Jerusalem - the City Photography - M1key - Michal Huniewicz
'Ten measures of beauty descended upon the world, nine were given to Jerusalem and one to the rest of the world.'
(Midrash Tanhuma, Kedoshim 10)
Were they really? In this gallery I'll show you a bunch of pictures of Jerusalem that I took during my 2011 trip to the Middle East. You'll find a little
information about the history of the place, as well as its current status, plus a little tourist advice.
I usually don't do this, but -- if you're going to Jerusalem, I recommend staying at the Abraham Hostel. It has a convenient location and a lot to offer in
terms of productively organising your time. (Seriously; they're not paying me for this.)
For a more personal gallery and more subjective picture descriptions, see Jerusalem - My Impressions.
Welcome to Jerusalem. What you're looking at is where Jaffa Road, one of the oldest streets in Jerusalem, meets the Old City, the main attraction.
Jerusalem Old City walls (built in 1536-1541) are clearly visible in the background. The tiny bit of green is called The National Garden.
Go to Jaffa Road for cozy pubs and cafes, and to relax in the Middle Eastern sun. Conveniently, the Jerusalem Light Rail operates there, should you need
to travel a bit further.
But now, let's move on!
This is the Old City Promenade, East and within walking distance of Jaffa Road. Notice plane trails forming an interesting shape.
What is Jerusalem like? People in Israel often say that Jerusalem prays while Tel Aviv plays. For night life, they say, go to Tel Aviv. It might lead you to think Jerusalem is and has always been
a holy city with no entertainment. Not quite. 'All temptation is collected here - prostitutes, actors and clowns.' reported of the 4th century Jerusalem the Roman scholar Jerome.
'There is no sort of shameful practices in which they don't indulge' - admired Gregory of Nyssa. Even the Holy Sepulchre, the alleged site of Jesus' crucifixion,
was a 'complete brothel', as was said by a 15th century Christian pilgrim -- people believed that children conceived within the Church were blessed.
While the Jerusalem of today may not be the Amsterdam of the Middle East, you'll find fun if you wish.
'Jerusalem is for us an object of worship that we could not give up even if there were only one of us left.'
wrote Richard the Lionheart in a letter to Saladin, but he eventually failed to conquer Jerusalem - in fact he did not even
try, knowing he wouldn't be able to hold it. That was in the times of crusades which local Muslims still remember and still hold
a grudge against, even though it was centuries ago; and they probably will let you feel that if they classify you as a
But first things first. This is the Old City of Jerusalem; the photo was taken from what is known as the Tower of David near the Jaffa Gate.
The grey domes on the left belong to the Holy Sepulchre (and where Jesus was crucified, say the Christians).
Moving further to the right, notice the Temple Mount (where the golden dome is), the mosque where non Muslims are not allowed (and where
Prophet Muhammad landed after flying on his horse, Buraq, say the Muslims).
Further to the right, in the back, is the Mount of Olives, which has been a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years
(and where the end of the world will begin when the Messiah comes, say the Jews).
You can imagine how much tension those often mutually exclusive beliefs cause.
Here's an example of this tension. This is the Muslim Yeusefiya Cemetery. It's built outside the Lions' Gate (that gate is where the Via Dolorosa starts - the path Jesus walked with the cross to his crucifixion,
according to the Christian tradition; a bit to the right of the trees in the picture is the Mount of Olives -- not pictured here -- where Jesus was betrayed and captured).
This is also where the Golden Gate is, or rather was; it has been sealed off by Muslims, namely by Suleiman the Magnificient (who also built the current walls around the Old City),
to stop the Jewish Messiah from entering the city!
Such is Jerusalem, where the three Abrahamic religions meet to compete.
The Old City is divided into 4 quarters: Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Armenian. This picture was taken near the Ala' e Din street in the Muslim Quarter
where the black community lives, descended from African Muslims settled there during the Jordanian rule.
The history of Jerusalem is long and complicated, and obviously exceeds the scope of this gallery. It is important to note that Jerusalem has pretty much no strategic significance
as such; it is only important as a religious site; yet it was conquered a countless number of times with each conqueror changing its character to some extent.
There is evidence of human occupation from 4000 years BCE (the Copper Age); the first reference to Jerusalem (Urušalimum) is from the 19th century BCE Egyptian records.
It's worthwhile remembering that the streets you're walking on in Jerusalem have nothing to do with those from millenia ago, they are quite recent. The old streets are
now underground, some of them excavated.
