Jerusalem - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Jerusalem


Israel's capital city occupies an important place in the hearts and minds of Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. The walled section comprising the Old City of Jerusalem is an area rich in the historical traditions of these three religions. It is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount. The Western Wall provides the focal point for Jewish worship and stands as an enduring symbol of the Jewish homeland.

The Old City can be accessed through seven of the eight gates punctuating the ancient walls enveloping it. Within these walls are the separate quarters of the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian communities. A dazzling array of merchandise can be purchased from the lively Arab souk(open-air market), and meandering through the narrow corridors and cobbled pavements of the ancient centre inevitably provides a feast of sensations.

For an orientation of the Old City it is best to set off along the Ramparts Walk, originally designed for watchmen, or to climb the Citadel of David for a panoramic vista of the eternally fascinating city of Jerusalem.

Information & Facts


Jerusalem is situated at a relatively high altitude, and therefore experiences quite cold, wet winters with occasional light snowfalls. By contrast summers are dry and warm, with low humidity and temperatures averaging around 75°F (24°C), making for bright and pleasant days. During autumn and spring a hot desert wind called the sharavis common.

Getting Around

Jerusalem has an extensive public bus service, and most drivers speak English, but most bus services stop over Shabbat(from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday). Bus 99 is a hop-on hop-off service that visits all main tourist attractions in the city. The old city area is compact enough to explore on foot. Those who choose to drive in Jerusalem will find that local drivers tend to be unruly. Taxis are plentiful, identifiable by a yellow sign on the roof, and can be hailed in the street, ordered by telephone or hired outside hotels and main places of interest. Taxis are metered and charge more late at night and on Saturdays and public holidays. Passengers should make sure the taxi driver turns the meter on at the start of a journey. Shared taxis ( sherutim) are another popular form of transport, travelling fixed routes and usually costing about the same as a bus. Passengers can get on and off when they need to, though drivers (and fellow passengers) can be impatient when it comes to delays.

Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel. Most of the population also speak English.

The Israeli Shekel (ILS) is divided into 100 agorot (singular is agora). Money can be changed in the small exchange bureaux found on most main streets, or at banks and hotels. ATMs are prevalent throughout the country and linked to American systems. Most banks are open Sunday through to Friday until noon, and are open again from 4pm till 6pm on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers cheques, though commission on these is high.

Bethlehem is just six miles (10km) south of Jerusalem, and is a major tourist attraction for pilgrims and visitors alike. The putative birthplace of Jesus, this is a charming town despite its tourist-centred commercialism. The Church of the Nativity is the focal point for a visit to the town, erected over the site of Jesus' birthplace. Bethlehem is also a wonderful place to experience the variety of Christian monasteries that represent every permutation of Christianity. Christmas is celebrated on three separate dates in accordance with the Catholic and Western church calendars, the Eastern calendar followed by the Armenians, and the Julian calendar followed by the Greek Orthodox and Eastern churches. For further exploration of the town's cultural diversity, visit the Bethlehem Museum, established by the Arab Women's Union to celebrate the area's Palestinian cultural heritage. The exhibits include displays from traditional household items to clothing, jewellery and old photographs. (The Bethlehem Museum is open Monday to Wednesday and Friday and Saturday between 8am and 5pm, and on Thursdays between 8am and 12pm.)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest Christian site in Jerusalem - the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection. First constructed in 335 by Emperor Constantine, persistent damage has been inflicted on the structure over the centuries and subsequent repair-work has been undertaken by the religious communities that administer it. The Church contains the Chapel of Golgotha and the three Stations of the Cross where Jesus was crucified, and the Sepulchre itself marks the place of his burial and resurrection.

The Citadel was constructed in the 1st century BC as a fortress for King Herod, and has since served as a strategic defence position of the Old City. The tallest tower of the Citadel, the Phasael, is the place to appreciate the magnificent view as well as the orientation of the Old City. The Citadel contains the excellent Museum of the History of Jerusalem, featuring fascinating displays of 4,000 years of the city's past.

