Jerusalem is a holy city for the three monotheistic religions. Through the centuries, Christians, Muslims and Jews have traveled from all over the world to worship at its holy sites within the old walled city, which are near to each other.
For pilgrimage, Christians come to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena, who did so after she found the ‘true Cross’ in a cistern nearby.
Originally the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was damaged and rebuilt, modified and restored many times over the years. Originally, two adjacent churches were on that location, marking the location of Jesus’ crucifixion (Golgotha) and the burial place (Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb). Later, the two churches were combined under one roof during the Crusader period and are now what we have today as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
In Jerusalem other significant sites exist. One is the Antonia, which is the fort that was built by Herod and served at the time of Jesus as headquarters of the Romans Military. It is believed that it is there where Jesus was taken and tried in front of Pontius Pilate, condemned and sentenced to crucifixion. The narrow streets leading from the Antonia to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the Via Dolorosa (Latin for ‘Way of Sorrow’), the fourteen-station route that Jesus walked carrying the Cross to the location of the Golgotha.
The Pool of Beth-zatha also called Bethseda or Bethsaida is a pool with five porticoes located near Lion’s gate where Jesus healed a man who was ill for thirty-eight years to walk and get into the pool. Another pool was discovered among the ruins of the church of St. Anne which was built by the Crusaders.
The Byzantine Emperor Justinian built a major church in what now is the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, called the New Church of Saint Mary Mother of God (Nea Church). NEA means New in Greek. Most probably it was Justinian who connected the Nea Church to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by extending the main Jerusalem street to do so.
Landmarks around the Old City
Garden Tomb: Edward Robinson argued in the mid of nineteenth century that this is the actual crucifixion and burial site of Jesus, which was later proven to be untrue.
Ophel and the Western Hill: At the foot of Opel is the Gihon Spring, the main water source to Jerusalem. A tunnel was engineered to bring water from this spring to the pool of Siloam, where Jesus healed a blind man with spit-clay and sent him to wash in the pool.
Mount Zion: The Old Testament associated Solomon’s Temple with Mount Zion. It was believed that the Temple stood on Mount Zion, while in early Christian traditions it was believed that the apostles celebrated the first Pentecost in the Upper Room on Mount Zion.
Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives:separated from Jerusalem by the Kidron Valley, these two mountains provide an excellent view of the city. David is said to have fled Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives at the time of Absalom’s rebellion. While Jesus spent the night on the Mount of Olives during his last week in Jerusalem.
The Garden of Gethsemane: where all the gospels record Jesus agonizing prayers and the betrayal of Judas. Gethsemane means field or garden.
Muslims pray at the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, while the Jews pray at the Wailing Wall also called the Western Wall. Since the dawn of the Bronze age, Jerusalem was ruled by many invaders and conquerors. In 1517 Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Sultan ‘Suleiman the Magnificent’, built the current famous wall surrounding the city between 1537-1546. The wall was built as defense from invaders. The wall has eight gates, in which only seven serves the Jerusalemites.
The gates from south to west are:
Zion Gate: Bearing Jerusalem’s earlier biblical name In Hebrew and English, The Arabic name is Gate of King David as the Tomb of King David is adjacent to it. Zion gate leads directly to the Armenian and Jewish quarters.
Dung Gate: the gate’s unusual name comes from the refuse dumped near there, where the winds are supposed to carry away from within the city. This gate leads directly to the Wailing wall (Western Wall).
Gate of Mercy: This gate is also called the Golden Gate or Eastern Gate; this gate has been blocked for centuries waiting to be opened by a miracle for when the Messiah comes and the dead are resurrected.
Lions Gate: This gate is called Lions Gate after a pair of two ferocious looking animal carvings that resembles tigers, the heraldic symbols of the 13th century Sultan Beybars. It is also called St. Stephen’s gate, after the Christian Martyr who was said to have been stoned to death nearby. This gate leads to the Pools of Bethesda, The Via Dolorosa, and the markets.
Herod’s Gate: This gate faces north and is named after King Herods, it is also called Flowers Gate, this name is derived from the rosette carved over it, this gate leads to the markets.
Damascus Gate: This gate is the most imposing of the Jerusalem’s gateways. It faces north and in olden times people travelled to Nablus and then Damascus through this gate, hence the name Damascus. Below this 16th century gate, archaeologists uncovered part of the entryway built by emperor Hadrian in the second d century BC.
New Gate: This old city entryway was not part of the original design of the 16th century walls. It was opened as the Ottoman Empire’s authority started declining, to allow Christian pilgrims’ quicker access to their holy places within the wall.
Jaffa Gate: This gate was named after the Jaffa port, where Christians and Jewish pilgrims disembarked to come to Jerusalem. This gate leads directly to the Christian and Jewish quarters, as well as to parts of the market and The Tower of David, also called the Jerusalem Citadel.
Many of the buildings inside the walls of the old city date from the Ottoman period. The Ottoman rule of Jerusalem was ended by the British by the end World War I.
The expansion of Jerusalem beyond the walls occurred for the most part since World War I.
It is appropriate to know that Jerusalem within the walls is divided into four quarters: Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, The Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter.
Jerusalem is located in the central part of the Holy Land between the Mediterranean Sea and the northern tip of the Dead Sea; it is 60 kilometers (37 mi) east of the Mediterranean Sea, approximately 35 kilometers (22 mi) from the Dead Sea.