Old City Orientation Walk (Self Guided), Jerusalem

The Old City of Jerusalem, the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, is a home to a number of sites of great religious importance, such as the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims. Walking here is an experience not to be missed. Take this orientation walk to see the key sights of Jerusalem's Old City.
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Old City Orientation Walk Map

Guide Name: Old City Orientation Walk
Guide Location: Israel » Jerusalem (See other walking tours in Jerusalem)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.7 Km or 2.9 Miles
Author: vickyc
Jaffa Gate

1) Jaffa Gate

The Jaffa Gate is a 16th Century Ottoman addition to the wall around Jerusalem, which is located on the western side of the old city. It faces the city by the same name. It is the main entrance into that section of the town. It is one of eight such structures that are part of the famous wall around the city. It is also, perhaps oddly, set at a 90 degree angle, and is the only structural opening set as such. No doubt, this was done as a defensive tactic by the builders.

It goes by several different names also: in Hebrew, it is Sha'ar Yafo, and in Arabic, it is called Bab el-Khalil, which means "Gate of the Friend." You may also hear this place referred to as the “prayer niche of David.”

The Biblical character Jonah left on a sea journey from here. Pilgrims also debarked on their trip to the Holy City. Even in today’s times, this famous old road is still used. It is now a superhighway that will take you to Tel Aviv.

The name for this site is a reminder of the prophet Abraham. Legend holds he was buried there somewhere. Since he lived in Hebron, another name for the opening is the "Hebron Gate." King David makes this place sacred for Muslims because he is considered an Islamic Prophet. The Crusaders also build an opening they called “David’s Gate.”
Tower of David

2) Tower of David (must see)

Located in the Old City part of Jerusalem, the Tower of David is an old stronghold that can be found near the Jaffa Gate. It was built to bring a more solid sense of security to what had traditionally been a very unfortified part of the town. It was named as such due to the Byzantine Christians who used to live here. They believed the site was the original location of the palace of King David.

The tower was built during the 2nd Century B.C. Like many structures in the area, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times by the Christians, Muslims, Mamluks, and Ottomans. The archaeological evidence found here dates back almost 3,000 years. This place has also become a very popular location for concerts, music performances, craft shows, and benefits.

A museum was opened here in 1989 by the Jerusalem Foundation. The exhibits depicted a stretch of around 4,000 years of history, which goes all the way back to Canaanite times. You can also go all the way to the top and see a beautiful full-circle view of the city. The location gets about 3.5 millions visits a year.

There is a spectacular/interesting sound-and-light show (45 minutes) at the Citadel later in the evening which is worth viewing – but book early, as it sells out quickly.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu, Sat: 9am-4pm; Friday, holiday eves and holidays: 9am-2pm
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

3) Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (must see)

The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is located in Old Jerusalem in the NE corner of the Muristan. The east half of this place was given to Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm by Sultan Abdul-Aziz of the Ottoman Empire. This occurred during a visit in 1869. Construction was completed in 1898 and it was the second Protestant worship center to be built in Old Jerusalem.

The building was built over the ruins of the Church of St. Mary of the Latin’s. Some of that old building, such as the cloisters and refectory, were incorporated into this location. There is some speculation that both structures were built on top of an even older holy place.

The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is home to four different language communities, Danish, Arabic, German and English.

There are several interesting sites to see here. Be sure to find the sculpture on the medieval northern gate. The doors have signs from the Zodiac on them that are somewhat like those on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The bell tower is open to the public for a small fee. For those who are brave enough to face the hard climb of ~200 steps, the reward at the top is a breathtaking view of Jerusalem that extends all the way to the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre

4) Church of the Holy Sepulchre (must see)

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is also known as “The Church of the Resurrection” by Eastern Orthodox Christians. It is located within the walls of Old Jerusalem close to the Muristan. It sits on one of the holiest sites in the Christian faith. It is believed that this is the site of Calvary, or Golgotha, where Jesus Christ was crucified. It is also located over the tomb where he was buried.

