From Pilgrims to Tourists: The Evolution of Guesting in Jerusalem

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Jennifer Evans — the Hexagoni content manager

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Jerusalem, a crossroads of faith, history, and culture, has been hosting visitors for millennia. From the ancient pilgrims seeking spiritual solace to modern tourists with cameras and guidebooks, the concept of “guesting” in this venerable city has transformed over the ages. And as the needs of these visitors evolved, so did the lodgings that accommodated them. Today, hotels in Jerusalem are a testament to the city’s ability to merge its deep-rooted traditions with contemporary comforts.

Ancient Hospices and Caravanserais

Centuries ago, Jerusalem’s first “hotels” were nothing like the modern establishments we’re familiar with today. Pilgrims journeying on foot or by camel sought refuge in hospices or caravanserais – simple structures that offered a safe place to rest, often around a central courtyard. These were places of community, where travelers from distant lands exchanged tales beside a shared hearth.

Medieval Pilgrim Houses

As religious tourism grew, especially during the medieval period, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim pilgrims converged on Jerusalem, each with their unique needs. Various religious orders established pilgrim houses, offering more structured accommodations. These lodgings often provided not just a bed, but also spiritual guidance and communal prayers.

Ottoman-era Inns

During the Ottoman period, trade and travel flourished. With it came a demand for more sophisticated guest houses. These inns, located strategically around the city, often boasted multiple floors, private rooms, and even rudimentary amenities. Here, traders and travelers could negotiate deals or simply savor a well-deserved respite from their journey.

The Birth of Modern Hotels in Jerusalem

The late 19th and early 20th centuries marked a significant shift. Western travelers, fascinated by the allure of the Holy Land, began arriving in greater numbers. Sensing an opportunity, the first modern hotels in Jerusalem sprang up, catering to these new guests who sought both comfort and a touch of luxury. The King David Hotel, established in the 1930s, epitomized this trend, offering a blend of opulence and history that attracted royalty, diplomats, and celebrities.

Contemporary Hospitality

Today, when one mentions “hotels in Jerusalem,” images of luxury suites, rooftop restaurants overlooking the ancient city, and spas offering Dead Sea treatments might come to mind. While the hospitality sector has expanded to accommodate the global traveler’s every whim, many hotels in Jerusalem still ensure they echo the city’s rich history in their architecture, decor, and even cuisine.

The evolution of guesting in Jerusalem is more than just a tale of bricks and mortar. It’s a reflection of the city’s timeless allure, its adaptability, and its enduring spirit of hospitality. Whether you’re a pilgrim seeking spiritual elevation or a tourist chasing historical wonders, Jerusalem’s accommodations, old and new, stand ready to welcome you with open arms.

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