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Guide to Jewish Quarter in Old City, Jerusalem

June 9, 2012

Point of Departure: Jaffa Gate or Zion Gate
Duration: 3-4 hours

Jewish Quarter map, Jerusalem

Jewish Quarter map, Jerusalem

Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate

Enter Jaffa Gate, in the direction of David Street, the main street of the Old City’s oriental market, then pass through the market to Ha’shalsheket Street. You will see beautiful Mameluke buildings that were used as Muslim religious places of learning – “Madrasa”. Turning right to the end of the street will lead to the Western Wall enclosure and the Jewish Quarter. The Jewish Quarter was renovated and rebuilt after the city’s reunification in 1967, following 19 years of Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem. Under the direction of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, many important sites have been restored and preserved. Ruins dating back to the period of the First Temple has been restored, as were constructions pillaged by the Jordanian Legion in 1948.

The most important site in this Quarter and in Jerusalem, in general, is the Temple Mount, which are of the Western Wall. This is the site on which, according to tradition, the Patriarch Abraham was said to have prepared the sacrifice of his son Isaac. Over time, the Temple Mount has become holy site for the three monolithic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. King David bought the area from Arvana the Jebusite. David’s son, King Soloman, built the First Temple on the site in 961 B.C. Jews returning from Babylon built the Second Temple, and King Herod renovated and enlarged the complex.

Western Wall, Jerusalem

Western Wall, Jerusalem

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., only the western wall of the Temple Mount Wall remained. It is said that the Holy Presence has never left the Western Wall. While praying, Jews all over the world face the Temple Mount. The Western Wall, known in Hebrew as Hakotel Hama’aravi, has become a site of religious, historical and national significance.

Since the re-unification of the city in 1967, multitudes of worshippers, visitors and tourists throng to the Western Wall. Visitors to the Western Wall are requested to respect its holiness and dress modestly.

Western Wall Tunnel, Jerusalem

Western Wall Tunnel, Jerusalem

On the northern side of the Western Wall, a tunnel was excavated along its lower sections, which led to the Temple Mount. This is the Western Wall Tunnel. A visit to the tunnel, encountering ancient and impressive sites connected to the Temple Mount, is an emotional experience which should not be missed. Adjacent to the tunnel is the Generations Center, where you can take a walk along the Jewish chain of generations. From the Western Wall, you descend to The Jerusalem Archeological Park, where you will visit the remains ranging from the Second Temple to the Crusader period.

In the southwest corner, you can see a huge, splendid twelve-ton stone that supports the Temple Mount. Discover Herodian Street, on which there is a pile of massive stones that fell from the Temple Mount during the destruction in the year 70 A.D. Above the street was an immense arch which formed the staircase along which pilgrims made their way to the Temple Mount. This arch is named the Robinson’s Arch, after the person who discovered it, and today you can see its remnants.

Hulda Gate

Hulda Gate

Continuing the tour, you can proceed to the southern wall of the Temple Mount, in the area known as The Ophel, where visitors can ascend the ancient giant steps of the Hulda Gates, which lead to the Holy Temple during the Second Temple period. Here you can see dozens of ritual baths (Mikvaot) that were used by pilgrims before they entered Temple Mount indicating the importance of purification procedure at that time.

The Davidson Center, one of the most innovative tourist centers in the world, integrates a rich and varied presentations of archeological findings using computerized media and visual presentations, is located in this park. The Centers is built around a series of galleries, creating the feeling of a “time tunnel” passing through the various periods: Hashmonean, Roman, Byzantine and Omayan periods at the commencement of Islam, and the later Fatima Sultans, Crusader and Marmeluke periods.

Continuing to the upper Jewish Quarter, along the road adjacent to the city walls, you can climb a short section of the wall, which is at the elevation of the present-day road, for a panoramic view of the City of David and village of Shiloach. Then turn right towards the Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai Center, a complex of four Sephardic Synagogues. This site was devastated in 1948, but was restored between 1967 and 1971.

