Holy Land Pilgrimage: explore ancient Jerusalem

A crossroads of religious diversity


Old City, Jerusalem, Israel

GPS: 31.775493816367, 35.229712587955

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Explore ancient Jerusalem, a unique historical, spiritual and religious centre. As one of the oldest cities on earth it is a major sacred place for Holy Land Pilgrimage, and is dedicated to the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Old City of Jerusalem has a rich history that covers 4,000 years. It was first built by the Jebusites, a biblical people in the 3rd millennium BC. It was King David, the second monarch of Israel and regularly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh), who conquered the city around the year -1000. He installed the Ark of the Covenant in Solomon’s Temple church, a chest in which the biblical texts written by the hand of God were stipulated. This place of worship and cradle of monotheism attracted the first pilgrims to explore ancient Jerusalem. The city was subsequently the object of numerous covetousness, military sieges and plundering by neighbouring kingdoms or empires, not to mention the recurrent damage caused by earthquakes. It came under the domination of various civilizations (Hellenistic, Assyrian, Roman, Ottoman…) and successive fortifications were erected to protect it from invaders.

The Old City still has many vestiges cherished by the faithful who explore ancient Jerusalem during their Holy Land Pilgrimage, such as the famous Wailing Wall (also called Western Wall, Kotel, Kosel or Buraq Wall). Made up of huge stone blocks over 20 metres high, this monument now serves as a large open-air synagogue in the Jewish religion. In the time of David and Solomon (10th century BC), they correspond to the western wall of a first cultic temple (Solomon’s Temple) destroyed by the Babylonians during the siege of the city by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BC. A second temple and a sanctuary, dedicated to Judaism, were built on the foundations of the first building by Herod the Great (king of Judea) in the 1st century BC. This massive structure, known as the Temple in Jerusalem, is one of the largest structures built at that time. It became a major pilgrimage site for the Jews. In the year 70, the wealth and structures adorning the Temple Mount were decimated by the Roman army. This attack was led by the future emperor Titus who seized the city of Jerusalem during the First Jewish-Roman War (after which the Jewish community was forced into exile). From the 4th century onwards, millions of Christian pilgrims travelled to explore ancient Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to glorify the death and resurrection of Christ (Jesus of Nazareth). In the 7th century, the symbolic sanctuary of the Temple Mount (also called Haram al-Sharif in Arabic) was the site of the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Chain (Qubbat al-Silsilah), all of which can be visited on a Holy Land Pilgrimage.

Located in the heart of the Jerusalem Holy City and covering a small square kilometre, the Old City is traditionally divided into four quarters: Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian (Armenia being one of the first countries in the world to officially convert to Christianity in the early 4th century AD). Also known as the Golden City Jerusalem or the Eternal City Jerusalem, this small geographical area concentrates hundreds of historical and religious remains including several museums, churches, mosques and synagogues in a sacred atmosphere where those on a Holy Land Pilgrimage can explore ancient Jeruselam.

