Home to a room venerated by Christians as the location where Jesus and his disciples had their Last Supper, as well as to a small prayer room marking the place where many Jews believe King David is buried, this cluster of buildings is an important pilgrimage site for peoples of both Jewish and Christian faiths.
Although it once encompassed the entire ridge of the upper Old City (including the Citadel), 'Mt Zion' is used to refer to the hill south of the Old City beyond Zion Gate.
East of the Old City, the Kidron Valley and its western slopes form the oldest section of Jerusalem, laced with archaeological remnants and tombs that date back more than 4000 years. This is the site of the legendary City of David, which was actually a city long before David slung any stones, and there are a number of graves and tombs in the area, particularly in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Steep topography has isolated the valley from the rest of the city (the best access is via Dung Gate or Lions' (St Stephen's) Gate. For archaeology fans with sturdy walking shoes, it’s definitely worth trekking down here for a half-day of exploration.
King David (David HaMelekh) Street
The most coveted stretch of real estate outside the Old City lies along King David (David HaMelekh) St, on a hillside west of Jaffa Gate. Dominated by the King David Hotel, the area includes parks, gardens and upmarket restaurants. In adjoining Mamilla, rows of new luxury apartments – many owned by Jews who live overseas for most of the year – overlook the walls of the Old City. Important landmarks include the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College complex, part of which was designed by Moshe Safdie (whose architecture also graces Mamilla Mall and Yad Vashem), and the 1933 YMCA, designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon, architect of New York's Empire State Building.
On the far western fringe of the city, between rows of housing blocks and the Jerusalem forest, is an area of wooded slopes and spectacular views known as Har Hazikaron (Mount of Remembrance). It is home to Herzl Museum, a military cemetery and Yad Vashem, Israel’s main memorial to victims of the Holocaust.
Hidden in a valley on Jerusalem’s western outskirts is this pretty village of Arab-built stone houses surrounded by Lebanese cedars and native pine trees. The small community is home to several churches related to John the Baptist, including a lovely Franciscan-owned tiled church, and the Chagall Windows at Hadassah Medical Centre are not too far away.
The history of the town was rather ordinary until the middle of the 6th century, when Christian pilgrims identified it as the likely home of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. Inevitably, shrines and churches were built over holy sites. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War caused the local Arab residents to flee the town; their homes were later taken over by immigrants from Morocco and Romania. A growing student population has breathed new life into the community.
To reach the village, take bus 28 from the Central Bus Station or Mt Herzl.
Founded in the 1860s, this neighbourhood south of the Mahane Yehuda Market is a warren of narrow alleys where a number of old synagogues and yeshivas (Jewish religious seminaries) are hidden, many set in large stone-walled compounds. The most interesting street is HaGilboa, where you’ll find a number of historic homes; each contains a plaque that describes the family that built the home. One street over, on HaCarmel, look for the attractive synagogue Hased veRahamim, with its unmistakable silver doors.
Religious Services in Jerusalem
Experience a slice of holiness in Jerusalem by attending Shabbat services, Friday prayers or a Sunday morning church service. Dress modestly.
Shabbat services are typically held on Friday evening shortly after candle lighting (36 minutes before sunset) and on Saturday morning starting between 8.30am and 9.30am (Sephardic and especially Yemenite synagogues may begin earlier). Every Jewish neighbourhood has a variety of synagogues, the vast majority of them Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox. Nahla'ot is famous for the diversity of its scores of tiny houses of prayer, including one that follows the traditions of Aleppo, Syria.
Jerusalem synagogues that aren't traditionally Orthodox:
Har El (www.kharel.org.il) Israel's first Reform synagogue, founded in 1958.
Kol HaNeshama (www.kolhaneshama.org.il) Sizeable Reform congregation.
Moreshet Yisrael (www.moreshetyisrael.org) Conservative/Masorti.
Shira Hadasha (www.shirahadasha.org.il) A feminist Orthodox community.
For details on church services, see the Christian information centre website (www.cicts.org) and click the ‘Masses and Services’ link.