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Monday, October 27, 2014

A Gilded Dome, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Young Love on 10/23

 We got up bright and early so we could see the Dome of the Rock before making it for our 9am tour of the Western Wall Tunnel.  We took the tram down Jaffa St to the gate of the same name, then walked through the Christian Qtr and over to the Western Wall and finally to the Dome of the Rock, accessible from the same huge open air plaza. The dome dominates the vast 35 acre Temple Mount, which is known to Muslims as Haram esh-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary.

Temple Mount opens daily at 7:30 but there was already a long line of people waiting to get in. Everyone needs to go through pretty strict security. Steven and I had remembered our walking tour guide’s instructions to wear long pants, not wear or bring any Jewish or Christian items and for me also to cover my head and arms before leaving the hostel. Once having gone through security, we entered an almost completely covered pedestrian wooden passage that ascended from the plaza up to Temple Mount.

The original octagonal building of the Dome on the Rock was completed in 691 AD and enshrines the great rock from which the prophet Muhammad is said to have risen to heaven. It felt like there were very few people at that early hour even though there had been a long line of people waiting to enter so it was fantastic being able to wander through the huge area without masses of people everywhere.

A view of the Wall from a different perspective: from the wooden enclosure en route to Temple Mt.

I loved the early hour to take photos.

It was so early that there were hardly any people praying here when we arrived. that changes and hour or so later when we were leaving.

Non Muslims are denied entry to the interior of the building but it was still magical seeing beautiful granite columns supporting arches with their stunning original green and gold mosaics. In obedience to Islamic religious tradition, no human or animal forms appear in the artwork. The mosaics were restored in 1027 while the marvelous gold dome was restored in the 1990’s with 176 pounds of 24 carat gold electroplated on copper.

You get a sense here as to how big Temple Mount is.

Anna and her brand new husband, Nichola, were staying at our hostel and we met them while waiting in line. Anna hadn’t known she needed a scarf so I lent her an extra one I had with me. Hint: more on them later.

The men were singing and praying.

Women praying in very loud voices.

While waiting for Steven to change into shorts in the Wall plaza before our 9am Western Wall Tunnel Tour, I was mesmerized watching this group of people when they spontaneously began singing and dancing the Hava Nagila song with great gusto.
I had reserved months ago tickets for the Western Wall Tunnel Tour which we did right after leaving Temple Mount and Steven had changed into shorts. Our guide this time was Dave, originally from Edmonton, Alberta, who explained that the tunnels underneath the Wall are still being excavated and that the original city was built outside the Old City by Herodotus. Dave stated that the Western Wall is so famous because it’s the closest remnant to what had been the holiest part of Temple Mount. What everyone sees at the Wall is only 51m long but when we took the tunnel tour, we walked along its entire length. Historians and archeologists discovered the massive wall revealed 2 building stones estimated to weigh an incredible 400 tons and 570 tons respectively!

I have tried at least a dozen times to post the following photos with the relevant captions but have been unable to so here they are all at once. I hope you can figure what goes where!

We enjoyed seeing the Wall from a whole new perspective and didn’t mind too much walking through the very narrow passageways on stones thousands of years old.

Warren’s passageway, named after one of the excavators.

The tunnel is not simply a place for tourists or for archeologists still unearthing the mysteries beneath the Wall; it’s an area still much visited by rabbis and the faithful as we saw.

Women’s prayer area.

The tour ended at the mammoth cistern from which we ascended to the Old City’s Muslim Qtr again. 

After leaving the Tunnels, we then walked over to the King David Hotel we’d both read about so much  in fiction books. How glorious to sit ourselves down in the lap of luxury for a while and fantasize about staying in a $700 a night room compared to our paltry $50 a night in a 4 bed mixed dorm! 

Interesting reading who’s stayed at the hotel over the years: a veritable who’s who of politicians, singers and actors.

Walked across the street to the Y as I’d read the panoramic views of the city from its bell tower are stupendous. Decided to leave those to our imagination though after discovering the price had quadrupled in the last month from 5NIS to 20 NIS, i.e. from about $1.50 to $6 each.

What a noble ideal to strive for.
We headed next to the Israel Museum which is the largest cultural institution in Israel and houses collections of works dating from prehistory to the present day in Archeology, the Fine Arts and Jewish Art and Life. Since opening in 1965, the museum has amassed a collection of nearly 500,000 objects, the most famous of which are the Dead Sea Scrolls housed in a separate building called the Shrine of the Book. Our initial focus had certainly been to view the latter but we were drawn in by so many other superb exhibits before seeing the Scrolls.
Intriguing seeing the oldest face masks in the world!


Loved the painting's reflection on the floor. 

Neither Steven nor I were aware that the chador worn by strict Muslim women all over the world had its roots in Jewish culture. 

 You’ve got to read this!

 Marriage contracts

Unfortunately, I had no more camera batteries left to take photos of the beautifully restored synagogues that have also been saved from Germany, Suriname and Italy.

Likewise no photos of the breathtakingly beautiful ‘micro mosaics’ done in the 18th C. by Roman artisans of still life, landscapes and portraits. Perhaps you can find examples of them online and see for yourselves how much they look like paintings and not jigsaw puzzles made up of thousands of miniscule tiles. 
This was the only photo I was able to take of the Dead Sea Scrolls located in their own building called The Shrine of the Book. A Bedouin boy discovered the 1st of the Scrolls in 1947 in a Judean desert cave overlooking the Dead Sea. (We saw that exact area the next day when we took a tour of Masada, the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi but I’m getting ahead of myself.) All in all, nine main scrolls and bags full of small fragments surfaced over the years.

As you can see from the photos I was able to eke out of the camera, Steven and I had a blast taking pictures of ourselves in front of this mirrored ...?  I guess we are just really kids at heart or like to pretend we are at least.

Back at our stomping ground, the Yehuda Market again, before collapsing at the hostel after such a long day sightseeing.  
 In the lobby area, we saw again Anna and Nichola whom we had seen first thing in the morning at Temple Mount. She’s a psychologist from Serbia and he’s a photojournalist from Croatia yet they managed to meet and fall in love in the middle of the war between their nations. They’re newlyweds on their honeymoon from Belgrade. Nichola explained that Anna had planned their entire wedding while he took sole responsibility for planning their honeymoon. Anna had no idea until a few hours before they got on the plane where in the world they’d be going, Nichola related with a chuckle! I hope our paths will cross again in Colorado one day.