Jerusalem is home to the 3rd most holy site to Islam, the holiest site for Judaism and most of the holiest sites for Christianity. It is no surprise the history in Jerusalem was amazing. Outside the Old City, Jerusalem feels like a modern, clean, pedestrian city. While quite expensive for the Middle East (3x Jordan, 5x Egypt, 1x EU), it is worth the visit. Israel was setting a tourist record while I was there so I needed to book at least a couple days in advance to have any choice in accommodation and something less than $40 a night. Below I describe the most important religious sites everyone must visit.
The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount is maybe the holiest place in Jerusalem. This is because it contains the golden Dome of the Rock which protects the rock in which Mohammed ascended to heaven (3rd most important site of Islam). This rock is also the holiest site of Judaism. It is their center of the universe.
Jewish Second Temple was once here on the Temple Mount but it was destroyed during Muslim occupation and later replaced with the Islamic Dome of the Rock. Only Muslims can enter the Dome of the Rock and non-Muslims have very restricted times they can visit the grounds outside. I myself waiting in line for an hour and half only to have the grounds close early so I was never permitted access. Go early.
The Western Wall
The Western Wall is the closest part of the destroyed temple to the rock that can be accessed by Jews and therefore their second holiest site. Consistently Orthodox Jews can be seen here rocking rhythmically reciting Hebrew texts. Small paper messages fill the cracks of the West wall. These messages passed into and through the wall are placed there to get them closest possible to their holiest place. They are messages to god.
The collective intensity here was intensely beautiful here for me and it was my favorite place I visited in Israel.
Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives, outside the Old City, is one of the main religious sites because it was a frequent location for Jesus. The nearby Church of Ascension was supposed to be the location where Christ ascended to heaven for Eastern Orthodox Christians and also the Mount is the place where Jews believe the messiah will come and the resurrection of the dead will begin. Therefore, there is a Jewish cemetery here so that those buried will become some of the first resurrected and have less problem for their soul finding its way here.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This church contains the two holiest sites of Christianity: Jesus’ empty tomb (disputed) and the place Jesus was crucified. As a result the church is huge and has a lot going on inside.
Growing up Christian I even found this place a little confusing and probably should have popped in an audio guide. Learning protestant religion as a child, all this ritual harking of Catholicism was confusing and the dark church seemed more like going through some dance than the feeling of sanctuary I felt at other places. Maybe that is because it was the most familiar religion?
The Old City
All of the Old City has been destroyed, captured, rebuilt and repurposed over the 4000 years of Jerusalem. It is a mix of construction techniques, periods and cultures. People of Jewish, Muslim or Christian faith have been denied access to many of their most religious sites for extended periods of time throughout history as a result of the near constant conflict. Even the current compromise of Muslim control over the Dome of the Rock denies access to the site by Jews.
The history around this, even recent history when the Jewish Quarter was shelled in the late 20th century, is incredible. Old Roman streets can be found deep in the city amid the stone walkways.
I wanted to finish by saying the Israeli Museum was one of the best museums I’ve gone to. The depth of the historical and archeological artifacts from all over the world was inspiring. The art of activist AiWeiWei meaningful and complex. I thought two hours would be enough but it would take a little more than three to fully enjoy this place. Highly recommend.