Travel in the Old
City of Jerusalem.
A picture tour by
Part 1 – The
Beginning: Where it Starts.
pictures will refer to numbered positions on this map.
When I found I’d be going to Jerusalem
for a week I began looking all over the internet to find accounts of other
people’s travels to the Old City,
which I was particularly interested in getting to know. But while there are
lots of little reports of visits, none are very extensive or give much of an
indication of what to expect when you get there. I’d bought a couple guides,
the best of which turned out to be the Eyewitness
Travel Guide to Jerusalem and the Holy Land but I think it would be about
now, when I have completed the journey and thought about it and have spent a
good bit of time figuring out in retrospect what it was that I saw without
comprehending… now I could get a lot of
use out of a guidebook. But back then in real time it was a struggle.
I’d borrowed my daughter’s digital camera and, when that
ran out of memory, I took a couple rolls of film. This amounted to over 200
pictures. When I got back I thought it might be a good plan to write up my own
well illustrated account of a week in the Old
City. Here goes….
My week in the old city began with a call from the BBC
asking if I’d be willing to fly to Jerusalem
Wednesday for an on-camera interview about “Jesus the Healer” Thursday at a
Judean desert location and a return to Pennsylvania
Friday. I’ve written a book on that subject and have been on the TV a few times
already, so I’m in the rolodex. Well, I mulled the offer over because I hadn’t
ever been to Jerusalem, but it
seemed like an awful lot of unpleasant flight time and not much time on the
ground. So I asked if a longer visit could be arranged and they agreed to put
me up for six nights, although I forfeited something or other I was never quite
clear about, I think it was a per diem stipend. Also I’d pay for my own meals
except for the evening before and the day of the interview itself; on the other
hand incidental expenses would be covered by the honorarium. I think it turned
out that I broke even on the whole deal.
This is the outcome, an interview with soundman and
cameraman, director and me
in the Judean desert chatting about the role of the
Spirit in healing:
So, I fly into Tel Aviv on British Air (what else would
BBC be paying for?) and am happy to find
a taxi man waiting with my name on a nice sign and off we drive to Jerusalem
in the afternoon. I get situated in the American Colony Hotel, a place of great
fame and luxury. My name was added to the guestbook right under Christiana
Amanpour’s name. My room was perfectly acceptable with a huge marble bathroom
and a not so big living space. BBC was not about to put me up in the most
expensive suite… but I can’t complain. This is a view of the American Colony
Hotel entry from the balcony (actually fire-escape) adjacent to my room. While
it looks summery, the morning temperatures were in the thirties and I, having
nothing but a huge Pennsylvania
winter overcoat that was far too heavy for the afternoons, ended up wearing
triple shirts for warmth, and even that was none too warm in the mornings. I
don’t suppose there’s a painting of Jesus risen into a snowstorm, but it’s not
climatologically impossible for there to be snow on Easter in Jerusalem.
I arrived Sunday evening. My BBC interview would take
place on Thursday out in the Judean wilderness near the Dead Sea
(a site they chose because they wanted a connection made with Jesus’ being
driven into the wilderness by the Spirit after his baptism). The rest of the
time was my own. That very evening I thought why not just go to the Old
City, see if it can be done without
fatal consequences. I asked at the hotel front desk what the odds were of
surviving a walk through East Jerusalem to the Old
City and the guy tells me well, we
can’t guarantee anything, but it’s perfectly safe and so off I go, following
the simple easy instructions to turn left and keep going. One soon comes to a
major fork in the road and what to do? I go left. That turns out to make a
difference, as the left road “Salah ed Din Street = Saladin Street” goes
through a non-touristy urban environment to the Herod Gate and the right hand
Nablus Road takes you through a more Americanized region, past an American
consulate, down to the Damascus Gate.
The walk from the hotel to the Herod Gate is about 15
minutes and could be less for those who don’t stop and look at things. It goes
by an Israeli court building and a center for biblical archaeological study,
neither of which invited tourists. The East Jerusalem
environment did not seem threatening at all to me. The local folks are used to
tourists, although I don’t think I ever saw another on Saladin
Street. The street is lined with small shops ranging
from electronic device emporia to local restaurants to candy stores, lots of
candy stores, music CD shops with blaring music to annoy potential customers,
and so down to the Gate itself. As one approaches the gates of the Old City of
Jerusalem the culture-shock effect of seeing modern urban stores and vehicles
against a medieval background increases.
The picture below depicts the visually ugly but historically euphonious
meeting of Saladin Street
with Sultan Suleiman Street.
The Herod Gate itself was constructed in 1875; it’s also known
as the Flower Gate because of the small ornamental flower to the right of the
window above the gate. It is the principal gateway into the residential Arab
section of the Old City
and is largely devoid of touristy elements. In that it contrasts strongly with
the Jaffa Gate, the Damascus Gate, and the Dung Gate through which most
non-residents enter. I became more fond of the Herod Gate as I saw more of
those other three, because with the Herod Gate you get an entrance into a
living old medieval type city; with the others its either modern militarism at
the Dung Gate, tourism at the Jaffa Gate, or crowded mercantilism at the
Inside the Herod Gate several vendors shelter from the
weather. The Old City
shops in this area of the Arab quarter and along Saladin
Street and here and there throughout all of Old Jerusalem
serve the local population. Fruits and vegetables and spices are for sale
everywhere by individual local entrepreneurs. These vendors work inside the
Herod Gate itself. Just beyond you can see the open front of an enclosed shop.
