The Ups and Downs of Jerusalem

Jerusalem, as seen from Har Herzl

The ups and downs of Jerusalem do not refer to the advantages and disadvantages of living in the capital city, but to its geography. Jerusalem is in the Harei Yehuda, the Mountains of Judea, and its geography reflects that. Even the language reflects it–we ascend to the Temple Mount, because it is the high point in the Old City, surrounded by valleys. The whole Old City is surrounded by valleys–the Hinnom Valley on the southwest and the  Kidron Valley on the east. At one time a third valley–the Central, or Tyropean–ran through the middle of the city, but it was filled in a few thousand years ago.

When I first heard the story of Bat Sheva and King David, I wondered what the King was doing up on his roof when he “accidentally” saw Bat Sheva in her bath. Then I visited the City of David, and saw how it is situated on the hill going down into the valley. From the street, we looked down on people’s roofs (on one roof, several goats were happily munching on greens). No special effort was needed–King David could have seen dozens of his subjects on their roofs not just from his own roof, but probably from his basement windows as well, if he had a basement, and if it had windows.

King David’s 3000 year old neighborhood isn’t the only one in which one can look out on his neighbors’ roofs. In some areas, one enters apartment buildings on the street level, and then have to figure out if you need to go up or down to arrive at your destination. When we visited friends last year, after entering the building from the street, we went down to their apartment on the third floor. From their balcony we could see almost the whole city laid out below us, including the roof of Teddy Stadium.

Walking through the city one can get a good aerobic workout–I don’t think I’ve walked more than three blocks

A stairway-street in Har Nof section of Jerusalem

without going uphill or downhill. And some streets are too narrow or too steep to be called streets–they are stairways, sometimes so steep one wonders if they would be acceptable to building inspectors if they were inside

buildings instead of outside. Someone in my Ulpan class reported that there are 150 steps from the street above down to the school–she’s had plenty of time to count them in the months she’s been studying here.

My personal goal is to be able to walk up from the bank to our apartment without having to stop to catch my breath. I decided on that goal on our first trip back from the bank–in the first block I had to stop twice, and then two more times in the next five blocks. I’ve got that down to two pauses for breath, so it’s an achievable goal. Then maybe I’ll be ready to tackle the stairs from the Western Wall up to the Old City–there are close to 200 of them.