The Jewish Quarter of the Old City represents the second smallest area of the Old City. The Armenian Quarter is the smallest. The word “quarter” is not meant to represent the four parts of the whole Old City, but the sleeping “quarters” of the different populations. Currently, there is the Moselm Quarter, Christain Quarter, Jewish Quarter, and Armenian Quarter, and a small area near the Citadel called the Citadel Area. The Jewish Quarter is the newest and offers interesting architecture combing the old ruins with the new construction, and hosts some of the best archeological remains.
The Jewish Quarter
Restored since 1967, the Jewish Quarter is an area of contrasts between old and new, traditional and modern, preserved and reconstructed. Access into the area is mainly up the staircase on the southwest corner of the Western Wall Square (check out the excellent perspective of the Western Wall at the top of the staircase) or through Misgab Ladach Street or the Jewish Quarter Road, both heading south from David/Bab el-Slisileh Street into the Jewish Quarter.
There are many amazing archeological museums and uncovered ancient ruins within the Jewish Quarter worth exploring. Highlights include the Wohl Archaeological Museum and the Museums of the First and Second Temple Periods. You may photograph within these facilities with permission only. Other highlights include the Cardo, the Broad Wall, the ruins of the Hurva Synagogue, and the Burnt House.
Between the Jewish Quarter Road and Habad Street you will find The Cardo. The Cardo is the restored and semi-reconstructed remains of the ancient Roman entrance into the city. Originally constructed by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 135 CE, the Cardo was the main street of the city of Aelia Capitolina, built upon the ruins of Jerusalem, and completed in the fourth century. Hadrian’s city plan is essentially the format of the city today. The “Cardo Maximus”, meaning “main street”, began at Damascus Gate and continued to the south to the exposed part of the road today. The original width was about 73 ft (22 m) and about half of the width is revealed today. Along the reconstructed remains you get a feel of the ancient street and the small shops that would have lined it, evidenced by some of the shops occupying part of the Cardo.
Photographically, most of the Cardo is undercover, so a flash is recommended. Watch for details in the textures and patterns of the columns and walls. Along the road there are interesting archeological remains and remnants including an ancient water storage cistern and an interesting reproduction of an ancient mosaic city map.
On Jewish Quarter Street, in the middle of the length, you will find restrooms to the east along a narrow street. Past the restrooms on Tiferet Israel Street you will enter a triangular square which reveals the archeological remains of the Broad Wall, a 23 ft (7 m) thick wall believed to be built by Hezekiah, King of Judah (700 years BCE), to protect the city against an Assyrian invasion, as mentioned in the Old Testament (II Chronicles 32). An interesting map of the different occupied areas during the history of Jerusalem helps you to understand the historical layout of the city during its different incarnations. The main interest of the Broad Wall is understanding the layers of history upon which the city is built. Do take time to look up and around at the new construction of homes around the Broad Wall. Passing south along the road past the exposed area you will be on Tiferet Israel Street leading to the Burnt House and the staircase to the Western Wall.
Most of the people living and working in the Old City are very helpful. Be aware there are official and unofficial “tour guides” prowling for tourists. If you choose to go with them, settle your price in advance. If they become belligerent, walk away. Police and security are around, but not always easily found. Most merchants speak English and can help you if you have a problem, too.
One block south of the street to the Broad Wall along Jewish Quarter Street you will find a narrow staircase that heads up to the ruins of the Hurva Synagogue. Occasionally you will find some religious Jews worshiping within the entrance to the ruins, and others just paying tribute to the ruins. An arch remains among the ruined walls and alcoves of the synagogue. Originally built in 1700 with money borrowed from the local Arabs, in 1720 the synagogue was burned down by the Muslim Arabs in retaliation for failure to repaid the loans. In 1862, a modern synagogue was built on the ruins, it’s high dome a landmark in the Jewish Quarter until its destruction during the 1948 War of Independence by local Arabs, leaving the arch as it stands today. Difficult to photograph on a bright sunny day, arrive early in the morning or in the late afternoon to capture some soft light and clouds that may appear at that time of day. The arch can be used to frame some of the surrounding buildings for an interesting perspective.
Western (Wailing) Wall
While photography is not permitted during Shabbat (Friday sunset until Saturday sunset), the Western Wall is open 24 hours a day to explore and photograph. Life at the Wall is never ending, with people of all varieties turning up. From barefoot hippies to overdressed Hasidic, you will find everyone and anyone at the Wall. The colorful flow of people, representing all the nations of the world, create an interesting tapestry to photograph. Not all desire to be photographed, so do take care and ask permission when possible. In general, with the high security, the Western Wall is very safe, but do pay attention to the temperment of the crowd, obey the security police, and use common sense.
Close to the wall, women are only allowed within the smaller women’s section, and men are confined to their section to the north. Approaching the wall, you are required to wear a hat or head covering. Some people frown upon any behavior considered disrespectful, but they usually respect your right to be there. Expect to be thoroughly inspected through the security check points at all entrances into the Wall area.
Photographic elements include the Wall itself, especially capturing the many notes stuffed into the cracks in the wall with a long lens, as well as the people praying or visiting the wall. Women may photograph the men’s section from within the women’s section by standing upon one of the many chairs lined up along the divider so female family members may watch bar mitzvahs and other ceremonies by the men. Men typically do not stand on the chairs or look into the women’s section unless it is to tease or harass the women who pray in the traditional style, a form objected to by most Orthodox Jews. For over 15 years these women praying in the ancient traditional ways, and have kept a 24 hour vigilance at the Wall as their case moved through the court system. In 2000 they were finally given permission by the court to worship in the ancient fashion, with prayer shawls and kippas. It is still being debated and the threats of the resentful men continue from time to time. Occasionally the harassment can turn violent with rock throwing, so take care to avoid injury or confrontation. With the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa Mosque overhead, Arabs tend to throw rocks over the wall to the worshipers below, too, so do take care. The Wall can be a hotspot, so closely monitor the crowd and the situation to keep yourself safe.
To the south of the Wall you will find the Ophel Archaeological Garden, also known as the Western and Southern Wall Excavations. Uncovered in the 1970s, this area reveals much about the architecture and lifestyles of the Herodian, Byzantine, and Arab periods of Jerusalem. These areas go back to the Second Temple periods, representing some of the ancient streets and routes the pilgrims took to visit the Temple from the main part of the city below it. Look for the patterns and textures in the stone walls, with some stones using weight alone to stand without cement or mortar. For the labyrinth areas of Byzantine dwellings, and for tunnels and low light areas, a flash is a must. The area is not a popular tourist destination, so using a tripod is not usually a problem, but do watch out for the occasional tour group.