The Western Wall
The Western Wall
The Western Wall or Wailing Wall is pretty much all that remains of the Second Temple built by Herod the Great in 19 BCE. Jews today lament the destruction of the Second Temple
by the Romans (the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians); they also believe the Third Temple will be built on the spot.
In the picture you can see a mechitza (fence) separating men and women. The women's section is significantly smaller and usually more crowded.
Say cheese! All sorts of people come to the Wall and everyone is allowed to touch it and leave a note. The slips of paper people leave are supposed to be prayers to God. This phenomenon
started probably in the 18th century. The notes (over a million a year) are collected and buried on the Mount of Olives every six months.
I went there a couple times, once with a Muslim friend wearing traditional Muslim clothes - and no one had a problem with that.
It offends us!
It offends us!
But the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Mea Shearim is much less tolerant. If you misbehave, they will literally throw rocks at you. Haredi Jews live there and they certainly do not seek compromise.
My guide book said 'Go there and you'll feel like visiting the 17th century Poland'. Indeed, that was the closest to travelling in time
I ever got.
Take a look at the rules they expect you to obey. Also, notice how they did not spell the word God on the sign. It's G-d instead, out of respect.
Populated almost entirely by ultra orthodox East European Ashkenazi Jews, Mea Shearim is built like a fortress, with windows
facing inwards. The inhabitants are in a theological conflict with modern Israel, which they consider an abomination. They speak Yiddish and consider Hebrew
to be too sacred for regular conversation. Women are shaven bald and wear wigs.
Mea Shearim means 100 gates.
The orthodox Jews are a big problem now in Israel, considered sometimes a national threat greater than outside enemies. They usually don't work, just study the Torah
and live off welfare.
They are poorly educated and often live in poverty. They don't have to serve in the army. They have tax exemptions. This has been ignored
for decades but now that Israel is facing economic difficulties, more and more people are annoyed by the Haredim. The Haredi population doubles every 12-20
They believe they contribute enough to society by raising Torah scholars.
They are consistently hawkish when it comes
to the Palestinians and all that is on theological grounds. Opposed to modernity, they rarely use television, and only a censored version
of the Internet (with no Wikipedia for example) is available to them.
This is my friend Dena and in background on the left hand side you might be able to make out the Dome of the Rock, located
on the Temple Mount.
This was taken in the Jewish Quarter, near the Hurva Synagogue ('the ruin synagogue'). The quarter is home to 2,000 inhabitants,
and has had almost continuous Jewish presence since the 8th century BCE. It was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948 during the Arab-Israeli war,
and then what remained was subsequently demolished. The synagogue itself has been demolished and restored many times throughout history.
The Jews regained control of the area after the Six-Day War in 1967. The quarter was then rebuilt preserving the architectural
style of Jerusalem, although it doesn't feel very old today.
People at the Damascus Gate (I couldn't help thinking they'd make great models for Hieronymus Bosch), the main entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. The gate in its current form was built in 1537 by
Suleiman the Magnificient, who is buried in the Süleymaniye Mosque, which I showed you in my Istanbul Sights 2011
Damascus Gate is a very lively place where people sell, buy, beg, and just hang out.
At the Damascus Gate. The man is wearing a kufiya, which I briefly described in my Bedouin
Based on studies of women of the Luo and Kikuyu tribes of East Africa, researchers have found that people can carry loads of
up to 20 percent of their own body weight without expending any extra energy beyond what they'd use by walking around unencumbered.
Do not try it at home though - it requires a lot of practice.
Other, perhaps less efficient, methods of carrying.
As previously mentioned, this is the church located at the site where, according to the Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified and buried; therefore it's the hill of Golgotha.
Not all Christians agree that's where it was.
Why that place? Saint Helena decided that this was where the crucifixion had taken place because there used to be a temple of Aphrodite right there
(and it was a common practice to build one temple where another one, of a different religion, had been); and because she thought
she had found the True Cross on the spot, underground (that story possibly being a later invention), which was often used (not necessarily the same copy; there were many, just
like there are many heads of John the Baptist) in battles to boost the morale of Christian warriors.
The church is taken care of by seven Christian denominations and they have always been in conflict with one another, which often resulted in
violence and even death.
'A sin committed [in Jerusalem] is equal to a thousand sins and a good deed there to a thousand good deeds.' -- Khalid bin Madan al-Kalai, Fadail.
It turns out that you cannot trust the Christians with the keys to the Holy Sepulchre, so for 8 centuries a single Muslim family has been taking care of the keys,
and they open (4AM) and close (8PM) the church every day.
