The first thing we realized when we started planning our days in Jerusalem was that there was no possible way we could see and do everything we would like to. Also, we had to be very careful about scheduling our days since we were to be there on a Friday and a Saturday. Friday afternoons mean closure of Muslim sites, Saturdays (from dawn to dusk) of Jewish sites. So it was imperative that we carefully structure our days. Of course since I am a huge stickler for organization anyway, this was right up my alley. And as you will see, in the end we did a pretty awesome job of seeing a lot of things! It helps that the Old city of Jerusalem is actually scarcely larger than an average city neighborhood. Religious sites and historical points from so many periods and cultures are stacked literally one on top of the other. Navigating is tricky because of the narrow, winding streets, but nothing is ever far away!
We did see so much, though, that to really write a good description and historical discussion of each of the many sites would take a long, long time, and no doubt tax the attention of readers. So a brief synopsis will have to be enough, followed by some pictures with explanatory labels.
We started in roughly chronological order, by spending the first day seeing sites related to the Hebrew history of Jerusalem. Our first stop was the Western
Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall). Most of you are very familiar with this monument. It is the one wall that remains of the Temple Mount on which the temple of Solomon once stood. That temple was replaced by a new one in 586 BC (the Second Temple), which was then massively reworked (if not completely rebuilt) by Herod the Great in the 1st century BC. Herod's temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Western Wall is actually a Herodian retaining wall, which buttressed the massive artificial terrace on which the Second Temple stood. This is the holiest site in Judaism, and Jews come every day to mourn the loss of the Temple, and to pray for the day when it will be rebuilt.
A VIEW OF THE WESTERN WALL
THE MEN'S SIDE OF THE WALL. ONLY JEWISH MEN ARE ALLOWED INTO THIS AREA (OR AT LEAST WE DIDN'T SEE ANYONE WHO WASN'T OBVIOUSLY JEWISH, SO PETER DIDN'T EVEN TRY TO GET THROUGH THE SECURITY)
SOME DEVOUT JEWS COME TO THE WALL EVERY DAY TO RECITE THE ENTIRE BOOK OF PSALMS
I WAS ABLE TO ENTER THE WOMENS' SIDE AND APPROACH THE WALL. IT WAS A VERY MOVING EXPERIENCE. PETER TOOK A PICTURE OF ME ON MY WAY BACK.
HERE YOU CAN READ ABOUT THE WESTERN WALL IN THE WORDS OF THE JEWISH RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES
The top of the Temple Mount is now taken up by the massive complex of the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam. Although non-Muslims are no longer allowed inside the actual mosque, we were free to wander the expansive grounds, which we had mostly to ourselves (a very rare occurrence).
AS WE APPROACHED THE HARAM ESH-SHARIF (THE TEMPLE MOUNT), PETER TOOK THIS GREAT PICTURE OF A YOUNG MAN GIVING AN OFFERING TO AN ELDERLY WOMAN.
TO PROVE WE HAD THE PLACE TO OURSELVES...I'M THE LITTLE SPECK BY THE DOME OF THE ROCK. THIS MUST BE A RARE PICTURE TO HAVE FROM A TRIP TO JERUSALEM!
PETER UNDER THE UNDER THE DOME OF THE CHAIN, THE LOCATION OF WHICH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HARAM ESH-SHARIF INDICATES THE CENTER OF THE ENTIRE WORLD (ACCORDING TO MUSLIM TRADITION)
HERE I AM UNDER THE DOME. WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT THAT IS SO INTERESTING?
THIS 13TH CENTURY TILING ON THE DOME, WHICH SOME SAY IS MORE MAGNIFICIENT THAN THE WORK ON THE INTERIOR OF THE DOME OF THE ROCK ITSELF.
WE MADE OUR WAY TO AN AREA THAT IS TECHNICALLY OFF-LIMITS: THE "GOLDEN GATE." ACCORDING TO JEWISH TRADITION, THIS IS THE GATE THROUGH WHICH THE MESSIAH WILL ENTER THE CITY; CHRIST PASSED THROUGH IT DURING THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY. IT WAS SEALED UP BY THE MUSLIMS IN THE 7TH CENTURY (FOR OBVIOUS REASONS). I HAVE NO IDEA WHY THERE IS A WHEELCHAIR IN THERE.
AS HAS HAPPENED MANY TIMES IN THE PAST, WE FOUND OURSELVES ACCOMPANIED BY TWO IMPROMPTU "GUIDES." THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE IN SCHOOL (OR AT LEAST THERE WERE PLENTY OF BOYS THEIR AGE THAT WE COULD SEE THROUGH THE DOORS OF THE MEDRESES WERE IN CLASS), BUT THEY PREFERRED TO WALK WITH US AROUND THE HARAM.
I TOOK THIS PICTURE OF A LITTLE BOY PLAYING IN ONE OF THE PAVILIONS ON THE HARAM. I JUST THINK IT'S CUTE.
