Although its name means ‘City of Peace’, Jerusalem has probably been destroyed and invaded more often than any other city in the world. It has, however, been tenaciously restored and rebuilt after every conquest. It is THE Holy City, sacred to the followers of three major world religions, and a place of quite extraordinary diversity. Its current status is the matter of continuing controversy and discussion between Israelis and Palestinians.
Many of the important shrines and places of interest are in the Old City. Here you will find the Al Aksa mosque, and Dome of the Rock, sacred particularly to Moslems; Temple Mount with its Western Wall, and the location of the Holy of Holies in the two Temples there, sacred to Jews and the Via Dolorosa and Church of the Holy Sepulchre of special importance to Christians. There’s the Arab souq (market) with its narrow passages and inviting shops. No visit is complete without a bit of bartering and bargaining. In addition, there’s the extensively rebuilt Jewish Quarter.
There is also much to see outside the Old City, both in the western (Jewish) area and the eastern (Arab) part. If your time is limited, the Old City is the place to go first. In our view, no visit to Jerusalem is really complete without going to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, and to the Mount of Olives which played such an important part in Jesus’ life, and from which there is a magnificent view over the Old City and the Dome of the Rock.
If you’re worried about driving in Jerusalem, and about finding your way through the poorly sign-posted maze of streets, then the ideal time to arrive is on Friday evening or early on Saturday morning. Everything in the new city is shut, and there is very little traffic. You can learn to navigate the main boulevards and junctions in some peace, and you’ll feel much happier doing it later in the week. When there’s plenty of traffic, you do need to be quite sharp (and defensive). Signposting is not good, and the names are quite small and on green backgrounds. Watch out for the ‘bus lane only’ signs and ‘no entries’ which are not always easy to spot. As Jerusalem is quite small, and many of the places to visit are in the Old City which is almost entirely a pedestrian area, you may prefer simply to leave your car at the hotel and use taxis where necessary. The location of your accommodation then becomes particularly important.
Navigating in some of the outer suburbs can be a bit of a challenge, because the maps do not mark the hills. If you have a good navigator, you’ll be fine. Note that the road past the Damascus Gate, Sultan Suleiman Street, is nearly always full of traffic and pedestrians. Just edge gently along, and keep smiling, and again, you’ll be fine. If you want to drive around the walls of the Old City, remember that the section from the Dung Gate to Zion Gate is one way only, and in that direction. If you come the other way from the Jaffa gate, past Sultans Pools and up to the Zion Gate, then you’ll get no further.
The street names used in this write-up are largely the same as those used on the Jerusalem City Map with a yellow cover, published by Map – Mapping and Publishing. This has a street directory and grid system for finding out where places are. As we have mentioned elsewhere, various different spellings are used for the same street/place, sometimes based on phonetics, and sometimes on a different language (generally Hebrew, Arabic or English).
Views of Jerusalem
The classic view over the Old City is that from the Mount of Olives. Go there early in the day if possible, when the sun shows off the white stone at its best. In the afternoon, the shadows make it look rather washed out. You can approach the viewpoint just below the Seven Arches Hotel, either by coming up the steep road from Gethsemane, or from Shmuel ben Adaya, turning right at the top along the ridge. In either case, when you reach the junction with the sign to the Carmelite Monastery (just past the Church of the Ascension, and by the Mount of Olives Bazaar) turn RIGHT to get to the viewing point. The view over the Jewish cemetery, and towards the Old City is stunning. When we visited early in 1999 the site was being enlarged and rebuilt in anticipation of the large numbers of visitors expected in 2000.
Another spectacular viewing spot is the Hass Promenade, East Talpiyot to the south of the city. It is near the UN Headquarters and at the junction between Alar Street and Razi’el Street. It views the Old City from a different angle, and looks straight across at Al Aksa. The route is badly signed, and the way we found it was to go down past the Jaffa Gate underpass, and keep going straight over four sets of lights. There’s an S bend at the bottom of the valley, and you follow the Hebron Road past the Mount Zion Hotel. Carry on until you see a sign for Gilo at a set of traffic lights, then go straight on until you reach two sets of lights very close together. At the second set (just past no 42 on your right), go LEFT up the hill and past a new Israeli housing development. Then finally, LEFT again at the lights (currently a bit of a wilderness area), and it’s then about 700m on your left. Large CP. We are reliably told that there is an adapted toilet at the western end of the promenade.
The Promenade Restaurant is immediately below the Hass Promenade, with ramped (and car) access to the right. You can have a snack or a meal while enjoying the view. We are reliably told that there is now an adapted toilet in the restaurant.
From the top of Mount Scopus there are fine views of the wilderness towards Jericho. There is a good observation point for both old and new Jerusalem, at the top of Gershom Scholem Street at the Wall of Life by the corner of the Hebrew University. Just 50m away is the Gerald Halbert Park and Observation Plaza looking towards Jericho. Although very recently built, access was not considered, and the ramps are covered with a coarse gravel which is particularly difficult for chair users. You can see quite a lot from the tarmac road.
