4 days in Jerusalem - Part II: learning about the history of Israel at the Tower of David & Mt. Zion

The land of Israel has one of the most extensive and complex histories of today’s modern world. From the birth and growth of the 3 main monotheistic religions to the recent Arab-Israeli conflict, a visit to Jerusalem is the perfect occasion to learn about Israel’s ancient and recent past. 

During my second day in the Holy City, I visited the Tower of David, a museum that covers over 4,000 years of history in Jerusalem, as well as Mt. Zion, burial place of King David and the site where the Last Supper took place. Keep reading to learn more about Israel’s fascinating past!


Tower of David

 

My second day in Jerusalem took place on Shabbat, the Jewish holy day. During this day, which goes from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday, all public transport stops and many Jewish businesses and tourist attractions are closed. However, there are still many options to enjoy Jerusalem during this day of rest!

One of the museums that remained open during Shabbat was the Tower of David, so that was my first stop of the day. 

The Tower of David is the old citadel of Jerusalem, located right next to Jaffa Gate as you enter the Old Town. It receives its name from the Byzantine Christians who believed this was the site where the palace of King David once stood. The citadel that we see today was built during the Mamluk and Ottoman period.

 

Tower of David

 

Today, the complex houses an extraordinary museum that goes through the history of Jerusalem from its origin up to our days. 

The museum opens daily from 9am to 4pm (with extended opening times during the summer months). On Friday it closes early at 2pm ahead of the start of the Shabbat. Tickets have a price of 40 NIS for adults (approx. €9.30). You can combine the entrance with The Night Spectacular show for a price of 70 NIS (approx. €16.30) in total. You can buy the tickets online from the official website. 

The Night Spectacular is a nighttime show of light and sound that also covers the history of Jerusalem with projections on the walls of the Old Town. I bought the combined ticket and the show was, as the name says, truly spectacular. Definitely, a must do experience! 

 

Views of the citadel

Views of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Church of the Redeemer & the Dome of the Rock

Tower of David

 

Early history

As you enter the museum, the first exhibitions cover Jerusalem's early history, which is veiled in obscurity. The city is first mentioned about 2000 BC when it was a small fortified town on a hillside above the Gihon spring, south of what later became the Temple Mount. 

Situated in the Fertile Crescent, stretching along the Mediterranean Coast, the ancient Land of Israel (Canaan) served as a vital corridor between continents, a cultural bridge and a buffer between two mighty civilisations on its borders - Egypt and the kingdoms of Mesopotamia. 

In the latter half of the second millennium BC, the Egyptian Pharaohs ruled Canaan, and the kings of Jerusalem became their vassals.

When the Israelites conquered Canaan (c. 1200 BC), the ruler of Jerusalem was Adonizedek who, along with his allies, was defeated by Joshua, near Gibeon. Jerusalem, however, was not captured by the Israelites until the time of David. 

 

Map of Canaan

 

The Second Temple

In the summer of 70 AD, Jerusalem was besieged and captured by the Roman army under Titus, son of Emperor Vespasian. The Temple of Jerusalem, the keystone of the Jewish religion, was burnt, and the city destroyed. 

When the Roman emperor Hadrian visited the region in 131 AD, he decided to build a pagan city on the ruins of Jewish Jerusalem, to be called Aelia Capitoline. This plan and other harsh decrees provoked a Jewish rebellion in 132 AD, led by Bar Kochba. It took the Romans three years to suppress the uprising.

In 136 AD, Aelia Capitoline was established and Jews were barred from the city on pain of death. A Temple of Jupiter was then built on the Temple Mount. Aelia became a quiet provincial town, inhabited mainly by soldiers. In the third century, a Christian community began to develop here.

 

Reproduction of the Temple of Jerusalem

 

The rise of Christianity

Under Constantine the Great, Christianity was proclaimed the official religion of the Roman Empire (312 AD) and Jerusalem became a major focus for Christian pilgrims.

The growth of Christian Jerusalem was interrupted when Julian the Apostate (361-363 AD) reverted to paganism. He granted the Jews permission to rebuild the Temple, but his early death dashed their hopes.

In the fifth century, the city was extended and fortified. In 614 AC, the Persians captured Jerusalem, destroyed its churches and massacred its inhabitants. They were vanquished in 629 when the Byzantines recaptured the city, but nine years later, the armies of Islam entered Jerusalem, bringing the Byzantine era to an end. 

 
 

The arrival of Islam & the Crusades

In 638 AC, Jerusalem peaceably surrendered to the followers of Islam, and the city remained under Muslim rule for four hundred years. Christians were allowed to practice their faith and Jews were permitted to return. 

The Ummayad dynasty, which ruled from Damascus from 660 to 750 AC, transformed Jerusalem into the third most holy city of Islam, after Mecca and Medina. During the long period of Muslim rule, Islam became the dominant religion of the city and Arabic the principal language. This situation came to an end in 1099 when the city was conquered by the Crusaders. 

The Crusader armies reached Jerusalem following an appeal from Pope Urban II to liberate Christian shrines from the Muslims. The city was conquered in a brief but bitter siege, after which the Muslims and Jews were slaughtered. 

Jerusalem became the capital of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was inhabited by European and Eastern Christians. Mosques were turned into churches and buildings sprang up to accommodate devout pilgrims from around the world until 1187, when Crusaders lost Jerusalem to Saladin, the ruler of Egypt and Syria. 