The Church is rather an odd hodgepodge of styles, a mix of humble and simple in spots and ornate in others. It encompasses five Stations of the Cross and is the ending place of the Via Dolorosa. The outside façade was built by the Crusaders centuries ago. Immediately inside there is a tall bench where a caretaker (Muslim) sat to keep differing Christian factions apart. Even today parts of the building are under the control of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic groups, and this is called the Status Quo. Serious arguments can occur if a chair is moved or a door is left open, as these are seen as signs of disrespect to the other groups.

Under the Rotunda is the tomb of Christ. The tomb is encased in a shrine called an aedicule which contains the Chapel of the Angel, which has a small piece of the stone that was rolled away from the tomb, and the Chapel. The later version of this spot contains the tomb itself. Inside the tomb is a cracked marble slab that shows where Christ’s body was laid after the crucifixion – this is not the original stone.

There are numerous chapels to see at the Church, each with its own special section of this holy ground. Directly beneath Calvary is the Chapel of Adam. Ancient tradition holds that Jesus was crucified over the site of Adam’s burial place. Behind the aedicule is Coptic Chapel where more of the tomb is visible. The Chapel of the Prison of Christ, the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene, and the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross are also open for visitation. The Chapel of St. Vartan is Armenian and encompasses an area that was newly excavated in the 1970s. Unfortunately, this area is not generally open to the public.

Access to the Church of the Sepulcher is free. Hours vary. Please dress appropriately for the sanctity of the area.

Come early and bring a guidebook. Nothing is signposted and there are no guides so if you'd rather not bring a guidebook, at least do some research first.
Dome of the Rock

5) Dome of the Rock (must see)

The Dome of the Rock is located on top of the Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem. It is a Muslim shrine that was built in 691 CE by Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik. It has been refurbished several times in the ensuing centuries. It is built over a stone that is considered sacred by several religions.

Muslims believe this stone is the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. This occurred during the Night Journey to Jerusalem. This is also the place that Gabriel brought Muhammad to pray with Abraham, Jesus, and Moses. This is the oldest Islamic monument in the world, and it contains the oldest mihrab still standing.

Jews believe it was on this rock that Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son. Both Christians and Muslims believe the rock to be the home of Solomon’s Temple that was destroyed. In fact, several subsequent churches, built by the Knights Templar, follow the same design that is found in the shrine.

The shrine is an octagonal shape and the outside is covered in exquisite tile work and white marble. Extensive refurbishing has been done on tile work and it has been kept as true to the original as possible. There are also extensive mosaics on the inside of the shrine. The Dome itself has also been refurbished. The original gold one has been replaced with aluminum and a gift from King Hussein of Jordan covered it in gold leaf making it a truly spectacular sight.

The inside of the Dome of the Rock also has an octagonal shape with an outside ring and an inner circle. This is to represent the circular movement around Ka’ba in Mecca by pilgrims who visit there. The sacred rock is protected by a wooden screen that replaced the wrought iron screen erected by the Knights Templar. That screen is now protected in the Islamic Museum.

There is a fee to visit; the price includes entry into the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque as well as the Islamic Museum. Hours vary and only Muslims may visit at certain times. Non-Muslims have a separate entrance.

When you reach the top, 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.
Western (Wailing) Wall

6) Western (Wailing) Wall (must see)

The Western Wall is also known as the Wailing Wall, the Place of Weeping and the Buraq Wall. It is located in Old Jerusalem. It is, in fact, part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount. It was built in 19 BCE by Herod the Great. Herod expanded the Temple Mount area artificially and the Wall was built to retain the soil and filler added during this period.

The Western Wall is around 100 feet high from the foundation, but only around 60 feet is above ground at this point. In total there are 45 stone courses, of which 28 are above ground. The first seven are from the time of Herod the Great. Four more layers were added by the Umayyad Caliphate around 600 CE. In the 1860s, another fourteen levels were added during the Ottoman period. And the last 3 were added by the Mufti of Jerusalem. No further additions have occurred since the six-day war in 1967.

The sizes of the stones used in the wall are breathtaking. Weighing between 2 and 8 tons, the amount of work to get all the stones in place is truly amazing. One huge stone near Wilson’s arch may weigh as much as 570 tons.

