May 9, 2009

Off the Tourist Trail in Old City Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestinian Territories

The Old City of Jerusalem

Traditionally, Jerusalem's Old City has been divided into four quarters (though the current designations were only introduced in the 1800s). Today, the area is roughly separated into the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter.

There are some heavily worn footpaths within the Old City that the vast majority of Jerusalem's four million annual tourists seem to repeatedly stomp down, leaving quite a bit of the historic area relatively tourist-free. Yeah, it's hard to imagine getting away from tourists in such a popular place, but all it really takes is ducking down an inconspicuous alley of anonymous stairs to lead you out of the fray.

There are still plenty of folks living in the Old City (somewhere around 35,000), with the vast majority (some 25,000 people) crammed inside the Muslim Quarter. And while the other three quarters have pretty much been turned into large souvenir shops, the Arab district seems to have retained some wonderfully non-touristic residential neighborhoods.

Not knowing this beforehand, it was still the Muslim Quarter that we ended up spending quite a bit of time within. I doubt too many foreign visitors see the assortment chickens and ducks running around in their small patches dirt, or the smiling, mangy-looking youngsters playing soccer in the narrow confines of their alley-like streets. This is life, unchanged for the benefit of profit or appearance.

Now this isn't to say that we weren't uncomfortable at times. Tatiana and I are both very street-smart individuals who can typically pick up on trouble or potential harm well before it would become a problem. And it was here, isolated and moderately disorientated that we looked at each other and decided that some places were best not explored with an infant. It's a great feeling when the hair on the back your neck stands up from the tension, but certainly not one you want to keep for long.

The Muslim neighborhood was by far my favorite part of the Old City.

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