13) The Muslim Quarter
No matter what your background is, the Muslim Quarter is an absolute must to visit in the Old City, especially if you are looking for good photographic opportunities. If you understand the history of Jerusalem and the impact Islam has had over many centuries on this city, you will see why you would be missing out a lot if you were to skip the Muslim Quarter.
Throughout many centuries, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times and captured and recaptured 44 times. There is probably not another place in the world that has been wanted to badly by so many different rulers throughout the history. According to historians, the first settlements came in 4500 BC, making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world, with over 6500 years of history. Prior to being called Jerusalem, it was known as the City of David (approximately 1010 BC), because King David transferred the capital from Hebron to Jerusalem and reigned for 40 years, after which his son Solomon succeeded him and built the Holy Temple. Unfortunately, Jerusalem was razed to the ground a number of times throughout its history, with Muslims conquering the city in the 7th century and being in and out of control all the way until the 20th century. Before Jerusalem fell under the British Mandate in 1917, it was in control of the Ottomans, who played a huge role in rebuilding the city walls, building the infrastructure and restoring a number of important buildings. It was under the Ottoman empire when Jerusalem truly became a multi-faith city, with a large number of Jews, Christians and Muslims living together within the Old City walls. So when you look at Jerusalem today, you cannot ignore its Islamic history, which can be found in its every corner.
14) The Souk (The Arab Market)
What kind of photographic opportunities are there in the Muslim Quarter? Well, if you are into street photography, I would start with the “Souk”, or the Arab market. The Souk stretches all the way from the Christian Quarter to Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter and you truly cannot miss it! If you see a lot of storefronts and people selling goods, that’s the Souk. Start walking in any direction and keep your camera ready at all times! I have already shown you some pictures of the market in the Christian Quarter, but if you want to save up quite a bit of money, walk towards the Muslim Quarter, where you can find the same goods at much lower prices. You will also find a lot of great restaurants near the Souk, so if you are hungry and want to eat tasty falafel, kebabs, hummus and other Middle Eastern food, that’s the place to go.
As you pass through some stores, you might find Arabs dressed in traditional clothing. Most of them are used to photographers and won’t mind being photographed. This gentlemen who sold bread and other goods in a corner store looked straight into my camera as I paused to take a picture:
Two Arabs conversing on the side of the street on a late afternoon:
A Moroccan man selling fragrances, lamps and books:
Also, pay attention to your surroundings and find cool spots where you can stop, compose your shot and wait for interesting subjects to walk into your scene. I did this in a number of spots and found the technique to work really well. Although Souk is a covered area (and for a good reason, since Jerusalem gets pretty hot in the summer), making it tough to shoot at low ISOs, you can find open areas as well. In one particular spot, I saw light passing between buildings and that’s where I decided to stop and take some pictures. The idea was to wait until subjects walk into the light, so I set up my exposure based on the bright area of the scene.
As I was getting ready to shoot, I saw a Jewish man passing by, followed by two Muslim girls, so I quickly snapped the following photo:
Not exactly what I had in mind, since the subjects are not in the spot of light, but the image still worked out, showing the contrast I was after. I moved a bit to the left and patiently waited for interesting subjects to pass by and I was able to capture a few more shots in both vertical and horizontal orientation. Here we have a Muslim woman walking towards me:
And here is a photo of two Ethiopian Christian women walking in the same direction:
As you walk towards the Damascus Gate, you will find even more opportunities to take pictures of the busy streets. Below is a photo of an Arab packing up his grape leaves that he was selling that day:
An elderly man taking a nap right by his store:
Another elderly man walking on one of the streets:
If anything major is going on in the Old City, you might see a lot more Israeli soldiers than usual. As I was walking the Souk on Independence day, Israeli soldiers were busy blocking some of the streets off and thoroughly checking the documentation of the local Arabs before letting them into certain areas. I witnessed a pretty intense moment where an Arab was expressing his frustration when he was not being let into a street by an Israeli soldier. You can see the still faces of people around, as his documents were being checked:
Gladly, the situation did not escalate and things quieted down pretty quickly, although I did not wait to see if he was let in or not. With the arrival of the Israeli president and other high-ranking people to Jerusalem, it was understandable why everyone was on such a high alert.