The Wailing Wall is a site for Jewish pilgrimages’ and prayers since at least the 300s CE. The name Wailing Wall comes from the Jewish practice of coming to the Wall to mourn the loss of the Holy Temple on the Temple Mount. It is considered one of the holiest places for Jews to visit because of its proximity to the Temple Mount. The plaza around the Wall was built after the six-day war to make a gathering place for people to come and pray.

Both men and women are allowed to pray at the Wall, they must use separate entrances. The Wall is very busy during the Jewish Sabbath that begins at sundown on Friday evening and lasts until sundown on Saturday evening. Be sure to take along a prayer request on a small slip of paper to slip in between the stones. Prayer requests are removed once a month and taken to the Mount of Olives.

When visiting, take your passport, expect tight security, and dress modestly.
No pictures are allowed during the Sabbath. There is no fee.
al-Aqsa Mosque

7) al-Aqsa Mosque (must see)

The name translates as "the Distant Mosque". This is the third most holy site in Islam and the holiest Mosque in Jerusalem. It is located on the Temple Mount or Hara mesh-Sharif, which means Noble Sanctuary. It is not certain, but this may be the site of the first mosque built in Jerusalem, which was erected in 638. It was destroyed by two different earthquakes. It has been rebuilt several different times over the millennium, due to natural disasters and man-made attacks.

Some of that rebuilding is still evident today. The Crusaders, Fatimids, Mamluks, and Ayyubids added beautiful arches and other buildings to the Mosque. Unfortunately, most of these have been lost over the centuries, either by conquests or single acts of destruction. In 1959, King Abdullah of Jordan was assassinated in the south end of the building. Bullet holes still remain in the stonework there, and a small memorial has been installed at the site.

Despite all this tragedy, some beautiful elements are still to be found here. The south end houses a Mihrab that Saladin decorated. It is a niche that points to the direction of Mecca. Lovely mosaics have survived around the central aisle arch and in the dome. The Crusader chapel or the Mihrab of Zacharia contains a stunning rose window. The Double Gate houses the original entrance to the Temple Mount. The pillars have been reconstructed, but the columns are true to the originals built by King Herod.

Although most of the interior of the Mosque is from the 20th century, it is still a beautiful place to visit. There are seven aisles in the Mosque and over 120 stained-glass windows. There are also 45 columns supporting the inside of the building and 33 of these are made of white marble. Beneath the place, there are steps that lead to the al-Aqsa Qadima or Ancient al-Aqsa. This area is not generally open to the public.

Unfortunately, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter inside the building without a guide. However, one can still enjoy the outside architecture for a few minutes as part of a visit to the Dome of the Rock.
Temple Mount

8) Temple Mount (must see)

The Temple Mount is one of the most sacred spots in all Jerusalem, and perhaps the world. Three major world faiths lay claim to the holy place. In Hebrew, it is called (Har haBáyit) or Noble Sanctuary. In Arabic, it is called (Haram esh-Sharif).

From a topographical standpoint, this place is an elevated plateau that is located in the oldest part of the city. From a political perspective, this holy place is governed by the Supreme Muslim Religious Council.

For the Christian and Jewish communities, this place is sacred because it used to be the site for the Temple of Jerusalem. It is also reported to be the place where Jesus will return to earth in the apocalyptic texts of the Bible, to start the kingdom of God on earth once more.

The Muslim faith considers this place important because the Prophet Muhammad reportedly made a journey to heaven from this same location. This is recorded in the Qur’an.

This sacred piece of ground has also been the mythical locations of the binding of Isaac, where the presence of Yahweh came to rest, and even the place where Adam was formed from the proverbial dust of the ground. So, as you can see, this is a special piece of earth, to say the least. You may want to research the mythos of the Temple Mount further before visiting.

It is probably best to get an experienced guide for your trip to the Temple Mount. He/she will know everything about the opening hours and access.
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, come early while others are still sleeping, as this is one of the places in the world worth visiting in a completely serene and relaxed atmosphere.
Golden Gate

9) Golden Gate (must see)

The Golden Gate is located on the eastern walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and leads directly to the Temple Mount. It is one of the more holy sites in the town, as it is revered by all three of the major religious faiths. It is recorded that Jesus entered the place on Palm Sunday. For the Jews, the arrival of the Messiah will happen here. For the Muslims, the future resurrection will start from this spot.