All pilgrims are welcome at Holy Sepulchre, although as a non-believer I was told to 'accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour' (exact words); while my Muslim friend's faith
This grim priest is standing in front of the Sepulchre of Jesus (the tomb of Jesus). Again, not all Christians agree that this is where Jesus was buried.
Only the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic Churches have rights to the interior of the tomb. The other four denominations do not.
The Protestants do not believe that this is the location and they have their own Tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem (aka Garden Tomb) which I sadly failed to visit.
These women are in the outer chamber inside Jesus' Tomb. You have to patiently wait in a queue to get there. There's a small door
that lets you inside the innermost chamber where Jesus' body was supposed to be laid to rest.
According to the Jerusalem - The Biography book, which I recommend, it is not entirely unlikely that the church is where Jesus was actually crucified,
if we assume he existed, because the tradition was kept alive by local Christians for the next 3 centuries after the crucifixion.
This house is decorated with colourful paint - the sign that someone living there had an opportunity to do the Hajj - the pilgrimage to Mecca.
In the bottom left corner you can see the Kaaba (literally 'the cube'), the most sacred site in Islam (the second is Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina
where Prophet Muhammad is buried; Jerusalem is the third).
Via Dolorosa, according to some Christians, is the path Jesus walked with the cross to his crucifixion. The route and the Stations of the Cross are
actually a medieval tradition developed by Franciscan monks; the route is almost certainly wrong. For example, the 'archway of emperor's Hadrian
lesser forum survives on the Via Dolorosa, which many Christians mistakenly believe is where Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd. [...] But the arch did not
exist until a hundred years later.' (Jerusalem the Biography, p.135n, Simon Sebag Montefiore). The current route has been established since the 18th century,
replacing various earlier versions (The Holy Land, p.37, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor).
Most of popular Old City streets are polluted with shops and stalls like these; however, it's always been like that (i.e. since the Ottoman times).
I'm not a souvenirs person and did not buy anything, but if you're into shopping... Keep in mind you'll find the same products next door, and prepare
mentally for price negotiations or they'll shamelessly rip you off.
Small tractors like this one drive through the narrow and often steep streets of the Old City with Middle Eastern ferociousness, so beware.
This is presumably halal meat hanging from hooks in a shop outside the Old City in an Arab neighbourhood.
I was taken aback to find this football pitch inside the Old City. It's easy to forget people live a regular life there. The Old City
population is around 36,000. Most of them are Muslim (around 77%). The Muslim Quarter is also the biggest and most densily populated. Note that
while the Old City is precisely divided, it doesn't mean all the mosques are in the Muslim Quarter, all the churches in the Christian Quarter and so on;
it's quite mixed up and diverse (as the quarters and their locations have changed over the years).
Interestingly, there used to be a Moroccan Quarter, but it was destroyed in 1967 to provide a better access to the Western Wall.
Silwan is a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem - only 40 Jewish families live in the area. The Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem
is considered illegal by the international community, but Israel disputes this. The population of Silwan is above 30,000.
There are many (130 in 2009) illegal structures in Silwan and as such some have been bulldozed, which caused riots. I described other similar problems
in my Bedouin
This is taken from the Damascus Gate. What you see is the Muslim Quarter and the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock. Note the sea of water tanks on the roofs. Apparently,
black tanks belong to the Arabs, white ones to the Jews.
Temple Mount is supposed to be where Abraham was to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
It's been used as a religious site for thousands of years (by all three Abrahamic religions and the Romans).
This is (according to the Jewish tradition) where the First Temple was; and (according to historical evidence) where the Second Temple was.
All that is left today is the Western Wall. Some Jews (49% of Israelis according to a 2009 poll) would like to see the Third Temple built there,
which, according to some Christians (Christian Zionists), is a prerequisite for Armageddon, when the Second Coming of Christ will take place and Jesus will fight the Devil.
So, generalising a bit, the Christians effectively believe the Muslims are protecting us from the Jewish Messiah ending the world. Only in Jerusalem!
Even if you're not a believer, Jerusalem is definitely an interesting place to visit. The amount of history at your fingertips is impressive.
I was a bit concerned about safety, but I was then positively surprised. The city is a very exotic and complicated place, so I'd recommend
doing a little research before going. Talk to anyone you can, they're usually friendly, and it will make your experience more complete.
Naturally, please feel free to contact me if you need any advice.
For more pictures and a more personal point of view, please see Jerusalem - My Impressions