If there is any place, which is known far beyond its borders, it must be Jerusalem. Whether we are dealing with history, culture, religion, or present day political events, this city has something to say. And does it ever do so.
I live near Jerusalem, in a city – or settlement – known as Maale Adumim, just outside East Jerusalem on the, for many people, wrong side of the border between what is considered Israel and what is considered to become the future state of Palestine. My thoughts on this is not for this post, but I will probably touch on it in the future.
This is about a Jerusalem. Or rather, some impressions from a day, like most others, in this amazing place, which is unlike any other.
This particular day started early. Streets still mostly empty, but would soon be full of life. Street vendors, shop owners, tourists, pilgrims, soldiers, you have it all. Every person plays a little part in this myriad of destinies within a place which feels beyond time.
Only huge earth shaking events can really change the look of the city. It is kind of ironic that this little place need something, which changes the course of history, in order to change looks. A new religion here, a new state there. But nothing less can do it. The people controlling the city might change, but the city stays the same.
Also so for the people inhabiting it. Sure, they might be of this religious observance or another, but still the same. People trying to earn a living and building dreams, or help their kids build their dreams.
The city is dominated by three religions and two cultural expressions. The religions are of course Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Jews gathering for prayer at the Western Wall three times a day, have been part of the city – with short breaks – for at least 2,500 years if not more.
Christianity appeared with the teachings of Jesus around 2,000 years ago, though it would take some 200 to 300 years before it would become a dominant religion, by the decrees of Emperor Constantine. Since then, Christianity has been the controlling and leading religion of the West, even if it has undergone changes and has split up in a number of different denominations. Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, all worship Jesus as Lord and Savior, and all are present in Jerusalem.
The youngest of the religions, Islam, is at the same time the religion with the longest period of control over Jerusalem, from the conquest of the city in the 7th century CE, to the victories of the British over the Ottomans in 1918. In the meantime the Christian crusaders did manage to establish a Christian kingdom in the city, if only for a short period, with the victory over the Muslim forces in 1099 until Salah al-Din’s conquest of 1187.
The cultural expressions are basically West and East, or more correctly, an European/Anglo infusion of modernity, somewhat clashing with classical Middle Eastern culture.
Everywhere you see stands with the traditional Middle Eastern goods being sold next to shops with modern commodities. Buy traditional Middle Eastern food at one place, and go and find a cheap cellphone the next place. This, of course, is not typical to the Old City.
The bigger contrast is the passing from one quarter to another. The Old City has four quarters; the Christian quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Jewish quarter, and the Armenian quarter.
The Christian and the Muslim quarters are very similar, and not much would give away, that you have passed from one to the other. They are both distinctively Arab, and only the amount of Christian signs would give it away. The flow continues from one quarter to another, both Middle Eastern, both traditional in their expression.
The Jewish quarter is the more “modern” quarter. Infused with a lot of Jews immigrating from western countries, though not only, more modern architecture and arrangement has been added to this quarter. This does not mean that it is not typical Jerusalem, it is merely different. While bustling, it isn’t anywhere near as much as the two Arab quarters. And the shops are much more arranged, just as the goods sold there are more directed towards tourists, rather than locals.
The Armenian quarter is the odd one, appearing as if it has enough in itself, being quiet and distant in its presentation. It is, it appears, a quarter which you only pass in order to get somewhere else.
The Old City of Jerusalem is an amazing place. It is more than the sum of all of its parts, but each part is a world in its own right. It’s a place, where you can spend days, and still feel that you haven’t seen half of it, even though you can cross the city in less than half an hour. And it’s a place which I will be sure to write more about.