A VIEW FROM THE TEMPLE MOUNT. THIS IS A SIGNIFICANT VANTAGE POINT. THE ARCHES IN THE FOREGROUND ARE PART OF ONE OF THE "QANATIR", THE ARCHWAYS THAT MARK THE STAIRWAYS UP TO THE PLATFORM OF THE DOME OF THE ROCK. THEY ARE ALSO CALLED "MAWAZIN" WHICH MEANS "SCALES." ACCORDING TO MUSLIM TRADITION, GOD WILL HANG THE SCALES HE USES TO WEIGH SOULS ON THE DAY OF JUDGMENT FROM THESE ARCHES. THROUGH THE ARCHES YOU SEE THE MOUNT OF OLIVES, COVERED IN JEWISH TOMBSTONES. JEWISH TRADITION STATES THAT IT IS IN THE VALLEY OF JEHOSHAPHAT, BETWEEN THE TEMPLE MOUNT AND THE MOUNT OF OLIVES, THAT THE SOULS OF MANKIND WILL BE RESURRECTED ON JUDGMENT DAY.
After this brief detour into the Muslim world, we turned our attention to the early history of Jerusalem. We visited the Ariel Center for Jerusalem in the First Temple Period. There, a very knowledgeable young woman gave us a brief private lecture on the history of the earlier temple, and the Jewish people in the Holy Land in general. We felt a bit awkward, but because we were pressed for time I eventually broke into her excellent presentation and told her that we were archaeologists, so she skipped to the "good stuff" and took us to see the model of the city as it appeared at the time of King David (as far as archaeologists can tell). This was an extremely educational museum, although there were no real artifacts to see. But we set off with a much better knowledge what was under our feet, and how Roman Jerusalem, which is much more visible to the eye, relates to the Jerusalem of the time of the Prophets and Kings.
At her direction we passed by a monument which is known as the Broad Wall. It was excavated not too long ago. It is from the First Temple period, possibly part of an extension fortification that the Bible says was completed by King Hezekiah in what historians believe was the 8th century BC, to enclose a new neighborhood constructed to house refugees of the Assyrian invasion in 722. The discovery of this wall proved once and for all that the city was larger at that early date than most historians and archaeologists assumed it could have been.
THE BROAD WALL
Our next stop was the Wohl Archaeological Museum, which was built over the excavation of several houses from the time of Herod and later, which apparently belonged to members of the priestly upper-class. Some show the tell-tale signs of having been burned when the Romans sacked the city in 70 AD.
We continued to the Burnt House museum, which is a similar museum built over another house that was burned by the Romans. There is some film they show that is a completely fabricated story of the people who might have lived there. We were completely unimpressed with the site, and frustrated when the film was not being started although we were the only people in the one-room museum, so we left. Of all the things we saw on this trip, this is probably the one thing we would NOT recommend to anyone!
More archaeology awaited us at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, which is located at the foot of the Temple Mount. This park contains excavations from multiple periods, from the Second Temple period to an Ottoman palace garden. Here are a couple of the highlights (in our opinion):
THE STONES JUTTING OUT FROM THE WALL ARE CALLED "ROBINSON'S ARCH" FOR THE ARCHAEOLOGIST THAT IDENTIFIED THEIR FUNCTION. THEY SUPPORTED THE MASSIVE STAIRS TO THE TOP OF THE TEMPLE MOUNT, AS ILLUSTRATED IN THE IMAGE BELOW:
THESE MASSIVE STONES WERE CAST DOWN FROM THE TEMPLE MOUNT WHEN THE ROMANS DESTROYED THE TEMPLE IN AD 70. IT IS DIFFICULT NOT TO THINK OF WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT THE TEMPLE WHEN HE STOOD THERE THREE DECADES BEFORE: "NOT ONE STONE HERE WILL BE LEFT ON ANOTHER; EVERY ONE WILL BE THROWN DOWN" (MARK 13:2). THE WALL BEHIND ME IS A CONTINUATION OF THE WESTERN WALL, SOUTH OF THE AREA USED FOR JEWISH PRAYER.
Our next stop was The Citadel, which is now the home of the Tower of David Museum of the HIstory of Jerusalem. The present citadel is from the 14th century, but excavations have revealed remains on the site from at least the second century BC. It is highly probable that a fortress was here in the time of Herod, and possible that this was the site of the trial and condemnation of Christ. I confess to being confused here. Site fatigue had set in a bit, and there was so much to see related to so many time periods. We saw a very odd animated film on the entire history of Jerusalem, and walked through many different exhibits on various historical moments. Not much of it sank in. But what we DID get was an excellent view of the New City when we climbed one of the Citadel towers.
THERE ARE LAYERS FROM MORE THAN A THOUSAND YEARS OF HISTORY IN THIS SHOT: THE TIME OF THE KINGS OF ISRAEL, OF HEROD, OF THE CRUSADERS AND THE OTTOMANS. WE WERE TOO TIRED TO FIGURE THEM OUT.
