Jerusalem is home to a myriad of hidden gems–any city that’s been in existence as long as Jerusalem under so many different rulers is bound to have both ancient and modern hidden spots worth exploring.
Here’s a first short-list of five must-see spots that will be conversation stoppers as you compare notes with other Jerusalem visitors or residents. In coming days we’ll profile more of these off-beat sites…
1. The Ades Synagogue in Nachlaot. Yes, there are hundreds of synagogues in Jerusalem, but few are as interesting as the intimate and richly decorated Ades synagogue that was founded by Jews fleeing the Syrian city of Aleppo. Enjoy the unique cantorial style of the prayers, the beauty of the inlaid mother-of-pearl furnishings and the chit chat of the members kibbitzing in the courtyard. Little-known outside the Syrian community since it’s hidden away on a pedestrian-only street in the central Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot. Not for you if just can’t bear to cover up your shorts and tank top.
2. The President’s Office on Mt Zion. A tiny, thick-walled, domed room on a rooftop of Mt Zion, packed with artifacts and bric a brac from Israel’s second President Yitzhak Ben Zvi. Open just once a week, this room on top of the Room of the Last Supper harks back to the time when Jordan occupied the Old City ( 1948-1967) and the Mt Zion area was the only place Jews could go to look over the Temple Mount and Western Wall. Israelis don’t like to be reminded of this period, so the spot fell off the tour guides list. The space is about the size of a large elevator, so don’t visit if you’re claustrophobic.
3. The Agnon House in Talpiyot. Home of Israeli author and Nobel laureate, S.Y. Agnon. Beautiful Bauhaus home complete with Agnon’s library and restored living quarters. Most people don’t think of Talpiyot as containing anything very interesting, so the Agnon House has remained largely undiscovered.
4. St. John’s Church in the Christian Quarter, Old City. Not to be confused with the St. John the Baptist Church in the Ein Kerem neighborhood. Step through the old iron gate off the bustle of Christian Quarter Road and you’re in a quiet flowery courtyard facing the oldest church in Jerusalem. It’s hard to find and not always open–but ask a merchant on the street outside and look for a monk inside and you won’t be disappointed. Don’t bother if you’re not impressed with yet another ancient church.
5. The Austrian Hospice. An oasis of European culture and gentility in the midst of the cacophony of sounds, sights and smells of the Old City. Hidden behind a set of forbidding-looking wooden doors at the edge of the Via Dolorosa, the Hospice does not look warm and inviting. Once you’re buzzed in, however, you’ll find the best place in Jerusalem to relax, meet fellow travelers and imbibe the house specialty, Viennese apple strudel with whipped cream–oh, and don’t forget the awesome 360 degree view from the rooftop. If you’re Euro-phobic, this is not the place for you.