Just like the Jews, Arabs also love playing backgammon. As I was walking on one of the main streets late afternoon, I saw a number of people playing the game:
And don’t forget to stop by areas where Arabs gather together to smoke the hookah:
Lastly, between the busy markets and restaurants, you might find other interesting places to photograph. You will find barber shops, hotels / hostels and even shoemakers:
Plenty of cool-looking doors as well:
And if you make it all the way to the Damascus Gate, you might want to climb up the steps outside and take some shots of the gate with some people:
15) The Hashimi Hotel
When it comes to staying in the area, you will find a number of hotels and hostels in the Old City. After visiting the Austrian Hostel, I realized that another building had a very large covered terrace that was overlooking the other side of the city. I came down to the first floor and described what I saw and even showed the picture of the location on my camera to the front desk clerk. She told me that it was most likely someone else’s home. I argued that it could not be, since the terrace looked too big to be someone’s home. Definitely not in the Old City where real estate prices are outrageously high. I gave up on her pretty quickly, since it was clear that she had no idea. That same night, I looked up hotels in the area, wondering if it could be a view from the terrace of a hotel in Muslim Quarter. I found a hotel called “The Hashimi Hotel” on Google Maps, so I decided to check out their website and see if it could possibly be the candidate. As soon as I checked the gallery, I found a picture from a terrace that looked just like the one I photographed from the Austrian hospice. Could it be it? I was not sure, so I decided to check it out myself. I needed a place to stay anyway for the next few days, so if the terrace belonged to a nice hotel, why not stay there? The prices online looked very reasonable – much cheaper than what I was paying outside the Old City.
I walked right back to the main street from the Damascus Gate and after walking for about 10 minutes or so, found a sign that said “The Hashimi Hotel”. There was a single door that was shut from the inside, so I had to use the intercom. The door opened right after I pressed the button and once I climbed up a few steps, I saw a beautiful lounge that was nicely decorated in Arab style with large chairs, sofas and carpets. I was greeted by a front desk clerk who welcomed me to the hotel. I explained that I was looking for a place to stay and wondered about their terrace and its potential for my photography. I asked if I could take a quick look at the terrace and she kindly pointed me in the direction of the elevator. The terrace looked just like in the pictures, but best of all – it was all empty and it had a spot for me to put a tripod, with no obstructions whatsoever! I immediately went down to the first floor and booked my stay for the next two days. I was glad that I found an amazing spot to photograph from!
If you are considering to stay in the Muslim Quarters, I would highly recommend the Hashimi Hotel. Aside from its photographic potential for both single images and panoramas, it also has very nice and clean rooms. Their buffet-style breakfast is excellent and very fresh too. Speaking of the view from the terrace, here is the shot I was able to capture that same evening:
I really hoped for some clouds in the sky to get more color, but luck was not on my side for the next two days. However, as the sun set, the haze in the sky helped add some pink and blue to the sky, making me happy! Since the sun sets right behind the building, the terrace would be a great spot for photographing sunsets.
The best part about the view from the terrace, is that you can capture pretty wide panoramas and if you like a particular building, you could zoom in and concentrate on a particular spot. Although I decided to take pictures of the beautiful Dome of the Rock, I also captured a few panoramas. Here is a panorama I captured after sunset that overlooks a big part of the Muslim and Christian Quarters:
You can see a number of important buildings here, including the Church of St Mary of Agony (located to the right of the green minaret on the left of the frame) and Al-Aqsa Mosque (the yellow dome on the extreme right). On a clear day, you could use a telephoto lens to zoom in on the distant buildings and churches on the Mount of Olives. It is a stunning view from here, definitely worth checking out!
At sunrise, the sun comes out from right behind Mount of Olives. Although it can be a bit more challenging to shoot and the weather forecast showed a clear day, I decided to give it a try anyway. As soon as the sun started appearing in the horizon, I stopped down my lens to f/32 to get some sun stars. Next, I took another shot at f/8, since the shot at f/32 was too soft due to too much diffraction. The idea was to merge the two shots in Photoshop and get a single image that was sharp and had the sun stars I wanted. As you can see, the technique worked pretty well and I ended up with a nice shot that has all the details I was after:
Unfortunately, since I was a bit too busy figuring out what I wanted to shoot and walking back and forth on the terrace, I was about a minute late for this shot. Ideally, you want to capture the sun as soon as it starts peaking out – the smaller the sun in the frame, the easier it is to make a nice sunburst. Plus, you have less risk for overexpose in the sky. Still, I would love to come back to this spot and photograph it early in the morning with some clouds in the sky!
As I was getting ready to wrap up, I decided to do another panorama:
This one looks very different than the one I captured at sunset the previous night, so it was still worth the effort in my opinion.
You might also have a nice view from your room window. Mine looked out to the left of the above view, but it still offered interesting views of nearby rooftops:
16) Dome of the Rock
According to Muslims, Dome of the Rock is where Prophet Muhammad started his Night Journey to heaven. After Jerusalem was conquered in 638 AD by Muslims, they discovered a lot of trash on the Temple Mount. It took some effort for both Jews and Muslims to clean up the area, after which the 5th Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan ordered the construction of the Dome of the Rock in late 7th century.
