Considered one of the world’s holiest places, Jerusalem is the juncture of three of the main faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. In this blog post I briefly outline the main holy sites of Jerusalem, their history and tips for visiting.
For practical information on the city, check out my Jerusalem Travel Tips post.
DOME OF THE ROCK
Jerusalem’s, and possibly the Middle East’s, most iconic building is the Dome of the Rock with its glistening gold-plated roof and its predominantly blue mosaic exterior. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque form part of the complex known as Al-Haram ash-Sharif to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews.
Built in the 7th Century CE, the Dome of the Rock is situated on the site where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven.
In Judaism, the Dome of the Rock is said to be the site where Adam was created out of dust and Abraham was set to sacrifice his son Isaac. The Jewish faith also believes that the Temple Mount complex was the site of the First and Second Temples, both of which pre-date the Christian and Muslim eras.
Access to the Al-Haram ash-Sharif/Temple Mount complex for non-Muslims is via the raised wooden pathway at the Western Wall, the lengthy queue for which starts near the Old City’s Dung Gate. Admission hours for non-Muslims is limited to a short early morning and midday window. I arrived 1.5 hours ahead of opening time and there was already a sizeable queue ahead of me.
Modest dress is required and certain religious objects are not permitted. Entry is free but includes airport-like security plus questions regarding your motives for visiting and your religious beliefs. It’s well worth the wait and the effort.
The Western Wall is the remaining wall of the Second Temple and is sacred to the Jewish people as a place of prayer and pilgrimage. In front of the wall is a large plaza where people gather to pray. Prayers and petitions are written on notes which are placed into crevices in the wall. The prayer area is divided into male and female sections, the larger of which is the male section.
Access to the Western Wall is via a number of entry points in the Old City which have metal detector security. Unlike the Al-Haram ash-Sharif/Temple Mount complex there are no restrictions regarding entry and it is opened all day, every day to everyone for free. Modest dress is required and no photography is allowed on Shabbat (Sabbath – Friday evening to Saturday evening).
CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most sacred churches in Christianity. Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built on the Hill of Calvary site, the place where Jesus was nailed to the Cross, died, was buried and resurrected. The church is also the site of the four final Stations of the Cross.
Access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is free and open to everyone, but modest dress is required. During the day it becomes very busy with pilgrimage groups so I recommend arriving there before 8am.
Via Dolorosa is the route which Jesus is believed to have travelled on his way to Calvary. Along this route are the Stations of the Cross, the 14 points where significant events happened prior to his crucifixion. All Stations are located in Jerusalem’s Old City so quite close to each other. Each Station is signified by roman numerals on a dark-brown sign.
MOUNT OF OLIVES
The Mount of Olives is widely mentioned in the Bible, most notably as the site where Jesus is believed to have ascended into heaven. It also contains the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world and is the site of Judgement Day when the Messiah will return to resurrect the dead, according to the Book of Zechariah. Unfortunately, such is the draw of the Old City that I regretfully didn’t get the opportunity to visit this important religious site.
This blog post outlines the main holy sites of Jerusalem and is not meant to favour one faith over another. Jerusalem is laden with churches, mosques and synagogues, and to visit all would have taken weeks.
So, on the advice of locals and the feedback of visiting pilgrims, the above listed sites are considered the main holy sites of Jerusalem.
HOLY SITES OF JERUSALEM: FURTHER RESEARCH
For further research on Jerusalem’s history I highly recommend the Jerusalem: The making of a Holy City BBC documentary by Simon Sebag Montifiore.