Here we have the day tour for the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem. A day tour takes normally a day, but this tour can also take a half day, depending on your attention to details. Anyway, this tour is for anyone, who wants to explore the Muslim Quarter of this ancient city from the Christian perspective.
If you take this tour by yourself, I advise you to print out this page on paper before you go. If you take this tour with me, contact me first of course. In that case, this tour will take the whole day (8-9 hours). The cost is $150 per day.
This is the largest populated quarter of the old city. It was first developed under Herod the Great and delineated in its present form under the Byzantines. In the 12th century it was taken over by the Crusaders, hence the quarter’s wealth of churches and other Christian institutions, such as the Via Dolorosa.
In the 14th and 15th centuries the Mamelukes rebuilt extensively, especially
in the areas abutting the Haram esh-Sharif. The quarter has been in decay since the 16th century. Today it contains some of the city’s poorest homes. It is also one of the most fascinating and least explored parts of Jerusalem.
- Monastery of the Flagellation
Via Dolorosa. Tel 972-2-627-0444, open 8am–6pm (winter: 5pm) daily. Studium Museum 09–11:30am Mon–Sat.
Owned by the Franciscans, this complex embraces the simple and striking Chapel of the Flagellation, designed in the 1920s by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, who was also responsible for the Dominus Flevit Chapel on the Mount of Olives. It is located on the site traditionally held to be where Christ was flogged by Roman soldiers prior to his Crucifixion (Matthew 27:27–30; Mark 15:16–19).
On the other side of the courtyard is the Chapel of the Condemnation, which also dates from the early 20th century. It is built over the remains of a medieval chapel, on the site popularly identified with the trial of Christ before Pontius Pilate.
The neighboring monastery buildings house the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, a prestigious institute of biblical, geographical and archaeological studies. Also part of the complex, the Studium Museum contains objects found by the Franciscans in excavations at Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethlehem and various other sites. The most interesting exhibits are Byzantine and Crusader objects, such as fragments of frescoes from the Church of Gethsemane, precursor of the present-day Church of All Nations, and a 12th-century crozier from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
This arch that spans the Via Dolorosa was built by the Romans in AD 70 to support
a ramp being laid against the Antonia Fortress, in which Jewish rebels were barricaded. When the Romans rebuilt Jerusalem in AD 135 in the wake of the Second Jewish War, the arch was reconstructed as a monument to victory, with two smaller arches flanking a large central bay. It is the central bay that you see spanning the street.
One of the side arches is also still visible, incorporated into the interior of the neighboring Convent of the Sisters of Zion. Built in the 1860s, the convent also contains the remains of the vast Pool of the Sparrow (Struthion), an ancient reservoir which collected rainwater directed from the rooftops.
The pool was originally covered with a stone pavement (lithostrothon) and it was on this flagstone plaza, Christian tradition has it, that Pilate presented Christ to the
crowds and uttered the words “Ecce homo” (Latin for “Behold the man”). However,
archaeology refutes this, dating the pavement to the 2nd century AD, long after the time of Christ. Within a railed section you can see marks scratched into the stone.
Historians speculate that they may have been carved by bored Roman guards as part of some kind of street game.
3. Via Dolorosa
The identification of the Via Dolorosa with the ancient “Way of Sorrows” walked by Christ on the way to his Crucifixion has more to do with religious tradition than
historical fact. It nevertheless continues to draw huge numbers of pilgrims every day.
The streets through which they walk are much like any others in the Muslim Quarter, lined with small shops and stalls, but the route is marked out by 14 “Stations of the Cross”, linked with events that occurred on Christ’s last, fateful walk. Some of the Stations are commemorated only by wall plaques, which can be difficult to spot among the religious souvenir stalls. Others are located inside buildings. The last five Stations are all within the Holy Sepulcher church.
