On the Rooftops of Jerusalem

A view of the Old City from a Jerusalem rooftop, dead engineers, a church with Jewish symbols and a significant arrow, all part of a short but jam full tour from Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall

The Muslim Quarter is the one with the domes and antennas, the Jewish one is the whitest, the Christian one is characterized by its red roofs and the Armenian quarter is hard to discern.

A view of the Old City from a Jerusalem rooftop, engineers whose luck ran out, an ancient hostel, a church with Jewish symbols and a small but significant arrow, all part of a short but jam full tour from Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall.

The Tower of David

We will begin out tour at the Jaffa gate and the Tower of David. To the right of the Church of Emmanuel, just inside Jaffa Gate, immediately right again and up the steps is the Maronite Monastery. A narrow alley leads down a flight of steps to a “T," where we will turn right to St. Marcus Street.

About 20 meters more to a hostel on the left with a European night light and an impressive metal door.

In the lower corner of the wall facing the entrance a small arrow has been carved at foot level since 1864. The story of the arrow is another whole story, but an abridged version goes like this: in the middle of the 19th century sanitary conditions in the city worsened and led to illness and death.

The Ottoman rulers agreed to allow the British to inspect the area in order to improve the sewage system, and a group of British soldiers, headed by Charles Wilson (of Wilson Arch, near the Western Wall Tunnels, fame) began walking through the Old City and marking street elevations with a series of arrows. This arrow is one of the few that has survived.

As a matter of fact, the British Foundation for the Study of Palestine (F.E.P.), headed by Wilson, used these arrows — that led from Jaffa to the Dead Sea — to discover that the latter was the lowest place on earth. The original British stone marker is still found near the Dead Sea on the side of the road near Ein Fashcha.

The arrow on St. Markus Street is fading because the street cleaners’ carts are eroding it. The letters I sent in the past to city hall requesting the poor arrow be preserved have been to no avail.

We now continue down to the intersection with Chabad Street and climb the metal steps across from us to the roof. This is the highest point on the Old City’s rooftops and where all four quarters meet.

The division into quarters is typical of many Roman cities. The main road – the Cardo Maximus – goes from north to south, i.e., from the Damascus Gate to Zion Gate and perpendicular to the Triple Gate at the entrance to the Temple Mount.

The observation point is found at the junction of the main Cardo and the Decomanus – the intersection of Allenby and Ben Yehuda of yore.

Spot the differences

It is quite easy to spot the differences between the various quarters. To the southwest is the Armenian Quarter with its 2,300 inhabitants. Only a small part of the quarter is actually visible since most of it is enclosed within its own walls.

To the west, above the Decomanus, with the Moslem shuk (market) directly below us, David’s Citadel rises up near the Jaffa Gate, and to the northwest – the Christian quarter and its 5,000-or-so inhabitants with the grey dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at its center.

The red color of the roof tiles dominates this quarter, reminiscent of Europe of the Middle Ages. To the northeast is the Moslem Quarter with 22,000 residents. It is characterized by round domes and many, many antennas.

Souheast is the Jewish quarter, with 3,500 residents, and lots of white, since the quarter was renovated and rebuilt after the 1967 Six Day War. In total some 33,000 people live in the Old City in an area of approximately 600 dunams (148 acres).

View to the Temple Mount

To the east one can discern the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, and behind them the Mount of Olives, topped by the Intercontinental Hotel with its seven arches and, of course, the most important Jewish cemetery in the world.

To the left of this same ridge is the tower of Santa Victoria with its triangular brown roof., and further left is the tower on Mount Scopus and the campus of the Hebrew University. After a few more deep breaths of the pristine air, we continue to walk west, near the Jewish Quarter.

Several dozen meters on a path and down a flight of steps will bring us to Bikkurim Street and the corner of Shonei Halachot Road, where we turn left and down a long flight of steps. The small niches at the sides of the doorways are intended for Chanukah menorahs.

At the base of the steps we go up one more flight towards a small wall, from there we descend to the courtyard of the Western Wall observatory.

The Western Wall

We are now standing one of the most impressive locations in the Old City. As we gaze towards the Wall we note several interesting things: the upper level of the Wall looks white and relatively new. This layer was built in the 19th century with funding from Sir Moses Montifiore and with the help of his good relationship with the Turks.

Above this level, on the left side, one can discern a slightly rusty metal railing. This is the railing upon which IDF soldiers hung the Israeli flag immediately upon the end of the Six Day War.

The Western Wall is actually only part of the wall – just 60 meters of a total of 488 meters along its whole length. To the left of the familiar part of the Wall is the Moslem Quarter that covers over the continuation of Wall (the Western Wall Tunnels pass under this quarter).

To the right of the Wall plaza one can see the Mugrabi Gate and a new wooden bridge leading tourists to it. To the left of the plaza continuing south of the Wall is an impressive archeological excavation site in which one can see the famous Robinson’s Arch as well as the yeshiva established by former chief IDF Rabbi Shlomo Goren.

The six candles on the roof of the yeshiva symbolize the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.

Right underneath the yeshiva are arches and the entrance to the Western Wall Tunnels. The structure near the Western Wall upon which Israeli flags fly is used by the Border Police and is a Mameluke Moslem building.

Above the Western Wall is the Dome of the Rock, often mistakenly called the Mosque of Omar, as well as the al-Aqsa Mosque.