It is interesting to note that, as our world gets more technological, many of us feel a desire to slip back in time to a place less hindered by modern standards. We want to experience the simple lifestyles of our ancestors, but without completely being isolated from the outside world. Israel’s most famous city, Jerusalem, is a great way to do both these things at once; the architecture and atmosphere belong to ancient days, but you’re never too far from the more modern heart of the city.
You may come to Jerusalem as a tourist, but you’ll leave feeling as if a part of you remains firmly planted in that small but glorious land. You cannot just “see” Jerusalem, or any part of the Holy Land; you have to “feel” it. Jerusalem offers an endless spectrum of things to see and do. These things span the themes of religion, architecture, history, and other entertainment you wouldn’t expect to see here.
Make sure to buy three things when you start your Jerusalem journey; a good map (preferably in English!), good walking shoes, and a bag to carry all the purchases you’ll be finding in Jerusalem’s various souvenir stands and bazaars. Everything in Jerusalem seems to have a religious theme, from Christian spots of veneration, Muslim places of worship, and Jewish historical architecture.
Jews, Christians and Muslims will find many things to bring them closer to their faith in this ancient city. For Christian travelers, there is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the most famous and iconic buildings in the city. Many consider this the spot where the hill of Golgotha, the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, occurred and the first church was constructed on the same ground in the 4th century. Medieval Crusaders made sure the church was rebuilt and it continued to be renovated and fixed up in the centuries between then and now. For a feel of how the ancient Israelis of the first century buried their dead, check out the indoor crypts in the church that are thought to date from this time period.
Although many people don’t consider the Garden Tomb to be the actual tomb in which Jesus was temporarily buried, it is still symbolic to seek out this famous site and feel the ambiance of the place. It will certainly give you a feeling for first century life and is considered one of the “must-do” Jerusalem attractions for Christian visitors. In this same vein, you might want to visit the Garden of Gethsemane. Although some believe the trees are from Jesus’ time, others argue it is unlikely; during the Roman occupation about 37 years later, records show that trees were cut down in the vicinity. Even so, they are believed to be very ancient, and most people won’t get the chance to touch a tree that is probably well over 1,000 years old very often.
If you are interested in Muslim holy sites, look no further than the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque complex. This is the spot Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven, and a nearby mosque sprang up as a result of this belief. Interestingly enough, the gold dome that is probably Jerusalem’s most famous landmark was not always gold; before the 1960s, it was made of lead, and probably looked very different!
The famous Wailing Wall, part of Solomon’s Temple, is a Jewish holy place, but its deep spiritual connections are of interest to visitors of all faiths. You can find thousands of people here at any given time, so come early and make sure not to be trampled. If the opportunity arises, write a prayer or special note, letter, etc. and place it in the cracks of the old wall. It’s like leaving a piece of you behind even when you have to return home.
No matter what your faith, viewing the ancient city from the Mount of Olives is a special experience that will never be forgotten, no matter how many journeys you may take in your life. You will see the many parallels – radio towers and modern traffic standing calmly next to centuries-old churches and small nondescript homes that look as if they came right out of an ancient era. No trip to Jerusalem will be complete unless you do this!