Yet another fascinating historical attraction in Jerusalem, Hezekiah's Tunnel is an absolute must-see for those who like to combine their sightseeing with a real sense of discovery and adventure. The tunnel, which is about 2,700 years old, was built by Hezekiah in preparation for an attack by the invading Assyrians - he thought by "[stopping] the water of the springs that were outside the city" (II Chronicles 32) and redirecting it under the city, he could protect Jerusalem's precious water supply and so outlast the invaders. The incredible feat - the tunnel is 1,640 feet (500m) long, and carved out of solid rock - is made all the more remarkable when one learns that its middle section, which zig-zags wildly, was constructed like because the two teams of diggers (each operating from a different end of the tunnel) were trying to locate each other by the sound of the other's picks working against the rock. One of the very few 8th-century BC tourist attractions you can actually explore, Hezekiah's Tunnel is a wonderful place to pass a couple of hours, wandering through the bowels of Jerusalem's Old City. It is a particularly popular activity for kids, although less so for the highly claustrophobic.

The Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) is an extremely interesting geological site located in Israel's Negev Desert, about 53 miles (85km) south of the city of Be'er Sheva. The crater (or more properly, makhtesh) was not formed from the impact of a meteor, but is rather a geological formation unique to the Negev desert, caused by millions of years of erosion and weathering following the retreat of the ocean. These days, the 40km-long, 500m-deep crater is housed within Ramon National Park, one of Israel's most popular ecotourism destinations. The crater, which is shaped like an elongated heart, is a magnificent sight - and a potent reminder of the incredible age of the region. The crater is also home to a variety of indigenous plants and animals, including the Nubian ibex, striped hyena, Arabian leopard and Dorcas gazelle. There are numerous hiking trails leading down to the bottom of the crater, where you can see the ruins of prehistoric Khan Saharonim (a stop used by Nabatean traders travelling the Incense Route more than 2,000 years ago). An ideal destination for those who like their experiences of nature to be silent and expansive, there are also wonderful star-gazing opportunities (and cheap accommodation) available at the nearby town of Mitzpe Ramon.

Situated in the Judean Desert and overlooking the Dead Sea, is one of Israel's most popular tourist attractions - the mountaintop fortress of Masada (sometimes spelled Massada). This enduring symbol of Jewish history is the site of the heroic defiance by 967 Jewish Zealots, who rose against the Roman Empire in 66 AD and took their own lives when defeat seemed inevitable. A cable car ride or hike up the Snake Path takes one to the top, where breathtaking views can be enjoyed over the Dead Sea and the surrounding desert. The Masada Sound and Light Show recounts this dramatic history with special pyrotechnic effects, and takes place in a natural amphitheatre on the west side of the mountain reachable only from Arad.

Temple Mount, known by some as Mount Moriah, is a site of tremendous religious importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. It is one of Jerusalem's most famous landmarks and can be found within the walled section of the Old City. The glinting golden dome of the Dome of the Rock rises impressively from Jerusalem's skyline and has become the city's most distinguishable feature. Temple Mount is of Jewish and Christian historical importance on two accounts: the large rock is believed to be the place where Abraham offered his son Isaac up for sacrifice, and the First Temple is the place where the Ark of the Covenant was housed. Even though off limits to Jews today, it is still a focal-point of Jewish life, and Jews worldwide face the Temple Mount during prayer. For Muslims the same rock is the place from which Muhammad, in a dream, ascended to heaven. In commemoration of this apotheosis, the Dome of the Rock was built over the site in the 7th century. It is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary or Al-Haram al-Sharif, and is one of the three most important sites in Islamic culture. Also located on the Temple Mount are the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum, which houses a collection of Korans and other Islamic relics.

