Jerusalem Old City, Israel. Walking around the maze-like road in the 1km square castle wall, recall the history this place has followed, and realize I am feeling emotions I have never experienced before.
Jerusalem is frequently heard on the news, mainly for political topics. It is conflict with Palestine, territory problem, relation with Islamic countries, etc. I guess many people has an impression that Jerusalem is not the place to visit by sightseeing. My first visit was in 1990. I was interested in the conflict area since I was studying the international relations in University.
I entered in Israel from London in 1990, from Frankfurt in 2019, by air. There was a special security check before boarding on the flight, and therefore, I have felt this place is different from others. At the immigration check, inspector made many questions including guided interrogation. Other than the above mentioned two times of visit, I entered in a business trip in 2012. At that time of visit, I have asked immigration inspector not to stamp on passport since I have a possibility to go to Islamic countries. Then, Inspector came back to me with questions starting from “Why?”.
In addition, at the departure inspection, my English business colleague met tough luggage check and physical examination at departure inspection. Then he was about to miss the flight. On my 2019 visit, no stamp was in passport without saying anything and it was smooth in the departure inspection. I guess some rule or guideline has changed.
From Ben Gurion International Airport, the closest airport to Jerusalem, to the city center of Jerusalem, the wilderness that reveals the skin color of the Middle East is spreading. The center of the city is divided into the “New City” and “Old City”. I would like you to visit the “Old City” anyway. This “Old City” is surrounded by a 15m height wall. Roughly speaking, it is 1km square area. Houses are dense with narrow alleys inside of the wall.
The old city is divided into four religious districts. Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Armenianism. There seems to be a boundary, but you can come and go freely. Therefore, there is no clear boundary. Famous historic sites are the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is said to have had the Golgotha Hill where Christ was executed, and the Kubba Assafra, the third most important place for Islam.
When I visited in 1990, it was just when Intifada was fierce, and old town had a disturbing atmosphere. Even in the daytime, the shops in the old town had their doors closed and people weren’t walking too much. Also, a hostel in the old town where I was staying said, “A few days ago, an Israeli soldier was killed on the street nearby.” However, in such a situation, the old town was a space I had never experienced before. I walked around as if I was suffering from a fever while visiting the historic sites scattered there.
As walking through the old city, I saw a person who has a Muslim-like mustache. After a while, a Jewish person with a black hat and beard. Also, when reaching the area around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, no Muslims and Jews people were found. On the other hand, there were police officers and security guards with machine guns in some places. It was a mysterious space for those who grew up in an unreligious and peaceful environment. It is an inappropriate expression but exciting place.
When going to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, there is a staircase at a place in the church, and an altar at the top. That is the Gorgoda Hill where Christ was executed. There is also a place where Christ is said to have performed the last supper outside the southwest wall of the old city. When I visited these two places, I felt that it was different from what I saw and heard from the media. I felt the smell of fiction there.
When walking on a narrow street in the old town, I lost my way. I expanded the map and walked, but sometimes I was walking in the opposite direction to my destination. When I lost my way, I asked people at the shops scattered along the street and young people who could talk in English. Everyone was willing to teach me the way. Many people can speak English at shops and restaurants.
The impression when I walked around in January 2019 was that the shops along the main street in the old city are open during the daytime, and there were many tourists. However, the shops started to close after 19:00pm, then atmosphere changed.
The number of people walking the street decreased, and those who are not used to, may get a scary impression. However, the atmosphere in this old city makes you feel the history of this area, and the light of the street lamp that illuminate the place were mysterious.
There are chapels of Christian denominations inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The front door, which is the doorway, is a dispute over ownership. The door is opened and closed by Muslims to maintain its neutrality. I witnessed when the door is closed. When I visited, one side door on entrance with double door was closed 30 minutes before the time when the door to be closed. Then, approx. 15 minutes before the door to be closed, the sound of hitting the door or wall resonated with a sound that could be heard by the whole church.
At the scheduled time, a man appeared, closed the door, put a ladder on the door, and climbed and locked the key in the center of the door. A man who closed the door left among many people gathered in front of the door, with saying “Thank you, Good night”. This greeting was in English and I felt this was a proof of peace at this place.
This place has various elements such as religious issues, political issues, conflict areas, culture and history. Surrounded by the walls of one kilo-meter square, it is a unique place where many people live together with the history that has continued from the past. If you walk along the maze of the old city with the knowledge for history and religion at this place in mind, you may have the excitement or new feelings you have never felt before. I recommend all to visit this place and feel the heat that is floating in this place.
Visited in 1990, 2019.
■ Name: Jerusalem Old City
■ Homepage: https://www.touristisrael.com/old-city-jerusalem/403/
(described on Feb 26 2022)