Jerusalem is not exactly lacking in famous buildings. From the ancient to the ultra-modern, Israel’s capital is one of the most fascinating cities in the world for structures of every kind.
Two of the iconic buildings in the Old City that appear on every official photo and in every tourist’s photo album are the stunning Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall that’s part of the remains of the Second Temple built by King Herod.
The beauty of the Dome of the Rock, that was constructed in 691 CE by the Umayyad Caliph Abd el-Malik, shines over the Old City. With its gold dome and exquisite tile work, the shrine that was built over the rock where Abraham bound his son Isaac, forms the centerpiece of the Temple Mount.
Right below it, sits the western wall, the most holy site for Jews, since it is believed that the Divine Presence never left this mountain after the destruction of the Temple. Accessible 24-hours per day, the Western Wall is a place of prayer and contemplation, as well as the site for national ceremonies, such as Memorial Day and swearing-in ceremonies for Israeli soldiers.
Still in the Old City, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher ranks high in the famous building category. Identified by Queen Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, as Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, the Church as we see it today, was built over a tomb that forms the central part of the church today, the edicule. Most of what we see today at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built during the Crusader period in the 12th century. Renovations have gone on over the centuries and a visit to the famous church reveals architecture belonging to many periods and many branches of the church–Greek orthodox, Catholic, Ethiopian, Coptic.
A few minutes walk away in the main square of the Jewish Quarter is the magnificent and recently renovated Hurva Synagogue, that rises above the roofs of the Jewish Quarter as it did in the early 20th century before it was destroyed. It was known as the most magnificent and largest synagogue in Israel after it was built in 1864 on the ruins of the original Hurva Synagogue that was burned and looted by Arabs in 1721. After the second destruction (by occupying Jordanians in 1948) all that remained of the structure was an arch commemorating the shape of the roof. In 2010, the synagogue was restored to its pre-1948 glory, reopened and once again the beautiful white dome and colorful stained glass windows tower over the Jewish Quarter.
Outside the Old City, the most famous building is probably the YMCA on King David Street. Designed by Arthur Lewis Harman, who also designed the Empire State Building, the art deco style tower and auditorium are a landmark in the western part of the city. Be sure to take the elevator up the tower for a wonderful view of Jerusalem. On your way out, you may want to linger at the terrace cafe that overlooks the nicely kept grounds.