The construction of the location happened in the 6th to 7th Centuries A.D. (probably somewhere around 640 A.D.), on the spot where the old gate used to be from the second temple. It has been sealed since the 1500s. There are a total of 11 such structures, seven of which are still open to the public. They are called: Jaffa, Zion, Dung, St. Stephen’s (Lions’), Herod’s, Damascus (Shechem) and New. The most famous may be the Golden Gate.

The spot has been home to some gate since the time of Herod the Great. The original, however, would have been destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D., during the Roman conquest of rebels in Israel and Judea.

From the location, you can traverse easily to the Temple Mount, which would allow you a magnificent view across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives. If you take a little hike into the lowlands, you will find the old trail to Bethany. You can also go to the famous Garden of Gethsemane.
Church of St. Mary Magdalene

10) Church of St. Mary Magdalene

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene is a beautiful Russian Orthodox house of worship in Jerusalem. It is located on the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and was built in 1886 under the direction of Tsar Alexander III. He built the church to honor his mother, and dedicated it to Mary Magdalene.

The church is built in classic 17th century Russian style and has seven onion domes that are gilded. They are quite impressive. The building is easily visible from points around Jerusalem; however, it really deserves a stop while visiting the city. Inside the church are several murals that depict the life of Mary Magdalene. Also in the church is an icon of the Mother of God. There have been miracle healings attributed to this place.

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene is the resting place for Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia who was martyred along with another nun during the Russian Revolution in 1917. Also buried here is Princess Alice of Battenberg who was also known as Princess Andrew of Greece. She was responsible for harboring Jews when the Nazis occupied her country, in order to help keep them alive. She is also the mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Garden of Gethsemane

11) Garden of Gethsemane (must see)

The Garden of Gethsemane lies at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. The name means “oil press” and most certainly refers to the fact that this area was used to press olive oil in the time of Jesus. It is now walled, but it is still a lovely place to visit and perhaps pray.

The Church of All Nations was built here in 1924. This house of worship is also known as the Basilica of the Agony. Two other holy places have also occupied this spot. One was a Byzantine-style building built in the fourth century and destroyed around 750. The Crusaders built a chapel on the spot in the 12 century which also was demolished.

The Garden of Gethsemane still has olive trees on the grounds. Although there is some dispute about exactly how old they are, there may be some on the grounds that were around during the time of Jesus. There is some evidence that the original plants were destroyed by fighting and in an effort to destroy this very religious place, but the general consensus is that some of the roots did survive.

Olive trees have a long life span, so it is not an outrageous thought that some of them shaded the grounds then, just as they do today. These plants grow wider instead of taller, so the very wide ones are the oldest. They still produce fruit and are harvested in late September or early October. As you leave, you might want to offer the gatekeeper a few shekels for a stroll through the private garden.

This beautiful Garden is where Jesus and the disciples came to pray. He was said to have prayed so reverently at one time that he sweat blood. He most likely entered the city on Palm Sunday, by going through this place, through the gate that has long since been walled up. This is also the location of the famous betrayal by Judas Iscariot.

Make sure you cover up (shoulders covered and shorts come below your knees, etc.) or you will be refused entry.
St. Anne's Church

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

St. Anne’s Church sits next to the Bethesda Pool by the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem. As with most structures in the city, the history of the location is fascinating. St. Anne’s is a great example of a 12th-century Crusader house of worship. Although there have been several different uses of the property over the centuries, most of the original building is still there. Restoration was done in the 19th century and the structure itself retained its rather severe appearance.

The Church was built in 1131-1133 over the presumed site where Mary’s mother Anne gave birth to her. St. Anne’s replaced a destroyed Byzantine worship center over the same site. One of the interesting facts about this place is its asymmetry. As you visit, be sure to notice the asymmetrical style, count the steps on one side and compare them to the other side.

