published by www.Jewish.Travel, the new
online travel magazine
The Holy City of
Jerusalem, sacred to the world’s three great monotheistic religions, naturally
attracts millions of tourists every year. Most cities whose economy thrives on
tourism have double-decker buses that follow circular routes with stops at all
the major sightseeing attractions; Jerusalem is no exception. The Egged bus
company’s Route 99 runs in a two hour loop through both East and West
Jerusalem, with a hop-on, hop-off feature enabling passengers to get on and off
throughout the day. A taped audio guide in eight languages enhances the
impressive visual experience.
Click photo to download. Caption: Jerusalem’s light rail on the Chords Bridge. Credit: Matanya/Wikimedia Commons.
While certainly recommended to any tourist as an excellent introduction to the
city, Jerusalem’s Route 99 has a particular problem: a great part of downtown
has been off-limits to vehicular traffic since the new light rail system was
inaugurated in 2012. Fortunately, Jerusalem’s light rail is now a terrific
complement to the round-robin bus tour—and quite a bit cheaper.
For 6.60 shekels ($1.90), one can buy a ticket that is good for 90 minutes on
the train; passengers can “jump on and jump off” at will during this time
period, your ticked must be validated when on the train. Since the light rail
is meant primarily for residents and commuters, there is obviously no audio
guide. But any decent guidebook—or downloadable city guide app—will explain the
sights along the route.
The line—controversial during its construction, because of the years-long
disruption to daily life and enormous cost overruns—is 8.6 miles long, with 23
stops between Mount Herzl, in the city’s southwest, and Pisgat Ze’ev, a
northeastern Jewish suburb built on land liberated by Israel in the wake of the
Six-Day War. Thus, it also serves the Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem, as
the tracks wend their way past the Old City walls on the way to Jaffa Street,
in the heart of West Jerusalem’s city center; station names are announced in
Hebrew, Arabic and English, as they scroll across LED screens in the cars—in
the same three languages. Trams are air conditioned, with large windows.
The section of the light rail which most interests tourists extends between
Mount Herzl—Israel’s equivalent of Arlington Cemetery, also adjacent to Yad
Vashem, the international Holocaust Museum—and Mount Scopus, the famous Har
HaTzofim, with its spectacular views of the Old City. A round-trip between the
two ends of this stretch takes about one hour and forty minutes.
Starting from the Mount Scopus end, the train passes Ammunition Hill, site of
one of the fiercest battles of the Six-Day War, fought in June 1967. It is now
one of several official memorials symbolizing the reunification of Jerusalem.
Battleground fortifications have been preserved, and an underground museum
honoring the fallen tells the story of the savage fighting.
Next comes Shimon HaTzadik station, named for the location of the tomb of a
High Priest during the time of the Second Temple. Shimon HaTzadik Street is now
a “restaurant row” of good Arab eating establishments and bars—where many young
Jewish Israelis come to smoke water pipes.