Today I walked through some of the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem. The only word that can adequately describe the experience is “intoxicating”. I refer to the many busy, crowded alleyways, lined on both sides with small shops, creating a labyrinth of commerce, life, hustle and bustle.
The sights – the congestion of shops, some barely street fronts, others penetrating deeper, back into further show rooms, where owners and their families once used to be born, live and die; the variety of street stalls, the diverse array of goods – plastic, clothes, souvenirs, food, restaurants, butchers, spices, vegetables, household goods, sacred icons, music CDs, mobile phones, money changers, jewellry, tourist guides ….; small vehicles, motorised or hand-held, wending through the narrow streets bringing replenishment supplies to the shops and taking rubbish out; the ancient pavement stones, polished smooth from the daily passage of hundreds of passers-by over many centuries; antiquity heavy in the atmosphere.
The mixture of peoples – vendors, buyers, tourists, locals, all jostling with one another to pass by; Jewish, Christian and Muslim citizens going about their business, passing from one quarter to another; overseas Christian pilgrims praying at sites along the Via Dolorosa; black-robed, bearded, Greek Orthodox priests; black-suited, black-fedora- hatted, Orthodox Jews with ringlets of hair from their forelocks; Russian Jews with large fur hats; Muslim men in neck to toe gowns; Muslim women in burqas; Israeli defence force personnel with their array of weapons; young secular people in t-shirts and jeans ….
The colours are vibrant: clothes, merchandise, buntings, souvenirs, flags …
The sounds are penetrating: shopkeepers inviting you in “just to look”!; people calling out greetings, music blaring, Quranic chanting on radio and TV, snatches of conversations from passersby in Hebrew, Arabic, French, Russian, English and many other languages.
The smells of spice and incense and bread and other food is exotic and enticing, along with less savoury smells!
Definitely, the only word to describe it is “intoxicating”.
It is reminiscent of the Old City of Lahore, the Grand Souq in Istanbul, both of which I have experienced, or the Bazaar in Teheran (which I have only seen in photos), all trading centres of the ancient world and still vibrant market places today.
As I wrote above, “Definitely, the only word to describe it is “intoxicating”. I hope the photos have given you some impression.
Shalom, Peace, Salaam