Jerusalem regularly appears in the news, yet it is a remarkably safe place to visit. The city is the most important pilgrimage destination for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Sometimes the holy sites of one religion are located right next to the sacred places of another religion.
Alongside the archaeological sites that date back to Biblical days, Jerusalem is a modern, vibrant city that serves as Israel’s capital. In contrast to secular Tel Aviv, Jerusalem is much more conservative and religious. Tourists will certainly include a visit to Jerusalem as part of their itinerary and even those who have visited in the past will enjoy exploring the city again.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This church in the heart of the Old City is traditionally believed to be located on the spot where Jesus was crucified. The church has been a pilgrimage destination since its construction in the fourth century. The building, shadowy and filled with incense and candles, is maintained by four Christian denominations. Each of them has its own chapels and altars to serve the faithful who come from all over the world to pray in the church.
Israel’s national museum is home to an astounding collections of archaeological finds; Judaica; European, modern, and Israeli art; sculptures; photography; and fascinating exhibitions that change from month to month. Of special interest are the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea scrolls; and a huge model of Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple. It is possible to spend an entire day at the Israel Museum and still not see it all.
Mahane Yehuda Market
A visit to Jerusalem wouldn’t be complete without a stroll through an open market, also known as the shuk. This central market has stalls for fruits and vegetables and much more. As you walk along the narrow passageways the merchants call out to announce the latest price of their produce. A visit at night is a completely different experience as the area is lively with restaurants and nightclubs.
This slightly raised section of the Old City is sacred to the followers of all three major religions. It is the location where the First and Second Temples stood; the latter was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Muslims consider the mount to be holy, but not because of the gold-topped Dome of the Rock at its centre. The Al-Aqsa Mosque, at the southern edge, is the third holiest site in Islam as it is traditionally believed to be where the prophet Muhammed ascended into heaven.
This wall and its wide plaza is holy to Jews and serves as a huge outdoors synagogue. The wall itself is a retaining wall of the Second Temple, which stood on the Temple Mount two thousand years ago. The large rectangular stones were put in place under the rule of Herod the Great. Access to the wall is segregated into separate areas for men and women. It is traditional to kiss the wall and to place small notes with personal prayers between its stones.
Admittedly, Israel is bit expensive, but you don’t need to win the Mega Millions lottery to afford a visit. In addition to luxury hotels, Jerusalem has a wide range of budget hotels and hostels, making a stay in the city a bit more affordable. No matter when you come, and what you see, visiting Jerusalem is truly a fascinating experience.
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Image credits (under CCL): feature, Market