Jerusalem was definitely interesting. Rod and I visited the old city back and forth over three days and it is a very impressive place. Petra was a great place to visit but it is a dead city while old Jerusalem is still inhabited and that makes it so much more impressive.
Some of the streets covered with shops catering to the locals (butchers, grocery stores, tailors…) and the other catering to the mass of tourists (souvenirs and whatever the tourists would want to buy) are bustling with activity while some other streets are just quiet and peaceful with just some locals minding their business or going home.
Old Jerusalem is also critical because of the 3 major holy sites it houses and it is sometimes like if every stone was of most importance to one religion or another (at the end, it might be better than when two or more religions fight over the same stone!).
The church of the holy sepulchre is a major sacred site for Christians. It is a very impressive monument that exhale a lot of spiritual power. Also, even if it is not always perfect, the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox churches all live together peacefully there.
Hiring a guide was more than rewarding as it would be difficult to make sense of all the rooms and places of worship on one’s own. He was stinking like a dead rat though and I stayed as far as possible during the whole time trying to never face him so as not to take the risk of smeling his rancid breath!
We spent some more time around the church after the tour. My favorite places are the holy jail and the little Jacobin chapel located behind the Educule mainly because they were the quietest parts while being quite important spiritually.
Since we already had seen 5 of the 14 stations of the Cross, we also went around and visited the other 9 stations located on the Via Dolorosa (a street of Old Jerusalem that is supposed to mark the path Jesus walked with the cross after his condemnation). Only one advice, try to not come on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday as it is more difficult to visit the holy monuments on these days ;).
The Kotel or Wailing Wall or Western Wall might well be the holiest monument for Judaism. From a pure architectural standpoint, it is just a wall so there is not much to see but this is not really what matters. I went there twice. First on Saturday (Sabath for Jews) and it was impressive to see so many people there. The second time was the day after as part of a tour of the city and it was quieter. I realized that I don’t know enough about the Judaism and especially rituals since I could not make sense of everything that was going on there.
The Temple Mount is a disputed site that houses two holy Muslim shrines today: the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic monument located on a sacred site to the three religions. It is an impressive monument that is usually a symbol of Jerusalem. Both monuments are closed to non-Muslims. It is a bit sad but after reading more about the situation, I kind of understand.
The rest of Jerusalem is more like a Western city. On Saturday night, we assisted to something that looked like a Frat party with more Americans than I had seen in months! The fact is that on many occasions, it felt like all the American Jewish college kids had descended on the city.