Jerusalem's once roaring basket market, the Suq El Hussor, is gone, but you can still find a few locally made, primitive olive-twig baskets, a Jerusalem and regional tradition that is thousands of years old. At press time, the only shop where a few real olive-twig baskets could be found was a small hole-in-the-wall place on the right side of Christian Quarter Road in the Old City, between David Street and St. Helena Street. The owner, a small man with a small mustache, is one of the toughest bargainers in town. Rough, almost bird's nest-like in texture, these baskets look great when filled with dried flowers, fresh fruit, yarn, or almost anything else. Don't pay more than NIS 30 to NIS 40 ($7.50-$10/£3.75-£5) for a basket with a handle, the kind used by country women to collect fresh grapes or figs. Bigger traylike baskets, the kind women in the markets carry on their heads, should cost NIS 45 to NIS 80 ($11-$20/£5.60-£10).
Most bookstores carrying a selection of books in English are within 2 blocks of Zion Square. Look for the well-stocked Steimatzky chain, with its main branch at 39 Jaffa Road (at Zion Square). It sells a good selection of new and remaindered English- and foreign-language periodicals, books, and guidebooks to various regions of the country. Prices are high, but look for interesting remainder tables.
For used books, Sefer Ve Sefel Bookshop (4 Yavetz St., upstairs; tel. 02/624-8237) has the largest selection of English-language fiction in town, and current guidebooks. The Book Gallery/Books on Schatz (6 Schatz St., off King George St., a block south of Hillel St.) is extremely well stocked, with vast subterranean browsing rooms and provides a few armchairs to encourage reading while you browse. Clal Center Bookstore (97 Jaffa Rd.) has a good, interesting stock of quality used English books. Tmol Shilshom Bookstore Café (in a rear courtyard off 5 Yoel Salomon St.; tel. 02/623-2758) has a small, eclectic collection of new and used books and magazines and remains open until midnight; it’s mainly a cafe/restaurant with a wonderful program of readings and live music. The Bookshelf (2 Jewish Quarter Rd.; tel. 02/627-3889), in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, has especially helpful management. Stein Books (52 King George St.; tel. 02/624-7877) specializes in Jewish studies. The American Colony Hotel Bookshop, at the American Colony Hotel, stocks works by many Middle Eastern writers and hosts publishing parties and talks by Palestinian, Israeli, and international writers.
Tourist Shops in West Jerusalem
You'll find interesting items in Judaica and tourist shops all over the Ben-Yehuda Mall area and in Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox part of West Jerusalem that begins about 1km (1/2 mile) north of Zion Square. Remember that bargaining (or politely asking for a discount) has become customary in most of these shops, and that prices for identical and nearly identical items can vary greatly from store to store. For this reason, many of Jerusalem's tourist/Judaica stores display signs that say in Hebrew, if not English: NO REFUNDS, RETURNS, OR EXCHANGES. So, comparison shop before making a purchase: Once you buy it, it's yours.
The outer walls of the Dome of the Rock are covered with turquoise and cobalt-blue ceramic tiles in the Persian tradition. Two world-famous Armenian pottery workshops, the Karakashian family’s Jerusalem Pottery and the Balian family’s Palestinian Armenian Pottery, listed below, were brought to Jerusalem at the start of the British Mandate in order to maintain the Dome of the Rock’s lavish facade. Their traditional Anatolian hand-painted ceramics have come to be regarded as a national treasure: They’ve had exhibitions in Israeli and world museums, and in 2004 the State of Israel honored them with a series of commemorative postage stamps.
Jerusalem is not a style-conscious town -- too many centuries of railing prophets and holy wars have seen to that -- but there are some Tel Aviv designers with downtown Jerusalem shops worth browsing. Check Dorin Frankfurt (36 Jaffa Rd.; tel. 02/624-2138), known for classic clothing with elegant, relaxed lines; Naama Bezalel (26 King George St.; tel. 02/622-3479), for a line dotted with romantic details and a bit of 1950s and 1960s nostalgia; or Kedem Sasson (21 King George St.; tel. 02/625-2602), where the style hallmark is a combination of boldness and comfort.
The Old City Market
A major attraction for visitors, the Old City markets have many shops offering such local products as olive-wood chess and nativity sets, rosaries, carved camels, boxes, and olive-wood Christmas tree ornaments—a great buy at about two for NIS 16. You’ll also find heavy, hand-blown, bubble-filled glassware from Hebron, inlaid wooden boxes from Egypt and Syria, mother-of-pearl objects from Jordan, dramatic Palestinian embroidery, new and inexpensive imitations of antique Bedouin, Yemenite, and Bedouin-style jewelry, and locally made leather goods. Tip: The markets are filled with all kinds of Arabic desserts, spices, and snacks, all of which should be part of the Old City experience!