Walk north and reach the center of the Jewish Quarter. Here you can see Rabman Synagogue, named after Rabbi Moshe Ben Nahman, who arrived in Jerusalem from Spain in 1267 and who is considered to be a pioneer of the renewed, post Crusader Jewish settlement in the city. Initially, researchers though that this was the house that the Ramban had converted into a synagogue, which was the center of the rehabilitated Jewish community in Jerusalem. Now this building was first used as synagogue approximately one hundred years after the Ramban arrived. Even if present-day researchers think differently, this remains the most ancient synagogue in which there are two Holy Arks. Its roof is the Hurvat Rabbi Yehuda Hassid Synagogue that is known as the “Hurva” which is currently being renovated in order to re-establish this synagogue. In 1700, Rabbi Yehuda Hassid arrived in the Quarter from Poland, together with a group of Jews. Until this time, there had not been any consolidated Ashkenazi Jewish community in Jerusalem, and the few had been there previously had been assimilated into the Sephardic community. This Ashkenazi community began building the synagogue, and after their Rabbi’s death, his students continued the building, aided by loans taken from the Arabs. Since they were unable to repay the loans, the creditors attacked the synagogue and burnt it down. The Ashkenazi Jews were forced to leave Jerusalem and move to Zefat. Since then, this site has been known as the “Hurva” – the Ruins – of Rabbi Yehuda HaHassid. The synagogue’s reconstruction was made possible by the Egyptian ruler, Muhamed Ali, who then allowed its reconstruction, while wiping out the debts. This synagogue was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, as were other synagogues. Close by are the ruins of the Tiferet Israel synagogue, which has also not yet been restored. After the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, it was decided to leave it in its present condition as a memorial to the destruction.

Continue east to Kara’im Street and enter into the Herodian Quarter-Wohl Archeological Museum, where you see the reconstructed ruins of an affluent residential district, known as the “Upper City” from the Second Temple period. The mosaic floor, fresco decorations, stucco and stone artifacts indicate the lifestyle of the upper class during this period. If you wish to visit another archeological site, continue north to the Burnt House – Kathros’ House, which apparently had been the affluent residence of the Kathros family, which was numbered amongst the city’s priests and leaders. Living proof of the great fire during the Great Revolt against the Romans in 70 A.D., includes the arm bone of a woman and a steel lance found in the house.

Exit this site and continue a short distance to the Wide Wall on Plugat HaKotel Street. This wall has a width of 7 meters and length of 65 meters. This wall formed a part of Jerusalem’s northern defenses, and enriched the hill to the west of Jerusalem. At the beginning of the 8th century B.C., Jerusalem was an unprotected city, and the wall, apparently constructed during the period of King Hizkiyahu’s reign, fortified the city and prepared it for the Assyrian siege. Parts of the wall are constructed on the ruins of the houses that has been destroyed in order to build it.

Israelite Tower

Israelite Tower

Continue north and enter the Israelite Tower, which contains impressive ruins of walls from the end of the First and Second Temple periods, and links up with the ruins of the wall at the Cardo and later Hashmonean fortifications. Opposite the Israelite Tower, in the Rachel Ben Zvi Center, is Ariel, a First Temple model of Jerusalem from that period, illustrating the topography of Jerusalem’s rock surface during that period.

Continue to the Museum “Alone on the Walls”, the ‘Last Battle’ for the Quarter, which documents the last day of the battle for the Jewish Quarter on the eve of its fall into Jordanian hands on May 28, 1948.

Cardo

Cardo

Next stop is the Cardo, the reconstructed main street of a 6th century Byzantine city, which traversed the city from north to south, from the Damascus Gate to Mount Zion. The original route of the road has been preserved, and a section has been restored with pillars standing as they did in the past. During the Crusader period, a section of the Cardo became a market. The “niches”, which had been shops in the past, are used today as shops and galleries that blend into a prestigious commercial zone. Inside the Cardo, you can descend a flight of stairs that lead to an excavation, where you can view the gap between the two sections of the wall, apparently from the Hashmonean period. It is assumed that this is the “Ginat Gate” that appears in the book of Yosef Ben Matityahu. On leaving the Cardo, make your way to the Isaac Kaplan Old Yishuv Court Museum, which illustrates life in the Jewish Quarter up to 1948.

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