Jerusalem's Old city is divided into four districts, or
"quarters" as they are known: Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.
The Muslim Quarter is the largest and most densely populated
section of the Old City. Although it was developed as an urban
neighbourhood under Herod the Great, it was not until it was taken over
by the Crusaders in the 12th century that it achieved its present form.
The large number of churches and other Christian institutions date from
After the Crusaders were defeated, the Mamelukes undertook
an extensive rebuilding of the quarter in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Much of the architecture to be seen today dates from the Mameluke
Unfortunately, the quarter has been decaying since the 16th
century. It contains some of the cities oldest and poorest housing. It
is also one of the most interesting parts of Jerusalem, and one of the
least explored. With the narrow twisting streets winding up and down
the hills, it is an easy place in which to lose oneself.
Israelis will tell you that it is dangerous to wander around
the Muslim Quarter. We got lost in the back streets of the Quarter on
several occasions, and never did we feel in any way threatened by the
inhabitants. People were always very kind and helpful to us, showing us
how to get back to the more well travelled streets.
The suqs are fascinating, and seem to go on and on forever. I
spent many happy hours wandering around, looking at the merchandise,
and of course, buying the beautiful embroidery, pottery, jewellery,
spices, Hebron glass, olive wood carvings and other items for which the
suqs of the Old City are famous.
Prices are usually cheaper here than in the Jewish Quarter,
and the merchants really need the the sales. Since the start of the 2nd
Intifada, there have been few tourists, and many of the small merchants
have gone out of business. If they seem pushy, it's only that they are
desperate to make a sale.
Our landlord was raised in the Muslim Quarter of the Old
City. He offered to give us a tour one day, and we accepted with
pleasure. He took us to the home of his cousins. This part of the city
was probably built or rebuilt by the Mamlukes. Most of the houses in
this area have a similar plan, several unconnected rooms surrounding a
small courtyard, open to the elements. Originally, each room would have
housed a family. The walls are very thick, 50cm or more. Of course
there is no way to install wiring or plumbing inside the walls without
destroying them, so the necessary infrastructure of our lifestyle is
exposed, on the interior surface of the walls. Also, it would be
impossible to connect the various rooms without risking major damage to
the ancient structure. It was a fascinating look at a different way of
As we were walking down one street, our landlord mentioned
that when he was a boy he used to visit this house as another cousin
had lived there. He did not know who lived there now, but knocked on
the door anyway. Here we saw an example of the famed Arab hospitality.
A man answered the door. Our landlord explained to him that his cousin
had lived there, probably 50 or 60 years ago, and that he was showing
some Canadians around the Old City. The man invited us in, a gaggle of
complete strangers, sat us down in his living room, and offered us
Some views of the Muslim Quarter.
To view any photo at full size, click on the photo with the
The Damascus Gate, leading to one of the suqs or
markets, in the Muslim Quarter.
Inside the Damascus Gate, note the armed Israeli
soldiers above, a constant reminder to shoppers and residents that they
have no power in their own country.
Israeli soldiers at the Damascus Gate, a constant threat
to the populace.
Old world meets new, an internet cafe sign in the Muslim
In a suq, internet cafe sign overhead.
Internet cafe sign overhead in a suq.
The Cotton Suq, specialising in textiles, the other end
of this suq opens onto the Haram, the complex surrounding the Dome of
the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque.
Another shopping area, close to a residential section.
These shops cater to the locals, not to the tourist trade.
One can find everything here, from clothing to fruits
vegetables, to cooking pots, to freshly butchered lamb and goat hanging
in the open air.
When someone returns from the Haj, they decorate the
outside walls of their home to share their joy.
The home of another who has been on the Haj.
A door in the Muslim Quarter.
Shutters on an upper window of a girls school in the
St. Stephen's or the Lion Gate, where, tradition says,
St. Stephen was stoned to death for his beliefs.
Lions set into the bricks above St. Stephen's Gate, also
called the Lion Gate.
These little boys were going home from school, the last
class was over, summer had begun,
and they were delighted.
Coming from the Lion Gate toward St Anne's Church.
Mameluke architecture of the Muslim Quarter.
Arhitecture of the Muslim Quarter.
Just another reminder, in the centre of the Muslim
Quarter, that their home is not their own.
The Israeli equivalent of a 'good neighbour' fence,
separating a home owned by Jews from its surrounding Muslim neighbours.
This page was updated on 6 December 2007.
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