The market areas of the old city represent the heartbeat of the area. During the morning and afternoon they are filled with people shopping, browsing, and passing through on their way to home, work, prayer, and social events.
Several market areas are worth exploring within the old city. These market areas, many dating back hundreds of years, feature amazing architecture and are stuffed to overflowing will all kinds of fascinating items. As you wander the streets, don’t just stop at the entrance. Look deep within the shops to find interesting ceilings, walls, and merchandise worth exploring. Some shops are deep and long, featuring a wide range of products not visible from the street. Most shopkeepers speak English. They will invite you in, so take advantage of the offer and explore their diverse goods, looking for colors, textures and patterns to photograph.
Look up into the roofs and ceilings of the market "halls" (streets) to find interesting patterns and textures. From the many sloped streets you will find interesting perspectives looking out across the old city through the narrow confines of the streets.
Pay attention to details as well as scenic perspectives. Examine the stone construction of the walls, street, and ceilings. Note the complexity and confusion of the power lines as they crisscross the streets and walls looking for ways in and out of the buildings constructed long before electricity was even imagined.
Many merchants, with permission, do not mind people photographing their wares, but politeness also begs that you actually pay attention to their wares. Spend a few minutes in the shop, and talk to the shopkeeper about his business, and you will often receive not only permission, but possibly the invitation to sit and share a tea or turkish coffee over conversation, making the experience pleasant for all. If you are not in a mood to purchase or chat, make sure your photographic endeavors do not interfere with their business.
Damascus Gate is a prime area for photographing the market activities. Explore inside and outside the gate and along the outside of the northern wall. They sell everything and anything and it changes from day to day. Colors, patterns, and textures create anarchy before you. Take care to simplify your composition to create more dramatic images. Be cautious about obviously photographing the Moslim women, but the men don’t seem to mind. Ask if you feel nervous about what you are doing. Most of them speak English, or one or more of the languages of Europe. A few words of Arabic will get you big smiles, too.
Look up and look down as well as all around. The merchants display their wares from the ceiling, along the walls, and crowded around their doors. There are many subjects to photograph along the market streets, and don’t forget to capture a picture or two of the blatant tourist offerings including t-shirts saying things like "My grandparents went to Israel and all they brought back was this t-shirt" and "Israel Army". Some even include reproduced famous mosaics and artwork from Israel. A touch of the modern in such an ancient city.
Have fun with your exploration of Jerusalem. Have someone in your party dress up as Arafat or a Jordanian in a traditional headscarf, or drape themselves in colorful scarfs. Or photograph people or your fellow travelers as they pick up the various items and explore the marketplaces. A person dressed in western clothing next to traditional Arab clothing provides an interesting constrast and helps tell the story of the new meets old.
During prime shopping times in the morning and late afternoon as people head for home, Damascus Gate and the surrounding Arab market areas can be overcrowded. Take care to keep your equipment close to you and out of the way. Keep watch for workers hauling supplies through the street in oversized carts, occasionally pulled by a donkey. There are many garbage collecting or street cleaning micro-vehicles that cruise through the narrow streets at high speeds, crowding everyone to the side with little regard for safety. Security checks are usually found near the Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, but occassionally there will be random inspection checks. You may have to open your bag for inspection. Just stay calm and answer their questions politely.
Explore the area outside of Damascus Gate as well as inside the gate and down the staircase street. At the base of the main street it splits into a Y. Head towards the right, southwest, along Suq Khan e-Zeit, to explore more of the Arab street markets and shops. If you head straight onto El-Wad Road, you will connect with Via Dolorosa, and eventually straight on to the Western (Wailing) Wall.
In the middle of the Old City are the biggest "suqs", or markets. Suq el Attarin and Suq el Lahhamin parallel each other and are filled with tourist shops as well as shops offering spices, toys, clothing, fabric, sweets, pharmaceuticals, household products, music, and everything and anything. For most living in the Old City, this the key source for their household items.
The streets connect with David Street which heads west to Jaffa Gate. This street, which becomes Bab el-Slisileh Street (Street of the Chain), heads east to connect with El-Wad Road. Along David Street and Bab el-Slisileh you will find merchants offering traditional tourist fares such as wood carvings, scarves, silver work, chess/backgammon boards, jewelry, and religious items. Few products actually come from Israel or Palestinian workers. Most come from other Arab lands like Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt. You will also find a lot of clothing and handiwork from India.
Do look for hand cross-stitch work, usually found on pillow coverings or small bags, often in vivid primary colors featuring flower-like swirls and geometrics. These are often made by Palestinian or Beduin women. Red is a favorite color, often embroidered against black or upon various shades of red. They also create rough but lovely woven rugs and blankets, along with embroidered and applique patchwork quilts.
Beduins also specialize in intriguing, rustic stone jewelry. Some feature intricate silver work around the polished stones. Some of the work is also featured in small boxes of rough silver covered with small stones. Some shops feature tile and ceramics done in some of the lovely traditional arabic styles. A few shops offer to have your name scribed onto a tile (to be mailed or picked up later after final firing) in English, Hebrew, or Arabic.
Other photographic elements to watch for include the various colors, textures, and patterns of the nuts, spices, fruits and vegetables, and even the great trays of sweets and candies. Use a macro or medium length lens to get close enough to fill the frame with the patterns. Fill flash might be needed for low light situations and dark shadows. Along with the interesting textures of the stones in the walls, pay attention to the details of the doors as you explore the area. Even if the shops are closed, their metal or wooden doors with worn painted metal bars and ancient locks create dramatic images.