Tourist Office, Saffra Square, 17 Jaffa Street Tel: 02 625-8844. This is the only official tourist information office and is run by the Jerusalem Municipality. It is in City Hall at the end of Jaffa Street. UGCP accessed off Shivtei Yisra’el. This has several disabled persons spaces, and lift access from levels 2, 4 and 6. The Tourist Office is some 100m off Jaffa Street, and ramped access is possible by going almost up to the wall towards Kheshin. Go up the slope, and at the top, you have to bear to the right. The tourist office is further back from the road, and this route is about 150m long. All that they have is general tourist information and virtually no knowledge about access or access issues. The public toilets nearby in the new City Hall do not include adapted cubicles.
The Christian Information Centre, Omar Ibn el Khattab Square, Jaffa Gate, POB 14308, Jerusalem 91142 email: email@example.com see www.cicts.org Tel: 02 627-2692Fax: 02 628-6417. It is just inside the Jaffa Gate, and opposite David’s Citadel. As the name implies, this is the information centre of particular interest to Christian visitors. Good for opening times and events, and for contact details with those running particular shrines and churches. Entrance +2+9 steps, and a door W65cm. The Franciscan Pilgrims Office operates from the same office, and they can provide certificates relating to a completed pilgrimage, and are also the organisation to apply to for tickets for the Midnight Mass each Christmas in Bethlehem.
The Old City
Jerusalem covers over 100 sq km, and the walled city occupies less than 1% of this. The present walls, built in the 16thC enclose less than half of Jerusalem as it was before its destruction in 70CE, but it includes many places of vital importance to Jews, Christians, and Moslems. The City is divided into four ‘Quarters’, the largest of which is the Moslem Quarter. In addition, there is the newly rebuilt Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter.
The main problem in visiting the Old City is that it’s built on the side of a hill, and unless you follow particular routes, there are steps everywhere. There are also some crowded passages, and a few spots where there are large drain gratings set in the paving. We have made a Step Map of the Old City, and if you start at the right gate/s, and know where to go, then access problems can be minimised and virtually all steps avoided.
Depending on where you want to go, a taxi to just inside the Dung Gate, St Stephens Gate or the Zion Gate will put you on to what we have established as the ‘step free route’ round the Old City. If you start at the Jaffa Gate, go along the road to the right, past the Citadel. It is fairly smooth and only up a gentle slope, leading round to the Zion Gate. The route/s for a chair user are clearly shown on the Map, and are marked in green. The step free route goes from the Dung Gate and up El Wad towards the Damascus Gate (with a spur to St Stephens Gate). At the Damascus Gate it leads you back along Bet Ha-bad alongside the Souq to the Jewish Quarter, from which you can leave, or enter, via the Zion Gate. The area by the Western Wall is well paved, but El Wad has a more uneven surface, and is up a significant slope to the Damascus Gate. The route in from St Stephen’s Gate also has some slopes. From the Damascus Gate, Bet Ha-bad is fairly level, but it is narrow, and can get very congested. A lot of patience may be needed. If it’s busy, keep smiling, and keep cool ! There are a few large sunken drainage grids on the route, particularly in El Wad, and these can be a hassle, as the groove width is much the same as that of the tyre on most wheels. Make sure that you approach the grooves at a 45º angle.
Note that the step free route takes you past the inside of the Damascus Gate. To get in and out of the Old City at this point involves long steep slopes and some steps (see the Step Map).
Using this step free route will enable you to visit virtually all the key sites/sights in the Old City. If you start at the top and work down (this means from the Zion Gate), you will first visit the rebuilt Jewish Quarter, and then go through part of the Arab Souq past the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Carrying on through the Souq, you turn sharp right at the Damascus Gate, and El Wad will take you down to the Western Wall plaza, and to the gate that gives access on to Haram al-Sharif. Note, however, that if you want to go up on to the mount, the advice we give is to ‘go early’. Depending on how many days you have in Jerusalem, you might want to go to the Dung Gate first, and visit the mosques on top of the Mount. You could then take a taxi round to the Zion Gate, and complete the rest of the tour going downhill most of the way, back either to the Dung Gate or to St Stephen’s Gate.
In the guidebook thee are detailed descriptions of all the main sights and sites in Jerusalem, and we include below a small selection.
Israel Museum and Shrine of the Book, POB 71117, Givat Ram, 91710 website:www.imj.org.il Tel: 02 670-8811 Fax: 02 563-1833 are both on the same site, and signposted off Ruppin Road. CP with disabled persons spaces. Flat entrance to the large site. It is then some 200m to the Israel Museum up a gentle slope. A minibus with a tail lift (named Doris after its donor) runs a shuttle service to and from the museum. En route you pass a sculpture garden which has a mainly gravelled path and some split levels and slopes.
