Most tourists coming to Jerusalem will focus on exploring its old city. Indeed, the old city of Jerusalem is a fascinating destination, but there is more beyond its walls. The City of David, Mount Zion, Mount of Olives, all bear additional points of interest, as well as fantastic view points.
This tour is devoted to the area called Eastern Jerusalem. Spread outside Damascus gate, most of it is a commercial center of the Arabs of Jerusalem. Yet, between the shops, offices and hotels there are quite a few points of interests.
Explore a Giant Sized Cave
Our tour begins at the most impressive gate complex of the old city – Damascus gate. This highly ornamented gate is also flanked by two towers, and bears various elements of Ottoman architecture. Archaeological research in and around the gate indicated it had a significant role also in antiquity. In Roman times, for example, this gate had a pig plaza behind it. In its center a giant column was erected, marking the center of Jerusalem. Today it is also possible to climb to the top of the gate and view it through its crenellations.
Just outside Damascus gate a humble size green door leads into a giant size cave whose full history is still a mystery. Called Zedekiah’s Cave, Jewish tradition holds that King Zedekiah escaped through this cave outside the city when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.
Yet research suggests that this cave apparently does not pre-date the Roman period, and its main function was as a quarry. As you walk through it, you will notice the many chisel marks along the walls, indicating quarrying activity. Some scholars argue that perhaps Herod’s temple was built from these stones. The Free Masons argue that even Solomon used this quarry to build his temple, and so they conduct annual gatherings in this cave.
Discover a Hidden Museum
In the 1930’s John Rockefeller Junior declared on a donation of one million USD for a proper exhibition of the antiquities of Palestine. The museum was built next to the old city and was named after the benefactor – Rockefeller Museum. The site is both an architectural marvel, and it exhibits, to this day, the same display it did on the day it opened, in 1938.
Its important collection is second only to the Israel Museum’s archaeological wing. Unfortunately, due to lack of proper access by car, or public transportation, only a few will bother to take the challenge of reaching this hidden gem. Yet, it is sure worth the effort. One can easily find himself spending 2 hours or more to review just the highlights of this fascinating museum.
Enter the Other Tomb of Jesus
For lunch there are many street food vendors offering a light meal along the roads coming out of Damascus gate. One of these roads lead to the Garden Tomb. This site was identified by 19th scholars as an alternative location for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. To this day it is nicely maintained by a Christian order and they are also happy to lead you through the site in a guided tour.
Modern archaeological research refutes the possibility that this is really the Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus. Nevertheless, the Garden Tomb is still a great quaint spot in eastern Jerusalem. It is especially fitting for reviewing and contemplating on Jesus and his messianic mission.
Time permitting, we could end the day with a visit to the Tomb of Kings nearby. Discovered in the 19th century, these tombs were formed by a Syrian royal family who converted to Judaism and immigrated to Jerusalem. And after many years of restoration, only recently (in 2020) they were re-opened to the public again. Not far from them are remains of the “Third Wall”. Discovered in the 1920’s, these finds revolutionized the understanding of Jerusalem in the time of Herod’s Temple, some 2,000 years ago
And if you are fond of special Libraries, both the convent of Saint Etienne and the Albright institution are renowned research centers for Biblical Archaeology.