The vast majority of people who do not live in Jerusalem are primarily coming to the city to see, pray, or be in one of these three places. The literal focal point for the majority of the worlds faiths, these sites draw staggering crowds.
Even with sometimes crushing crowds, these major holy sites can be warm, welcoming, and inspiring. The people of Jerusalem who administer them will be found to also be warm and hospitable, if approached with humility. (They deals with ridiculous crowds of people)
Saving the big stuff for last, let’s take a look at the major holy sites located inside the walls of the old city.
The Western Wall
The Western Wall of the Temple Mount is a remaining section of retaining wall from the second temple period. It was used to encase the Temple Mount and provide extra space for construction of the temple. It is the holy site for people of Jewish faith in old Jerusalem.
Considering it’s a major holy site, it’s not particularly easy to get to if inside the city. From the outside, there is a gate that accesses it directly (The Zion Gate), making it easy for the bus loads of pilgrim tour groups that descend upon it. From inside the city, one must follow a winding maze-like route to its internal entrance.
As with the Dome of the Rock, situated above it, don’t plan on getting in without a thorough scanning. The Israeli defense force takes security around the area seriously. Also, picture taking isn’t really approved in the area of the Western Wall’s prayer section, as it’s deemed to be quite rude.
(If you want to take good pictures, there is an observation area behind and above the open area of the wall. You have to access it from outside the security area, but it’s easy enough to find.)
Independent of your beliefs, a stop by the Western Wall is a must. No other place is as quintessentially Jerusalem as here.
The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is crowned by one of the most beautiful mosques I have seen, The Dome of the Rock. Believed to be the spot where Mohammed ascended into heaven, it is a major holy site for people of the Islamic faith.
The Temple Mount area where the Dome of the Rock stands is also believed by many to be the location of Solomon’s Temple, which makes it a holy site for Jewish people as well.
The courtyards and areas around the mosque are open and airy. The whole place has a calming effect that I cannot adequately put into words. You will leave your visit there feeling different than before you went. It’s true.
There are a couple different ways to approach the Temple Mount. I took the covered walkway connecting it to the Western Wall. There is also an entrance on its other side. Like the wall, be prepared to get checked and scanned before being allowed entrance. With all the tensions in the land, this security effort should be expected and appreciated.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
If you walk around lost in old Jerusalem for any amount of time, you’ll end up in the courtyard for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I’m not sure why all paths seem to lead there, but the do.
The otherwise unassuming old building, according to tradition, contains both the site of the crucification at Calvary and the site of the resurrection in Jesus’s empty tomb.
The church is considered one of, if not the, holiest site in the Christian faith. As such, it receives an overwhelming amount of tourists. The interior of the church is large and multi-stories, but somehow still feels like it will burst at the seems if any more people try to enter. Groups (think slow moving bus tour groups) come and go in waves.
When you are going to attempt the church, draw a deep breath, and calm yourself before you start. Remember, this is a holy place, act accordingly.
Otherwise, you’ll definitely enjoy a stop here. The inside of the church, and it’s many side-areas, are absolutely stuffed with paintings and iconography. The site, if approached in the appropriate manner, is quite moving.
Though I’m not particular religious in any fashion, I found visiting the holy sites to be quite a moving experience.
Standing on the Temple Mount, surrounded by the large vistas of the holy land, left me with a deep moving feeling that didn’t let go of me for many hours afterward. History and religion radiate from every rock and tree on the Mount. Being there, and absorbing that, was as close to a religious experience as I have ever had. I left the Mount with a profound sense of being.
The experience of visiting the big three holy places is greatly worth the trouble that it takes to do so. Most of the planet is trying to do what you are doing. Be the deliverer of peace in this setting, not the instigator of misery. Being calm and patient will increase your experiences here immeasurably. Trust me on this one!
As soon as COVID lets the world travel again, consider Israel and the Holy Land. An experience I wanted to have for decades was more than worthwhile on every level. Definitely visit Israel.
Go. Explore. Learn.