Muslim Quarter, Jerusalem

The largest neighbourhood of the Old City, the Muslim Quarter was laid out in its present configuration under the Byzantines. In the 12th century, it was taken over by the Crusaders, who built a wealth of churches and Christian institutions – many of them along the Via Dolorosa, which stretches westward from Lions’ Gate. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Mamelukes rebuilt extensively, especially in areas near the Temple Mount (AlHaram ashSharif), bequeathing the city an architectural legacy of elegant mosques, madrasas and pilgrims’ hostels featuring halfdomeshaped entrances, striped masonry and elegant Arabic inscriptions.

The monumental Damascus Gate, meanwhile, was constructed in the 1500s on the order of Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. Like the Old City’s three other quarters, the Muslim Quarter was given its current religious designation in the 19th century and was religiously mixed until the communal violence of the 1920s and 1930s. Today, the most densely populated and poorest neighbourhood of the Old City, the area is linked to the heart of Arab East Jerusalem via its colourful, crowded souks (markets).

1. Temple Mount

Known to Muslims as Al-Haram ash-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), this vast rectangular esplanade in the southeastern part of the Old City has been the focal point of Jerusalem for over 3,000 years. Site of the ancient Jewish temples, the modern-day Mount is graced by the glittering Dome of the Rock and other Islamic structures.

According to both Jewish and Muslim traditions, Temple Mount is where Abraham offered his son as a sacrifice to God. The site is traditionally believed to be the location of the Jews’ First Temple, built by Solomon in the 10th century BC and destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. It was also the location of the Second Temple that later replaced it. The complex was greatly expanded in the 1st century BC by Herod the Great, who nearly doubled the size of the Inner Temple and created the Temple platform by building four walls around a natural hill and filling them in. It is from the Second Temple that Jesus is said to have expelled the merchants and moneychangers. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans after a bitter five-month siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, the culmination of hostilities that began four years earlier with the Jewish Revolt.

Left in ruins for more than half a millennium, the site became an Islamic shrine in AD 691 with the building of the Dome of the Rock. Construction of the El-Aqsa mosque was begun soon after, but in the first 60 years of its existence the mosque was twice razed to the ground by earthquakes. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, El-Aqsa became the headquarters of the Templars. Over the centuries other buildings have been added to the complex, which is the third most important Islamic religious sanctuary after Mecca and Medina.

2. Monastery of the Flagellation

Owned by the Franciscans, this complex embraces the simple and striking Chapel of the Flagellation, designed in the 1920s by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, who was also responsible for the Dominus Flevit Chapel on the Mount of Olives (p135). It is located on the site traditionally believed to be where Christ was flogged by Roman soldiers prior to his crucifixion (Matthew 27: 27–30; Mark 15: 16–19). On the other side of the courtyard is the Chapel of the Condemnation, which also dates from the early 20th century. It is built over the remains of a medieval chapel, on the site popularly identified as where Christ was tried before Pontius Pilate.

The neighbouring monastery buildings house the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, a prestigious institute of biblical, geographical and archaeo logical studies. Also part of the complex, the Studium Museum contains objects found by the Franciscans in excavations at Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethlehem and various other sites. The most interesting exhibits are Byzantine and Crusader objects, such as fragments of frescoes from the Church of Gethsemane, precursor of the present-day Church of All Nations (p134), and a 12th-century crozier from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

3. Ecce Homo Arch

This arch that spans the Via Dolorosa was built by the Romans in AD 70 to support a ramp being laid against the Antonia Fortress, in which Jewish rebels were barricaded. When the Romans rebuilt Jerusalem in AD 135 in the wake of the Second Jewish War (p49), the arch was reconstructed as a monument to victory, with two smaller arches flanking a large central bay. It is the central bay that you see spanning the street. One of the side arches is also still visible, incorporated into the interior of the neighbouring Convent of the Sisters of Zion. Built in the 1860s, the convent also contains the remains of the vast Pool of the Sparrow (Struthion), an ancient reservoir which collected rainwater directed from the rooftops.

The pool was originally covered with a stone pavement (lithostrothon) and it was on this flagstone plaza, according to Christian tradition, that Pilate presented Christ to the crowds and uttered the words “Ecce homo” (“Behold the man”). However, archaeology refutes this, dating the pavement to the 2nd century AD, long after the time of Christ. Within a railed section you can see marks scratched into the stone. Historians speculate that they may have been carved by Roman guards as a kind of street game.

