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The Quarters of the Old City
Today the third of a square mile within the Old City walls is home to some 35,000 Jerusalemites, representing a babel of languages, a plethora of religious rites, and a potpourri of ethnicities. Different sections, or quarters, within the walls have distinct characters. Here's a brief guide to the highlights.
The Muslim Quarter, located between Damascus Gate and the Western Wall, and east to Lions' Gate, is the largest in both area and population. The famous Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross) that winds through this quarter offers an illusory universalism: the side streets, with their busy grocery stores, neighborhood mosques, and stenciled pictures of Mecca, bespeak the real character of this residential area. The enormous Haram esh-Sharif (the Jewish Temple Mount), with the gold Dome of the Rock and the black-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque, is its natural extension.
Fragmented into a dozen denominational domains, the Christian Quarter is capped by the gray dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (The struggle for visibility in the Holy City seems to be as much about dominating the skyline as about controlling real estate.) The numerous churches and religious institutions in this quarter, which is west of the Muslim Quarter, make for low population density.
The Jewish Quarter lies to the west of the Western Wall. Shattered in the 1948 war, it was revived in aesthetic stone in the 1970s and is home largely to religious Jews. Archaeological finds and the neighborhood's contemporary tale have given the area a uniqueness all its own.
The heart of the Armenian Quarter, the Old City's smallest, is the monastery, in the southwest corner within the walls. The closed enclave perpetuates the life and faith of a far-off land, the first to embrace Christianity.
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