Another fact about St. Anne’s is the incredible acoustics of the building. It was built to accommodate Gregorian chants. Today anyone can come and sing here, the only stipulation is the song must be religious. Music from any religion is welcomed. The reverberations are just perfect for tenor or soprano solo voices.

St. Anne’s Church is almost at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, so if you are planning on taking that walk, come early enough to enjoy this place.

Why You Should Visit:
This church is impressive for various reasons: Firstly, there is its position at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa and on a level higher than the street level. Secondly, its architecture is very attractive because of its simple beauty. The church was rebuilt by crusaders in the 12th c. and its history before and after is highly interesting. Thirdly, the garden around it is extremely beautiful. Fourthly, the excavations of the Pools of Bethesda may induce you to stay much longer than planned.

The acoustics for singing as an individual or a group are perfect. Make sure you hold the last note and let the room sustain it for you. The reverb is measured in seconds.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 8am-12pm / 2-5pm
Notre Dame de Sion Ecce Homo Convent

13) Notre Dame de Sion Ecce Homo Convent (must see)

Notre Dame de Sion Ecce Homo Convent is the first station of the cross located on the Via Dolorosa. It takes its name from the statement Pilate made as he presented Jesus to the mob and said “Behold, the man.” This is the place where Jesus, as well as other prisoners, were tortured before the crucifixion. There are several caves and tunnels to see, and they still stand witness to the games the Roman soldiers played with their prisoners while they were being tortured.

The Convent also houses a hostel that has one of the best views of Old Jerusalem available. The terrace has incredible views and should absolutely not be missed, and the guest rooms also have good views. If a fancy hotel with turndown service is a necessity, this will not be the place to book. However, if a clean hotel with good food and comfortable accommodations work, be sure to stay here.

There are two different levels of accommodations available. The first is the dormitories (these are not co-ed). The beds have partitions around them and a curtain as a door. Bathroom facilities are shared, yet when one thinks of a dorm, it is usually a row of beds with no privacy available. These are definitely a step up.

The second level of accommodations is rooms that have private bathrooms and a desk. Single through quadruple rooms are available to match most family or group sizes. Breakfast is included and it consists of breads and spreads, juice, coffee, fruits and vegetables. Supper can also be ordered if desired. Guests are welcome to join in the convent chapel for mass, and prayer time. It is a special place to stay and pray in Jerusalem.

While here do not miss the cistern or Struthion Pool that was built in 135 CE. This provided water for the Temple Mount.
Also, the Ecce Homo Arch is there and it spans the Via Dolorosa and then continues into the basilica.
Via Dolorosa

14) Via Dolorosa (must see)

Via Dolorosa is 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 one road is just given the Latin name. The road is popular among Christian pilgrims who believe it traces the steps that Jesus took carrying his cross on the way to his crucifixion.

14 stations mark the path along the route, including the five that are in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Although anyone can walk the Via Dolorosa at any time, every Friday around 3 PM, a group is lead by Franciscan monks along the path. This is the best way to experience the walk. This area can be very crowded and the signs a bit difficult to find. At spots, the walk backtracks a bit and station IX can be particularly difficult to find. Some may find the noisy streets a bit distracting when trying to find 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 path having been set in the 1700s, and follows the path set by the early Byzantine Christians. The stations are marked with round signs that have Roman numerals marking the Stations of the Cross. Different religious groups may start the walk at different sites.

The journey begins at the site where Jesus was tried and convicted in Old Jerusalem at the near Lion’s gate in the Muslim section although some may choose to start at Herod’s Palace at the Jaffe 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 that offer religious icons. Re-enactments are frequently held especially around Holy Week.

The cobbled stone path can be very slippery. If it rains prior to your visit, there will be sections to be walked with extreme caution. Some areas can be quite steep, with many stairs and inclines.
Unless you wake up around 5 o'clock, don't expect much time for quiet contemplation. There's much hustle & bustle and you will need to walk quickly or be run over by a motorcycle, human, or goat!
Best to go with a tour guide or bring a very comprehensive map/book and get the camera ready! Besides the spiritual significance of the area, the artwork and architecture are impressive.

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