4. Lady Tunshuq’s Palace

Lady Tunshuq, of Mongolian or Turkish origin, was the wife, or mistress, of a Kurdish nobleman. She arrived in Jerusalem some time in the 14th century and had this edifice built for herself. It is one of the loveliest examples of Mameluke architecture in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the narrow street does not allow for standing back and appreciating the building as a whole, but you can admire the three great doorways with their beautiful inlaidmarble decoration.

The upper portion of a window recess also displays some fine stalactitelike decoration, a form known as muqarnas. The former palace now serves as an orphanage and is not open to the public. When Lady Tunshuq died, she was buried in a small tomb across from the palace. The fine decoration on the tomb includes panels of different coloured marble, intricately shaped and slotted together like a jigsaw – this is a typical Mameluke feature known as “joggling”. If you head east and across ElWad Road, you will enter a narrow alley called Ala edDin, which contains more fine Mameluke architecture. Most of the façades are composed of bands of different hues of stone, a strikingly beautiful Mameluke decorative technique known as ablaq.

5. Cotton Merchants’ Market

Known in Arabic as the Souk el-Qattanin, this is a covered market with next to no natural light but lots of small softly lit shops. It is possibly the most atmospheric street in all the Old City. Its construction was begun by the Crusaders, who intended the market to be a free-standing structure, but later, in the first half of the 14th century, the Mamelukes connected it to the Haram ash-Sharif (p70) via the splendidly ornate Cotton Merchants’ Gate facing the Dome of the Rock.

As well as some 50 shop units with living quarters above, the market also has two ornate bathhouses: the Hammam el-Ain, constructed during the 14th century by the Mamelukes, and the Hammam el-Shifa. Both of these are undergoing restoration with a view to eventually opening them to the public. Between the two bath houses is a former merchants’ hostel called Khan Tankiz, which has now been restored. Less than 50 m (160 ft) south of the Cotton Merchants’ Market on El-Wad Road is a small public drinking fountain, or sabil, one of several erected during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent.

6. Central Souk

The Central Souk consists of three parallel covered streets at the junction of David Street and Chain Street. They once formed part of the Roman Cardo (p96). Today’s markets sell mostly clothes and souvenirs, although the section called the Butchers’ Market (Souk el-Lakhamin in Arabic), which was restored in the 1970s, still offers all the colour and excitement of a typical eastern bazaar.

Be warned, however, that this place is not for the faint-hearted, since the pungent aromas of spices and freshly slaughtered meat can be overwhelming.

7. Damascus Gate

Spotting this gate is easy, not only because it is the most monumental in the Old City, but also because of the perpetual bustle around it. Arabs call it Bab el-Amud, the Gate of the Column. This could refer to a large column topped with a statue of the emperor Hadrian which, in Roman times, stood just inside the gate. For Jews it is Shaar Shkhem, the gate that leads to the biblical city of Shechem, better known by its Arabic name – Nablus. The present-day gate was built over the remains of the original Roman gate and parts of the Roman city.

Outside the gate, steps lead down to the excavation area. In the first section are remains of a Crusader chapel with frescoes, part of a medieval roadway and an ancient sign marking the presence of the Roman 10th Legion. Further in is surviving arch of the Roman gate, which provides access to the fascinating Roman Square Excavations. The remains of the original Roman plaza, the starting point of the Roman Cardo, include a gaming board engraved in the paving stones. A hologram depicts Hadrian’s column in the main plaza. It is possible to explore the upper levels of the gate as part of the ramparts walk.

8. St Anne’s Church

This beautiful Crusader church is a superb example of Romanesque architecture. It was constructed between 1131 and 1138 to replace a previous Byzantine church, and exists today in more or less its original form. It is traditionally believed that the church stands on the spot where Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin Mary, lived. The supposed remains of their house are in the crypt, which is also noted for its remarkable acoustics. Shortly after the church was built, it was made larger by moving the façade forwards by several metres. The connection with the original church can still be seen in the first row of columns. In 1192, Saladin turned the church into a Muslim theological school; there is an inscription to this effect above the entrance. Later abandoned, the church fell into ruins, until the Ottomans donated it to France in 1856 and it was restored.

Next to the church are two cisterns that once lay outside the city walls. They were built in the 8th and 3rd centuries BC to collect rainwater. Some time later, under Herod the Great, they were turned into curative baths. Ruins of a Roman temple, thought to have been to the god of medicine, can be seen here, as can those of a later Byzantine church built over the temple. This is also widely believed to be the site of the Pool of Bethesda, described in St John’s account of Christ curing a paralysed man (John 5: 1–15).