This is part of a series of posts about our Spring 2013 trip
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
We decided to tackle some of the main sites in the old city of Jerusalem today. Unfortunately, what should have been a 1 hour drive from Tel Aviv turned into two because of construction on Highway 1 and traffic in Jerusalem. This put a bit of a cramp on doing as much as we wanted.
Our first stop was the Mount of Olives, starting at the very top for a terrific view across the Kidron Valley to the old city. This is also the location of the Mosque of the Assention, where Jesus was supposed to have ascended to Heaven after he was raised from the dead. We found a nice parking place right across the street from the Mosque, so we had an idea – why not walk across to the old city? Then when we were ready to come back, we could take a taxi back up the mountain. So we walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane, the old olive grove where Jesus was arrested. Some of the olive trees there have been dated to be old enough to have been alive in Jesus’ time.
Crossing the ravine of the Brook Kidron, we climbed up to enter the Steven Gate, which is also known as the Lion Gate because of two lions which are in the stonework above the entrance. From this point, it’s easy to begin the walk of the Via Dolorosa, the traditional path that Jesus took from his whipping by the Romans to his crucifixion and burial. Although we were not trying to be too religious about it, we managed to find most of the stations of the cross.
The end of the Via Dolorosa is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was originally built by Helena, the mother of Constantine. Constantine was the Roman emperor who established Constantinople as the major capital of the empire and who embraced Christianity as the state religion. (Which some believe was one of the worst things to happen to Christianity).
Although no major Christian denomination holds as a major tenant of faith that this is the actual site of Jesus’ death and burial, there are some communities who hold to this tradition, and the disputes between them can get rather heated. Pretty unfortunate.
It is believed that the Dome of the Rock building in Jerusalem was built to rival the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This was so that Muslims would not be tempted to join Christianity by this prominent basilica. However, the city has grown in around the Church, so that it doesn’t stand out visually at all. The church was initially built in the year 326 at the order of Constantine, but due to earthquakes, fires and wars, it has been rebuilt and added on to many times. The interior of this church is quite dark and was jam-packed with tourists. I suspect it might be more peaceful to visit when it opens its doors at 4:30AM.
After the church, we walked to nearby Amigo Emil for lunch, a kebab and mezza place I had eaten at before.
Lunch achieved, we went to the Western Wall, honored by the Jewish people as the last remaining part of the Second Temple. This is also known as the “Wailing Wall,” I suppose because there is mourning there because of the loss of the Temple.
I walked into the men’s section to see the wall up close, chatting with some of the ushers there. Normally men need to approach the wall with their heads covered, and they will provide a little hat if you don’t have one. Since I was wearing a running hat, they were fine with this as head covering. They asked if I wanted to write down a message to put in the wall, but I declined.
After we left this area, we tried to make the day a trifecta of the world’s largest monotheistic religions by walking through the Temple Mount and visiting the Al Aqsa Mosque. Unfortunately, we just missed the closing time for the area.
We managed to visit the Muslim, Christian and Jewish quarters of the city. As we were walking through the Jewish Quarter, we passed a doorway into a small room with two Hassidic men parked in front of a big fan, with The Internationale playing on the radio. Given that today is May 1, international Labor Day, it only seemed fitting.
I wanted to visit the old City of David and Hezekiah’s Tunnel archeological area, which meant leaving by the Dung Gate. Unfortunately this would mean going through the gauntlet of metal detectors again in the Western Wall area. Instead, we decided to skirt around and ended up walking through the Cardo, which was the main North-South market street in Roman times. There are places where you can climb down and see the different foundations, all the way back to the Hittite city.
Before exiting through the Dung Gate, we found the entrance to the archeological garden and Davidson Center, so we decided to walk through it. This is the area just south of the Temple Mount area which was excavated starting in the 1950s. It’s a really fascinating walk-through of some of Jerusalem’s most ancient areas. For example, you can see what’s left of “Robinson’s Arch” which was an arch over a major street in Jerusalem and supported a staircase up to the Second Temple. You can climb all around this area and learn a lot, and then visit the air-conditioned Davidson Center for a look at some of the unearthed artifacts.
Once we were done with this area, it was really too late to find Hezikiah’s Tunnel, so we left that for another visit. Based on our plan, we climbed back up to the Garden of Gethsemane, and then hopped a taxi ride back to the top which cost us $5.
Back at the top of the Mount of Olives, we found our car still parked. We thought about heading back immediately, but thought better of it with the traffic and considered it a better idea to try to find a place to eat in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, our GPS led us wrong and we were unable to find the restaurant we tried to find from Lonely Planet. So we just got back on Highway 1 and crept our way through heavy traffic back to Tel Aviv.
Once in town, we realized something was really off with traffic. We had never seen it so thick before. We heard a helicopter aloft and saw streets blocked off by the Police. Then it struck us – it’s May Day! Since May 1 is international Labor Day, there was a big parade through town shutting down our area of town. We tried to be smart and cut around the parade, but managed to get stuck in a side street, about three cars back from police tape closing off the street ahead. Because there were cars behind us, we couldn’t go back or forward, so we were jailed. We couldn’t abandon the car because I hate to think what would happen to the car when traffic started moving again. Deb heard an exchange between one of the drivers ahead of us and a police officer – how about dropping the police tape so we could get unstuck? Eventually he prevailed, and we were free again!
Rather than fight our way to the apartment, we decided just to stop at the first restaurant we could find and just have dinner while things quieted down. We found a pub with outside seating about to show the Barcelona – Beyern Munchen football match. So we had a club sandwich and watched the pre-game (in Hebrew). By the time the game started, we were finished, and drove back to the apartment without incident.