Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter – multiculturalism for all the senses
Sights, sounds, smells and tastes – a walk through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem is a multicultural experience for all the senses. The Muslim Quarter is located on the northeast side of the Old City of Jerusalem. Home to roughly two thirds of the Old City’s residents, it is the largest and most populous quarter of the four quarters.
As long as 2,000 years ago, it became the “Muslim Quarter” as ethnic differences emerged in the city during the Mamluke period (following the expulsion of the Crusaders). Most of the buildings that are institutional in origin, such as former or present Madrasas (Moslem religious academies), khans (inns), mosques, courts and tombs that date back to the Mamluke Period (1267-1517 C.E.), while many of the residences are from the ensuing Ottoman Period (1517-1917 C.E.). Some of the former are even remodeled Crusader structures as are some of the covered markets.
The Muslim Quarter’s charm stands out for the way its distinctly Islamic character is interwoven with diverse, rapidly changing human and cultural scenery.
A Walk in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter
A great way to take in the multicultural experience is to walk up Hagai/El Wad St. Start out in distinctly Orthodox, even ultra-Orthodox Jewish environment of the Western Wall Plaza and then enter the Moslem quarter by walking through the tunnel at the bottom of the stairs in plaza’s northwest corner. The tunnel emerges on to Hagai (El Wad) Street in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem.
Walking up Hagai St., you will quickly leave the souvenir shops behind and find yourself in an Islamic environment. Mannequins model head scarves, stores and even occasional fashion posters displaying traditional Moslem dress. The atmosphere is enhanced by the banter of local merchants and the smell of falafel and other local victuals.
The entrance to Jerusalem’s former Cotton Market (pictured) runs off of Hagai Street on the right. If you keep your eye on the right side of the street, you should spot some traditional Arab bakeries with massive stone ovens.
Hagai Street’s mild incline takes you to a junction, where the 5th Station of the Via Dolorosa is on your left. Opposite it on your right is the iconic Jerusalem hummus bar Abu Shukri – worth trying. Next to Abu Shukri is a souvenir shop, which overflows with pure capitalism: Side by side are T-shirts displaying emblems of the Israeli air force, Free Palestine, Yassir Arafat, Che Guevera and the Uzi submachine gun.
After taking in the junction’s remarkable and amusing diversity, continue up Hagai Street to the corner of the Via Dolorosa and Hagai Streets, just beyond the 3rd and 4th Stations of the Via Dolorosa. Along the route you are likely to see both Jews and Arabs sporting different variations of their traditional dress, as well as a variety of Christian clergy people with their own unique attire and possibly even pilgrims carrying large wooden crosses as they ply the Via Dolorosa.
In the street next to the 3rd Station are several 2nd-3rd century C.E. pavement stones that were discovered three meters below ground in the course of sewerage work. The stones were raised, and are now integrated into the present day street.
The Austrian Pligrims Hospice to the Holy Family, or simply Austrian Hospice (pictured) is at the northeast corner of this junction. This building provides a little piece of Vienna in the Middle East. The view from its roof is stunning. It also is home to a “genuine” Viennese coffeehouse that serves sachertort and apple strudel, as classical music in piped in the background. The illusion of Austria is jolted back to reality when the Mosque across the street starts calling the faithful to pray!
Have an enjoyable walk. Other highlights of the neighborhoods are viewing traditional Islamic architecture, mostly entryways on the Street of the Chain (Tariq Bab Es Salsileh) and Iron Gate Street (Tariq Bab El Hadid) and exploring the environs of Damascus Gate, the most ornate of the Old City’s gates. Just off the Via Dolorosa there are some entrances to Temple Mount – non Muslims can’t enter here, but you do get some stunning views of the Dome of the Rock and there is a fine example of Mameluke architecture. At the end of the Via Dolorosa is Lion’s (St Stephen’s Gate) with views towards the Mount of Olives. See our Muslim Quarter Jerusalem Pictures.