By Daniela Berretta | 2013-1-5 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
NO other city in the world exudes spirituality and inspires devotion like Jerusalem, home to important shrines of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Virtually every stone of the walled fortress-like Old City seems to tell the story of a biblical figure or battle.
But Jerusalem's impossible beauty has broad appeal beyond religion or history. For residents and tourists, secular or pious, city slickers or nature lovers, there is always an unexplored alleyway, corner or vista to show the city as you've never seen it before. And many of these sites are free.
Jerusalem's most famous holy sites are inside the Old City walls, past a maze of alleys, bustling marketplaces and wide squares.
The Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif (in Arabic, the Noble Sanctuary), is famous but controversial. The hilltop compound is the holiest site in Judaism, believed to be where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac, and where the First and Second Temples were built. The Temple Mount includes the Western Wall, last remnant of the Second Temple built by King Herod in the first century. Jews gather here to pray and leave notes between the stones.
The compound contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque and gold-capped Dome of the Rock, one of Jerusalem's most recognizable symbols. This is Islam's third-holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. This is where Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven.
A short walk away is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest of Christian sites. It is said to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion (the Golgotha) and burial.
The site, built by Emperor Constantine in AD 325, was destroyed in the 11th century and restored by Crusaders a century later.
Despite crowds, it offers plenty of corners for solitary prayer and meditation.
Mahane Yehuda market
With pushy crowds, spiced fragrances, deafening shouts and melting pot of people, this market is a metaphor for Jerusalem.
The 19th-century "shuk" or market in central West Jerusalem and is a place to shop, hang out, sip coffee and eat delicious world food.
Get lost in countless food stalls featuring colorful produce, sweet halva, fish mongers, international wines and cheese. Recent gentrification has drawn pottery stores, coffee shops and small restaurants from Middle Eastern to Ethiopian to Italian cuisine. Bars open when the stalls close. On Monday nights, one bar offers dance music, letting you wrap your "shuk" day with tired, happy feet.
The Mormon university
On Mt Scopus below Hebrew University, Brigham Young University's center for study in Jerusalem - which belongs to the Utah-based Mormon Church - gives free tours of its impressive building and concert hall, including stunning views of the holy city. Each of the 1987 edifice's 117 tall arches offers a sweeping vista of the biblical Kidron Valley and Old City landmarks. Guided tours include a short video and live 10-minute classical music performance on a pipe organ, said to be the largest in the Middle East, producing cathedral-like sounds. There's free classical music on Sundays and jazz concerts on selected Thursdays on a rose-garden terrace.
From the hotel, walk toward the Old City through Saladin Street, the heart of Arab East Jerusalem. Browse through bookshops and clothing stores or stop at the French Institute's pink stone building before reaching Damascus Gate. Called Bab el-Amoud in Arabic, this may be the most beautiful of Jerusalem's entrances to the Old City, built in the Ottoman era by Suleiman the Magnificent.
Damascus Gate offers a glimpse of Palestinian life, with women wearing traditional embroidered dresses shopping for groceries or selling vegetables along the entrance road.
The scent of sage, cardamom and cumin fill the air around brightly colored stalls selling food, clothes and perfumes.