Jerusalem, a Middle Eastern city in the Levant with historical ties to several of the world’s most widely practiced religions, is today one of the most frequently visited Loca sancta for pilgrims of numerous faiths. The most ancient of Jerusalem’s numerous enclaves is the Old City, where archeological records indicate that human settlements existed as early as the 4th century BCE. The massive walls and entry gates that have come to define the Old City were built between 1535-1542 during Suleiman the Magnificent’s reign over the Ottoman Empire.
A musician plays his saxophone inside an embrasure in the Old City wall during the Festival of Lights.
A woman walks down a colorfully lit corridor late at night in Old City’s Muslim Quarter.
Old City is divided into four quarters (Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Muslim), each of which reflects the dominant religious or ethnographic population residing there. Within these neighborhoods are several sites that Muslims, Jews and Christians hold sacred, including the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque, Temple Mount, Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
War and conquest have shaped the region throughout history, but Jerusalem remains a phoenix of sorts, having literally risen from ashes several times over the centuries after being attacked, captured and even destroyed. In recent times, disagreements between Israel and Palestine over the city and nearby territory have frequently boiled over, suggesting that the cycle of conflict that has shaped the region is intractable.
The lack of progress over the years toward a mutually agreeable resolution between Palestinians and Israelis has cast a pall over the region, but many people around the world still hold an optimistic outlook for one of the world’s richest cultural centers, and wish to see it reborn as a sanctum for people of differing faiths to cultures coexist peacefully.
Whether or not such halcyon dreams are ever realized, Old City’s rich history, architectural beauty and intersection of culture and religion make it a worthy pilgrimage for anyone interested in learning more about the human condition.
Pilgrims wait their turn to pray at an altar believed to rest over Calvary, the place where Jesus is said to have been crucified.
Old City residents watch television and converse in a Muslim Quarter alley decorated for the Festival of Lights.
Christian pilgrims light candles and say prayers in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
A man emphatically leads a group of Jewish children in prayer at the Western Wall.
A young man sells neon-colored toys from a stall in an Old City alleyway near the Muslim Quarter.
A man leans against the Western Wall while praying.
A man wearing traditional Orthodox garb chats on a mobile phone while walking through Old City’s Christian Quarter at night.
A baker in the Christian Quarter cuts giant blocks of dough into hundreds of smaller balls that will be baked into various breads and pastries.
A boy sells fresh pastries from a street cart in the Old City.
A shopkeeper chatting on his phone is nearly hidden by merchandise in a souvenir shop in the Muslim Quarter.
A man carries an arm load of brooms through the crowded corridors of the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.
Check out all the high-resolution shots from my trip to Jerusalem in my Flickr album.