Monday, August 22, 2011

old city jerusalem

This weekend (weekends here are Friday + Saturday) we decided we really wanted to head over to Jerusalem and see the Old City - which is about 10 miles from where we are in the Palestinian Territory.  Problem is, Fridays are holy for Muslims and Saturdays are holy for Jewish folks.  Sooo, transportation can be tricky to get a bus (which is way cheaper than a taxi). 

Passing the apartheid wall.

We took a taxi from our apartment.  However, once you get to the border, you have to switch taxis because our driver was Palestinian and he's not allowed to enter.  Our second taxi driver picked us up and in no time we were there.  We just kind of winged it, so we didn't really know where to go or what we were doing.  The tax driver pointed us in the right direction and we walked a few feet to Damascus Gate.

The modern Damascus Gate was built in 1542, but the original gate was probably built during Second Temple times which was around 500-ish BC.  Today, it leads into the Arab bazaar and market place.

 It's crowded! 

So the Old City is divided into quarters.  There's the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter, the Armenian quarter, and the Jewish quarter.  We started off in the Muslim quarter trying to make it to the Dome of the Rock before it closed at 11 AM.  Of course, we got to the entrance at 10:55 and a guard told us we couldn't come in : (  So here's a lovely picture we took from the entrance where we could barely see it.

So that was an epic fail!  But we'll just have to come back another day for that one.  We decided to make the best of it and check out the Christian quarter.  We thought we could see the entire city in one day, but it's actually bigger than we expected and we could probably dedicate an entire day to each quarter.  We walked around aimlessly and got a little glimpse of it when we wandered into a residential area.

If you're wondering why it matters so much that we see the Dome of the Rock - it's because it's one of the most significant holy sites in the world.  It's built upon the Foundation Stone - where the Holy of Holies was once located (containing the Ark of the Covenant).  It has been constructed on top of the site where the Second Jewish Temple once was and where Jews believe it will be rebuilt again before the end of times.  For Muslims, it is the third most holy place - the stone is where Muhammad ascended to Heaven.  According to Jews, the stone is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Issac.  It's an important place for a lot of people.

For the rest of the day, we walked around the Christian quarter of the city.  We were walking on the Via Dolorosa - the road believed to be the path taken by Jesus when he carried his cross to Calvary.  In Latin, it means "the way of suffering".  There are 14 stations along the road marked by Roman numerals. 

We didn't exactly know where we were, but we saw a bunch of people headed into a small entrance, so we followed them.  A lot of people had tour guides so we figured they knew where they were going.  The entrance led us into a beautiful courtyard surrounded with stone and greenery.  From there, you can see the top of a large church.

As we follow other tourists, we enter a small area with what looks like small chapels inside.  They have tons of paintings hanging from the walls.

So we walk through this area into another opening/courtyard which leads to a HUGE church.  And then we realize where we are - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre!  It is believed that this church was built on top of Golgotha - the hill of Calvary where Jesus was crucified.

When you walk in, there's a steep staircase.  You take it up to the next floor and it's really crowded.  Tons of people wait in line to crawl inside a little altar and kiss the ground.  This spot behind us is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified.  It definitely wasn't what I was expecting.  This church was built on top of Calvary and it's been extravagantly decorated (I don't really like it). 

It's way too man made and over the top for me.  I don't believe Christ's death was glamorous at all - so all the gaudy decor annoys me.  It's really distracting and makes it hard to really realize where you are, but still, it was really cool to be there in person.  I don't know how to explain it - it's  just really hard to take it all in and imagine Jesus dying on the cross when you're in a room OVERFLOWING with gold, ornaments, and chandeliers.

 It's hard to see in the other photos, but this is the sort of "shrine".
Here is the portrayal of Jesus on the cross. 
 Back downstairs, there's artwork showing Jesus being taken off the cross and embalmed.

 People believe that this slab of rock is where Christ was embalmed when they took his body off the cross.  People are very emotional over it.  They rub things on it, rub their faces on it, and pray on it.  It was a little wet - maybe with holy water.  I'm not sure. 

Don't think that I wasn't freaking out on the inside too - I definitely felt the importance of this place and felt very emotional.  I'm not making fun of anyone.  I was really excited, but there's really no way to know how authentic all this is.  The location of all these important events is debatable.  So I didn't want to get too caught up in it.  I'm not questioning whether or not anything happened - I'm just questioning where it all happened.

Regardless - I believe through prayer, you can talk to God any time and through the Holy Spirit, you can be with God anytime.  So - for me - it's not like you have to touch something holy in order to be close to God.  That being said - it's still reallllly cool to walk where He walked and touch what He could have touched. 

After we see all this and take it all in, we keep wandering around.  The church is enormous and there are tons of different rooms, altars, and things so old - I can't wrap my head around it.  Then, we go into another large room that's absolutely packed full of people.  There's an odd building/structure in the middle of the room - it's believed to be the tomb where Jesus rose from the dead three days after his crusifixion.  Again - I don't know how authentic this all is.  It's kind of hard for me to believe that's where his tomb was - so close to Calvary.  Some scholars believe the tomb would have been much farther away - outside the city for sanitation reasons.  So - who knows?

 The ceiling is painted with Christ
surrounded by angels and the 12 disciples.

 This is part of the long line to get inside.
 Here's the tomb from a side angle.
 And up close.
We find some more stairs that lead to a lower level. 
 A tour guide was saying that this is where they nailed him to the cross.
This area is underneath the place where Jesus died.  There's a crack in the stone that is said to have been caused by the  lightning and earthquake God caused upon the death of Christ.
 You can see the crack in this mirror.

 This piece of exposed rock (below) is said to be part of Golgotha - the hill Jesus was crucified on.  It was actually my favorite part of the whole church because that's the closest thing to what it would have really looked like.

And I think this may be remnants of the Second Temple.
Maybe - I really can't be sure.

 Taking one last look before we leave.

 Heading back.

 Israeli soldiers.
 The bus that takes us back.
What a day!  It really was amazing to be able to see all these holy sites.  I never thought I'd get the chance to travel here.  We'll be back again sometime in the next few weeks - hopefully more organized so we see everything we want to see.  We're also hoping to see Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, and Haifa.  There will be more to come!

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