"Jerusalem: Monotheism's Controversial Capital" Top 5 Page for this destination Jerusalem by jadedmuse

Jerusalem Travel Guide: 1,912 reviews and 5,589 photos

The Old Walled City


Where am I? Israel? Palestine?!?

"Michele, don't go to Jerusalem right now, aren't there problems in Ramallah? Aren't there shootings taking place in the Gaza?"

Boy, did that sound familiar.

But that's just the point, folks -- this is the Middle East. It embodies the old axiom "the more things change, the more things stay the same." My curiosity was piqued about these age-old, mysterious cultures that exist collectively - but not necessarily peacefully - in this ancient land so full of history and drama.

If a bite of the cosmopolitan life, interesting cafes and restaurants, hip clubs, beautiful beaches and stunning deserts are your thing, then Tel Aviv is more your place. But for me, the kaleidescope of smells, the sounds - the hustle and bustle of activity inside the historic old city of Jerusalem (known to locals simply as the "Old City") are what mesmerize me the most.

Juxtaposed near every church is a mosque, which in my very Western, very American way of thinking reminded me of "McDonalds vs. Burger King" warfare. Except that the main ingredients in the Middle East are religion and dogma, not burgers and fries.

Five times a day, the haunting "call to prayer" plays over loudspeakers from specific mosques, hypnotizing chants and verses from the Koran; Greek orthodox priests scurry down the narrow cobblestone walkways on their way to daily mass - they are the guardians of Christianity within the holiest of holy cities, keepers of the key to Heaven; down another street, the Arab merchants cajole the wary shopper (including me!) into drinking some mint tea - or some strong Arabic coffee - and then get down to the brass tacks of bargaining their exquisitely rich, silk Persian carpets.

And the Western Wall - aka the Wailing Wall - the only part of the second Temple left untouched since the time of Herod - a powerful, dramatic symbol resonating against the velvet backdrop of a deep blue night sky and a full yellow moon; I stood entranced my first night there as I watched a group of Hassidic Jews wearing round fur hats and prayer mantels and traditional long black overcoats, holding hands and dancing in prayer; further down another street in the Armenian section of the city, I recall an old man bent over a large waterpipe, enjoying the flavorful tobacco of the "narghila" as he inhaled and exhaled. Around the corner, I saw a young Israeli soldier taking a drag on his cigarette while sharing a laugh with a tourist.

These were some of my strongest impressions of Jerusalem - but they are only a small part of what this country has to offer the world. To me, Jerusalem was - is - a complete sensory overload that both proclaims and defies the divisive elements that characterize this beautiful and mysterious land. Just like it has done for years and years.

There's no getting around the beauty, the mystery, the impact, and ultimately the controversy - of this amazing country. Nowhere else will you be welcomed "home" as you are in Israel, and nowhere else will you feel as torn as when you are in Israel.

A friend once asked me which do I prefer: the forest, the desert, the mountains or the ocean? It seemed to be a ridiculous question at the time - why must I choose a single one, when all four of these natural phenomena move me in equally powerful but different ways.

Now add to these four phenomena the unique position of hosting the world's three most powerful monotheistic religions - the one consistent, driving force that has both united and divided the world since man has been waging war with himself - and folks, you have Palestine. Or rather, Israel.

Israel? Palestine? A "desert rose" by any other name, is still...a Desert Rose.

Pros and Cons
  • In a nutshell:"No, REALLY - the more things change, the more things stay the same!"
  • Last visit to Jerusalem: Dec 2004
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (71)

Comments (48)

  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo
    Aug 9, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    Nice page!

  • Dec 18, 2009 at 1:07 PM

    Regardless of the actual location, you are standing on many layers of soil such that the actual ground is way below, so that the best we can say is that we are standing somewhere above the actual ground.

  • hindu1936's Profile Photo
    Apr 8, 2009 at 4:54 AM

    While I enjoyed your tips, I had to laugh at the comment, "...ironic to have a muslim guide....Christianity's most precious monument." Yes indeed. most people would not have thought of that. thanks

  • Mar 31, 2009 at 5:01 AM

    As far as I know, the 'hel' or 'heil' you are speaking of is cardamom. The tiny seeds are often also put in very sweet, hot tea.

  • Robmj's Profile Photo
    Jan 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    beautiful page, puts my megre efforts to shame, well done!, my most evocative memories of the old city were listening to a choir sing in St Anne's church (by chance) and visiting the stations along Via Dolorosa.

  • unaS's Profile Photo
    Sep 29, 2008 at 5:24 AM

    Lovely pages! Many thanks.

  • TravellerMel's Profile Photo
    Sep 4, 2008 at 9:04 PM

    I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your tips on Jerusalem - so beautifully written, I felt like I was there, experiencing it with you!

  • May 18, 2008 at 7:17 AM

    I lived in Israel for seven years and can testify to the amount of tiny restaurants in the old city, - if people would just look for them amongst the hotch potch of souvenir shops. Great work Michelle, Iain

  • JohnniOmani's Profile Photo
    May 8, 2008 at 7:02 PM

    After living/working in a village in Oman for 3 years of my life Jerusalem is my number one must see in the world . Great page. Cheers from the Bahamas Jz

  • Bokhari76's Profile Photo
    May 6, 2008 at 2:51 AM

    Really great informative page.


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