Visits to east Jerusalem sites up dramatically

28% growth reported in number of visitors to historical sites in and around Old City's walls during first six months of 2008.

Damascus gate 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of Moshe Michaeli )
Damascus gate 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of Moshe Michaeli )
The Company for the Development of East Jerusalem reported 28 percent growth in the number of visitors to the historical sites in and around the Old City's walls during the first six months of 2008. "More Israelis have rediscovered Jerusalem this year and they visit it more frequently then they used to do in the past," Gideon Shamir, the company's director-general, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. During the first half of the year, 143,967 people visited the Ophel Archeological Park, situated at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, a 24% rise over the same period in 2007, the company said. The Old City Ramparts saw 74,728 people walk on them from January to June, a up 29% from the same months in 2007. Both sections of the Promenade begin at the Jaffa Gate; one route passes through the New Gate, Herod's Gate and the Lions' Gate (aka St. Stephen's Gate), and the other stretches from Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate. Since January 1, 5,549 people visited Zedekiah's Cave, which was opened to the public in April 2007. During nine months of activity in 2007 the cave was toured by 9,356 people; visits during April to June 2008 are up 86% from the same period last year. Zedekiah's Cave, also known as Solomon's Quarries, is a 9,000 sq.m. limestone quarry that runs 300 meters under the Muslim Quarter from Damascus Gate to the Via Dolorosa Muslim Quarter. It was carved over several thousand years and is a remnant of the biggest quarry in Jerusalem. The entrance is just beneath the Old City wall, between the Damascus and Herod Gates. According to Rashi, during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE, King Zedekiah of Judea escaped through this cave to Jericho. Archeologists think it used to reach the Temple Mount and that stones were first quarried in the cave during the First Temple period. Another Old City historical site that recently opened to the public is the Roman Square in front of Damascus Gate; it was probably built during 117-138 CE. Overseas visitors to Israel are set to reach a record 2.8 million in 2008, but Shamir attributes the growth in tourism to east Jerusalem to improved security and service and, of course, the historical interest of the sites, but more than anything to the progress in cleaning of the entire area within the walls. "This project has been conducted for the past few months and only now we are starting to see its results. We hope it will be completed by the High Holy Days," he said. "The company hired the services of a private contractor instead of the municipality's cleaning services. The contractor is in charge of replacing and improving facilities in the streets of the Old City, which is a complicated mission mainly because of the narrow streets, the bad sewage systems and the different cleaning habits among the residents and merchants there," Shamir said.