jerusalem al-aqsa view

Jerusalem: a guide to visit the heart of the Holy Land

Giacomo Pizzi1 October 2021

Jerusalem, the eternal city, the Holy City. “Eternal” because here you really can live and breathe the history of the world. “Holy” because it is the centre of faith for Christians, Jews and Muslims. 

Set off with us on a virtual tour of Jerusalem: we will discover together its history, its many identities, when it is best to visit, where to stay and above all why it is worth preparing for a trip that will change your life. 

Jerusalem today 

Jerusalem, Yerushalayim in Hebrew, Al-Quds or ‘the Holy One’ in Arabic, is an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv and half an hour from Bethlehem. The city is disputed by Israel and Palestine and has been the scene of bitter fighting. 

The historic heart of the city is undoubtedly the Old City, surrounded by imposing walls. In less than one square kilometre you will find the Esplanade of the Mosques, the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall and the Holy Sepulchre. These are the most important places of Faith in the world.

The Old City is divided into four neighbourhoods: Armenian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Each district has one or more gateways named after the direction they face or a particular detail. 

Let us enter the Holy City! 

The Damascus Gate, sadly notorious for the latest episodes of violence, faces north, towards Damascus. New Gate is the access point to the Christian quarter, the last gate to be built in 1889. The Zion Gate, on the other hand, is the gate to the Jewish quarter and looks directly onto Mount Zion, one of the most iconic places in Jerusalem and one of the most quoted in the Bible. 

Then there is the Lion’s Gate, known in Jesus’ time as the Sheep Gate, through which lambs destined for sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem passed. The gate leads to the Valley of the Cedar, then on to Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives. 

Finally there is the Gate of Waste, just a few steps away from the Esplanade of Mosques, which overlooks the Geena, the Valley of Damnation. The waste from the sacrifices made in the temple was thrown through this gate. 

Jerusalem: divided city, contested city, uniting city 

A further division takes place outside the historical walls of the Holy City. Jerusalem is in fact divided between East -Palestine- and West -Israel- by an intangible border called ‘Green Line’. 

This Green Line, drawn in 1949 following the first war fought between Arabs and Israelis, was crossed again in 1967 during the Six-Day War. 

On this occasion, Israel took control of the entire city and also annexed neighbouring districts. This military action has never been recognised by the UN, which is why East Jerusalem is considered as new Palestinian state occupied by Israel. 

The conflict and the barriers it creates, however, are not impassable. Demonstrations of mutual solidarity between the inhabitants of the Holy City confirm how peaceful coexistence is now perceived by many as something needed. 

Mixed schools are well established, and the local and international associations that encourage meetings and exchanges with projects that strengthen the sense of community are increasingly active. Among these is ours. 

Visit Jerusalem with Pro Terra Sancta 

Our mission is to create bonds between the world and the Holy Land. In order to do this, we offer friends and supporters the opportunity to help the many small Christian communities that live here, the living stones, with projects in conservation, economic development, education, health and humanitarian assistance. 

Safeguarding the Christian identity in Jerusalem leads us to be committed to the preservation and enhancement of the places linked to Jesus. We want to pass on these precious historical monuments, archaeological sites and places of worship to future generations. 

The Terra Sancta Museum, for example, is a must-see spot we never forget to include in our itineraries. The spaces of the former convent that houses the Church of the Flagellation, the First Station of the Cross, have been converted into the rooms of a museum that tells the story of Jerusalem and the Christian presence in the city. 

You can admire the precious archaeological collection on display, but also enjoy an immersive multimedia experience in the brand new digital theatre installed on the ruins of the ancient Aelia Capitolina, the Roman Jerusalem refounded by Emperor Hadrian. 

Where to stay in Jerusalem

Is sustainable tourism that is good for the local community a real thing? Pro Terra Sancta strongly believes so. That’s why we offer the unique opportunity to make an ethical choice and have a positive social impact starting with the accommodation. 

Dar Mamilla Guest House is just outside the walls of Jerusalem, a three-minute walk from New Gate and Zion Gate, very close to the Old City, the Holy Sepulchre and the main holy sites

The Mamilla district offers cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, a shopping centre and a large park with several fountains. The Convent of the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul was built here in 1885 and is home to one of our guest houses. 

You can choose from thirteen comfortable and modern rooms, single, double, triple and quadruple, all with private bathrooms. The two wings of the Guest House each have a communal kitchen and those planning longer stays can also make use of the laundry facilities. 

The proceeds from the Dar Mamilla Guest House are donated to the sisters who run a kindergarten for 250 children aged 3 months to 4 years with complicated family situations and a hospice for adults and elderly people with severe disabilities.  

When to go to Jerusalem? 

The weather in Jerusalem is pleasant almost all year round, except for the months of July and August, which are very hot, or January and February, which are very cold. 

It is worth remembering that, during the most important festivities, Christians, Jews and Muslims flock to the streets of Jerusalem to visit the holy places and buildings of worship and complete their pilgrimage. 

Indeed, going to Jerusalem in spring, when even the Judaean desert is filled with green meadows, and spending Holy Week there is a unique experience. However, you have to be prepared to commune with the many believers who retrace the steps of Jesus on the Way of the Cross.  

If you’re curious about Jewish festivities and traditions, September is the month with the most events. The New Year, Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur and the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot, are celebrated. 

Jerusalem, with its beauty and its contrasts, calls the whole world to it. Are you ready to leave with us?