Jerusalem of gold, and of copper and of light
The rabbis of the Talmud wrote it, and every guidebook and tour operator repeats it: "Ten measures of beauty descended on the world; nine were taken by Jerusalem." Trite, perhaps. Immodest, certainly. Untrue? Well... not really. No matter what ill-advised (or painfully ironic) contemporary architectural claptrap the government flings skyward, the modest beauty of the olive-studded, elaborately terraced Judean mountains and the quiet grandeur of the ruins of glorious pasts remain unsullied. But even those aforementioned guidebooks and tour operators might not tell you where to go for the city's most spectacular vistas. That's what we're for. So get ready for Jerusalemite's definitive list of the best views of Jerusalem's Old City:
This is a vantage point so well-known that every person (or at least every cabbie and tour guide) in Jerusalem refers to it simply as "HaTayelet" ("The Promenade"). This is where every first-time visitor - from synagogue tour groups saying Shehecheyanu (the blessing over meriting to have achived benchmark experiences) to prayerful Christian Zionists and peace activists - comes to get a sense of Jerusalem in all her grandeur. The heart of the view is the distant glimmer of the Dome of the Rock and the entirety of the Old City's walls, but there's not much you can't see from the Haas Promenade. The sections of the Haas Promenade park that are highest in altitude and closest to the road and parking lot can sometimes bustle with tourists and families out on scenic constitutionals, so if you're looking for an opportunity for quiet contemplation, you might want to venture down into the terraced and beautifully landscaped lower sections (although this is not necessarily advisable after dark).
This is Jerusalem's other major tayelet, and a much quieter one than the Haas. The lookout point hugs the ridge of the upper slopes on Mount Scopus, directly below the Hebrew University campus at its peak, leading ultimately to the Arab neighborhood of A-Tur atop the Mount of Olives. Fittingly, the promenade offers an Old City view similar to that of its more crowded competition, but from the opposite direction. This is the view that gave Mount Scopus (Har HaTzofim, "Lookouts' Mountain") its name; from here, the legions of Titus camped and planned their siege of Jerusalem during the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 CE. When you visit, try to avoid similar plans.
It's all about the advantage of height with this Jerusalem view. While the Old City is the star of many a vantage point, the Austrian Hospice offers the best view of the most ancient section of Jerusalem from within. Perched high above the bustle, you can peer down into the winding alleys of the Christian and Muslim Quarters, and take in everything from the countless steeples and minarets to the not-so-distant Dome of the Rock. And when you're done, pop inside the cafe downstairs for some serious dessert options.
None other than Jesus himself famously scoped out Jerusalem from atop the headstone-strewn Mount of Olives, so there's plenty of historical precedent for Jerusalemites enjoying the view. Take the steep hike up to the top of the world's oldest and most densely-populated Jewish cemetery and behold an incredible panorama stretching from desert to Gehinnom to the Temple Mount to Mount Scopus. And try to ignore the pushy guys selling postcards and camel rides.
What better method could there be to finding the best Old City vistas than circling its perimeter at roof-level? At the paltry entrance fee of 14 NIS for adults and 7 NIS for children, the Ramparts Walk allows adventurous visitors to explore the Old City's various highlights, including the Arab market, the Lion's Gate plaza, the Church of the Dormition and residential clusters of the Armenian and Muslim Quarters. The ramparts allowed 16th-century Ottoman defenders of the city to peek out behind various specially designed nooks and counter-attack Jerusalem conquerer wannabes, so role playing fun for the entire family is also afoot here.
And that isn't all, of course. Honorable mentions go to the Kollek-initiated terraced sidewalks of Yemin Moshe; to anywhere in Ein Kerem for the unparalled Jerusalem hills vistas; to the Goldman Promenade at Armon HaNetziv; and to the roof of the Harry S. Truman building on Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus for a stunning panorama of Old City, new city and vacant desert (see if a Hebrew U friend will take you).
Photo of Jerusalem at sunset from Mount Scopus courtesy of mockstar from Flickr under a Creative Commons License; photo from the Haas Promenade courtesy of moomoobloo from Flickr under a Creative Commons License; photo from the Mount Scopus Promenade courtesy of MiKix by Mirella from Flickr under a Creative Commons License; photo from the Austrian Hospice's roof courtesy of delayed gratification from Flickr under a Creative Commons License; photo from the Mount of Olives courtesy of Ladyhawke from Flickr under a Creative Commons License; photo of the Ramparts by Ben Jacobson for Jerusalemite.