From the shiny, golden Dome of the Rock to the ancient Old City with its centuries-old churches, the architecture of Jerusalem is as vast and diverse as its history. Certainly, the city is filled with an incredible array of buildings that will thrill and inspire architecture enthusiasts, from the amateurs to the most advanced. Here are the most beautiful architectural wonders in Jerusalem.
You can now explore the Old City of Jerusalem with locals as part of Culture Trip’s seven-day small-group Israel trip.
Dome of the Rock
Typical photos of Jerusalem showcase the striking golden dome of this mosque, but there is much more to the Dome of the Rock than its dome. It was built at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik between 689CE and 691CE on the Temple Mount, or Al Haram al-Sharif, which is thought to be the site of the Second Jewish Temple. It is also the location of the Foundation Stone, which is a holy place for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Dome of the Rock, heavily influenced by Byzantine and Roman architecture, is luxuriously adorned with 45,000 blue and gold tiles, painted wood, mosaics, carved stone and carpets. The construction of the Dome of the Rock marked the emergence of the Islamic style, especially with later additions by the Ottoman Empire. To this day it retains most of its original structure and decoration.
Considered to be Golgotha, the place of Jesus’s crucifixion as well as his burial, the first church on this site in the present-day Christian Quarter is believed to have been built by Emperor Constantine I in approximately 325CE. It has undergone destructions, reconstructions and renovations throughout the centuries, but the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that stands today is mainly from the Crusaders’ reconstruction in 1149CE. Only somewhat appealing on the outside, the truly eye-catching architecture is on the inside, with an interesting mix of styles including Romanesque, Byzantine and gothic. It also has Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian Orthodox influences, which is evident in the stunning ornamentation and artwork of the numerous chapels inside.
The Hurva Synagogue (or The Ruin Synagogue) was rebuilt in 2010 in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, originally founded by followers of Yehuda Ha-Chassid in the early 18th century only to be destroyed in 1721 and then rebuilt in 1864 by the Perushim, disciples of the Vilna Gaon. It was the primary Ashkenazic synagogue in Jerusalem, as well as the tallest Jewish landmark in the city, until its destruction in 1948 by the Arab Legion. It wasn’t reconstructed until 2010 by architect Nahum Meltzer, who rebuilt it in the original 19th-century style with the intention of recapturing the glory and extravagance of the old synagogue.
Jerusalem International YMCA
You can’t miss this towering gem on King David Street. Designed by architect Arthur Louis Harmon, designer of the Empire State Building, the YMCA was built with a vision of peace and unity among people of different religions and politics. The building was intended to pay homage to early Jewish, Christian and Muslim architecture and combines a unique blend of Byzantine, gothic, neo-Moorish and Romanesque architecture. The Islamic and Christian elements are particularly evident in the ceilings of the main lounge, as well as the large dome and arabesques in the entrance hall. Don’t just walk by – go inside and see one of the most beautiful YMCA buildings in the world.
For the bauhaus lovers out there, this one’s for you. Designed in the 1930s by renowned architect Leopold Krakauer, this white concrete house was built for a physician’s family in Rechavia in the centre of Jerusalem. The flat roof and narrow window are signatures of the bauhaus (or International style) and this is one of only a couple dozen bauhaus buildings in Jerusalem. It’s now a branch of Bank Leumi.
Ramot Polin Apartments
After the Six-Day War, the Housing Ministry sponsored the construction of neighbourhoods in the newly conquered territories. They desired distinctive local perspectives and designs, supporting the work of architects such as Ram Carmi and Abraham Yask, putting them in charge of creating new neighbourhoods for Jerusalem. Ramot was one such neighbourhood, which modernist architect Zvi Hecker had a hand in designing in the 1970s. Hecker’s Ramot Polin neighbourhood is home to the apartment complex that has been labelled one of the strangest buildings in the world – and at the very least, it is definitely provocative. Hecker, inspired by geometrical shapes, created the apartment complex that is casually referred to as the Beehive.
The Supreme Court complex in Jerusalem was designed by brother and sister architects Ram Karmi and Ada Karmi-Melamede. It comprises three main sections including a square library wing, a rectangular administrative wing and a courtyard wing, all situated around a series of courtyards. The architectural influences range from Herodian to modern and the building experiments in many contrasting angles, lights and materials. Though it is a functioning public building, it offers guided tours in many languages.
Construction of Safra Square, the location of Jerusalem’s city hall, began in 1988 with the help of Jewish philanthropist Edmond Safra, in honour of his parents, Jacob and Esther. Built near the old British municipal building, the new municipality blends postmodern architecture with a more traditional Mamluk style, using smoked glass, steel and interchanging bands of red and white limestone. Below ground level, many 19th-century public and private buildings are interconnected with new ones. The square itself is used for events and activities and is lined by palm trees.
Bridge of Strings
Designed by Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, the Bridge of Strings, also known as the Chords Bridge, is used by Jerusalem Light Rail’s Red Line and is one of the first noticeable structures upon entering the western side of Jerusalem. The most prominent feature of the bridge is the 118m (387ft) mast bolstered by 66 cables, which lends it the appearance either of King David’s harp, which was Calatrava’s intention, or in others’ eyes, an arrow in a bow. It is built mainly of Jerusalem stone, with trimmings of glass, steel and concrete and is the tallest structure in Jerusalem.
Mercaz Shimshon – Beit Shmuel
Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, a distinguished architect in the world and particularly in Israel, designed Beit-Shmuel in 1986 as the headquarters of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. In 2011, he added the more luxurious part of Mercaz Shimshon, which is home to luxurious guesthouses and a banquet hall. The Mercaz Shimshon-Beit Shmuel complex has a number of functions that span the educational and cultural fields, containing hostel rooms, classrooms, administrative offices, a banquet hall and a theatre. The banquet hall, on the roof, has a glass dome with a panoramic view of the Old City and can be seen from the walkway to Jaffa Gate.
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