I am staying at the iconic King David Hotel which is only a minute walk to the old city. we had a great tour guide called
It is hard to explain the old city in some ways because you feel like you are walking through the Bible at every turn – visiting places mentioned both in the Old and New Testaments and they are right in front of you.
The city of Jerusalem has a long a chequered history including being invaded many times – back to the Babylonians when the first Temple was destroyed right through to the 20th century but it somehow keeps rebuilding itself and carrying on. Jerusalem was fully returned to Israel after the 6 Day War in 1967.
We entered through the Jaffa Gate – built at right angles like all the city gates to avoid marauders charging in as they would have to slow down to turn a corner. The first thing you see is the Tower of David – an archaeologist’s dream. We were hoping to get to see the light show they have here every night depicting the story of David and also of Jerusalem but it was already sold out. So next time maybe.
The city is about 1 square kilometre with a lot of hills and divided into 4 quarters – Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We passed by the Armenian Quarter first and were able to look at this courtyard with a traditional Armenian church but no-one is permitted into this quarter except for the Armenians – they have long been persecuted and like to live a quiet life without disturbance. There are a few shops of hand painted Armenian pottery which is beautiful.
Then we visited the Room of the last Supper – a fair amount of research has proven that this was very likely the place where it happened. As I said – walking through the bible……..
I had asked to visit a Sephardic synagogue if possible but we actually got to visit four of them all attached to one another
They are all beautiful and I have learned two tricks how to distinguish a Sephardic from an ashkenazi synagogue at first glance. First check the table used for reading the Torah – for the Sephardic it is usually flat as the Torah is often kept in a self standing case (as below) but in ashkenazi synagogues the book is moved to the stand which is tilted to ensure it is easier to read. Also check out the seating – ashkenazi in rows (more like a church) but Sephardic in rows surrounding the rabbi – apparently making whispering and non verbal signals easier across everyone who is there – the sephardics like to talk more apparently:)
We then headed to spot which gave us a bird’s eye view of the Dome of the Rock built on Temple Mount. This is the third version of the Dome (following two lots of destructions of the temples) and it’s now a mosque as it’s believed to be the place Mohammed ascended to heaven. It is the third most holy place for muslims in the world after Mecca and Medina. Unfortunately the interior is only available for muslims. It towers above the Wailing Wall (or Western Wall) or various other names depending on your persuasion.
Men and women are separated in prayer on the WW but as you can see below you can stand on a small platform and look over to the male side. (It’s not that interesting:). People write prayers on slips of paper and put them into the cracks of the walls. They exit from the wall taking 10 steps backwards first before turning round as you should never turn your back on God.
We then took a cool tour through the tunnels under the Western Wall which unbelievably now include a brand new synagogue where services take place.
Then on to the Muslim quarter of the Old City where we had a traditional lunch having walked through the Via Dolorosa which is where Jesus carried the cross to Calgary. There are many Christian groups who walk this route and stop at various marked points which reflect places that Jesus stopped along the way according to the bible.
After a traditional hummus lunch we braved the “Holy church of the Sepulchre”. I say braved as it was packed with mostly Christian pilgrims. The interior is divided into areas reflecting different Christian sects such as Coptic, Armenian etc and so are differently designed. This church is also part of the pilgrims’ route.
Below, the faithful are kissing and praying over a slab which is believed to be where Jesus’ dead body was prepared for burial. And the long line is people queueing up for a 2 second opportunity to see the area under which Jesus is supposed to have been crucified.
Back in the relatively quiet streets we passed more stalls selling everything from brass to spices. The top left hand pic shows a part of the outside of the Church of the Sepulchre which by agreement has to remain unchanged from a point in time. If you look under one of the windows you can see a little ladder. It has nothing to do with anything religious but it happened to be there when the agreement was signed and so it has to stay there forever (I believe it’s been replaced a few times!)
The newly built ashkenazi synagogue is below with a giant menorah (candlestick) in front of it. Based on archaeological findings Including the Triumph Arch in Rome (which I saw a couple of years ago and includes a carving of a menorah being carried out of Jerusalem) , the menorah is considered the true symbol of Judaism rather than the Star of David which is much more recent.