Old tribal Bedouin flat-weave rugs and weavings can be found in a few shops in the Arab bazaar around the Christian Quarter Road. Made of wool, goat, or camel hair, these tribal pieces represent one of the world's great remaining national crafts. In older, more expensive pieces, look for bold diamond patterns and rich, subdued reds, browns, yellows, and oranges made from natural dyes of henna, pomegranate, saffron bark, and leaves from desert plants. Newer pieces often tend to bright reds and other hard colors, but are still very attractive. The shop of Mr. Maazen Kaysi (no sign), with a plate-glass show window and a recessed entrance on the right side of the Christian Quarter Road (just past the first pedestrian street turning on the right as you come from David St.), has the finest and largest selection of Bedouin weavings and rugs. He also often obtains interesting kilims bought from new Israeli immigrants from central Asia as well as hand-embroidered Romanian peasant blouses bought from Romanian pilgrims. Prices are high, but bargain. For genuine primitive tools, antique rustic artifacts, caftans, woven and embroidered antique textiles, and Druze basketry, check out the unique Ghassan Abdeeh, 25 Aqbat al Khanka Rd. (go to end of Christian Quarter Rd., turn right onto Al Khanka). It's on the left as you go downhill.
The shops dealing in ancient antiquities are fascinating, but unless you're an expert, judge any object you may want to purchase in terms of its decorative value rather than its alleged age or rarity.
In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, one of my favorite shops for old objects and Judaica is Mansour Saidian (no sign), opposite the Mizrachi Bank on the corner of Tiferet Israel Street. There's always a selection of 19th-century European and Iranian kiddush cups and old menorahs stashed away among the cases of newer objects and jewelry. Bargain!
The Old City Oil Press Art Gallery (33 Jewish Quarter Rd.), is interesting for its large, unusual collection of jewelry and other objects that incorporate old pieces of Roman glass. There's also contemporary Judaica, paintings, sculpture, and prints.
The Art of Bargaining
If you find something you like you must bargain for it. The main rules are to be courteous and keep your cool. Appear politely unsure the object is something you really want. It often helps if you’re with a friend who pretends you’re late for a bus or an appointment—you might even pretend to walk away. If a merchant doesn’t come down on his price, don’t panic and pay full price. On the other hand, never back a merchant into a corner: Never argue: “$25? I saw the same thing on Ben-Yehuda Street for $5!” This leaves the merchant no honorable alternative but to say, “Okay, go to Ben-Yehuda Street!” The chance is that you’ll find the same thing or something similar close by; if not, if you leave gracefully, you can always come back and try again. Much depends on how badly the merchant needs to convert some of his stock to cash on the day of your visit. If nothing else, after a few hours of browsing and bargaining, you’ll have a new appreciation for the intricacies of the Middle East peace process.
Old tribal Bedouin flat-weave rugs and weavings can be found in a few shops in the Arab bazaar around the Christian Quarter Road. In older, more expensive pieces, look for bold diamond patterns and rich, subdued reds, browns, yellows, and oranges made from natural dyes of henna, pomegranate, saffron bark, and leaves from desert plants. Newer pieces tend to bright reds and other hard colors, but are still attractive. The shop of Mr. Maazen Kaysi (no sign), with a plate-glass show window and a recessed entrance on the right side of the Christian Quarter Road (just past the first pedestrian street turning on the right as you come from David St.), has the finest and largest selection of Bedouin weavings and other rugs. The shops dealing in ancient antiquities are fascinating, but unless you’re an expert, judge any object you may want to purchase in terms of its decorative value rather than its alleged age or rarity.
In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, a good shop for old objects and Judaica is Mansour Saidian (sign may say Old City Antiques), opposite the Mizrachi Bank on the corner of Tiferet Israel Street. There’s always a selection of real 19th-century European and Iranian kiddush cups and old menorahs stashed away among the cases of newer objects and jewelry. These treasures are often a bargain.
Antique Palestinian embroidered robes (among the world’s great still-existing national costumes) hang from the doors of many shops in the Old City bazaar. Red, rose, and scarlet on hand-woven black cloth are the preferred colors, stemming from a tradition that goes back almost 3,000 years to the centuries when the prophets warned against women who sewed with scarlet threads of vanity. Many embroidery designs can be traced back to patterns introduced by the Crusaders. Prices for a caftan will range into the hundreds of dollars. The shop of Maher Natsheh (10 Christian Quarter Rd.) is noted for antique and old textiles. Here are some other outlets:
In addition, the following two church-supported nonprofit shops offer a dazzling array of freshly made, exotic new embroideries all done by specially trained women who are working to support their families. Quality is assured, and prices at these shops are extremely fair.
A number of venerable, family-run photography studios on Al Khanka Street in the Old City have gone through their archives and are now selling fascinating, often very beautiful reprints of views of Jerusalem (and the entire region) from the first half of the 20th century. Kevork Kahvedjian, of Elia Photo Service (14 Al Khanka St.), has published a striking book, “Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes,” containing over a half-century of his father’s photographic work at the Elia Studio. A few doors down, you’ll find the Varouj Photography Studio, also selling remarkable matted reproductions of Old Jerusalem scenes from their archives for about NIS 80, many taken with an eye for the poetry of Old Jerusalem. To get to Al Khanka Street, enter Jaffa Gate and continue straight on David Street into the bazaar. At Christian Quarter Road, turn left and continue to the end. Turn right (downhill) onto Al Khanka Street at the end of Christian Quarter Road. The shops with antique photo collections for sale are all on the right side of the street.
Walking Shoes & Sandals
If your walking shoes wear out, or you want to take advantage of the local market in comfy footwear, there are good choices in both the Old and New cities.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.