I had read about the walk around Jerusalem’s city walls, and on my second day in the city, I wandered over to the Jaffa Gate to start the walk around the south side of the Old City.
It is impossible to walk across the Jaffa Gate, and being the Sabbath, the northern part of the walk was closed, which wasn’t a problem, since I had hoped to do the southern walk first. After climbing to the top of the wall from the entrance (which is outside the walls near the Citadel of David), I was greeted with sweeping views over modern Jerusalem to the west of the Old City.
|Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion|
As the wall turned from a southern direction to the eastern direction, it borders Mount Zion, and gives an incredible view of this historic place, especially in the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. The iconic Dormition Abbey is said to have been built on the spot where the Virgin Mary ‘fell asleep’.
Besides offering fantastic views of Jerusalem surrounding the Old City and many famous sights, the walk along the wall also gives a glimpse into the daily life of the the residents of the Old City. While walking the south side of the wall, I was able to see a group of school kids in the Jewish Quarter playing soccer in the recreation area of their school, something I wouldn’t even had known existed if I had been walking by on ground level.
The south side of the wall also give a view into the Kidron valley and it’s predominantly Arab neighborhood of Silwan. Even from the distance of the wall, it is such a different look than the views into West Jerusalem gave just a half-hour earlier on the walk.
Right as I was finishing the walk, I was able to see the Mount of Olives in the distance to the east. That was to be my destination the next day, so it was helpful to see it from a distance to give me some bearings for the next day’s walk.
I finished the walk, taking the stairs down near the Western Wall Plaza and the Dung Gate. The wall does not extend through the southern part of Temple Mount.
A few days later, I continued my walk by ascending to the wall again, this time accessing the top of the wall from the stairs on the northern inside of the Jaffa Gate.
The day was blazing hot, and I was instantly uncomfortable from the heat, and kicking myself for not going earlier in the morning, or later in the afternoon, when I might have been able to get some shade from the blinding sun.
Right at the top of the stairs were informative plaques, talking about the history of the walls. Many visitors mistakenly assume that these walls have been around since Biblical times, but they are in fact at least the sixth different set of walls in the cities history. This makes complete sense, especially with the number of times the city has changed hands over the course of the centuries. The wall that stands today was built between 1535 and 1538 by Ottoman Sultan Sulyman when the Ottomans controlled the area as the region of Palestine.
|Muslim Quarter and Dome of the Rock views near the Damascus Gate|
Where as the south side of the wall borders the Armenian & Jewish Quarters, the north side starts in the Christian Quarter and changes into the Muslim Quarter near the Damascus Gate.
While I was resting in the limited shade provided by the battlements around the Damascus Gate, the call to prayer rang out over the Muslim Quarter. This put a temporary halt to frenzy of activity that is the norm around the Damascus Gate, both in the plaza in front and at the marketplace right inside of the gate.
Continuing further down the walk, I was able to observe into East Jerusalem, which was quite a different scene from the views over West Jerusalem. The main road is lined with vendors of all kinds, and is one of the most vibrant parts of East Jerusalem.
Once I had passed the Damascus Gate, I rested quite a while in the shade provided by the building immediately to the east of the gate area. I was glad that I had taken this opportunity, since, unbeknownst to me, there was no shade on the rest of my walk. The walk around the Muslim Quarter was quite different than the ones through all the other quarters, the stones were much more uneven and there was quite a bit of vegetation growing over the path. I also did not pass another person, tourist or local, all the way from the Damascus Gate to where I exited the walls near the Lions Gate.
My views of the Mount of Olives were obscured by fires burning in the scrubby area in front of the western part of the wall. The walk ended right by the Lions’ Gate, where a fence blocked further progress. The remaining part of the path through the Temple Mount area has always been off-limits.
The City Walls walk is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and is a great way to orientation oneself to the various quarters of the city. Three pieces of advice I would have- first, if you are walking through the Muslim Quarter portion I mentioned between the Damascus Gate and Lions Gate, you might be more comfortable with a couple of people, instead of doing it solo like I did. I did not have any issues, but I was told later that tourists have faced some harassment along this portion during times of heightened hostility. Second, I would make an effort to walk the walls earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day. Third, carry plenty of water with you, as there is nowhere along the walk to obtain any.