Friday is the main day for pilgrims, when, at 3pm, the Franciscans lead a procession along the route. In fact, the more likely route for the original Via Dolorosa begins at what is now the Citadel but was at the time the royal palace. This is where Pontius Pilate resided when in Jerusalem, making it a more likely location for the
trial of Christ. From here, the condemned would probably have been led down what is now David Street, through the present-day Central Souk, out of the then city gate
and to the hill of Golgotha, the presumed site of which is now occupied by the Holy
4. Lady Tunshuq’s Palace
Lady Tunshuq, of Mongolian or Turkish origin, was the wife, or mistress, of a Kurdish nobleman. She arrived in Jerusalem some time in the 14th century and had this edifice built for herself. It is one of the loveliest examples
of Mameluke architecture in Jerusalem. Unfortunately the narrowness of the street prevents you from standing back and appreciating the building as a whole, but you
can admire the three great doorways with their beautiful inlaid-marble decoration. The upper portion of a window recess also displays some fine carved-stone, stalactite-like decoration, a form known as muqarnas. The former palace now serves as an orphanage and is not open to the public.
When Lady Tunshuq died, she was buried in a small tomb across from the palace. The fine decoration on the tomb includes panels of different colored marble, intricately shaped and slotted together like a jigsaw – a typical Mameluke feature
known as “joggling”. If you head east and across El-Wad Road, you will enter a narrow alley called Ala ed-Din, which contains more fine Mameluke architecture. Most of the façades are composed of bands of different hues of stone, a strikingly beautiful Mameluke decorative technique known as ablaq.
5. Cotton Merchants’ Market
Known in Arabic as the Souk el-Qattanin, this is a covered market with next to no natural light but lots of small softly-lit shops. It is possibly the most atmospheric
street in all the Old City. Its construction was begun by the Crusaders. They intended the market as a free-standing structure but later, in the first half of the 14th century, the Mamelukes connected it to the Haram esh-Sharif via a splendidly
ornate gate facing the Dome of the Rock. (But note, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the Haram esh-Sharif by this gate, although you can depart this way.) As well as some 50 shop units, the market also has two bathhouses, the Hammam el-Ain and the Hammam el-Shifa.
One of these has been undergoing restoration with a view to its being eventually opened to the public. Between the two bathhouses is a former merchants’ hostel called Khan Tankiz, also being restored.
Less than 50 m (160 ft) south of the Cotton Merchants’ Market on El-Wad Road is a
small public drinking fountain, or sabil, one of several such erected during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent.
6. Chain Street
The Arabic name for this street is Tariq Bab el-Silsila, which means “Street of the Gate of the Chain”. The name refers to the magnificent entrance gate to the Haram esh-Sharif situated at its eastern end.
The street is a continuation of David Street, and together the two streets run the width of the Old City from Jaffa Gate to the Haram esh-Sharif. Chain Street has several noteworthy buildings commissioned by Mameluke emirs in the 14th century. Heading eastwards from David Street, the first is the Khan el-Sultan caravanserai, a restored travellers’ inn. Further along on the right is Tashtamuriyya Madrasa, with its elegant balcony. It houses the tomb of the emir Tashtamur, and is one of many final resting places built here in the 14th and 15th centuries in order to be close to the Haram esh-Sharif. On the same side of the street is the tomb of the brutal Tartar emir Barka Khan, father-in-law of the Mameluke ruler Baybars, who drove the Crusaders out of the Holy Land.
This building, with its intriguing façade decoration, now houses the Khalidi Library.
Opposite the Khalidi Library are two small mausoleums. Of the two, that of emir Kilan stands out for its austere, well proportioned façade. Further along on the same side is the tomb of Tartar pilgrim Turkan Khatun, easily recognizable by the splendid arabesques on its façade. Opposite the Gate of the Chain is the impressive entrance to the 14th-century Tankiziyya Madrasa. In the inscription, three symbols in the shape of a cup show that emir Tankiz, who built the college, held the important office of cupbearer. Nearby is a drinking fountain, or sabil, from the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, which combines Roman and Crusader motifs.
