by Philip Greenspun; created 2000

Home : Travel : Israel : Jerusalem

Western Wall. Jerusalem Jerusalem is beautiful, hilly, cool and dry, a welcome change from the hot humid coast in the summer. The Old City is only about one square kilometer in size but it can reward days of sightseeing. Within the Old City the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Within the Old City Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. Within the Old City the Second Temple, one of the greatest buildings of the ancient world, was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. It was to the Old City that Muhammad dreamed he was transported in AD 620 and from there rose into heaven (the "Miraj").

The photographic highlights of a trip to Jerusalem must include

Western Wall

The Western Wall, built by Herod the Great in 20 BC, is pretty much all that remains of the Second Temple. For Jews, this is the heart of Jerusalem. People often write little prayers on scraps of paper and stuff them into cracks in the wall. Orthodox Jews lie in wait for Jewish tourists and encourage them to don tephillin and pray. Don't be ashamed if you're ignorant. Remember that more than half of Israelis Jews never go to synagogue. The soldier-tourists that you see at the Wall speak Hebrew but they might know little about the Jewish religion.

Western Wall. Jerusalem. Western Wall. Jerusalem. Western Wall. Jerusalem. Western Wall. Jerusalem Western Wall. Jerusalem.

Temple Mount

Sunrise on Jerusalem (gold dome is the Dome of hte Rock) Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran but Islam regards itself as the successor to Judaism and Christianity. Consequently, for political reasons, the caliph Abd el-Malik cleared away the rubble on the Temple Mount and built two mosques: Dome of the Rock (AD 691) and El-Aqsa (AD 705). The Dome of the Rock is probably the finest building in Israel. No photography is allowed inside the mosques and, as at many religious sites in Israel, it is disrespectful to wear shorts (if you're not properly clothed on the Temple Mount, you can rent a robe).

Local folks and tourists approach the Dome of the Rock from different gates and in different manners...

Temple Mount. Jerusalem. Temple Mount. Jerusalem.

The details in the Dome of the Rock are extremely intricate ...

Temple Mount. Jerusalem. Temple Mount. Jerusalem. Temple Mount. Jerusalem. Temple Mount. Jerusalem.

Temple Mount. Jerusalem. Temple Mount. Jerusalem. Temple Mount. Jerusalem.

Streets of the Old City

The most interesting and historical streets tend to be in the Christian, Armenian, and Muslim Quarters.

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Via Dolorosa

Jerusalem Starting near the Ecce Homo arch in the Muslim quarter, a procession of pilgrims, led by Franciscan monks, walks along the "14 stations of the cross" on the Via Dolorosa. This culminates in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the spot where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected (see for background on archaeological support for the authenticity of the site). It is an interesting photographic event, not least because of the local Arabs who try to get on with their shopping.

According to the guidebook, the procession happens every Friday at 3:00 pm but I was there in June and it was at 4:00 pm. The discrepancy may be accounted for by Daylight Savings Time. If you're going to do a good job covering the procession, I recommend a wide-angle lens (the pictures below were taken with a Canon 17-35/2.8L zoom). The streets are very narrow and you'll want to get in close anyway. There will be a lot of contrast and dark areas. A powerful on-camera strobe used as fill flash would probably be a good idea, though I did not have one for the images below. Color negative film of at least ISO 400 is also probably a good idea.

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Rewriting History

Jerusalem Each of the groups living in Jerusalem tries to rewrite history to suit current needs. For example, at right is a series of government signs installed outside the Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. There were originally four signs. Three remain. These tell the story of the synagogue's glorious life from 1864 until the Arabs destroyed it in 1948. The missing panel, however, would have told the story of the Hurva synagogue before 1864. It was built by a hassidic community from Poland in the mid-18th century. They didn't pay their bills so the creditors (presumably Jewish) burned their synagogue.

The Arabs, for their share, maintain on the top of the Temple Mount a little museum of the blood-stained clothing worn by Palestinian demonstrators who'd been killed or wounded in clashes with the Israeli Army. Some of these conflicts were more than 10 years ago and in the intervening time various peace agreements have been signed. Nonetheless, the outrages of the past are paraded in front of every new tourist.

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Where to Stay

King David Hotel (at left). Jerusalem The Old City itself is too tightly packed to support much in the way of Hotels. Most of the good hotels are in Modern Jerusalem, a 10 or 15-minute walk from the Jaffa Gate.

If you want to relax in between trips, you will definitely want a place with a pool. The standard luxury hotel in Jerusalem is the King David, built in the 1930s, and equipped with an extremely pleasant garden and pool. The hotel is famous for having been the headquarters of British administration for the Mandate of Palestine. It was bombed by Menachem Begin in 1946 as part of a bid to oust the British and their policies preventing Jews from emigrating to Israel. Hundreds were wounded in the attack and 80 people were killed. Visit for more info.

Newer, fancier, and at a slightly more convenient location, the Jerusalem Hilton is very nice as well. As of summer 2000 neither the Hilton nor the King David had in-room Internet connectivity so if you want a 10base-T jack in your room, it is probably best to do some research via phone and email.

Text and pictures Copyright 2000 Philip Greenspun.