I went in on my first evening, turned right, saw a few local stores and some
folks who seemed a bit surprised to see me and went back to the hotel to bed.
day, Monday, up and out again, back along the same route through the Herod Gate
this time with the whole day in front of me and a rather vague ambition of
going through all, or most, of the seven gates of the City (Hallelulia). Well,
actually, I’m thinking of the Judy Collins song with “twelve gates to the city,
hallelulia” and I guess that’s somewhere else: the heavenly Jerusalem
presumably. Anyhow, I decided to just keep photographing along as I went, in
other words to take a photo of whatever was ahead of me and then, when I got to
a place that seemed to be about at the end of the vista of the previous photo,
to take another one. This has the advantage and disadvantage of being a random
process that precludes my taking artsy pictures that promise to be really
excellent but turn out to be dull. So here I go, turning left out of the
Herod’s Gate to see a street lined to the right with small shops serving the
Women of mature
years, both here and on Saladin Street,
sit with bundles of herbs, always including mint. One needs reminding that the Old
City is an actual place of residence
and life for thousands of people. It’s not a museum.
I rather wish I’d stopped in this local coffee shop, but
I’d just gotten started on my walk and also, as yet, hadn’t developed the “what
the hell do I care” attitude toward being looked at by the locals as an alien.
There were no signs of hostility, but puzzlement. I didn’t know that the Herod
Gate receives relatively few tourists. What did I know… a Gate’s a Gate.
At first I was surprised at the amount of trash lying in
corners here and there, but I eventually decided that this is because I
happened to be walking through on the morning of trash pickup day and the bags
of garbage would soon be removed.
Turning right on El Qadisieh Road
I seem to have stepped into a foggy morning. It turns out that this is dust
from men fixing a roof on the left side of the road. The painted mural on the
right side of the street is interesting but I have no clue what it represents.
This tall lady - shorter lady combo reappears in a later photo.
Further down El Qadisieh Road
a lady shopping checks out a food shop. On the right the open door exposes a
downstairs room where a baker is preparing the ubiquitous sesame seeded oblong
Palestinian rolls. Some of the baker’s products are in cellophane on the left
side of the street..
I began to realize, making my way along El
Qadisieh Road toward the “Temple
Mount” that the streets to the mount
run uninterruptedly downhill. I had always figured that the term “mount”
implied something uphill and that the great Temple
Mount of Jerusalem
would be on the highest natural hill in the area. Not so. To get there from the
Jaffa, New, Damascus,
Zion, or Herod Gates you walk down.
Well, when you finally get to the vicinity there’s a stroll up a little ways,
but there’s no “mount” involved. The following photograph shows a side street
going right off El Qadisieh Road,
Shadad Street. The hirsute
folks walking down the street may or may not live nearby. While in some sense
this is an Arab Moslem district reserved for Arab Moslems homes are sometimes
sold to Jewish settlers who look forward to living in an entirely Jewish
It’s clear in an area like this that there is a
Jerusalemite culture in existence wholly apart from the tourist culture and the
Judaica culture that dominate much of the rest of the city. These are real
people, not Americans visiting, not Americans pretending to be Jerusalemites.
The sign below, in Arabic, shows that this is a path to the Mosque al Aqsa. At
the end of this picture’s vista you can see a slight jog to the left beyond the
green awning. Above the awning, as is very typical and common, a home stretches
across the street above an arch. One wonders walking by what life there would
But turn around and face back up Al Qadisieh Street and,
guess what, you see what you passed before, rising instead of falling down in
front of you. The little ramps from stair to stair are invisible in the
downhill photographs but striking in the uphill version. Their purpose is to
enable carts to move along the streets with reasonable ease. I have seen photos
of Jerusalem with quaint donkeys
carrying goods from place to place but in my week of visits I never saw any
such thing. The only mammals within the walls were us humans and a few cats.
The sign in English points you to the Black Horse Youth Hostel, which has a
couple good reviews on the internet one of which contains the comment, quoted
in full here: “Mixt dormitory, take care not to.”
This is the
junction of Al Qadisieh Street
and Shaar ha-Arayot Street
notable in this picture for its display of the characteristic golden glow of Jerusalem
limestone. The Shaar ha-Arayot Street becomes the Via Dolorosa.
Part II and III - The Via Dolorosa Part One and El Wad
LINKS TO ALL THE
IV. Souk Khan ez Zeit Street to the Holy Sepulchre
V. The Via Dolorosa to the Holy Sepulchre
VI. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Part VII. The Holy Sepulchre Continued
VIII. Toward the Lion’s Gate
IX. The Islamic Cemetery and the Mount of Olives View
X. The Western (wailing) Wall
XI. The Dome of the Rock
XII. The Shrines near the Dome of the Rock
XIII. Jaffa Gate and a concluding walk.