The Dead Sea and its immediate environment is a landscape abundant with natural wonders. Most notable of these is the high salt and mineral concentration found in the sea's waters, that enables visitors to float effortlessly on the surface. The therapeutic properties of the black mud found in the region are formed by a mixture of sea minerals and organic elements. For a completely rejuvenating experience, several Dead Sea spa resorts offer a range of health and beauty treatments. The Ein Gedi Spa is on the western shore. Equally fascinating are the archaeological sites of the Dead Sea region, with traces remaining of Persian, Greek, Roman and other civilisations. Notable historical locations include the notorious biblical city of Sodom that was destroyed along with Gomorra. Salt pillars emerge from this eight-mile (12km) geological ridge, located in the southern part of the Dead Sea area.

The Israel Museum has achieved world-class status with its remarkable collections, spanning from prehistoric archaeology to contemporary art. These include displays of archaeology from the Holy Land, a comprehensive compilation of Judaica and ethnology of Jewish people, and a fine art collection encompassing the Old Masters to renowned contemporary works. Perhaps the most famous artefacts in the museum are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century AD, and were discovered in a cave by a shepherd in 1947. Numerous temporary exhibitions, publications and educational activities form part of the museum's cultural programme, and over 950,000 visitors are drawn to this vast complex each year. Another great attraction of the Museum is its Art Garden, which was designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. It is a fusion of Zen landscaping, incorporating the natural vegetation of the area such as rosemary bushes, olive and fig trees. Displayed within this picturesque setting are the famous sculptures of Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol, David Smith, Henry Moore, Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt and James Turrell.

The Via Dolorosa (Road of Sorrow), also known as the Way of the Cross, is the route Jesus is said to have followed as he carried the cross to his crucifixion. There are 14 stations along the way commemorating different events, starting at Lion's Gate in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, where Jesus was convicted by Pontius Pilate, and ending at his tomb, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre within the Christian Quarter. Every Friday at 3pm priests lead a procession and prayers are said at each station. A steady stream of pilgrims remember and honour Jesus' sacrifice by walking the Way of the Cross each year.

The Western Wall, known to non-Jews as the Wailing Wall, is the most sacred Jewish prayer-site in the world. Thousands of worshippers gather year-round to pray there, and to place folded written prayers into the crevices of the wall. The 1,916-foot (584m) wall is all that remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, built in 30BC by King Herod. It is made up of enormous stone blocks, and endures as a tribute to the scale of workmanship in past eras. Following Orthodox Jewish practice, the praying sections have been separated for men and women. Men are required to wear a skullcap (kippah) and women must be modestly dressed. On Fridays, the Jewish Shabbat or Sabbath, the men's section particularly pulsates with the songs and prayers of the faithful, for in principle, the whole area is an Orthodox synagogue. The wall is also sacred to Muslims, who believe that it is where the prophet Muhammad tied up his winged horse, al-Buraq, before ascending into heaven.

This vital memorial to the Holocaust provides a multifaceted tribute to the millions of Jews who died during World War II. The focus of the museum is to commemorate and document the events of the Holocaust and provide ongoing research and education. The Museum's archive collection is the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of material, containing documents, photographs, films and videotaped testimonies of survivors. These can be read and viewed in the allocated rooms - and doing so is an emotional, sobering experience. An inspiring tribute to the victims is The Hall of Names, where the names of the six million Holocaust victims are displayed. Symbolic gravestones are created from the 'Pages of Testimony', records of the biographical details of millions deceased. Yad Vashem's library contains an impressive collection of material in many languages. The Historical Museum chronicles the history of the Holocaust, from the implementation of the Nazi's anti-Jewish policies to the mass murder of the concentration camps. The display includes photographs, artefacts, documents and audio-visual material. An important collection of Holocaust art is displayed in Yad Vashem's Art Museum. The International School for Holocaust Studies and Holocaust Research provides education and ongoing research on the Holocaust at both national and international levels. Other facets of the Yad Vashem experience include the Righteous Among the Nations exhibition, honouring the non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews; and the Encyclopaedia of Communities, which records the historical-geographical communities of Jews destroyed or damaged during the Nazi regime.

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