The Old City of Jerusalem and its walls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and therefore are subject to special preservation rules designed to present the city and its heritage to its visitors, while developing and upgrading it to the benefit of its residents. The Old City is the most visited place in Israel with about 10 million visitors each year.
A new accessibility plan costing over 20 million shekels was recently implemented by the East Jerusalem Development Company, with funding coming from the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Ministry of Tourism, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
It was an innovative and groundbreaking project that now enables the disabled to enjoy the historic and cultural wealth of the city. Among other things, four kilometers of streets in the Muslim, Armenian and Christian quarters were improved, and about 2 kilometers of handrails were installed. The project has also immeasurably improved the mobility, and therefore the quality of life, of residents living within the Old City's walls.
There are very few places in the world like Jerusalem's Old City, which is home to vast archaeological parks, some of the world's most important religious pilgrimage sites, and the day-to-day life of thousands of local residents. And Jerusalem is the first among them to undertake such a massive project to provide accessibility to all.
The improvements that were implemented will greatly ease congestion in the main streets and enable wheelchairs, strollers and those with other mobility aids to more easily access the city's tourist attractions.
The East Jerusalem Development Company also produced a printed accessibility orientation map, along with a dedicated mobile application in eight languages that enables real-time navigation inside the Old City.
In addition to these projects, complementary projects were undertaken to provide a holistic solution to the city's accessibility issue: The Old City can now be reached by means of the free P&R shuttle, which runs from the First Station Compound to the Dung Gate and back on a daily basis (Sunday through Thursday from 8:00 to 20:00, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 07:00, Friday – until one hour before Shabbat enters). The shuttle departs every 20 minutes, with an accessible shuttle for wheelchairs once an hour. The parking is on a daily basis (approx. NIS 17 per day).
At a ceremony marking the completion of the project, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said:
"The Old City of Jerusalem has been important to billions around the world for thousands of years. Today, I am proud to say that the Old City of Jerusalem is accessible to billions more. This accessibility project is unique to Jerusalem. Today, we are the leaders in accessibility and are paving the way for ancient cities around the world. Obviously, this was not an easy task. As you can see, the streets of the old city are steep, narrow and ancient, not designed for accessibility. Now, all visitors and residents can enjoy four kilometers of streets in the Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian quarters."
PHOTO: Mayor Moshe Lion (center) inaugurates the new accessibility routes in Jerusalem's Old City. (Rafi Ben Hakon)