Our first full day in Israel! I’m not a particularly religious person, so I find it difficult to understand why I’ve always wanted to visit this controversial country. Perhaps it’s the history, maybe the conflict itself. Not sure. And to be honest I was more interested in Tel Aviv for its architecture, but Jerusalem was on the way. Turns out, the city was more amazing than I ever imagined.
We woke up, avoided the expensive hotel breakfast & walked back to our wonderful discovery of the First Railway Station market. Lattes & bagels fueled the walk into to the Old City. We wandered along the walls, checked out the views of the New City & entered through the ultra-touristy Jaffa Gate by the Tower of David.
We had zero plans. Because it was Friday, I knew we’d be unable to visit the Dome of the Rock—a major disappointment for a tile fan like myself. Not even on Saturday when it remained closed to tourists. I’ll just have to go back. We began following signs to the Christian Quarter but somehow ended up in the Muslim Quarter; it’s all a maze anyway. We were actually having fun exploring the market when a few guys armed with machine guns warned us that we couldn’t go any further because the Temple Mount was closed to non-Muslims. Ok, I knew that. But I didn’t know we were actually at the entrance to the Temple Mount. What a gorgeous structure. Later in the afternoon, we found our way to the rooftops for spectacular views of the gold-covered dome.
After a few wrong turns & some freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice, we found our way back to the Christian Quarter. Several groups walked along the Via Dolorosa, stopping at each station. Some even chanted or sung along the way.
After arriving to the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, all I could think in the patio was, “Is this it?” A hodgepodge of styles & buildings all smushed together alongside the Mosque of Omar… not as impressive as I imagined.
But inside it was a different story. Rich decoration, a heavily-partitioned & dark church, throngs of tourists & very little signage made for a memorable experience. Watching other people was key… go where they go :-) At the entrance, many people stop to pray, kneel or leave items on the Stone of Anointing… where Christ was prepared for burial:
Inevitably the Aedicule comes into view. A Baroque block structure directly underneath the dome, the tomb of Christ is contained within. What a line though. As we crept closer & closer (probably after an hour of waiting) a priest who monitored traffic flow said, “10 seconds! You go in, you pray, you leave. 10 seconds!” Darío & I both laughed. As we entered the Aedicule, candles burned on the Angel’s Stone—the slab that originally covered the tomb of Christ. And then the jackpot. Interesting to see but no spiritual moment for me.
Next we visited the Franciscan chapel which held a portion of the Column of Flagellation, saw graffiti carved into stone by the First Crusaders, descended into the chapel of St. Helena (mother of Constantine who supposedly uncovered the True Cross) & the Catholicum in the center with its impressive Christ Pantocrator dome above.
At the end of the visit, we climbed stairs to the Golgotha altar… the base of which held the cross of the crucifixion. So much in one place. The ceiling mosaics were equally as impressive.
We’d already seen a lot but still had two other sections of the Old City to visit…