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  • Overview

    Israel's capital city occupies an important place in the hearts and minds of Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. The walled section comprising the Old City is rich in the historical traditions of these three religions. It is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock, and the Al Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount. The Western Wall provides the focal point for Jewish worship and stands as an enduring symbol of the Jewish homeland.

    The Old City is accessible through seven of eight gates in the ancient walls surrounding it. Within these walls are the separate quarters of the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian communities. A dazzling array of merchandise can be purchased from the lively Arab (open-air market). Meandering through the narrow corridors and cobbled pavements of the ancient centre inevitably provides a feast of sensations. For an orientation of the Old City, it's best to set off along the Ramparts Walk (originally designed for watchmen), or to climb the Tower of David for a panoramic vista of the eternally fascinating city of Jerusalem.

    Although famous for its many remarkable historical and religious sites, Jerusalem also has more modern attractions. The city has everything visitors would expect by way of amenities, shopping, restaurants and nightlife, though Tel Aviv is a better destination for these sorts of experiences.

    Church of the Holy Sepulchre

    As the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest Christian place in Jerusalem. Emperor Constantine constructed it in 326, and its structure has suffered frequent damage over the centuries. The Church contains the Chapel of Golgotha and the three Stations of the Cross where Jesus was crucified, and the Sepulchre itself marks the place of his burial and resurrection. This incredible church is filled with treasures and should be of great historical and architectural interest regardless of one's religious beliefs. It is an absolute must for Christians. The church is home to several Christian denominations.

    Church of the Holy Sepulchre Church of the Holy Sepulchre Meaghan O'Neill
    Temple Mount (Al-Haram al-Sharif)

    Temple Mount is tremendously important to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. Located within the Old City's walled section, its glinting, golden Dome of the Rock is easily Jerusalem's most distinguishable feature. From a Jewish and Christian perspective, the large rock is said to be where Abraham offered his son Isaac up for sacrifice. Many believe that the First Temple once housed the Ark of the Covenant. Visitors should also note that the Israeli government prohibits non-Muslim prayer on the site. Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from the same rock so, for this reason, they built the Dome over this site in the 7th century.

    Dome of the Rock Dome of the Rock James Emery
    Western Wall (HaKotel HaMaaravi)

    The Western Wall (Wailing Wall to non-Jews) is the most sacred Jewish prayer-site in the world. Thousands of worshippers gather year-round to pray here, and to place folded written prayers into the wall's crevices. The wall is all that remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, built by King Herod in 20 BCE. It is made up of enormous stone blocks, and endures as a tribute to the scale of workmanship in past eras. Following Orthodox Jewish practice, the praying sections have been separated for men and women. Men are required to wear a skullcap (kippah) and women must be modestly dressed.

    Western Wall Western Wall Brian Jeffery Beggerly
    Via Dolorosa

    The Via Dolorosa (Road of Sorrow) is the route Jesus is said to have followed as he carried the cross to his crucifixion. There are 14 stations along the way commemorating different events, starting at Lion's Gate in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, where Jesus was convicted by Pontius Pilate, and ending at his tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter. A steady stream of pilgrims remember and honour Jesus' sacrifice by walking the Way of the Cross every year.

    Ninth Station Ninth Station Britchi Mirela
    Yad VaShem

    The museum documents and commemorates the events of the Holocaust, and also furthers education through ongoing research into the period. In this way, it honours the millions of Jews who died during World War II. Visitors will find the largest and most comprehensive collection of Holocaust material in the world, which includes documents, photographs, films and videotaped testimonies of survivors. These can be read and viewed in the allocated rooms. Engaging with the information is a sobering, emotional experience.The Hall of Names recognises the Holocaust's six million victims, and is an inspiring tribute to them.

    Yad VaShem Yad VaShem israeltourism
    The Israel Museum

    The Israel Museum has achieved world-class status. Its remarkable collections include displays of archaeology from the Holy Land, a comprehensive compilation of Judaica and the ethnology of Jewish people, plus a fine-art collection encompassing Old Masters and renowned contemporary works. Many temporary exhibitions, publications, lectures and educational activities form part of the museum's cultural programme. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which date from between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE, are perhaps the museum's most exciting artefacts. A young Bedouin shepherd famously discovered them in a cave in 1947.

    Website: www.imj.org.il
    The Israel Museum The Israel Museum Ricardo Tulio Gandelman
    Citadel or Tower of David

    Called the Tower of David, Jerusalem's Citadel is a medieval fortress with architectural elements from later periods. Its tallest tower, the Phasael, is the best place to appreciate its magnificent view of the city. The Citadel contains the excellent Museum of the History of Jerusalem, which displays 4,000 years' worth of the city's past in its rooms and courtyards. Free tours of The Citadel and museum are conducted in Hebrew on Tuesdays at 10:30am, and in English every day except Friday and Saturday at 11am. The 'light and sound' show held almost nightly is also a delightful way to learn about the history of Jerusalem.

    Tower of David Tower of David israeltourism
    Hezekiah's Tunnel

    Hezekiah's Tunnel is an absolute must-see for those who like to combine their sightseeing with a real sense of discovery and adventure. The tunnel is about 2,700 years old and was built by King Hezekiah in preparation for an invasion by the Assyrians. His plan was to shut down springs based outside the city, and redirect water through a tunnel under the city walls. In this way, he looked to protect Jerusalem's precious water supply and outlast the invaders.

