Jerusalem city guide

Jerusalem is more than a city. It stands as a symbol of both the best and the worst within humanity. A Holy City to both Islam and Judaism, it blurs the borders between reality and spirituality. Jerusalem will give you goose bumps even if you’re not religious. Every inch of these streets bears significance, but the Dome of the Rock Mosque is truly special. It’s one of the most important sites for Abrahamic faith. The Foundation Stone is where it got its name. According to scripture, the stone is part of the first creation. For the Jews, this is the place on earth closest to God. For the Muslims, this is also where Mohammed ascended to heaven. This is where King Solomon’s Palace once stood, which was later rebuilt as the Second Temple. Fast forward a couple of centuries, wars and exiles and it became a place where Jews have very limited access. You’ll see them praying at the Wailing Wall, which is a painful reminder of times past. This is the only part of the ancient temples that endured to the present day. Try and visit it towards the evening, when the tourists are gone. You’ll see crowds of Orthodox Jews and it’s a much more peaceful experience. Custom dictates that you take a piece of paper, write a wish, and stick it into cracks in the wall. There’s a little secret that not many people know about. The wall is much larger; it goes on for around 300 meters below the streets. The old temple was so massive that the walls needed to be dug deep into the ground to support the building. There are untold secrets in those tunnels; archaeologists are constantly uncovering new passages and artefacts. You can even tour the Zedekiah’s Cave, which is a quarry beneath the city. That’s where they mined all the limestone. It stretches over 5 acres and is of huge importance to Freemasons.

People standing at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

People come to the warm ancient stones of Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to pray or stand in silence, touching the shrine. It has become a tradition to write notes with cherished requests on small pieces of paper and insert them into the Wall; the first of them appeared in a crevice at the beginning of the 18th century

It all reminds me of that Jeruzalem supernatural horror movie from 2015. The premise was that one of three gates of hell was underneath the city. It gets ridiculous with winged angel zombies and giants, but it’s good entertainment. I loved how it portrayed the nightlife in Jerusalem, but there was also something curious: the Jerusalem Syndrome. The Dutch journalist Arthur van Amerongen wrote a great book about this phenomenon: Een passie voor Jeruzalem. Unfortunately it’s not translated in English yet. Some people go insane when what they read in the bible is confronted with reality. I can imagine that walking the Via Dolorosa could be a shock. It’s the street where Jesus carried the cross. You can literally walk in his footsteps. There’s even a rock in the wall, the one he grabbed when he tripped. It’s super smooth now because everyone wants to touch it. Jerusalem is littered with madness-inducing places like that. Church of the Holy Sepulchre gets wild as well. It’s where he was crucified, anointed, entombed, and even where he resurrected. All in one place. The Stone of Anointing is popular with the tourists, who like to lick it and rub it. Very awkward, I’m not sure Jesus would like that. The “profanum” is, by far, the worst thing about Jerusalem. All the tourists make it hard to experience the sacrum of this city. It’s hard to contemplate, let alone pray, with people breathing down your neck everywhere you go. Everyone is trying to sell you something, from mango juice to t-shirts. You’d think that Jerusalem is like one huge church, but it’s more of a giant bazaar.

View through the bars on Dome of the Rock Temple Mount

The sacred land of the Dome of the Rock Temple Mount is the subject of centuries of disputes, military and civil conflicts between Muslims and Jews, who for a long time were not even allowed to set foot on it

Late evenings and nights are much more enjoyable. All the organized groups of tourists head back for their suburban hotels. Locals, vagabonds, and all sorts of curious people take to the streets. Merchants from Mahane Yehuda Market close their stands and make room for the nightlife. The area transforms into a garden of bars and street food. Even the closed metal shutters turn into a gallery of urban art. The ancient labyrinthine alleys of the Old City also come to life. Follow the sound of humming muted bass. You never know what you’ll find in limestone basements and gated courtyards. Don’t forget to try the local specialties. I was always reluctant towards the food of this region. I thought there’s a little too much chickpeas to make anything taste good. Turns out that falafel is delicious and a good hummus is the best thing since fried cheese. Sabich? A fried eggplant sandwich sounds disgusting, right? It’s to-die-for, trust me.

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