The Old City is divided up into four sections, or ‘quarters’, of people groups. Jerusalem is a special place for these groups for different reasons and each group has left their mark on the city, which makes for a uniquely diverse environment. The four groups that have staked their claim on the Old City are the Muslims, Christians, Jews and Armenians. Their sections are not actually four exact quarters, but more like neighbourhoods within the Old City walls. Each one has a different flavour and is worth visiting.
Armenian Quarter: This is the smallest and most mysterious of the quarters in the Old City. The Armenians are Christians who have the claim to fame of residing in the old city the longest, since the fourth century AD. Armenia was the first nation to officially convert to Christianity, and Armenian monks made the journey to settle in Jerusalem for its significance as the place where Jesus was crucified. The Armenians were able to survive all the conquering and destruction of the city throughout the years by basically being a fortress – the Armenian Quarter is like a walled city within a walled city. Their strict rules of entry for anyone who is not Armenian and how they’ve kept to themselves is the secret to their longevity in this volatile city. Altogether there are approximately 600 Armenians living in the Old City.
Jewish Quarter: This quarter is where a lot of Orthodox Jewish people live. Walking through this section you will notice that the area seems more modern that the rest of the city – the Jewish section was completely destroyed under Muslim rule and it wasn’t until 1968, after the Six Day War, that the Jews re-entered this part of the city and were able to rebuild. There are approximately 5000 people living in this section. One of the most sacred places for the Jews at the moment is the Western Wall – the closest they can get to where they believed God’s presence resided on the earth (in the Holy of Holies of the temple). The Temple Mount lies at the east, right between the Jewish and Muslim quarters. You can read more about it in my upcoming post, visiting the Temple Mount & Western Wall.
Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice and juice stall in the Jewish Quarter
Muslim Quarter: The largest section of the Old City is the Muslim Quarter. The majority of the Old City markets are in this section – so its always hustle and bustle. There are approximately 30,000 Muslims residing in this section of the Old City, which accounts for the constant activity and people. The main entry to this quarter is the famous Damascus Gate, which once was the entry gate for the highway that lead north to the capital of Damascus (hence its name).
Christian Quarter: The Christian Quarter is made up of mostly Greek Orthodox Christians and Catholics, although there are many other denominations represented within this quarter. Although these groups have different beliefs, the Christian Quarter resides together peacefully. The crux of the Christian Quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the iconic grey-domed roof, which represents the places where Jesus Christ died on the cross, was prepared for burial and laid in the tomb. There are around 6000 Christians living in this quarter.
There is something different to see in each area of the Old City and its worthwhile experiencing all four sections. You might consider taking a walking tour, which gives great insight into the history of the city and will take you through each quarter. Check out the visitors centre at the Jaffa Gate for more information. I hope this post Jerusalem: Guide to the Old City has helped you understand a bit more about the Old City and how it is made up.