7. Central Souk (market)
The Central Souk consists of three parallel covered streets at the intersection of David Street and Chain Street. They once formed part of the Roman Cardo.
Today’s markets sell mostly clothes and souvenirs, although the section called the Butchers’ Market (Souk el-Lakhamin in Arabic), restored in the 1970s, still offers all the excitement of an eastern bazaar. It is not for the faint-hearted, however, as the pungent aromas of spices and freshly slaughtered meat can be overwhelming.
Spotting this gate is easy, not only because it is the most monumental in the Old City, but also because of the perpetual bustle of activity in the area outside the gate.
Arabs call it Bab el-Amud, the Gate of the Column. This could refer to a large column topped with a statue of the emperor Hadrian which, in Roman times, stood just inside the gate. For Jews it is Shaar Shkhem, the gate which leads to the biblical city of Shechem, better known by its Arabic name – Nablus. The present-day gate was built over the remains of the original Roman gate and parts of the Roman city.
Outside the gate and to the west of the raised walkway, steps lead down to the excavation area. In the first section are remains of a Crusader chapel with frescoes, part of a medieval roadway and an ancient sign marking the presence of the Roman 10th Legion. Further in, metal steps lead down to the single surviving arch of the Roman gate, which gives access to the Roman Square Excavations. Here, the fascinating remains of the original Roman plaza, the starting point of the Roman Cardo, include a gaming board engraved in the paving stones.A hologram depicts Hadrian’s Acolumn in the main plaza. It is possible to explore the upper levels of the gate as part of the ramparts walk.
9. Herod’s Gate
The Arabic and and Hebrew names for this gate, Bab el-Zahra and Shaar ha-Prakhim respectively, both mean “Gate of Flowers”, referring to the rosette above the arch. It came to be known as Herod’s Gate in the 1500s, when Christian pilgrims wrongly thought that the house inside the gate was the palace of Herod the Great’s son. It was via the original, now closed, entrance further east that the Crusaders entered the city and conquered it on 15 July 1099.
This beautiful Crusader church is a superb example of Romanesque architecture. It
was constructed between 1131 and 1138 to replace a previous Byzantine church,
and exists today in more or less its original form. It is traditionally believed that the church stands on the spot where Anne and Joachim, the the original church can still be seen in the first row of columns.
In 1192, Saladin turned the church into a Muslim theological school. There is an inscription to this effect above the church’s entrance. Later abandoned, the church fell into ruins, until the Ottomans donated it to France in 1856 and it was restored.
Next to the church are two cisterns that once lay outside the city walls. They were
built in the 8th and 3rd centuries BC to collect rainwater. Some time later, under Herod the Great they were turned into curative baths. Ruins of a Roman temple, thought to have been to the god of medicine, can be seen here, as can those of a later Byzantine church built over the temple. It is also widely believed that this is the site of the Pool of Bethesda, described in St John’s account of Christ curing a
paralyzed man (John 5: 1–15).
Suleyman the Magnificent built this gate in 1538. Its Arabic name, Bab Sitti Maryam (Gate of the Virgin Mary), refers to the Tomb of the Virgin in the nearby Valley of Jehoshaphat. The Hebrew name, Shaar ha-Arayot, or Lions’ Gate, refers
to the two emblematic lions on either side of the gateway, although one school of
thought insists that they are panthers.
There are many different stories to explain the significance of the lions. One is that Suleyman the Magnificent had them carved in honor of the Mameluke emir Baybars and his successful campaign to rid the Holy Land of Crusaders. The name St Stephen’s Gate was adopted in the Middle Ages by Christians who believed that the first Christian martyr, St Stephen, was executed here.
Prior to that, however, it had been generally accepted that St Stephen had been stoned to death outside Damascus Gate. The gate is also significant because of its more recent history, for it was through it that the Arab Legion penetrated the Old City in 1948 and where Israeli paratroopers entered in 1967. It is an excellent starting point for the walk along the Via Dolorosa.