 

Mockup of the Dome of the Rock

 

British Mandate of Palestine

After another Muslim invasion, in 1917, 400 years of Ottoman rule in Jerusalem ended when General Allenby entered the Old City and proclaimed freedom of worship for all religions. During the thirty years of British rule, Jerusalem once again became the capital city of Palestine. 

During most of the British rule, there was often bloodshed in the city as a result of Arab resistance to the Jews’ aspirations to establish a National Home and a Jewish State in Eretz Israel. In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to end the British Mandate and to partition Eretz Israel between Arabs and Jews. Immediately thereafter the War of Independence broke out.

After the War of Independence, Jerusalem remained divided. The border cut through the heart of the city - through neighbourhoods, streets and homes. Jerusalem was torn apart by walls, barbed-wire fences, military posts and minefields. In June 1967, after the Six Day War, the city was reunified under the Israeli control. 

 

Part of the cement wall that divided eastern and western Jerusalem


Mt. Zion

 

The Tower of David is by far one of the best museums that you will find in Jerusalem if you're interested in learning about the fascinating history of this unique city.

After soaking in all the information, I left the tower behind and headed south towards Mt. Zion, my second stop of the day. 

The hill is located next to the Armenian quarter, just outside the city walls after crossing the Zion Gate. This gate was built in the time of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. In Arabic, it has the name Bab al-nabi Daoud, due to its proximity to King David's tomb. 

 

Zion Gate

 

Mount Zion is already mentioned in the Torah, and for centuries it has been a symbol of the Promised Land. This is where the word Zionism comes from (a movement for the re-establishment and protection of a Jewish nation in the land of Israel). The mount keeps one of the holiest sites for the Jews: King David's tomb.

The complex has three different rooms, with the entrance used as a synagogue. Here is where, according to the Christian tradition, Jesus washed his disciples' feet during the Last Supper.

The gravestone, which is currently empty, commemorates the place of burial of King David and is one of the most sacred places of pilgrimage after the Western Wall.

Just outside the tomb stands a statue of King David playing the harp. The statue has been a very controversial symbol for years, as Orthodox Jews believe that statues and icons shouldn't be worshipped and they do not agree with it being placed so close to a holy site.

The statue has been vandalised in multiple occasions by throwing black ink and even breaking off its nose. 

 

Entrance to the tomb

King David's Tomb

Statue of King David

 

The second place of interest in Mt. Zion is the Cœnaculum, or the Room of the Last Super.

According to Christianity, this is the upper room in which Jesus and his disciples conducted the Passover meal (the Last Supper), on which the rites for the celebration of mass are based. The name of the hall, Cœnaculum, comes from the Latin word for dining room.

According to the Gospel, at Pentecost, seven weeks after the Resurrection, the disciples reunited. While sitting in this Cœnaculum, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit “and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts, 2:4), and from there they spread the Christian faith among the nations.

The Room of the Last Supper was part of the Holy Zion Church built in 390 AC, and the Crusader church constructed on its ruins in the 12th century. The room in its current shape was formed in the 14th century and it preserves architectural and sculptural elements from the Crusader period.

During the Ottoman rule, it was converted into a mosque. A prayer niche (mihrab), dedicated to King David, was carved in its southern wall. 

 

Room of the Last Supper

Tree of life

Mihrab

 

The last highlightt in Mt. Zion was the Dormition Abbey. This German Roman-Catholic church and abbey is run by the Benedictine order and was dedicated in 1910. It commemorates the place where Mary, mother of Jesus, passed away.

Both the interior and the exterior are absolutely stunning and well worth a visit. The abbey was by far one of the most beautiful churches that I saw in Jerusalem after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 

 

Dormition Abbey

Chapel inside the Dormition Abbey

Interior of the abbey

 

Visiting the Tower of David and Mt. Zion took most of my morning. Even though I had originally planned to visit the City of David archaeological site for the rest of the afternoon, I didn't realise that it was closed on Shabbat until I got to the door.

In a quick change of plans, I decided to head back to the Muslim Quarter and walk the Via Dolorosa: the path followed by Jesus from his condemnation to his crucifixion in the Golgotha and one of the most celebrated places of Christian pilgrimage!

 

Where to sleep in Jerusalem

Abraham Hostel Jerusalem

Abraham Hostel Jerusalem

For my stay in Jerusalem I also chose Abraham Hostels, and once again it was a great decision.

The hostel was very similar to the one in Tel Aviv: a huge, very modern building located right in the heart of West Jerusalem and just a few minutes walking from the Old Town. The hostel offers both dorms and private rooms, all including en-suite bathrooms and a lovely breakfast.

The Abraham Hostel Jerusalem includes a bar that opens seven days a week where you can get a few drinks or order some food at very good prices after exploring Jerusalem. You can also chill out at the open rooftop; the atmosphere there was incredible and I had so much fun in the evening meeting and chatting with some other fellow travellers!

In the lobby you can find the traveller centre, where you can book day and multi day trips around Israel, the Palestinian Territories and even Jordan. It took many of these visits and all of them were well worth it!

Just like with my stay at Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv and Nazareth, my experience in Israel wouldn't have been the same if I hadn't stayed at the Abraham Hostel Jerusalem. No matter if you're travelling solo or with a group, I can confidently say that Abraham Hostel is by far one of the best hostels that I've ever stayed in!

Booking.com

All opinions are my own.


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