MAYBE NOT THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING WE SAW FROM THE CITADEL TOWER, BUT INTERESTING ANYWAY! SOMEONE WAS CAMPING ON A NEARBY ROOF.
After a quick lunch, we dashed to catch a cab out into the modern city, to the Israel Museum, which houses the magnificent archaeological collections put together from finds all through Israel. We were looking forward to seeing Hittite, Canaanite, Hebrew and other objects, many taken from sites we had already visited. But it was not to be. Apparently, the museum is closed until 2010! This was probably the most disappointing moment of the trip.
HOWEVER, one part of the museum remained open: the Shrine of the Book. This remarkable building houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and other objects discovered at Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Here a monastic group, the Essenes, lived and studied. It turned out to be perhaps one of the best museum exhibits either one of us had ever seen. Although we could not photograph what was inside, we highly recommend that anyone who has an opportunity make the trip. It is really remarkable what has survived in the hot, dry desert around Qumran. For example, we have both seen hundreds and hundreds of clay lamps from the Roman period, but here we saw something entirely new: a clay lamp with the ORIGINAL WICK still in it! One highlight of the exhibition is the Isaiah Scroll, a complete copy of the book of Isaiah dating from 100 BC. Although all of the Scrolls are not on display (some are traveling the world, so many of you may have a chance to see them in a museum near you!), a copy (or two, or three) in a variety of languages (Greek and Aramaic as well as Hebrew) of every book of the Old Testament, with the exception of Nehemiah and Esther, were found at Qumran. This of course was of immense importance in understanding the development of the Hebrew Bible.
THE EXTERIOR OF THE "SHRINE OF THE BOOK." IT IS DESIGNED IN THE SHAPE OF A LID FROM ONE OF THE JARS IN WHICH THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS WERE FOUND. THE CONSTANTLY FALLING WATER SYMBOLIZES THE RITUAL PURITY IN WHICH THE ESSENES ATTEMPTED TO LIVE. YOU CAN HEAR THE WATER WHEN YOU ARE INSIDE LOOKING AT THE SCROLLS AND IT IS A *VERY* NICE EFFECT!
THIS WAS ON DISPLAY OUTSIDE THE MUSEUM: STONE PIPING FROM THE ROMAN PERIOD. THIS PICTURE IS FOR YOU, JIM!
We then returned to the Old City and managed to squeeze in a few more sites, believe it or not! They are all on Mt. Zion, which is just outside the Old City walls, to the east. Many scholars (and non-scholars) believe that the Last Supper occurred somewhere on this mount, although opinion is divided as to where.
The first site we visited was the Tomb of David. Although there is absolutely nothing to suggest that this is really the tomb of King David, the tradition is strong enough that it is an extremely holy site for both Jews and Muslims (who consider David a Prophet). During the period between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan controlled the Old City and Jews were restricted from visiting the Western Wall, they came here instead. It is not an impressive site visually. Men and women visit different sides of the room, separated by a curtain. Interestingly, a second tradition names this site as the room in which Christ washed his Disciples' feet after the Last Supper (John 1: 1-17).
THE WOMEN'S SIDE OF THE TOMB OF DAVID
OUR "GUIDE" INSISTED ON TAKING OUR PICTURE OUTSIDE THE TOMB. WE THOUGHT IT WAS WEIRD.
This association is linked to the tradition that the room directly above this is the Hall of the Last Supper. I am unsure how far back the tradition goes, but the Crusaders believed it enough to build a church on the spot, so what you can visit today is a Gothic hall, which the Muslims later converted into a mosque. Today it is nothing more than a tourist site. I tend to favor another site as the probable location of the Last Supper, but more on that in a later post.
THE "HALL OF THE LAST SUPPER" WITH ITS GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE.
Directly next door to the Hall of the Last Supper is the gorgeous Church of the Dormition, built on the supposed site of the death (the "dormition" or "Falling Asleep") of Mary. This site, like others in the area, has no proof of being the location of the event with which it is associated, but archaeological evidence suggests that there was a church on this spot as early as the fourth century (so shortly after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, which suggests that this was a highly sanctified site for early Christians), and definitely by the sixth century. The modern church was built on the order of Kaiser Wilhelm II in the early 20th century. We had very little time inside, as it was closing up when we arrived, but we were able to appreciate beautiful views of its belltower over the following days (these will appear in later posts).
THE CHURCH OF THE DORMITION
AN INTERIOR SHOT, FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH
ONE OF THE MOSAICS INSIDE THE CHURCH. I JUST THOUGHT THIS PICTURE TURNED OUT NICELY!
It was a very full first day, but we were beginning to get our bearings. After a meal at a traditional Armenian restaurant, we called it a relatively early night, because we had a lot planned for the following day!