You could spend a hundred years exploring Jerusalem and not see everything on offer. We tried our best with the six days we had and have come away extremely happy with what we did see. .Walking the Via Dolorosa, ascending the Mount of Olives, chilling in the Garden Tomb and squeezing our way through The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem all hold special memories now. Interspersed amongst all of those places, we also saw plenty of other sights worth talking about. The following is a quick rundown of some of the other cool things we saw whilst wandering around.
The Temple Mount is the name give to the hill located in the Old City that is right at the centre of the issues in Jerusalem. It is the holiest site in Judaism due to the Jewish Temples (most notably the Second Temple) that stood there in biblical times and called Har HaBáyit (Mount of the House (of God)) in Hebrew. For Muslims it is their third most holy site after Mecca and Medina and called Haram es-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) in Arabic.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enter the Temple Mount, but there are a number of vantage points from which we were able to view certain aspects.
Dome of the Rock
The Temple Mount site contains the most recognisable landmark of Jerusalem, the Dome of Rock. An Islamic Shrine built by the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the late 7th century, this is one of the oldest surviving Islamic monuments in the world. The shrine is built over a rock from which the Prophet Muhammed is traditionally believed to have ascended into heaven from. On the same spot, the Jews believe that Abraham is said to have prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque was built after the Dome of Rock and got its name from its location, meaning “the farthest” or “remote”. Muslim’s believe that Muhammed travelled on the back of a winged mule-like white beast, called Buraq, on his night journey from Mecca to "the farthest mosque" in Jerusalem. Built after Muhammed’s lifetime, the mosque commemorates this journey.
The distinctive silver-coloured main dome of the mosque is made of wood and plated with lead sheeting. Even had we visited the Temple Mount, access is prohibited to non-Muslims to the interior of the Mosque, as well as the interior of the Dome of the Rock.
It is interesting to note that for a brief period in the early days of Islam, all Muslims faced Jerusalem when they prayed. This was then shifted to Mecca, after the Prophet Muhammad was instructed by Allah to do so. The Prophet Muhammad also proclaimed that religious pilgrimages should be restricted to the mosques in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, and that a prayer in Jerusalem was worth hundreds elsewhere. The girls all said a number of prayers when we were in Jerusalem, so I imagine they should well and truly be in credit now.
The Western Wall
The Western Wall is another part of Jerusalem that is famous the world over. Known also as the Wailing Wall, for Muslim’s it is called it the Buraq Wall. Made of limestone, it abuts the Temple Mount, which due to entry restrictions to the Jews, makes it the holiest place where Jews can pray.
The place where Jews can be seen to pray is situated in a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. I happened to stumble upon a viewing platform during Passover which provided a great place to observe the devout in their morning prayers.
When we (I) next visited, we were down in the plaza itself after Passover had finished, where there was a lot less action.
Located within the Jewish Quarter of the Old City several metres below current street level is the main street that used to run through the heart of Jerusalem. Derived from Greek word kardia (meaning heart), in its day, The Cardo was an exceptionally wide colonnaded street with parallel rows of columns supporting a red ceramic tile roof. The importance of Jerusalem’s Cardo is such that it is clearly shown on the mosaic Madaba Map (yes, the one we unfortunately didn’t get to see due to our Visa Card issues), which is situated in the town of Madaba in Jordan.
Today, or at least when I visited, there are fewer people walking along its streets and it is a nice place to either sit or walk down unimpeded watching the crowds above moving slowly along.
Mary of Magdalene Church
OK, this church was in our post about the Mount of Olives, but I love it so much, I’ve gotta include this shot from a different angle from just outside Lion’s Gate
Monastery of the Praetorium
Within the simply named Greek Orthodox Monastery on the Via Dolorosa, located between the Church of Condemnation and Imposition and the Church of Saint Mary Agony, is a place where Jesus was said to be held prior to his trial. Called the Prison of Christ, the site also supposedly contained cells for Barabbas (whom the Jerusalem crowd chose to release from Roman custody, instead of Jesus) and the two thieves that were crucified alongside Jesus.
The authenticity of the site may well be questionable, but that can mostly be said about all the sites that exist today. Regardless, it was interesting to visit the Prison of Christ and contemplate events that occurred over 2,000 years ago.
Another landmark in Jerusalem, easily seen from the south-western walls of the Old City, is the Montefiore Windmill, also called the Jaffa Gate Mill. Originally built in 1857 as a flour mill, the site also marks the place where the first Jewish neighbourhood outside the Old City walls was built. There’s a couple of lovely parks alongside the mill and amazing views back to the Old City and in particular The Abbey of the Dormition. I stumbled upon the site whilst being semi-lost out running and didn’t have a camera to prove how good the views are, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Worse, unbeknownest to us, the bus stop we regularly took back to our accommodation in Beit Safafa was only 40 metres or so from the Windmill and we didn’t once venture up there to check it out.
Abbey of the Dormition
Situated just outside the walls of the Old City is Zion Hill, which contains a number of sights which we visited split over a couple of days. The first was the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition, which is where the Virgin Mary is said to have died.
Two spiral staircases lead down to a crypt, ascribed to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. In the centre, is a simple bier on which rests a life-size cherry wood and ivory statue of Mary, fallen asleep in death.
King David’s Tomb
Very close to the Abbey of the Dormition is a site considered by some to be the burial place of King David, described in the Hebrew Bible as the second king of Israel. Slayer of the Philistine giant Goliath, David is an important figure not only within Jewish religion, but also within Christianity and Islam. The Tomb is accessible to all, with separate areas partitioned for men and women.
The Upper Room
We struggled to find the Upper Room, also known as the Cenacle, and had to have two goes at finding it. Alternatively known as the Last Supper Room to commemorate the “upper room” in which Jesus shared the Last Supper with the disciples, it is located directly above the Tomb of David. Access isn’t via the Tomb, however, but through a pointed-arch entrance from the main lane on Mount Zion, and up some stairs immediately to the left in the courtyard.
In addition to being where (or near where) the Last Supper took place, the site is also where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and a place where the disciples gathered and prayed with Mary after the death of Jesus for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In this same room Jesus is also said to have appeared both before and after the resurrection and the room where the faith of Doubting Thomas emerged.
The room itself is very plainly adorned, being mostly barren except for a bronze replica of an olive tree which was gifted by Pope John Paul II.
The tree is said to symbolize peace between the three main Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but to me, looked a bit lost in the room.
So that completed our time in the enchanting city of Jerusalem. Six days wasn’t enough to do her justice but it was now time to move on. Ahead of us, we were girding ourselves to brave the Israeli intercity bus for the two and a bit hour journey to Haifa.