A page of Jerusalem’s history is written into nearly every building on and around King David. What better way to explore than on foot?
The best place to begin your walk down King David Street is where all of modern Jerusalem started – at the Montefiori windmill. As you enjoy the view of old and new Jerusalem, it might be hard to imagine that as late as 1860, this was the only structure standing outside the walled city. The windmill was named for the British Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiori, although the money for the purchase came from an American Jew, Judah Touro, who left $50,000 for the good of the Jews of Jerusalem. Montefiori was the executor of Touro’s estate. Touro did get the main street of the adjoining gentrified neighbourhood of Yemin Moshe named after him, which you’ll discover if you wander down that way.
Before returning to the busy King David, enjoy a saunter through the strip of public park that parallels the street. You’ll get a magnificent view of the Old City walls, from Jaffa Gate to Mount Zion. On a clear day, you can look eastward into the Judean Desert, and even the Mountains of Moab across the Dead Sea.
Aside from the usual assortment of trees and flowers there’s something you don’t find in every park: 2,000-year-old tombs. The grouping, known as Herod’s family tomb, looks like a cave cut into the rock in a way typical to multi-generational burial chambers of the wealthy at the time of the Second Temple.
Walk through the park until it connects with Emile Botta Street, which will lead you back to King David. First, you’ll pass the Pontifical Biblical Institute, built in 1927 in neo-Renaissance style. The institute has a small museum, where you can view a real Egyptian mummy.
Head to the entrance of the King David Hotel, built between 1929 and 1931 by the Egyptian Jewish Mouseri family. In 1938, the southern part of the hotel became an administrative centre for the British Mandate. You’ll see a hint of the trauma that struck the building July 22, 1946, when it was blown up by the underground army, the Etzel, in protest over British anti-Zionist policy killing 91 people.
Across the street is a YMCA that is like none other in the world. Its architect was Arthur Louis Harmon, who also designed the Empire State Building in New York City. If the King David is a near-Eastern festival, the “Y” is no less of a party, to which 2,000 years’ worth of architectural styles have been invited – from the Herodian-style masonry, to the red-and-beige interlocking stones typical of the 13th century Mamelukes, down to the Art-Deco angel that graces the main entry.
Continuing to walk down King David Street toward its junction with Agron Street, you’ll reach David’s Citadel, another luxurious Jerusalem hotel that has been giving the King David some stiff competition in recent years.
Before you get to David’s Citadel, however, bear left on to Ben Shimon Street. Another left past the Gesher Center (a seminar centre specializing in programming that bridges the Orthodox-secular divide) will lead you to a parking lot, at the far end of which is the World Center for the Heritage of North African Jewry. The interior has been renovated in Spanish-Moorish style, and the building’s piece-de-resistance is a magnificent clerestory, adorned with intricate wood and bas-relief plaster work, and mosaic baseboards and walls executed by builders who came from Morocco especially for the project. Rooms surrounding the clerestory are used for lectures and study sessions, as well as art and folklore exhibits, to honor the long and glorious history of North African Jewry, and educate future generations about it.
Where to next? Depending on time and inclination, you can cross Agron Street and walk though Independence Park to Solomon Street, and the restored Nahalat Shiva area of downtown Jerusalem, where fun shopping, good eating, and countless opportunities for people watching await. Or, you could turn right at Agron, and head toward the Jaffa Gate to explore the Old City markets.