Old City of Jerusalem - A Quick Walk Through The Arab Market

Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal - - contact info

The Serial Tourist's Guide to Living in Jerusalem

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Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal

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I suppose most tourists who come to Israel have a visit to old city of Zion at the top of their list. It's the only city in the world counted as a holy site by Jews, Christians and Moslems, and it shows in the souvenirs sold in the Arab market. But, I'm getting ahead of myself:-) The main tourist entrance into the old city is probably the Jaffa (Yafo) gate. There's a huge underground parking lot just outside (used to be a modest above ground neighborhood there), but you can't just pull in any old time. The parking hours are 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM Sunday through Thursday and 7:00 Am to 3:00 PM on Friday. The lot is closed on Saturdays and Holidays, so passers by are treated to the amusing views of Yuntiff drivers parking on the entrance ramp, albeit for free. If you leave your car inside beyond the official hours, you can get it out, but they charge 300 IS, about $70. It's cheaper to leave it there overnight and just pay another $50 IS if you don't need it. Saturday turns out to be one of the main days for the Arab market, if not the main day, because there are very few other places in the city open to shoppers, whether tourists are Israelis.
It's very easy to get lost in the Old City, but not nearly as dangerous as during the Intifadot when you might have been unlucky enough to get stabbed or stoned as well. The simplest way to walk through the Arab market and arrive at the Jewish Quarter is to start down the main drag, David, and when you reach the end, turn right, I believe it's Chabad. The picture to the right is one of the many covered offshoots from the main drag, this one mainly features textiles. As I mentioned in my Jerusalem shopping page yesterday, the main stretch of the market features primarily tourist junk: T-shirts, overpriced and mass produced religious art, overpriced and mass produced chess sets and doo-dads. Shopping in the Arab market is a real drag unless you like bargaining or don't care what you pay, and in the latter case, you'll pay several times too much. It's also not a fun social experience if you don't like being pestered by young men who hang around looking for tourists they can take for a ride as "guides" or purveyors of illegal pleasures. They play it like the panhandling game is played in the U.S., where first base is getting you involved in a conversation. I play it the same way I do in the U.S., I'm just rude and tell them to get lost.
There's a whole city above the city you see as you wander about getting overcharged for things you don't need. The picture to the left is a typical view when you get a break in the awnings over the stalls. Jerusalem tends to rise two or three stories over the alleys you walk through, and some of the houses are said to be quite luxurious inside. There are families living in these houses who've been earning their livelihood from tourists for generations, so don't think there's anything you can say that they haven't already heard, no matter how interested they compose their faces. The Old City also has the same sewage problem as the new city, which is to say the sewage system just isn't that good. I suspect they suffer from Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO), where rain water and raw sewage can end up traveling in the same sewers, even though the rain water (storm drain) sewers aren't sealed. The trick, if you smell something unpleasant, is to walk faster.
There are also a large number of art galleries and art pottery shops in the old city, many of these are grouped together in the Armenian Quarter, a right turn once you've walked down David far enough. A lot of the stuff appears to be Jewish art, but the quantities of art they have hanging give me the impression that it's mainly prints or mass produced. There's also a lot of Armenian pottery for sale in the Old City, but I have no idea how you differentiate between the real stuff and the fake stuff made in China, or the good stuff and the bad stuff if it is real. As you get into the Jewish Quarter, the old city shows off many archeological digs, fully rigged out for tourists, and work restoring some old synagogues is ongoing. I even caught a photo of an ever-present tower crane on a restoration site in the Jewish Quarter, but I won't bore you with yet another picture of the sky. I also took the liberty of not including any Cotel pictures in this write-up, which is nominally about the Arab Market, but I find I don't have as much to say about it as I thought. Just another reminder to watch out for pick-pockets and scam artists. The nuts and sweets are cheap.
I find the outside of the old city more interesting than the inside, probably because I spent a lot of wear-and-tear on my back helping a friend dry lay a stone foundation for a horse barn a couple summers ago. A couple of tips for people who've never built with stone. It's heavy, it's a dead weight, and it doesn't come naturally dimensioned or balanced. If you want to change the shape of a stone, you get something harder than the stone, these days it's iron or steel, and you pound away until the stone gives up. Now, as well as in the 1500's when these walls were rebuilt by the Turkish, you'll sometimes encounter boulders that don't want to get out of the way, even with heavy equipment. The solution back then was simple, and large numbers of huge boulders are incorporated into the foundations of Jerusalem's walls, where they've sat for ages. The turret in the background of the photo is the Tower of David, which I believe is a complete reconstruction of a structure that probably toppled over 2000 years ago. One day I'll have to visit the museum again and find out.
This final picture was taken through a barred grate incorporated into the walls a little closer to the Jaffa gate than the picture above. I've had a tradition for years of sticking my camera in through barred openings and firing off a flash, haven't had my hand bitten yet. Usually, all I get is a bunch of empty vodka bottles or unmentionables left behind by kids who broke the lock, but I thought this photo was pretty interesting. It looks to me like it was either a cistern or a mikvah, though it would have to be a pretty old mikvah to be in the wall under the Armenian quarter. It's not constructed out of stone, it's carved out of stone, or living rock, to be more poetic about it. The bedrock or stone layers in many sections of Israel are pretty soft and could be mined or tunneled through in order to make living quarters, water ways, and cisterns. About twenty three years ago I walked to a famous underground man-made cave complex in the in the Negev with a friend, maybe 20 kilometers from Kibbutz Gat. they hadn't blocked it all off yet, and I was able to see first hand what I've since seen on TV documentaries about these people who lived underground in times of trouble.

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