Jerusalem is a city of history and meaning, but it is also a city of gorgeous views and panorama. There are many ways in which to seek out unique views of this ancient town, but the ramparts walk is one of the best.
The old city of Jerusalem is a walled city and there are several gates through which one must enter in order to access the ancient part of town. Atop the walls are ramparts, originally part of the defense of the city and now a great walk for the intrepid tourist.
There are two routes you can take, and the hearty traveler can elect to walk both. I chose the Jaffa-Damascus gate route, covering the Christian and Muslim quarters. I paid my 16 shekels, ascended the stairs and found myself peering across a vast skyline of rooftops and TV antennae.
A note of warning, the ramparts walk is not for everyone. The routes are deceptively long, there are a lot of stairs and, depending on the time of year, it can be intensely hot. A hat, bottle of water and a moderate level of endurance are all prerequisites.
I started the walk, ambling up and down the myriad stairs, stopping to take in the views and to read more about the sites at which I was peering. About a quarter of the way through I was ready to be finished, unfortunately the only way down was at the finish line. I trudged through, quickly tiring of basically the same view again and again when I turned a corner and looked down into a schoolyard. It was recess and the children at a Muslim school were out playing. I looked past that and could see tiny apartments, filled to the rafters with STUFF and endless lines of laundry zigzagging the rooftops. In a unique case of living a metaphor, I was bearing witness to the real Jerusalem.
This realization gave me a new strength and instead of looking across at rooftops, I looked down at the people. Below one outlook, I noticed a group of Franciscan monks quickly and expertly navigating the labyrinthine alleyways of the souk, obviously heading for the nearby monastery. Beyond them I saw two children playing hooky from school, guzzling soda and ducking down tiny side streets.
There were only a few other tourists on the ramparts and it felt like I was alone in the city, peering down without anyone else noticing. Enjoying this sense of voyeuristic anonymity, I continued on past the crumbling walls of the ramparts, walking further along atop the Muslim quarter. I looked up again and caught sight of the Dome of Rock, with the hills and valleys of Silwan and Wadi el Joz in the distance. Not for the first time I noticed the stark difference between the Muslim and non-Muslim sides in Jerusalem and wondered what would come of this marvelous city, undivided yet seemingly forever separated.
I was a sweaty mess by the time I finished, huffing and puffing and vowing to add some cardio to my daily schedule. I hopped down and suddenly emerged next to the Damascus gate, scaring a group of pigeons and older women both of whom happened to be standing nearby. I smiled, grabbed my hat and made my way through the souk, seeking out a café I had come to know well.
I sat there, drenched in sweat downing a bottle of water and considering a snack of sesame covered baked bread, listening to the din of conversations and motor bikes in the distance. I looked back up at the city walls and silently thanked them for giving me more than just a different view on the great city of Jerusalem, but a completely new outlook.