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Saturday, October 25, 2014

'Getting our Feet Wet' in Jerusalem on 10/22

Since we're spending a full week in Jerusalem, we decided to take a ‘free’ 2 hour walking tour of Jerusalem’s Old City so we could get our feet wet, i.e. getting a much needed overview of the city. We’d heard about the tour from the Abraham Hostel where we’re staying in a 4 bed dorm – oh glory be! 

There'll only be a few photos in this post of each of the places we stopped on the tour. Later we returned and explored most of these same places in further depth so there'll be more than enough photos then, I promise you!
Walking down Jaffa St, which is only open to a tram, from our hostel: certainly a more visible police presence than in Haifa. None of the men and women toting guns looked to be over their early 20’s.

City Hall

Our guide pointed out the sign written in Turkish at the entrance and said the Turks switched to Latin writing in 1928; sure hadn’t known that even with all of our time in Turkey! 
We met Michael, our guide originally from Texas and Wisconsin but living in Israel for the last 14 years, at Jaffa Gate one of 7 gates to the Old City and the entrance to the Christian Quarter

Michael said that there’s only 1 Protestant Church in the quarter and that’s a Lutheran one because the oldest Christian denominations in the world took up residence in the Old City, i.e. well before the Lutherans came along and there was no space for others. In the Middle East, the Roman Catholic Church is called the Latin Church and the Patriarch is the head of the church in the whole Holy Land plus Jordan where the current Patriarch is from.

All Christian denominations, i.e. the Armenian Apolostolic Church, the Egyptian 
Coptic Church, Ethiopian, Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, have their own Patriarch which means Father and is sort of a Cardinal and Bishop rolled into one, Michael said. Interestingly, only 4 popes have ever come to Jerusalem.

Russian Orthodox priest
The whole Christian Qtr. is built around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the world’s oldest churches and the holiest place on earth for Christians. Women’s elbows and knees on the tour were required to be covered before going in the church. As you can imagine the small courtyard was almost entirely filled with people every time we passed by. People wait in line as long as 6 hours to enter the tomb, our guide said. 
Just a glimpse of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, enough to entice us to return later, when I’ll post more pictures.

Next up on our tour was the Muslim Qtr. is the largest in area and also population with about 22,000 of the 30,000 residents in the Old City. It’s considered to be the most ‘authentic’ because it’s primarily residential with the homes from 500 -800 years old AND with the same families. Walking through the Muslim Qtr, you get a sense of what life was like years ago. Interestingly, the most visited sites in the Muslim Qtr. are the Christian sites because half of The Stations of the Cross wend their way through the quarter on the Via Dolorosa.

The 2nd smallest quarter is the Jewish Qtr. which is very new, modern and has western looking buildings, all in the same cream colored limestone we saw in Haifa.

Our next stop was seeing the Western Wall from high above on the city's rooftops. The status of the Wall as the most powerful existing Jewish shrine derives from its connection with the ancient Temple, the House of God. The 2,000 year old Wall was not itself part of the Temple edifice but of the massive retaining wall King Herod built to create the vast plaza now known as the Temple Mount. Jewish visitors often refer to it as simply ‘the Wall’ but the term ‘Wailing Wall,’ Michael explained, is a Gentile term describing the sight of devout Jews grieving for God’s House. It was very moving viewing it for the first time after only seeing it in movies, newscasts, etc.
  The snake like covered structure on the right is the walkway to the Dome of the Rock – more on that later.
From our perch above the city we could see the magnificent golden Dome of the Rock and the black domed Al Asqa Mosque. We were informed by Michael that when we toured those areas later, women again needed to be  covered from the top of the head down to our ankles including elbows, athat both men and women were required to show passports at the security checkpoint and furthermore no Christian or Jewish religious objects could be worn or carried even in purses, etc.

Our tour continued on Jerusalem’s rooftops which Michael explained were flat so locals over the centuries could walk from the South (the Jewish and Armenian quarters) to the North (the Christian and Muslim quarters) sides of the city.

Next up was the Armenian Qtr., the smallest quarter with only 700 residents; apparently most of the Armenians have moved out to the New City because they wanted bigger and more modern apartments that would fit the big TV’s and large scale furniture, Michael explained. They still retain ownership of their homes in the quarter though. When we looked at the exterior of the homes, it was clear why Michael had said the Armenians had moved out: all the utilities are located on the outside of the homes so trying to retrofit homes this old to accommodate 21st C. technology was impossible. Don’t know why that wouldn’t also hold true for the other residents of the city and not just the Armenians though. As Michael asked, ‘What’s up with the Armenians being in this area of Jerusalem?’ The most simplistic answer is that they had a very tight relationship with the Crusaders in 1099 and were given the best location in the Old City. I didn’t know that the Armenians were the first Christian nation on earth.

Loved seeing the Israeli flags flying everywhere; almost as many as back in Turkey.

The Tower of David right by Jaffa Gate
Our tour thankfully ended almost 3 hours later back at the Jaffa Gate where it had begun. It was too long a tour, we thought, but Michael was interesting, informative and able to answer any question about his adopted city thrown at him.