Jerusalem Feb 2011

Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and it is considered the holy city to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  For Jews, King David established Jerusalem as the capital and his son, King Solomon, commissioned the building of the First Temple.  For Christians, the New Testament accounted of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion here.  And for Muslims, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina.  According to the Quran, it is here in Jerusalem where Muhammad ascended to heaven and spoke to God.  As a result, this small area of less than 1 sq km became of religious importance to the different religions.

Jerusalem has been settled since the 4th millennium BC, the beginning of the Bronze Ages, and has been destroyed at least twice.  The Old City within the Ottoman walls was divided into four quarters – Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, and these people lived in overall harmony next to each other.

We stayed at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which is a convenient walk to the Old City where all the main attractions are located.  The hotel does need some updating even though it is considered the best hotel in Jerusalem where all the foreign celebrities and dignitaries stay.  The hotel arranged for a local guide to show us the highlights of the Old City.

IMG_0431We entered the old city from the Jaffa Gate near the Tower of David.

IMG_0433The ancient citadel, Tower of David, is also known as the Jerusalem Citadel.

The first quarter we explored inside the walled Old City was the Armenian Quarter.  Armenian monks first settled in Jerusalem in the 4th century AD when Armenia adopted Christianity as a national religion.

IMG_0438 - CopyThe Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Mark can be found in the Armenian Quarter. The Syrian Christians believe that this small church was built on the site where the Last Supper was held. Others believe that it was the home of Mary of Jerusalem, mother of John Mark or St. Mark.

From the Armenian Quarter, we moved on to the Jewish Quarter heading towards the Western Wall.

IMG_0441The remains of the Cardo which was Jerusalem’s old main street 1500 years ago in the Jewish Quarter today.

IMG_0445Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is one of the largest buildings in the Old City.

The Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem is now a small segment of the original western wall of the Second Jewish Temple atop Temple Mount.  Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the Western Wall is where Jews come to pray because it is the closest to the former Temple.  Western Wall is often referred to as the Wailing Wall because Jews came to the site to weep over the destruction of the Temples.  This section of the wall faces a large plaza whereas the rest of the wall is concealed behind structures in the Muslim Quarter.

IMG_0447The Western Wall has a partition with the larger left side for men and the smaller right side for women to pray.

IMG_0449The men section for praying at the Western Wall.

IMG_0451Women praying at the Western Wall.

IMG_0454People also write their prayers on pieces of paper and slip them into the cracks of the Western Wall.

Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the Dome of Rock which is a shrine atop Temple Mount and one of the oldest examples of Islamic architecture.  There are specific times when non-muslims and tourists can access Temple Mount and on the day of our visit, it was closed to tourists.  In addition, non-muslims and tourists are not allowed into the interior of the Dome of Rock.  The Dome of Rock is constructed on the site of the Second Jewish Temple which was destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem.   The site’s significance stems from the Foundation Stone from where Islamic scholars believed that the Islamic prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven.

IMG_0447 (1)The golden roof of the Dome of Rock.

IMG_0555Dome of Rock behind the Western Wall.

After wandering around the Muslim Quarter without being able to visit Temple Mount, we arrived at the Christian Quarter.  The Christian Quarter was built around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is recognized as the grounds on which Jesus Christ was crucified and buried.  It is a prominent pilgrimage destination for Christians.  Another important pilgrimage destination in the Christian Quarter is Via Dolorosa or The Way of Suffering.  The trail is marked by the 14 Stations of the Cross, said to be the path Jesus walked from the time of his arrest to his crucification and subsequently to his resurrection.

IMG_0463Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified.

IMG_0465Mosaic above the Latin (Franciscan) chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

IMG_0466The Greek Orthodox crucifixion altar places the exact site of crucifixion. Pilgrims kneel and kiss the spot underneath the altar which was where the cross stood.

IMG_0471View from the second floor of the Stone of Unction.

IMG_0487The Stone of Unction where Jesus’s body was laid after it was removed from the cross. Christians kneel, pray, touch, and kiss the stone.

IMG_0488Stone of Unction

IMG_0486Lamps suspended above the Stone of Unction donated by the different denominations (Catholics, Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian).

IMG_0472The southern hall where the Stone of Unction lays.

IMG_0477Heading towards the center of the Church or Rotunda.

IMG_0479The heart of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a round hall called the Rotunda. In the center, the tomb of Jesus is located in a smaller structure called the Aedicule.  There is a narrow entrance to the tomb on the east side.

IMG_0483The Coptic chapel behind the tomb of Jesus.

Do join one of the Western Wall tours where you are taken into the underground tunnels along the Western Wall prayer area to the north west side of the Temple Mount.   Along the tunnels are the remains from the second temple period, as well as structures from later periods.  A limited number of visitors can join each tour, so advanced booking is advised.

IMG_0541Inside the Western Wall tunnels under the Old City of Jerusalem.

IMG_0544Near the Wilson arch and bridge is a large underground cavity called the “large hall”. Its high ceiling allows a great view of the hidden western wall.  The rectangular holes on the wall is used to hold the plaster that used to be applied to the walls.

IMG_0545A small section of a second temple period paved street was found in this section. The Roman street stretched along the western wall, from the north to the south.

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IMG_0551Walking next to the large base stones under the Western Wall.

Outside the Old City of Jerusalem, we visited the Israel Museum and specifically the Shrine of the Book which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It is said that the Shrine of the Book is built based on the imagery of the Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of some 981 different texts written between 150 BC to 70 AD, discovered in eleven caves called the Qumran Caves near the Dead Sea.  These texts are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the third oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon.

IMG_0498The Shrine of the Book

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The Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed.

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