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  • A unique destination for multiple cultures and faiths; the charm of the narrow streets of the four districts of the Old City of Jerusalem
  • The many markets, souks and bazaars teeming with shops and restaurants
  • The view of the Old City from the Mount of Olives
  • The discovery of the gates and walls of Jerusalem (two routes accessible between the Jaffa Gate and the Lions’ Gate); the guided tour of the Western Wall Tunnel (underground site to the buildings of the Old City of Jerusalem)
  • The Wailing Wall (very busy on Friday, the day before Shabbat), the Temple Mount and the Tower of David; the small wall (less known and not sacred part, therefore more easily accessible)
  • The Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Solomon’s Stables (El-Marwani Mosque) under the site of the Temple Mount (the third-holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina)
  • The Christ’s tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the Via Dolorosa (literally the “Way of Suffering” which Jesus is said to have taken before his crucifixion)
  • The Israel Museum with one of the most important archaeological collections in the Near East
  • The many festivals and shows that take place in Jerusalem throughout the year
  • The 2,000-year-old Temple Mount covers almost 20% of the area of the Old City of Jerusalem. Its four fortified walls are still standing and parts of it, such as the 19-metre high Wailing Wall, extend several metres underground. Among its foundations is a single stone block 14 metres long and estimated to weigh 300 tonnes. This impressive retaining wall is made up of gigantic stones (the visible part is 57 metres long compared to 500 metres before). It was intended to support the buildings located on the hill just above (called the Temple Mount by the Jewish community or the Haram esh-Sharif by the Muslim community). According to David Hamidovic (historian and archaeologist of ancient Judaism), this prominent place in the history of Jerusalem cannot be excavated in depth because it is a sacred site. For the same reason, the Wailing Wall cannot even be restored or maintained.
  • The name “Wailing Wall” refers to a Jewish fast day (Tisha B’Av) which commemorates the two destructions of the Temple in Jerusalem (by the Babylonians and then by the Romans). In David Hamidovic’s opinion, it is also a place of remembrance of the tragic events experienced by the Jewish people in its history. Indeed, this religious community was repeatedly banished from Jerusalem and forced into exile. During other periods, access was limited to certain fast days. This famous wall of the city of Jerusalem is therefore a holy monument for Jews and Muslims. It is also known as the Western Wall or the Buraq Wall (named after the winged horse of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad). Because Jews come here to mourn the loss of their ancestral temple, this monument was given the name “Wailing Wall”. It corresponds to the last remains of the enclosure of the second Temple of Jerusalem erected by Herod the Great. The upper parts of the Wailing Wall were restored several times in the Middle Ages. Its less massive stones correspond to the Umayyad period (Arab dynasty of the 8th century) and then the Ottoman period (between the 13th and 16th centuries).
  • Used as a place of pilgrimage, the Wailing Wall has brought together many worshippers for over two millennia. This vast sanctuary is a sacred site for Judaism (a rabbi has been assigned to the wall since 1968). The natural cracks between the interstices of the stones contain hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper on which pilgrims’ wishes and prayers to their deity are written since the 17th century. Twice a year, the local authorities are forced to remove all of these handwritten notes and bury them on the Mount of Olives to protect this sacred wall from damage.
  • The Haram esh-Sharif is the site where the Dome of the Rock stands. It represents the very place where the Prophet Mohammed (Muhammad ibn Abdullah) is said to have arrived from Mecca to ascend to paradise and make contact with God. It is considered the second holiest place for Muslims after Mecca.
  • The walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, still visible today, were built by the 10th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent, in 1538.
  • In the Christian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre embodies the supposed crucifixion site of Christ (Golgotha or Calvar) and is said to house his tomb (the Holy Sepulchre). This revered place, which Christians consider to be the holiest site in the world, is regularly the scene of disputes between the six ecumenical Christian orders present in Jerusalem: the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Coptic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church. A 250-year-old controversy concerns a wooden ladder that was used for the maintenance of the building. Since the 18th century, this ladder has been resting on the sill of the church’s facade on the second floor, under a window. No one dares to move it for fear of provoking arguments and fights between Christian communities. As a symbol of the Status Quo Agreement (governing the use and occupation of the sanctuaries of the main Christian holy places), it is called “the immovable ladder”.
  • Herod I (or Herod the Great) was responsible for another incredible construction located some 15 kilometres south of Jerusalem, in the West Bank. It is a fortified palace, erected on top of an artificial hill in the middle of the desert. Called Herodium (or Herodeion), this monument includes several water cisterns connected by underground passages. It is designed like a mausoleum and contains the tomb of the king of Judea.
  • Threatened by urbanisation and the constant increase in tourist numbers, Jerusalem is inscribed on the list of World Heritage in Danger by UNESCO. With its 4.5 million visitors per year, access to the Old City is regularly saturated. A project for an urban cable car is being studied to relieve congestion in the city. Eventually, it could link the modern districts to the east at the foot of the ramparts and archaeological remains of the holy city.
  • Every year, dozens of people suffer from Jerusalem Syndrome and need to be admitted to the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center. These mental and psychic disorders are caused by the strong emotional charge of tourists and pilgrims in the Holy City. They manifest themselves as temporary delusions that can last for several days. For example, it is not uncommon for visitors to believe that they are prophets, saints or reincarnations of biblical characters and feel that they have a divine mission. These pathologies have been observed since the Middle Ages and usually take place during the great religious fast days when the city’s effervescence reaches its peak.
  • Jerusalem is susceptible to periods of temporary violence, so be sure to check your government’s advice before travelling there. Since the mid-20th century, the Old City of Jerusalem has been the site of intense tension in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
  • May or October are pleasant months to visit Jerusalem outside the peak tourist season and the main religious holidays.
  • The esplanade in front of the Wailing Wall is becoming more and more holy due to the rise of the ultra-orthodox political parties. It should be noted that women only have access to the southern section of the monument (the smallest part of the wall), although more and more women’s voices are being raised to demand the same rights as men.
  • If you wish to get close to the Wailing Wall, a certain number of rules must be respected (wearing the kippah, loose clothing…). There is a foundation near the wall to present certain religious rites and explain how to pray.
  • The Israel Museum, located in the Givat Ram neighborhood, displays a well-detailed model of the city of Jerusalem in the first century AD. This very interesting 400 m² representation allows imagining what the city looked like just before its destruction by Titus in the year 70. Another model, visible in the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu (near Zion Gate), gives another perspective on the city of Jerusalem in the Byzantine period (between the 4th and 7th centuries).

Where to eat

  • Tala Hummus and Falafel
    (exhilarating oriental dishes)
  • Austrian Hospice
    (shining frame)
  • Touro
    (fine and original cuisine)

Where to go

  • Yad Vashem
    (touching museum)
  • Church of the Nativity
    (biblical shrine)
  • Ein Karem
    (pleasant village)

Where to stay

  • Ecce Homo Convent
    (ancient convent)
  • St. George's Cathedral Guest...
    (superb stone building)
  • The King David
    (palace and refined gardens)