Jerusalem: Places to Explore

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Tower of David and Mt. Zion

When you've "done" the main sights, take a leisurely few hours to dip into lesser-known gems on the periphery of the Old City. Most of the city walls were built in the 16th century by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. According to legend, his two architects were executed by order of the sultan himself and buried behind the railings just inside the imposing Jaffa Gate. One version relates that they angered Suleiman by not including Mt. Zion and the venerated Tomb of David within the walls. Others say that the satisfied sultan wanted to make sure they would never build anything grander for anyone else.

Jaffa Gate got its name from its westerly orientation, toward the once-important Mediterranean harbor of Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv. Its Arabic name of Bab el-Khalil, "Gate of the Beloved," points you south, to the city of Hebron, where the biblical Abraham, the "Beloved of God" in Muslim tradition, is buried. The vehicle entrance is newer, created by the Ottoman Turks in 1898 for the visit of the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. The British general, Sir Edmund Allenby, took a different approach when he seized the city from the Turks in December 1917: he and his staff officers dismounted from their horses to enter the holy city with the humility befitting pilgrims.

The huge stone tower on the right as you enter Jaffa Gate is the last survivor of the strategic fortress built by King Herod 2,000 years ago. Today it’s part of the so-called citadel that houses the Tower of David Museum—well worth your time as the springboard for exploring this part of the historical city. Opposite the museum entrance (once a drawbridge) is the neo-Gothic Christ Church (Anglican), built in 1849 as the first Protestant church in the Middle East. Directly ahead is the souk (Arab bazaar), a convenient route to the Christian and Jewish quarters. To reach Mt. Zion, follow the vehicle road inside the walls to Zion Gate, or take the Ramparts Walk.

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