Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Shopping tour of Jerusalem Old City

Though Old City of Jerusalem can make one crazy with its holiness, it's guaranteed to drive even the strongest psyche to the brink of insanity with its shops and all their touristey junk. The vendors, capable of uttering inviting sentences in just about any language in the world just won't leave you alone. 

The city can be accessed through one of its seven gates, out of which Jaffa Gate is the best known. It leads to David Street leaving Armenian quarter on your right hand side and Christan quarter on the left. Christian quarter is also accessible via New Gate, whereas Zion Gate will get you directly to Armenian quarter.

Damascus Gate in the Northern wall of the city marks the beginning of Souk Kan El Zeit street with Muslim quarter to its left. Both Herod's Gate and Lion's Gate will take you there, too. 

Upon reaching David Street, it continues as Jewish Quarter Road. The surrounded by this and Chain street is the Jewish Quarter, also accessible through Dung Gate. 

Most of the habitation of the densely populated area is focused mostly in the Christian and Muslim quarters. Jerusalem Old City is a very desirable address which means seriously high real estate prices.

As can be expected, the shops are heaving with all sorts of religious souvenirs and artifacts. Items made with local olive wood are one of Christian Quarter's bestsellers. The oldest olive trees on the region can be thousands of years old, so who knows - maybe the material of this nativity was actually around by the time of Jesus' birth...!

Despite being one of the worst tourist traps known to man, some things haven't changed over time, especially in the Muslim quarter. Old women, dressed in the traditional colourful Palestinian dresses sell fresh herbs on the streets and little shops under the ancient arches sell fresh pita bread that only came out of the oven mere minutes before. 

Like in many old cities around here, different artisans and tradesmen are still located on their own streets, often named after their trade. In Jerusalem you can still find the Butcher's market (Souk Al Lakhamim), Goldsmith's market Souk Al Khawajat and Souk Al Attarine, specialized in spices and perfumes.

The streets run parallel to each other under the part of Old City called Cardo and meet each other at the crossing of Khan Al Zayit street.

In Muslim Quarter, right after the Damascus Gate you can also find bewilderingly cheap cigarettes, but don't be fooled. While the price might be attractive (the price for a pack of cigarettes in Israel starts at 30 NIS or €6.50 whereas here they sell for 7 NIS, roughly €1.50), the content most assuredly is not. 

The reality sets in the moment you peel off the plastic and you find you've actually just bough a pack of roll-ups stuffed inside a flimsy card pack with Marlboro print. The main ingredient of them would seem to be asbestos...

Local spice markets are great place for finding spices such as sumac and za'atar, which at least in Finland can be difficult to come by. Their specialty, however, is ready-made spice blends.

Za'atar, a blend of dried basil thyme, oregano and sesame seeds, is something I, much like the locals, just can't get enough of. Fresh pita bread, dipped in good olive oil and dunked in za'atar... aaaaah.

Leather goods are another bargain here and selection extends to goods made of camel leather. Their peculiar smell, eventually evaporates, too (or maybe it just grows on you...?)

The #1 seller is of course the classic Jesus sandal...

... which these days are available in all the colours of the rainbow. I wonder which shade the hipster Jesus of 2015 would choose? I have a feeling about that pink...

Back on my first ever visit to the country they were the very first thing I got and they've served me well. Ability to walk on water, though, is apparently something sold separately.

Naturally over the past years one of these has also managed to make its way back fro Israel to the corner of my living room. Water pipes, nargiles, are hugely popular among the natives and are also available in travel size, which people take with them to beaches.

In the past Old City actually also used to house a small Moroccan quarter, which was largely destroyed after the Six Day War. The neighbourhood left intact is today part of the Jewish quarter.

Old City is also home to a range of small shops selling traditional Bedouin crafts and jewellery.

Armenian quarter is, obviously, famous for their pottery. The neighbourhood also boasts interesting Armenian restaurants. 

Though Christian, too, Armenians have a very strong identity of their own. The streets also have plaques detailing the Armenian genocide of 1915 by the Turkish - something Turkey still refuses to acknowledge and which still causes tensions between the two countries.




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