect gift or souvenir is in there somewhere if you're willing to look hard enough.

With so many stalls to look at and choose from, haggling may be necessary, but this is expected in any souk, and you can get some very good bargains. It will be busy most likely anytime you go, but in the evenings the souk transforms into a trendy area with eateries and pubs.

Tip:
Go in the morning to get the best fresh-baked goods! If looking for the best shawarma, find in the Muslim quarter of the souk – they are the most delicious and the cheapest.

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