Sunday, November 21, 2010

Old vs. New, Tradition vs. Modern

Part of living in Jerusalem has me realizing that I am watching the recreation of a city before my eyes. Likely, when you first think of Jerusalem and when you initially roll the city's name across your tongue, images of ancient ruins, religious icons and dilapidated buildings come to mind. To an extent, this is true; however, it seems that Jerusalem is also literally revamping itself before our watchful eyes. Surely, if it has been over ten years since your last visit to the holy land, you would be dumbfounded to see the increasing number of modern surroundings that are slowly but surely populating, and might I say overwhelming, the ancient city. It has me imagining that in a mere fifty years, Jerusalem may turn itself into quite the modern, sophisticated city. And it is already well on it's way. It has sort of a "Rome" quality to it, with ancient structures beginning to stand side by side to outstanding, mind-boggling luxury. If my prediction is right, soon enough, the modern touches will supercede the historic ones, turning Jerusalem into a truly first class city.

Map of Jerusalem's Old City
Take for example the old city adjacent to the newly established Mamilla Mall. Jerusalem's old city is unquestionably one of the holiest and most historic areas on planet Earth. Divided unevenly between four distinct sections, this walled area is just 1-square kilometer in size and is home to four of the most diverse religious and ethnic populations in the world (mind you, living side by side): the Muslim quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter and the Armenian quarter. The Muslim quarter contains the famed Dome of the rock and Al-Aqsa mosque; while the Jewish quarter is home to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall for Jews. The Christian quarter contains the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, and the smallest quarter, the Armenian quarter, is home to some 2,000 Armenian Christians who live within the compound surrounding the church. 

The markets leading into the Old City
Arriving at the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter
Men's side of the Western Wall
That's me with the Western Wall in the background
Now, for some history. Until the 1860's, this small area that houses four of the most sacrosanct entities on Earth, constituted the entirety of what was the city of Jerusalem, hence it now being dubbed, "the old city". The partitions within the old city came about in the 19th century, and it was not until 1948 that things began to change. It was at this time  that the United Nations established the state of Israel by virtue of a majority vote, and control of the old city actually went to the state of Jordan. It was not until nearly 20 years later, after the hand-to-hand combat that characterized the 1967 6-day war (in which Rafi's father fought), that control was turned back over to Israel. In 1980, Jordan proposed that the old city be added to the world's list of UNESCO world heritage sites, and in 1982, Jordan then insisted it be added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in danger. Nearly thirty years have passed since that time, and arguably, four very different cultures have learned to live side by side in one of the most richly diverse areas on the planet.

Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter
Armenian boys in the Armenian Quarter
Christians in the Christian Quarter
Palestinian Muslims in the Muslim Quarter

Mamilla Hotel (adjacent to Mamilla Mall)
Now, next to this ancient city with it's rich history, is an unexpectedly modern masterpiece. The Mamilla Mall, a $150 million dollar outdoor pedestrian mall, is a sophisticated and modern area directly adjacent to the old city and is home to international brands of the highest calibre, expensive restaurants, coffee shops and luxury hotels and boutiques. It is a see-and-be-seen area filled with wealthy travelers, embassy and consulate professionals and even a mix of religious folk who can't seem to resist it. Such modern amenities have attracted the development of fine homes, wealthy buyers, and a luxurious collection of hotels, expanding the modernity of the surrounding area. In this area, you can stay at hotels with five-stars and up, including the famous David Citadel Hotel, the luxurious Mamilla Hotel and the soon-to-be-opened elegant Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem. Yes, that's right, a Waldorf-Astoria! I told you, the city is truly revamping it's image from ancient, to what I might call "ancient-modern-chic".

Arriving at Mamilla Mall
Inside the indoor shopping mall
Steps leading down from the old city to Mamilla Mall
One of many fine restaurants, with a view to boot
At the far end of the mall (steps lead up to the walled old city entrance)
Money continues to pour in, making Mamilla a prime peace of real estate that is only getting more and more valuable as the days go on. The Mamilla area now trumps that of the old city in terms of size, and this example of old vs. new is a symbol of what is happening all throughout the city of Jerusalem, a city nearly 50-square kilometers in size and home to approximately 1-million people. It begs the question: If the Mamilla vs. the old city example is one mere instance of many more, and if the vast contrast serves as evidence of what's to come, what do you imagine Jerusalem will look like in 50 or 100 years time? Perhaps my prediction of a sleek and modern, sophisticated city, filled with  clean, first-class projects and cutting-edge fashion will indeed become a reality as 'the new' begins to equate to, and perhaps even trump, 'the old'. While I cannot speak to the opinions of the uber-religious who house and inhabit the old city, when it comes to me and my opinion, I sure like the sound of that. 

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