Exploring the Wailing Wall & Jewish Quarter: A Visitor’s Guide

The atmospheric Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem is full of cobbled alleyways and has many things to do. As well as being home to the main tourist attraction of the Wailing Wall, there are plenty of shopping opportunities and good cafes if you want a city break.

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The Wailing Wall

The Wailing Wall

The 48 meters long Wailing Wall (officially the Western Wall or Kotel HaMa’aravi) is the holiest Jewish site in the Old City of Jerusalem. This huge strip of wall was originally built as the retaining wall for the southwest side of the Temple Mount Second temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Since 1967, the densely built-up buildings have been cleared in front of the wall to create a large open space, known as the Western Wall Plaza. The part of this area closest to the wall has been foreclosed and counts as an open-air synagogue, with separate entrances for men and women. This is where the great religious ceremonies of Judaism take place.

Address: Western Wall Plaza, Jerusalem

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Hurva Synagogue

Hurva Synagogue
Hurva Synagogue

It beautifully restored Hurva Synagogue is a highlight of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. It was founded by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who arrived from Poland in 1701 with 500 Ashkenazi Jews. It was burnt down by the city’s Arab lenders in 1720, when the community could not afford to repay the loan. The name of the synagogue stems from this act: hurva translates as “downfall”. It was rebuilt in 1856, but then destroyed again in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After 1967, several plans to rebuild the synagogue came and went until finally, in 2009, the Hurva Synagogue was once again gloriously restored. Tourists are welcome to visit the synagogue, but must take one of the synagogue’s tour guides. In the area it is Ramban Synagoguewhich was founded by Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (aka Nachmanides) in 1267, making it the oldest synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Address: Hurva Square, Jerusalem

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Cardo Maximus

Cardo Maximus
Cardo Maximus

Just west of the Hurva Synagoguesteps lead to the Cardo Maximus, one of the two main streets of Jerusalem in Roman and Byzantine times. It was excavated between 1976 and 1985 and measures just under 200 meters in length, six meters below modern ground level. As the reproduction of the 6th century Madaba Map of the Holy Land (the original is in Madaba, Jordan) Shown here shows, it was a beautiful avenue, lined with shops and flanked by columns that supported a roof. Back on the modern ground level, but still following the path of the original Cardo below, the street has been relined with souvenir shops so you can shop for wares, as the Romans once did on this road.

Address: Jewish Quarter Road, Jerusalem

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Sephardic synagogues

Sephardic Synagogues Chadica / photo modified
Sephardic Synagogues Chadica / photo modified

The four Sephardic synagogues were built in Jerusalem’s Ottoman era, when many Jews from Europe arrived in the city. The Ben Zakkai Synagogue is named after a Roman-era rabbi. The Istanbul synagogues was founded by Turkish Jews and dates back to 1764. The name of the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue commemorates the association of the site with the prophet Elijah, while the minor Emtzai Synagogue, squeezed between the other three, was originally just the vestibule for the others. All four members suffered damage in 1948, but have been restored to their original 17th and 18th century form.

Address: 18 Beit El St., Jerusalem

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Herodian Quarter (Archeological Museum Wohl)

Herodian Quarter (Archeological Museum Wohl) Esme Vos / fotomodel
Herodian Quarter (Archeological Museum Wohl) Esme Vos / fotomodel

East of the Hurva Synagogue is the Wohl Archaeological Museum (more commonly known as the Herodian Quarter), home to a number of houses built in the reign of Herod the Great (40-4 BC) and destroyed in AD 70 during the Jewish War have been brought to light. The size and splendor of the houses (particularly some of the mosaic floors which are superbly preserved) and the elaborate bathhouses testify to the wealth of their one-time owners. The excellent information boards guide you through the ruins with pieces of stucco and fresco decor, as well as household appliances and other items found during the excavation.

Address: HaKaraim Street, Jerusalem

Burnt house

Burnt House Derek Winterburn / photo modified
Burnt House Derek Winterburn / photo modified

This fascinating little museum is a ruined house from the Herodian period that lay undiscovered for centuries after its destruction by the Romans in AD 70. A large number of finds were discovered here during excavations in the area; including Roman coins and a female skeleton. An audiovisual show is presented several times a day and is well worth watching as it gives you a vivid picture of the history of the Jewish Quarter, in the time of Herod, and its destruction by the Romans.

Address: Tiferet Israel Street, Jerusalem

Tips & Tactics: How to get the most out of your visit to the Wailing Wall & Jewish Quarter

  • The most atmospheric time to visit the Wailing Wall is at sundown on Friday, when the start of Shabbat brings crowds to the wall.
  • Those of all religions can visit the wall. Please note separate areas for men and women and dress modestly. Men are required to wear a Kippa (Jewish male headdress). These are available on site. Modest dress is also required to enter the synagogues of the Jewish Quarter.

How to get there

  • From Central Jerusalem, take Egged Bus No. 38A, which runs from King George V Street through the Jewish Quarter and to the Western Wall Plaza and other attractions.
  • The closest gate to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is the Dung Gate.
  • If walking from Central Jerusalem, Jaffa Gate is the closest approach.

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