The Israel Museum houses the country’s foremost collection of art and antiquities. Entrance +6 steps bypassed by a ramp. The museum is arranged over three floors, and is approximately 200m long. Its layout and arrangement seem quite complicated, but a plan is available at the ticket office. This plan shows some areas as being inaccessible when in fact they can be reached step free (particularly the areas numbered 25-28). The two lifts (D140 W200+ L200+) are shown on the plan. There are many split levels, particularly on the main lower GF, level two, but virtually all are bypassed either with small open lifts or with platform stairlifts. This means that nearly everything can be reached and seen without steps. Distance, and the hassle of getting the lifts operated are the main problems. There is always a difficulty with the maintenance of lifts that are only used occasionally, and one of the platform stairlifts was not operational when we visited. There are benches scattered around. Two wheelchairs are available on loan if needed. The mens and womens toilets marked on the plan all have wheelchair cubicles (D70+ ST70+).
The Shrine of the Book, with some of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display, is some 100m from the Israel Museum ticket office, and then via +8-26+1 steps. There is a clearly signed alternative way in for disabled visitors, without steps, using the main exit doors. The museum is quite small, and divided into three areas. One small exhibition is -21, and there are some further exhibits in a tunnel shaped area leading from the main entrance to the central exhibition hall. There are six separate steps and then +9 to the hall. The shop and wheelchair cubicles (D75 ST80) in both mens and womens toilets are step free. They are near the disabled persons entrance, which is also the main exit.
Bible Lands Museum, 25 Granot Street, Givat Ram see www.bestj.co.il/bible email:firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 02 561-1066 Fax: 02 563-8228 located opposite the Israel Museum. CP with disabled persons spaces outside. Step free entrance, with lift (D80 W125 L130) which bypasses -18 and -37 steps to the lower floors. The exhibits trace the background to various Bible stories, and there is flat access throughout. The lower floor measures about 70 by 60m, and there are benches scattered around if you want to sit down. Restaurant and wheelchair toilet (D75 ST75) on the second of the lower floors.
Supreme Court, Shaarey Mishpat Street, Kiryat David Ben Gurion, Jerusalem 91909Tel: 02 675-9666 Fax: 02 675-9648. It is probably worth ringing first to find out when tours, in English or Hebrew, start. The street map we were using didn’t mark the new roads and we eventually found the main entrance to the building at the end of Kaplan. It is about 200m up a slope from the nearest parking. The building itself is step free almost everywhere, and the tour would take you a maximum of about 300m. Our guide was most informative, and the visit was interesting. The architecture is stunning, and the significance of various features is fascinating. Lifts (D100 W150 L150) bypass the +30 steps just after the entrance. There are unisex wheelchair toilets (D70+ ST70+) just off the entrance foyer to the left of the stairs, and at the end of the huge hallway on the next floor up, past the courts. We did not have time to find the route down to the coffee shop to bypass the -27 from the hallway described.
Garden Tomb, PO Box 19462, Nablus Road, East Jerusalem, Tel: 02 627-2745 Fax: 02 627-2742. This is a quiet garden and shrine, discovered relatively recently. It contains a tomb of the type in which Jesus was buried, and is near a rock formation (behind the Arab bus station) which is remarkably skull-like. The English owners make no great claims about its authenticity, but suggest simply that it is a good place to come and pray. Parking in the Nablus Road outside if you’re lucky, but it’s a one way street, so if there’s no slot you have quite a long way to go round the circuit again and it can be very slow because of congestion at the bottom of the Nablus Road. Probably the best thing is to park up past the small roundabout towards St George’s Cathedral.
The entrance is about 100m up a tarmaced cul-de-sac, Conrad Schick, off the Nablus Road. There is a small ±1 threshold [+3cm-7cm] at the entrance. Inside, while the paths are slightly rough, there is a ramped route around the site of about 100m. A central part has split levels of +2 or -6 steps, but you can easily bypass these. There are several different worship areas for groups, most of which involve steps. There are -11 quite rough steps to get down to look at the tomb.
A part of the garden over towards the bus station and overlooking the skull-like formation in the rock is reached via +9 but there are plans to build a ramp to bypass these.
The shop has +2 to get into it, but a portable ramp is readily available. There’s a unisex wheelchair toilet (D70 ST70) but with a very unusual system of support bars and some projections which interfere with transfer.
The easiest way to get out is via the entrance as the standard route is through the shop, and a further +2 into the pathway outside.
St George’s Cathedral, Nablus Road, POB 19018, Jerusalem 91190 Tel: 02 628-3261Fax: 02 627-6401. The centre of the Anglican presence in Jerusalem, the cathedral celebrated its centenary in 1998. It serves the Palestinian Christian community in east Jerusalem. CP in the cloister outside. Entrance +2 steps from the CP, or, to the right, a bumpy ramp and +1 [15cm]. Small threshold ±1 [3cm] into a beautifully restored Gothic nave where the white stone contrasts with the black marble pillars.