    Hezekiah's Tunnel Hezekiah's Tunnel Morgan Levy

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    The climate of Jerusalem is said to be ideal, with its relatively high altitude ensuring warm, dry summer weather with low humidity, and contrasting chilly, wet winters. Snow may fall in winter but is a rarity that is greeted as a novel experience by locals. Summer days are sunny and pleasant with temperatures averaging around 75°F (24°C). In the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, Jerusalem sometimes experiences the hot, dry desert wind known as the sharav or khamsin, traditionally believed to blow for 50 days out of the year.

    Peak tourism season in Jerusalem is summer, particularly July and August. Jerusalem doesn't get as hot as some other parts of Israel, but it can get crowded. June is a good time to visit as travellers get the pleasant summer weather but not as many crowds. Even in summer, visitors may need a sweater occasionally after dark because the city can get chilly at night.

    May or October (late spring and autumn) are also good times to travel to Jerusalem. But, as October is holiday season for the Israelis, things tend to get more expensive over this period and some restaurants and shops will close in the city as locals leave for vacation.

    Jerusalem has an extensive public bus service, and most drivers speak English. Most bus services stop over Shabbat (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday), which means tourists have to find alternative transport at these times.

    Taxis are plentiful, identifiable by a yellow sign on the roof, and can be hailed in the street, ordered by telephone or hired outside hotels and the main places of interest. Taxis are metered and charge more late at night and on Saturdays and public holidays. Passengers should make sure the taxi driver turns the meter on at the start of a journey.

    Shared taxis (sheruts) are another popular form of transport, travelling fixed routes and usually costing about the same as a bus. Passengers can get on and off when they need to, though drivers (and fellow passengers) can be impatient when it comes to delays. Ride sharing for a fee is illegal in Israel. Uber does operate in the country, but only as a service for ordering taxis. Other apps that provide the same service are Gett, Raxi and Yango.

    Local drivers tend to be unruly and visitors often find driving a bit stressful, especially if they don't understand the road signs. The old city area is compact enough to explore on foot, and this is certainly the most interesting way to get around.

    A holy city in three major world religions, it is not surprising that the iconic attractions in Jerusalem are almost exclusively religious sites. However, pilgrims and sightseers will find attractions such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Temple Mount and the Western Wall enthralling because of their age and global significance. Exploring Jerusalem's religious sites, such as Bethlehem and the Via Dolorosa, is rewarding even with a secular mind-set, as the cultural and historical aspects of these famous places can be extremely interesting. Of course, for the faithful, these sites are profoundly important.

    If visitors are interested in the political situation as well as the history of Israel and the Jewish people, there are a number of world-class museums to visit in Jerusalem, including the Israel Museum and Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial museum). The Tower of David, known as The Citadel, also houses a remarkable museum.

    For lovers of history there are gems such as Hezekiah's Tunnel, dug as a water conduit under Jerusalem about 2,700 years ago, and Masada, an ancient fortification set on a picturesque mountaintop. The latter is Israel's most popular paid attraction.

    Things to see and do in Jerusalem also include natural attractions, many of which, such as the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, have religious significance. Worthwhile excursions out of Jerusalem include trips to the eternally popular Dead Sea, and the unique, crater-like Makhtesh Ramon rock formation.

    Masada

    The mountaintop fortress of Masada (sometimes spelled Massada) is one of Israel's most popular and remarkable tourist attractions. Situated in the Judean Desert and overlooking the Dead Sea, this site is where 967 Jewish Zealots rose against Rome in 66 AD, taking their own lives when defeat seemed inevitable. King Herod built the ancient fortress they defended against Roman siege. Visitors can still explore the ruins of ancient structures and palaces, and see the remains of the most complete Roman siege system in the world. The Roman camps, siege wall and ramp are still clearly visible. Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place of profound interest for military-history buffs.

    Masada Masada Ana Paula Hirama
    Bethlehem

    Bethlehem is just six miles (10km) south of Jerusalem, and is a major tourist attraction for pilgrims and visitors alike. Reputed to be the birthplace of Jesus, the town is charming despite its tourist-centred commercialism. The Church of the Nativity is the focal point for visitors, and is erected over the site of Jesus' birthplace. Bethlehem is also a wonderful place to see a variety of monasteries that represent different Christian denominations. Christmas is celebrated on three separate dates in accordance with the Catholic Church calendar, the Eastern calendar followed by the Armenians, and the Julian calendar followed by the Greek Orthodox and Eastern churches.

    Church of the Nativity Church of the Nativity Britchi Mirela
    The Dead Sea

    The Dead Sea and its immediate environment have many natural wonders. Wellness travellers are most interested in the high salt and mineral concentration found in its waters, which, besides enabling visitors to float effortlessly on the surface, give the region's black mud tremendous therapeutic properties. As the water is wonderfully warm, swimming is possible all year round. The Dead Sea region also boasts some fascinating archaeological sites, with traces of Persian, Greek, Roman and other civilisations remaining. Notable historical locations include the notorious biblical city of Sodom.

    The Dead Sea The Dead Sea Gustavo Jeronimo
    Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater)

    The Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) is a fascinating geological site in Israel's Negev Desert. Located about 53 miles (85km) south of Be'er Sheva, it owes its form to millions of years of erosion and weathering following the ocean's withdrawal, rather than a meteor impact. These days, the vast crater is housed within Ramon National Park: one of Israel's most popular ecotourism destinations. Shaped like an elongated heart, the crater is a magnificent sight and a powerful reminder of the region's incredible age. A variety of indigenous plants and animals populate the area, including the Nubian ibex, striped hyena, Arabian leopard and Dorcas gazelle.

    Makhtesh Ramon Makhtesh Ramon Antoine Taveneaux
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