New and old are relative concepts in Jerusalem. Wherever you go, in this historic city, the ‘old’ and the ‘new;’ the modern and ancient live in close proximity. As a visitor it is sometimes difficult to sort out which is which. There is so much history and religion embedded in every stone, wall and street that it can be a little overwhelming.
Though the Old City of Jerusalem is only 0.9 square kilometres in size, it attracts all the tourist attention. There is another side to this town though, which is pleasantly at odds with the universal perception. It has a good mix of ethnic and cultural attractions. The food is just as varied while the nightlife is a big draw for the young Israelis and foreigners.
The generally accepted ‘new’ Jerusalem includes the neighbourhoods that came up during the last decades of the 1800s. Some of these localities are Even Yisrael, the German Colony, Yemin Moshe, Me’a She’arim, Makhane Yisra’el, Nakhla’ot, Nakhalat Shiv’a, Ein Karem (an artists’ colony), Komemi’ut, Rekhavia, the Bukharian Quarter and the Ethiopian Quarter. They are only a very short drive from downtown Jerusalem and you can cover several of them
They were built in and around ancient villages and kept the winding streets, stone houses and look and feel of the original surroundings. Here in narrow alleys bordered by cypress groves you can sip cappuccinos at charming cafés or have brunch next to art and antique studios. The shops of jewellers, potters and a whole lot of other artisans featuring different world traditions are interspersed with restaurants dishing out exotic and enticing Middle Eastern fare.
Oh yes! The food in these parts is simply amazing and worth doing a tour just to get your fill and find the source of the tempting aromas that waft out as you passes by.
Escaping the ever present reminders of the world’s three great religions is almost impossible but a hike through the picturesque hills around Ein Sataf in the Jerusalem Forest and Abu Ghosh nearly accomplishes it. Nearly but not completely because you just might find yourself amongst tourists clicking photos of each other around a spring that is reputed to be where Mary (Jesus’ mother) and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist are supposed to have met.
Outside Old Jerusalem there are several sites related to the New Testament and Jesus. The Mount of Olives is the site of the oldest – still in use – Jewish cemetery from the time of the Canaanites. Apart from being the place where Jesus was arrested it offers a fantastic view of Old Jerusalem and its holy sites. Then there is the chapel on the legendary site where Jesus is said to have ascended into heaven, the Pater Noster Church, Dominus Flevit, Garden of Gethsemane and Mary’s Tomb.
If you are into museums then New Jerusalem has a whole host – around 60 of them. They offer Islamic Art, biblical archaeological discoveries, recreations of life from the time of Jesus and exhibitions dedicated to the holocaust and the fascinating Dead Sea Scrolls.
To name some of the museums: The Israel Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Bloomfield Science Museum, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Rockefeller Museum, the Bible Lands Museum, the Islamic Art Museum, the Old Yishuv Court Museum, the Armenian Museum and the Museum of Italian Jewish Art. Other attractive places are the Monastery of the Cross, the Supreme Court, Ammunition Hill, the Knesset, and the Makhane Yehuda Market.
New Jerusalem’s night life is also well and kicking in the German Colony, the Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall, Nakhalat Shiv’a, Shlomtsiyon HaMalka Street, and the Russian Compound.
If you know where to go or know someone who knows and is willing to take you then you enter a wonderfully different world (beyond the religious) that offers character, history and fulfilment far from the spiritual.