The Old City is home to most of Jerusalem’s great religious landmarks – The Western Wall (all that remains of the holy temple of biblical times) for the Jews, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (built over the tomb of Jesus Christ) for the Christians, and The Dome of the Rock (spot from which Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven) for the Muslims.
A place of prayer and pilgrimage sacred to the Jewish people, The Western Wall, also called The Wailing Wall, is a 187-foot-high section of the ancient wall of a temple built by King Herod the Great. It is the only remnant of the holy edifice that stood on the Temple Mount.
Praying at the wall by writing missives and prayers (known as kvitlach in Jewish) on scraps of paper and placing them between the stones of the wall is a very unique experience for us. Even Pope John Paul II had done this by stuffing a prayer in the cracks of the wall. It is believed that every written prayer at the wall becomes an eternal prayer. These prayers are collected after every few days by a caretaker who buries them on the Mount of Olives in a 2,000-year old Jewish cemetery east of Jerusalem.
Men and women used to go and pray separately to the wall to pray, no intermingling; however, it is not the way anymore.
There is no more separation between men and women: now they can pray in the same place at the same time. Men must cover their heads with a Jewish skull cap called yamakah or kippa or a paper yarmulke provided free at the entrance to use while you are near the sacred wall. Women are not required to cover their heads but must dress modestly, means shoulders and legs covered. There are dark-coloured shawls available in a basket at the entrance to wrap around the arms and cover the legs.
A major pilgrimage centre for all Christians all around the world is The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also known as the Church of Resurrection. It contains two holiest sites of Christianity – the site of Jesus Christ crucifixion at Calvary or Golgotha and tomb of His burial and resurrection. The last four stations of the Via Dolorosa representing the final episodes of Jesus Passion are within the church proper.
The most famous Islamic site in the Old City of Jerusalem is the impressive golden-capped Dome of the Rock which can be seen from all over the city. Not a mosque but a Muslim shrine built by Calip Umayyad Abd al-Malik in 691 CE, the Dome enshrines the rock from which Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven after his journey from Mecca to Jerusalem on the winged steed al-Buraq. Like the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, it was built over a sacred stone. Muslim tradition holds that the footprints of the Prophet Mohammed are said to be on the rock.
Regardless of how seriously you take your faith these sacred places have to be on your list of must-see sites in the Holy Land.