Unfortunately due to restrictions and conflicts people are often afraid to visit, which is a real shame because the history, the culture, the people and the food make this city a real gem, one to be greatly appreciated.
The Old City and its maze of ancient pathways is confusing and nearly impossible to describe; it is literally a plethora of intertwining alleyways full of shops and ancient treasures ranging from hundreds of years before Christ, to the Middle Ages. The Old City is divided into separate Christian, Arab, Armenian and Jewish quarters.
We were approached by many aggressive Arabs wanting to be our tour guides, but I had already agreed to utilize “David” (real name Hamdi) an Arab-Israeli. David took us on a whirlwind tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. He steered us away from some of the more aggressive shop keepers while positively keeping us from being bored. He was moving almost too fast for me!
First we saw the Wailing Wall (also known as the Western Wall) the only remaining part of the Temple of Jerusalem which was destroyed at least twice throughout history. It is now the most holy place of the Jewish faith where people come to pray and insert prayers into the cracks of the wall.
We too left our prayers in the wall. These shrines are heavily secured with checkpoints similar to what one experiences at the airport including metal detectors and baggage scanning machines.
Then we visited the Dome of the Rock also called the Temple Mount or the Mosque of Omar, which was constructed directly on top of the Temple of Jerusalem. This is where Mohammed is believed to have ascended up to heaven on his horse. It is a fantastic mosque with intricate mosaic tiles reminiscent of Istanbul mosques. Again, lots of security, in fact one could not bring in any Christian mementos one may have purchased.
After the Temple Mount, we left the Old City through the Lion’s Gate to hike an intensive pathway to the top of the Mount of Olives where Jesus did much of his praying and teaching during his earthly life. Some of the olive trees there are purported to be 2000 years old.
I’m not the best fact-checker so I hope I don’t offend people with my memories or historical info I’m interlacing into my story.
The Church of Mary Magdalene (built under Czar Alexander in 1888) celebrates where Mary saw Jesus’ ascension into heaven. It was a very tough climb but not nearly as dramatic as our trek in Petra (Petrified in Petra) and well worth it for the amazing panorama of the entire city!
Reentering the Old City once again, we continued on our religious pursuit and walked the Via Dolorosa where Jesus carried the cross before being crucified. Essentially this path was a series of 14 monuments leading to the rock on which He was crucified.
David’s tour culminated as all tours in the area do, with a chance for shopping. My daughter Molly exceeded her expectations, buying gem stones called “Stones of Solomon”, and other mementos. The shopkeepers kept us supplied with mint tea and promises of bargains galore.
After a brief respite we ventured back to the fortress on foot. We stayed off public transportation (since we feared that was where much of the violence occurs in this region) and this time entered through the Damascus Gate, one of the nine gates of the Old City, and definitely the busiest as it takes you directly into the Arab market.
As the crowds pulse, merchants bring in new supplies and shoppers leave with their share of candy, spices, and clothing.
We shuffled through just as the call to prayer sent some scrambling. It lasted long enough for us to make it through to the Christian area where we heard the bells ringing as well. The sounds came from all sides, confusing us while it mesmerized us. It had the effect of making the bustle and hustle around us seem mute.
We continued hiking until we found Mt. Zion. There, besides visiting King David’s tomb, we also saw the site of the Last Supper.
A group of devout Korean Christians were singing, praying and were totally entranced in their pilgrimage. They served to remind us how important this city is to everyone. We could not help but feel spiritually connected to many religions and humanity in general.