Jerusalem offers free audio tours of Old City

Website with 10 ‘audio paths’ can be downloaded onto any mp3 device.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
February 14, 2011 05:40
3 minute read.
J'lem development authority director with Barkat

Barkat and Moshe Leon 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat unveiled a website on Sunday offering free downloads of audio guides for tours in the Old City, in an effort to help the more than a million tourists who come independent of any group or tour each year.

The guides were sponsored by the municipality, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Prime Minister’s Office.

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The 10 paths, organized by themes such as “On the Paths of Christianity,” “Markets” and “Zion to Ararat,” are available at www.jerusalemoldcity.org.il.

Tours are currently available in Hebrew and English, with plans for French, Russian and other languages. Tourists can also download maps and brochures with the same information.

“There’s no other city in the world like Jerusalem, which 3.5 billion religious people want to visit, especially the Old City and the Holy Basin,” Barkat said on Sunday.

Barkat noted that helping independent tourists navigate the city is part of his plan to increase visitors to Jerusalem from 3 million in 2010 to 10 million in 2020.

The new audio guides can be downloaded from the website onto any MP3 player, including cellphones with 3G capability. There are an additional five “accessible” routes that are appropriate for wheelchairs and those with disabilities.

Currently, about 35 percent of the visitors to Jerusalem are “independent tourists,” relying on books, word-of-mouth recommendations and information centers, according to Jerusalem Development Authority Director Moshe Leon. The authority is a semi public organization that deals with tourism in the Old City.

Oren Mor, the director of the Jaffa Gate Information Center, an initiative of the Tourism Ministry that is not connected to the audio guides, welcomed the audio guides and brochures as another way to help visitors understand the Old City.

“Someone going around the Old City without explanations doesn’t have the same experience, they can walk right by something without understanding the story behind it,” he told The Jerusalem Post. Mor said the lack of explanatory plaques and the high cost of private tour guides meant that many people were missing important historical aspects of the ancient city.

However, he said the audio guides are useful only to people who plan ahead, either at home or at their hotel, because there is no way to download the audio guide at the information center.

Tourists cannot connect their devices to the computers at the information center because they are linked to a secure government network.

Mor said he hopes to work out an agreement with the city to install a stand or extra computer where tourists can download the guides.

Caroline Denno, a tourist from England examining a well-thumbed copy of Lonely Planet: Jerusalem, said she wasn’t sure whether she’d rather use a book or an audio guide.

“It can be great for those who want to avoid a big group, because big groups can be quite staggering,” she said, adding that she and her husband enjoyed the guide book, which allowed them to jump around from site to site. “But with an audio guide, you can’t have a conversation, it’s kind of a tossup,” Denno said.

The audio tours feature between 10 and 15 shorts stops for short explanations, which can be played in any order.

“The idea is to present the Old City to the maximum amount of tourists,” Jerusalem Development Authority CEO Moti Hazan told the Post. “Yes, other companies have audio guides, but we wanted to give it away for free.”


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