When it comes to religious pilgrimages, Jerusalem is one of the world’s most famous destinations. Christians, Muslims, and Jews all consider Jerusalem to be a holy city. The Old City is teeming with a myriad of beautiful sights, sounds, and smells. Incense and fragrant spices fill the air; prayers can be heard everywhere, and the buildings are living history that you can touch and see.
I have made many trips to Jerusalem over the years—most recently for Passover. The amount of diversity that you can experience in the city is amazing. When I last visited I watched the different Christian visitors/pilgrims walking the stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa during Holy Week, and at the same time, throngs of Jewish worshippers filled the western wall plaza. The experience was beautiful and very uplifting. Below are some of the top highlights that you must see when visiting Jerusalem. Regardless of your religion, Jerusalem is a city that every traveler should experience at least once in a lifetime.
The Western Wall is one of the most important sites in the world to the Jewish faith. King Herod originally built the Western Wall as part of the Second Temple. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE along with most of the city. Yet the Western Wall remained standing. Many Jews find this point to be meaningful. The website GoJerusalem writes that “to the Jews of the time, the resilient wall was proof that God had not abandoned Israel” (Source). Soon after the Six Day War ended, the Western Wall Plaza was created so that visitors would have better access to the wall. The area is actually considered a synagogue. There are also underground tunnels that expose even more of the wall. Visitors can explore this area of the wall with a tour guide.
The Israel Museum is the country’s national museum. One of the museum’s most important features is the Shrine of the Book which protects the Dead Sea Scrolls. The museum is also home to the Venus of Berekhat Ram, an object that some experts believe is the oldest piece of art ever created by humans. Three wings make up the museum: Jewish Art and Life, Fine Arts, and Archaeology. The Jewish Art and Life wing houses five different permanent collections as well as visiting exhibits. While the Fine Arts wing highlights Israeli artists, it also showcases artwork from all over the world.
Yad Vashem is the Israeli memorial to Holocaust victims. According to the memorial’s official website, the memorial’s goal is:
To safeguard and impart the memory of the victims and the events of the Shoah period; to document accurately one of the darkest chapters in the history of humanity; and to grapple effectively with the ongoing challenges of keeping the memory of the Holocaust relevant today and for future generations. (Source)
The Holocaust Resource Center is home to a large number of artefacts such as photographs, diaries, and other documents from the time period that relate to the Holocaust. Yad Vashem supports research of the Holocaust through the International Institute for Holocaust Research. The Institute encourages research on the Holocaust and offers assistance to researchers.
Inside the Holocaust History Museum visitors gain access to a number of galleries that shed light on the Holocaust. Each gallery is presented like a chapter in a book. The first gallery is titled “The World that Was,” and it presents the story of what life was like for Jews before the Holocaust. At the end of the experience, visitors encounter the gallery titled “Epilogue – Facing the Loss.” Rather than focusing on the history of the Holocaust, this particular gallery asks visitors to remember those who perished in the Holocaust. The display uses the actual words of Jews who didn’t survive and features original music.
Other Sites to Consider
- Mount of Olives – In the past, the Mount of Olives was covered with olive trees—hence the name. For thousands of years, the area was used as a Jewish cemetery. The Mount of Olives has been referenced in both the Old Testament and New Testament many times.
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre – The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is an important site to Christians. It’s believed that the church houses both the site where Jesus was crucified and where he was buried.
- Garden of Gethsemane – The Garden of Gethsemane is an important location to Christians. Jesus and his disciples slept in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was crucified. Scientists studied the olive trees in the garden and found that some of them are the oldest olive trees ever recorded by science.
- Mahane Yehuda Market – The Mahane Yehuda Market, also known as “The Shuk,” is a popular marketplace. It sells everything from food to clothes. A number of popular bars and restaurants can be found at the market as well.