As you have seen from a number of pictures so far, Dome of the Rock is one of the most prominent structures in the Old City. Its golden dome is seen from many different areas, since it sits on the top of the Temple Mount. It is a truly beautiful structure and it has gone through a number of renovations in the past. Being one of the oldest works of Islamic architecture, it has both religious and historic significance.
While some of the best photographs of the Dome of the Rock can be taken from a distance, you can capture great close-up shots as well. If you are Muslim, you can access Temple Mount any time from any of the gates. However, if you are not a Muslim, access will be restricted to certain days and times of the week. In order to access Temple Mount as a visitor, you will need to go through the wooden walkway located near the Western Wall. The visiting hours are Sunday through Thursday 7:30 – 11:00 AM and 1:30 – 2:30 PM in summer and Sunday through Thursday 7:30 – 10:00 AM and 12:30 – 1:30 PM in winter. Make sure to wear appropriate clothes. Men are required to wear long pants and women are required to wear long pants or a long skirt to cover up their legs (a head scarf is not necessary, but shoulders must be covered).
There are plenty of great opportunities around Dome of the Rock. You can photograph the structure itself and you can also focus on the details of the tiles at the entrances:
Since there are different gates from different corners, you can see beautiful archways that can serve as a great foreground:
In the northern corner you will find even more gates to the Temple Mount, without the Dome of the Rock in the background:
Don’t forget to pay attention to all the details and structures around you:
And as you move around, practice using the arches as windows to show the Dome of the Rock:
Although tripods are not allowed, you can still capture panoramas hand-held. Just make sure to keep foreground objects away from you to avoid parallax errors, or simply rotate around your lens axis instead of the camera axis, as recommended in my panorama photography article. Here is a panorama of the Dome of the Rock that I captured hand-held using this technique:
If you move further away from the stairs, you can capture a wider view of the stairs and the gates, with Dome of the Rock in the background:
Lastly, there are all kinds of opportunities to photograph people around the mosque. The below shot is one of my personal favorites:
Unfortunately, access into Dome of the Rock is closed to non-Muslims. It was not always this way – everyone used to be able to walk into both Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa in the past. However, after a few incidents, most notably a rather serious incident in 1969 where an Australian citizen set fire on the pulpit of the Al-Aqsa mosque and caused serious damage to the building, access to the buildings got restricted only to Muslims.
Still, if you want to photograph the beauty of the Mosque from the inside, it is possible – you will need to obtain a permit from local authorities. You can ask the local Arabs walking with radios about the process and they are generally pretty knowledgeable about where and how you can obtain a permit. It takes a few days to process and once you are given access, you will be able to walk into both Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa.
Dome of the Rock is stunningly beautiful from the inside. The dome itself is decorated with gold and it is very well maintained:
Take a look at all the details of the dome:
As you walk around, you will be able to find a lot of color all around you, with beautifully decorated tiles, marble, lamps and chandeliers:
17) Al-Aqsa Mosque
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site for Muslims, so its religious significance is even higher than that of the Dome of the Rock. Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to Al-Aqsa during the Night Journey and it is also believed that he prayed there right before the angel Gabriel traveled with him to heaven. In fact, during the first seventeen months after migration to Medina in 624 AD, Muslims used to pray in the direction of Al-Aqsa, after which the direction of prayer was moved towards Kaaba in Mecca.
Al-Aqsa is very close to the Dome of the Rock. In fact, one of the southern gates directly faces Al-Aqsa:
Unfortunately, unlike Dome of the Rock, the view of Al-Aqsa is blocked by a lot of tall surrounding trees, so there is not a good spot from which you can take a good picture of the whole building. You can photograph the front entrance and the building from its side, but due to the fact that the dome is located at the far end of the mosque, it won’t be visible in the picture. There are a few areas from the side that make pretty nice views, so I would recommend to explore those areas. Unfortunately, during my visit, there were lots of metal rods and other items on the ground that were obstructing the view. I am not sure if there was any construction taking place (it did not look like it), but I could not find a good spot to take a picture of the Mosque.
As I walked on the left side of the mosque, I found a beautiful green door though, with decorated marble around it:
Despite its significance, Al-Aqsa does not seem to be maintained as well as Dome of the Rock. Its interior structure seemed to be falling apart. Take a look at the main dome, which seems to have been deformed over the years:
Still, it was worth taking a picture of, so I lowered the camera a bit and took a picture of the area with the hanging chandelier:
Stepping back, there is a more beautiful chandelier behind an arch and plenty of great painted details on the walls:
The ceiling of Al-Aqsa appears to be pretty deformed and some areas are showing paint coming off and deteriorating. It looks like the mosque is due for a pretty major renovation.
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