To walk within a city where a temple was built by King Herod the Great, to touch the giant stones that held the prayers and dreams of thousands over centuries and touch a wall that still prevails after its temple within was destroyed by Babylonians and burnt by Romans in BC times, this was a journey into history’s most significant city. No matter which God you hold dear, I don’t believe that anyone can visit Jerusalem’s old city and remain unchanged by this sacred place.
This is one place on earth which Christians, Jews and Muslims deem holy. It is said to be the place where God chose his Divine Presence to rest, where God gathered the dust to create Adam, the area where Muhammad ascended to heaven and where Abraham offered Isaac to God on Mount Moriah.
One of the first and busiest places I visited in the Old City was the Western (Wailing) Wall. It was one of the four walls Herod the Great built to support the plaza on which the Temple stood. It was originally 27 metres high with 18 metres into the ground below. Male Orthodox Jews with untrimmed beards, payots (sidelocks) and yarmulke’s atop their heads pray to one side of the wall whilst visitors wrote their wishes and prayers on paper and slipped them into the cracks of these giant stones as many had done throughout the ages.
I disliked travelling in a big group but this was the way I would see most of Jerusalem, with 32 members of our volunteer performing arts crew in tow. Our leader mumbled about the significance of each landmark, church and building, but soon her voice faded away as I began to remember places, mountains and areas mentioned in the bible. As a Christian there is probably nothing more exciting than seeing bible stories coming alive before your very eyes and being able to place the Kings, soldiers, women and heroes of the book first read to you as a child.
I was too busy listening to the sounds of people bartering in the side-walk markets and smelling the freshly made food to realise that we were walking along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Grief/Suffering). This 600 meter pathway winding westward through the Old City from Lion’s Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been marked as the way Jesus walked with a cross on his back towards his crucifixion. I looked up to see various stations of His journey marked by plaques or sculptures on the wall. Some markings include places where he’d fallen, others where he had spoken to his mother and women of Jerusalem and where one man attempted to help him carry the load. I tried to imagine what this route may have looked like sans the loud vendors, colourful scarves hanging from stalls and tourists bargaining for better deals.
The station where Jesus fell along the Via Dolorosa.
We walked up a steep road leading up the Mount of Olives, a mountain that since biblical times has seen Jews being buried here. The sun blazed down on us and I tried to find shade beneath a tree whose branches reached out over a church’s walls. Over 150 000 graves had replaced the olive groves which once grew there and rock-cut tombs carved from the soft chalk and hard flint rock covered the mountainside. The most well-known one being the ‘Tomb of Prophets’ said to be the final resting place of Hebrew prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
The Mount of Olives which holds the tombs of many a prophet and overlooks the temple walls.
From within the walls of Dominus Flevit, a Roman Catholic Church, I looked out over the old Jerusalem and saw what many once and still call the world’s epi-centre. The Church of all Nations beside the Garden of Gethsemene boasted some of the most pristine murals of biblical times. When researched; the olive groves were found to be the oldest known in history and were planted from the same parent plant. The gospels state that this was the garden where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified.
We drove around Jerusalem and Bethlehem, stood in the Sea of Galilee, met Bedouin people in the desert where Jesus had fasted for 40 days and nights, visited the town of Capernaum with remaining wine presses and ancient tools, stood atop Mount Carmel and saw a hill shaped like a skull. Whilst it’s easy to get bogged down by the vast amount to visit churches all built to mark significant spots and vast disagreements on where events really took place, the magic of Jerusalem lies beyond this. Getting left behind due to a visa mishap was probably the best thing that happened to me in Israel. The group flew on ahead to Athens and I explored the inner city alone. I sipped espresso within the walls; I saw the last rays of sun go down from Mount Zion and marveled at the Tower of David once built to strengthen an area of weakness in the Old City’s defense.
I walked over the cobbled streets where so many had done so before me. I stood beside walls which had been destroyed and rebuilt continually through a history which saw Canaanite’s, Egyptians, Romans, Babylonians, Persians and more fight over this holy land. And strangely enough it was here in this city besieged 23 times, attacked 55 times and captured and recaptured 44 times, that I found a surreal peace.
What was YOUR impression of Jerusalem?
All the vendors selling their wares within the temple walls.
View from the Mount of Olives.
A family lighting candles in a church.
An Ethiopian priest who leads a congregation in old Jerusalem.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Murals adorning the walls of the Church of the Nations beside the Garden of Gethsemene.
Looking out over Jerusalem through the window of the Roman Catholic Church, Dominus Flevit.
Touring through the churches.
Sunshine in the old city.
Myself with friends, Taylor and Anna, along the Via Dolorosa.
A worshiper inside a church.
All photos are my own and subject to copyright.