What to do in the Muslim Quarter
The Muslim Quarter is actually the largest and most populated of the four neighbourhoods in the Old City. More than 22,000 people call this quarter home and if you’re anything like me, you will find yourself completely entranced by the collision of fragrant fruits, incense, and spices that await you at every turn.
Bring an empty stomach when you walk along streets like Souq Khan Al Zeit and Al Wat; both present equal opportunities for feasting and shopping. Personally, where food is concerned, I recommend sampling the fresh pomegranate juice, creamy hummus and murtabak (essentially a stuffed pancake) from any of the local restaurants. If you’re looking for a quick snack to carry along on your explorations, kunafeh (a soft cheese topped with shredded pastry) should rest high on your list.
In terms of sites to enjoy, nothing comes close to Temple Mount. If you’ve done any googling you’ve likely seen a photo of this golden topped dome before. I promise it’s even more dazzling in person. As things go, non-muslims are not allowed to enter the actual building (the Dome of the Rock) but the grounds surrounding them are open to everyone and really worth exploring.
Within the area, you can see about 100 different structures built throughout the ages including arches and fountains.
What to do in the Christian Quarter
Typically the first place you’ll see when you arrive in the Old City (it’s just beyond Jaffa Gate – a common starting point), the Christian Quarter is home to one significant landmark in particular: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Built in the 4th century, this church is considered one of the most significant in Christianity as it’s believed to have been the location of two of the religion’s holiest events: Jesus’s crucifixion and later, his burial and resurrection. For me, it was the highlight of the quarter thanks to its unique architecture and the intensity it inspired in my fellow travellers.
The outside is fairly understated and the church more or less pops out of nowhere when you turn the corner. When you first step inside your eyes will immediately need to adjust to the sombre lighting, and your nose will need to adjust to the strong smell of burning incense. The impact on the senses is immediate and if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to stop to regain your bearings.
What to do in the Armenian Quarter
The Armenian Quarter is criminally overlooked when it comes to experiences on offer in the Old City. Yes, it’s missing the hype of mega-landmarks like the Western Wall and Temple Mount but as one of the first countries to recognise Christianity as their official religion, Armenia has played an essential role in Jerusalem for a long, long time.
Besides indulging in the charm of the quarter’s winding alleyways, there are three major locations to visit, two of which are churches. First, you have St. Mark’s Chapel, home to one of the city’s smallest and oldest Christian communities and believed to be the true location of the Last Supper.
The inside is more impressive than you might anticipate and while the interior of the church is fairly dark, the decoration is nothing short of ornate. The church is also home to what many believe to be one of the oldest depictions of the Virgin Mary.
The other notable church in the quarter is St. James Cathedral. This place of worship dates back to the 12th century and is only open to the public during its daily services so make sure to check again.
And finally, be sure to stop at the Armenian Compound, a multi-use fortress-like building that is a hospice, monastery, and residential area. After the Armenian genocide, this compound welcomed refugees from Turkey and at one point housed more than 1000 people. There’s a museum inside that documents the history of the Armenians, important artwork and also ancient manuscripts.