Leaving those amazing views of Jerusalem at The Tower of David, we started off our visit to the old city of Jerusalem in the Armenian Quarter.
Our visit to the Armenian quarter was fairly fleeting and more to get a sense of what it looked like.
We didn’t see too much in terms of sights, which is not a reflection of the quarter, we just happened to be walking past and only noticed two main things – the restaurants here (which were closed at the time – it was a few hours before lunch) and that they’re expert ceramics craftsmen (the tiles and pottery here are absolutely gorgeous).
Leaving the Armenia quarter (like I said before here – totally unheralded in that you just turn down one street and you’re in a different quarter), we found ourselves in the Jewish quarter.
We weaved through the beautiful, almost labyrinthine alleyways as we made our way over to the Cardo.
A Cardo is a Roman street that runs from North to South – ergo the Roman columns.
In this one, there used to be a market here and if you wander down to the alleyways, you can see a painting depicting what it would have looked like centuries ago.
But here’s the more interesting thing for us personally, see a few months ago we were in Jordan and we visited Madaba on the way to the Dead Sea (Madaba is a city).
In Madaba there’s a church called The Church of Saint George which is home to a Byzantine mosaic map which is the oldest mosaic map of the Holy Land in the world (perhaps even the oldest mosaic map in the world).
The map dates back to the around 542 (the 6th century) and right through the centre, you can see the Cardo running through the mosaic of the old city.
^ Above is a replica of the mosaic map in Madaba, Jordan.
To have gotten to see this ancient map in Jordan and then to actually get to see the place it depicted from centuries ago is nothing short of amazing! It’s just such an incredible experiences to have.
Leaving the Cardo, we stopped off to check out the golden menorah.
The menorah is actually made using real gold (it’s not just in the name) and despite what it might look like is heaving guarded using all sorts of sensors and touch-sensitive protection.
Leaving the menorah, we carried on weaving through the city towards one of the most important sites in the city – the Western Wall.
The Western Wall is actually called that because of the Temple that was built here. There was a temple built by King Solomon which was destroyed by the Babylonians and then King Herod built another one here.
The temple by Herod was built on a huge platform and the Western Wall (huge as it is) was part of the platform that the temple was built upon (there was also an Eastern, Northern and Southern part of it when it was built).
At the Western Wall, what you’re supposed to do is write down a prayer you might have or perhaps something you’re grateful for and put it into the wall.
As you can imagine, with thousands of people visiting per day, it can get quite full so you really need to fold and squeeze that paper into tiny little pieces to even attempt to fit it in.
There’s a separate section for men and another for women (though they’re right next to each other separated by a low wall). Men have to cover their heads with a kippah or yarmulke (women don’t have to).
When you’re done with putting your prayer in the wall, it is respectful to walk backwards – with your face looking toward the wall for a little bit before you leave. Essentially, it’s so you don’t turn your back against the wall.
Bar Mitzvahs are also held here on specific days as it’s a very important rite of passage for a young Jewish man and if you’re here on the right day, you might also see one.
The Western Wall is also important to Islam. In Islam, it’s known as the Buraq Wall. In Islam, Buraq is a winged steed which Prophet Mohammed tied to this wall on his night journey to Jerusalem. As a result, it’s an important site for Muslim pilgrims as well as Jewish pilgrims.
We would actually have visited the Muslim sites here too but there are lots of rules about visiting (e.g. you can visit if you’re carrying a menorah) so, out of respect, we couldn’t visit.
Leaving the Western Wall, we headed over to the Muslim quarter which looks and feels like none of the other quarters we’d visited thus far.
It’s decidedly more bustling – even though it didn’t feel that way initially – by the time you get to the centre, you’ll find yourself amidst markets and restaurants selling everything from refreshing pomegranates to spices and even clothes.
Near the point where the Christian and Muslim quarters intersect (again, we only knew this because we were made aware of this by Mati, our guide), we stopped off for lunch at Abu Shukri Restaurant, one of those places we probably wouldn’t have even known to visit if we didn’t have a local with us to show us around.
Lunch was once again a delicious platter of breads, dips, falafels and salads. It’s very down to earth, unpretentious good food and quite a brilliant find.
Our next stops in the city involved the important stops in the city for Christian pilgrims – a journey through the Via Dolorosa: the Way of Suffering. See, Jerusalem is where Jesus Christ was crucified and there are 14 stations here where several things happened to him from being condemned to be crucified, to his actual crucifixion.
The first station is where he is condemned to death, the second is where is given the cross to carry, the third is where he falls for the first time, the fourth is where he met his mother and this carries on till the 14th station which is where Jesus is laid in the tomb.
We started at the 3rd station and worked our way through the Via Dolorosa through all the remaining stations.
The 3rd and 4th stations are actually now in an Armenian church, the 5th was at the corner opposite the restaurant we had lunch in, with the last 5 stations (10 – 14) all being in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the most important site for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. I’ll put a little pointer underneath each with a description of it so you know which one it is
^ 3rd station: Jesus falls for the first time
^ 4th station:
^ 5th station:
And so off we went exploring each station, stopping off to check out the different parts of the old city (and briefly for pomegranate juice) before carrying on ultimately toward to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
^ 6th station:
^ 7th station:
^ 8th station:
^ 9th station:
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is so much bigger than it looked from the Tower of David earlier. It is, as I mentioned earlier, of particular importance to Christians as it is the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
^ 10th – 14th station; all at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In order: 10th Station – Jesus is stripped of his garments, 11th Station – Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross, 12th Station – Jesus dies on the cross, 13th Station – Jesus is taken down from the cross, 14th Station – Jesus is laid in the tomb.
In 312 AD (312 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ), Roman Emperor Constantine, after having a vision, sent his mother: Saint Helena, to look for the tomb of Jesus Christ and aided by two Bishops (one of whom was a historian) found 3 crosses near a tomb in Jerusalem in the area believed to be where Jesus was crucified. The cross was sent to Rome – this, by the way, turned out to be another one of those personal full circle moments as the cross that was taken from this very place back to Rome is the one I spoke about in this post here when we were in Rome (it’s the one where you have to climb the stairs on your knees to get to).
On finding the cross and the tomb, Constantine ordered for a church to be built here.
The church was rebuilt and destroyed over several centuries, leaving behind the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the current state.
When you’re in the church, you have to queue for each of the stations, especially do for the point of crucifixion (which is up the stairs) and the tomb where Jesus was buried and resurrected so be sure to leave enough time to queue if you want to visit these specific spots. (You can see them without queuing but you can’t go into the tomb without queuing or bend down to see and touch the crucifixion spot).
An ‘unofficial’ station in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is where Jesus’ body was anointed before burial and is one spot you’ll find lots of people kneeling and praying in front of.
After a little while here, we left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and decided to call it a day in the old city of Jerusalem.
A quick coffee stop and a jaunt through the market for souvenirs, we hopped into our van and headed to one of the most poignant spots in our entire trip and one that finally shed some light on a part of this world I felt I knew relatively little about.
Said place was the West Bank, where we got to meet with Israeli and Palestinians living in the West Bank and actually learn first hand from them, what was going on here.
Suffice to say, there’s way too much to cover in that than I can put in this post so I’ll cover this properly in the next post.