The city of Jerusalem doesn’t need much introduction. A place of pilgrimage and worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims and home to significant religious sites including the Western Wall, sacred to Judaism, and the Dome of the Rock, a 7th-century Islamic shrine. I had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem back in 2010 during a week-long stay in Israel. I was only able to spend one full day in Jerusalem, which really isn’t long enough to fully explore this amazing place, but I did make the most of my time there and made sure I immersed myself in the different cultures that coexist alongside each other.
Jerusalem’s Old City is a feast for the senses. Visually stunning, particularly in the late afternoon when golden sunlight transforms the colour of the ancient stone buildings. The smell of spices wafts out from the many bazaars. And rich overlapping soundscapes ebb and flow as you walk through the often narrow streets and alleyways. Most of the holy sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam are found within the walls of the Old City, with many literally sitting right next to each other. This close proximity creates a real clash of cultures and you can genuinely feel the distant awareness of tension.
As I moved around the city throughout the day, I recorded the soundscapes I encountered. The high-walled buildings and narrow alleyways meant for some interesting acoustics, and this was particularly evident during the call to prayer. This first recording was made in the heart of the Muslim Quarter and features two minarets, one close by and another off in the distance.
A bit later in the day, I again found myself in the narrow, windy streets of the Muslim Quater and stopped to record this call to prayer from one of the many mosques. In this soundscape we really hear the sound reverberating nicely within the narrow street.
As previously mentioned, many sacred holy sites of different religions are located very close to one another. The following call to prayer was recorded in a church courtyard that was located directly opposite the mosque. Again we hear an interesting reverberation as the sound travelled through the enclosed courtyard.
Knowing I only had one day in Jerusalem, I was keen to not only visit the many historic sites but also to spend time simply walking around the various neighbourhoods. After visiting the Western Wall, the most important religious shrine for Jewish people, I wondered off to explore the winding streets of the Jewish Quarter. It felt much more residential (and thus, somewhat calmer) than some of the other quarters I’d explored. After a while I came across a group of children playing football in a small square. They were playing very intensely and really pelting the ball against the walls of the square. So I decided to stay a while and record them as they played.
As the sun began to set, it was sadly time for me to head back to the central bus station and catch a bus back to Tel Aviv. Just as I headed through Jaffa Gate, exiting the walled Old City to make my way to the bus station I heard music. A brass band was approaching, marching along and playing as they did so. I quickly grabbed my recorder and captured the band as they walked past.
I don’t know who the band were, or what they were playing for, but it was a great to say goodbye to this city! I’d had an incredible day exploring one of the holiest places on the earth. I feel honoured to have visited Jerusalem and hope one day I can return to explore the city in more detail. The atmosphere I felt throughout the day was very mixed – at times people were so happy and kind, often showing humility and compassion. Yet at other times I certainly felt hostility and tension. Understandable for a city that has witnessed centuries of war, upheaval and pitched battles, but I guess this difficult, sacred history is what makes this place so special.