Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem
From the Convent of the Olive-Tree in Jerusalem we continue south and then turn left (east) along the inside of the town walls, past the Zion Gate (from which roads run down into the Hinnom and Kidron valleys and up to Mount Zion), into the Jewish Quarter. This part of the Old City was laid in ruins during the Israeli-Arab fighting in 1948 and subsequently, and was rebuilt after 1967. Turning left into the second street of some size, Jewish Quarter Street (Rehov HaYehudim), and heading north, we pass a number of synagogues (on right) which have been rebuilt in recent years.
The Ramban Synagogue was the first to be built in the Old City of Jerusalem, founded in 1267 by Rabbi Moshe Ben Nahman Ramban (Nachmanides), who came to the Holy Land from Spain.
Immediately north of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem are the remains of the Hurva Synagogue, founded by Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, who came from Poland in 1701 with 500 Ashkenazis. The Jewish community in Jerusalem was now split in two, and the Ashkenazis built their own synagogue. After Rabbi Hanassi's death the synagogue fell into ruin (hurva = "ruin") and was rebuilt only in 1856. Thereafter, until its destruction in 1948, the synagogue again became the spiritual center of Jerusalem's Ashkenazi Jews. After 1967 there were various plans for rebuilding it, but it was never fully restored. It now consists only of a domed central structure and a reconstructed arch, a landmark and emblem of the whole quarter and a reminder of the synagogue's former splendor.
To the west of the Ramban and Hurva Synagogues are steps leading down to the Cardo Maximus, one of Jerusalem's two principal streets in Roman and Byzantine times. Excavated between 1976 and 1985 for a length of just under 200m/220yds, it now lies 6m/20ft below the modern ground level and accordingly runs underground for part of its course. As the reproduction of a sixth century mosaic pavement which is displayed here shows, it was a magnificent avenue flanked by columns supporting a roof and lined with shops; and indeed one section of the old cardo is now again a fashionable shopping street.
Turning south from the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem, we come in a few yards to a little street on the left leading to the Sephardic synagogues, which were rebuilt in 1967 on the basis of old plans and have largely been restored to their original 17th and 18th century form. The Yohanan Ben Zakkai Synagogue is named after a rabbi of the Roman period. The name of the Eliahu Hanavi Synagogue commemorates the association of the site with the prophet Elijah. The Emtzai (Middle) Synagogue, the smallest of them all, was originally only the vestibule to the others. The Istanbuli Synagogue formerly belonged to Turkish Jews.
Northeast of the Sephardic synagogues in Jerusalem is another important excavation site on which a number of houses built in the reign of Herod the Great (40-4 B.C.) and destroyed in A.D. 70 during the Jewish War have been brought to light. The size and magnificence of the houses, in particular the mosaic pavements (some of them excellently preserved) and the elaborate bath-houses, bear witness to the wealth of their owners. There is a site museum displaying frescoes, stucco decoration and remains of mosaic pavements as well as domestic equipment and luxury objects found in the excavations.
Burnt House (Katres House)
The "Burnt House" in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. There are relatively few archeological finds to be seen here, but an audio-visual show which is presented several times daily gives a vivid picture of the history of the Jewish Quarter in the time of Herod and its destruction by the Romans.
Opposite the Burnt House in Jeruslaem are the remains of the Tiferet Israel ("Glory of Israel") Synagogue, the principal Chassidic synagogue, and the Court of the Karaites, the Jewish sect which rejects the authority of the Talmud.
The Wailing Wall, also known as the Western Wall, is an important holy Jewish site. This massive wall, some 18m in height, is where major religious ceremonies are held, and is revered as a synagogue.
A vaulted passage at the northeast corner of the Western Wall in Jerusalem leads along the Herodian walls to Wilson's Arch (below the present Chain Gate), which spanned the Tyropoeon valley and gave access to the Temple. A square shaft cut down under the arch allows visitors to see the massive foundations of the walls, with fourteen courses of dressed stone below the present ground level.
Ophel Archeological Park
To the south and southeast of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, below the south wall of the Temple precinct, is the Ophel Archeological Park, an area in which Israeli archaeologists have made important discoveries since 1968. A little to the south of the Western Wall is Robinson's Arch (so called after its American discoverer), which was not, as originally thought, an arch carrying an access route to the Temple, like Wilson's Arch, but rather part of a flight of steps leading up to the Temple platform. In 1971 a 2m/6.5ft high stone from the southwest corner of the Temple platform was found near here, 35m/115ft below the top of the enclosure wall, from which it had presumably tumbled during the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. This corner-stone, which is mentioned by Flavius Josephus, has a recess in which it is thought the priest stood to proclaim the beginning and end of the Sabbath. In the eastern part of the Archeological Park can be seen the steps leading up to the Huldah Gates, from which there was access, under Herod's Stoa Basilike, to the Temple platform.In the southern part of the area the remains of a two-story palace covering an area of some 1,000sq.m/1,075sq.yd were discovered in 1975. It has been identified as the palace of Queen Helen of Adiabene (in northern Mesopotamia), who became a convert to the Jewish faith around A.D. 50 and came to live in Jerusalem.From here we return to the open space in front of the Western Wall and take a narrow street at the northeast corner which runs into Chain Street. Turning left along this, we cross Khan ez-Zeit Street and continue along David Street, a busy thoroughfare lined by shops and cafes, to return to the Jaffa Gate. (An alternative possibility is to turn right into Khan ez-Zeit Street, which runs north to the Damascus Gate.)
Map of Jerusalem Attractions