Since Jerusalem has so many historical intricacies, we decided to take a 4 hour walking tour to get more detail on the core sites. We chose the Holy City Tour given by Sandman’s New Europe. This company runs several different tours, but this one was a 4 hour tour that covered most of the highlights of the old city. This one was a paid tour (kids under 14 are free), but the company also offers 2 hour “free”/tips-based tours (but you may not get a licensed guide for the “free” tour), and other paid tours. It was quite good and a great intro to the city. If we would have arrived even a half hour earlier yesterday, we probably would have taken it then.
Since the tour didn’t start until 11, we took our time getting up and were going to take a walk on the ramparts, but were worried about time, so we decided to wander through the markets over to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The lines were too long to go see the tomb that Jesus was lain in, but we went to the Hill of Golgotha to see the spot the crosses were believed to be placed.
Church of St. Alexander Nevsky was a few blocks away, so we made a stop there. Many people used think that this is the site of the city gate that Jesus went through on his way from the city to Calvary, but modern archeologists think it was built a couple of hundred years later. Most of the sites in Jerusalem seem to have these doubts. A few of the claims have archeological evidence, but many are just stories that were passed down for several hundred years and may or may not be true. This church building also has one room dedicated to Czar Nicholas and his family before you enter the church.
Across the street was the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. When they began building this church, they uncovered evidence of the original city wall. In the Bible, it says that Jesus was crucified and buried outside the city, but when you visit the city today, it is well within the city walls. For years this was disputed, but when the remains of the wall was uncovered at this site, it placed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher just outside the city walls. In the archeological area, the boys really enjoyed a video about the excavations.
We went back to the hotel to rest and refill our water bottles, then walked a half a block to the start of the tour. We started out with a discussion of the city walls. John was particularly fascinated by the idea that the engineers in charge of the wall got their heads chopped off and their tombs are near the Jaffa Gate. The reason for this is usually either because they did too good of a job and the king doesn’t want them to build a wall for someone else, or because they did a poor job. In this case, it appears that there is a nearby hill that the enemy could shoot arrows into the city, so I think it is safe to assume the latter.
The tour continued to the Armenian Quarter, then out of the city to what is believed to be David’s Tomb. Just above the tomb is the site of the Last Supper. I particularly liked the room for the Last Supper. It was much bigger and nicer than I would have expected. I was also surprised to learn that they believe that this is the site of the Pentecost. The size of the room is much more appropriate for this. That said, the location of these sites is disputed as well. David’s tomb can’t be opened without destroying it, so they can’t look at the bones and any other artifacts in the tomb. Also, the city of David was further away from this site than archeologists would have expected. Additionally, grave sites are considered particularly unclean, so the idea that Jesus and his disciples would have celebrated passover on top of a tomb is suspect. On the other hand, Jesus did lots of things that defied convention, and the statement in the Bible about David in the Pentecost speech could have been triggered in part by the location. John also particularly liked the story about the builders making a mistake on stone stone carvings and the pelicans ended up looking like penguins.
Our tour wanderings took us to the Jewish Quarter and stopped for lunch by the Hurva Synagogue. We only had 30 minutes, but managed to get some shawarma pita wraps, which were delicious. They would have been more delicious if they were lamb, but the chicken was still pretty good.
We went by the Roman Cardo, which was built by the Romans after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D.
Next up was the Western Wall, which we had already seen yesterday. I am amazed by how emotional I get when touching things that are connected to Jesus. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not particularly sentimental about objects of history, but there is something about the things here that really trigger it.
While wandering through the Muslim Quarter, we learned that tonight is a celebration by the muslim community and that the Old City would be packed.
This took us to Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrow, which goes through the stations of the cross. I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get a lot of description of each station, although the one where Jesus stumbled has a supposed imprint of Jesus shoulder in the stone as he fell into the wall. Unfortunately, the original path was many feet lower, so if this were true, Jesus would have had to be a giant. Around the city, there are a few other stones with imprints of body parts in them. At the Chapel of the Ascension, on the Mount of Olives there is a supposed imprint of Jesus footprint as he was lifted the the heavens. The muslims also have a similar imprint of Muhammad when he was raised to the heavens. Whether any of this is true or not, I want to go back to the stations and really look at what each one is. Putting all the relics aside, there is a lot of true history and I want to separate from improbable stories.
Our tour ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which can easily be visited again and again. I loved the descriptions of the history inside the building. It is amazing that the things in the Bible happened in such close proximity to each other. The Hill of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified was actually in the center of an active cemetery. The tomb donated to Jesus was just footsteps away from the cross. It was amazing to see the impressions in the rock where the crosses probably sat. It was amazing to go in the cavern under the Hill of Golgatha and look up at the cross holes. It was amazing to see the cracks made by the earthquake when Jesus died and to see where his blood dripped down into the crack.
We also saw some crusader graffiti inside the church.
The history of this church is quite interesting. It is divided into six separate sections, each of which is owned by a different denomination. The styles of each section really reflect the denomination. The central part is quite plain, and decorated in a style that is supposed to satisfy all denominations. The center of the dome on top is glass, and the light coming in symbolizes the light we receive from being forgiven. This section can only be changed if all six denominations agree on what it should be changed to. Since they are unlikely to agree, it is unlikely this will ever be changed.
The ladder on the outside of the church is a classic example of the problems of getting along. Since this ladder “appeared” in the shared area, all six denominations would have to agree to move it. Since they don’t talk to each other, or have any idea of which of them may have put it there, it remains as both a symbol of their conflict and also of their need to work together and get along. Unfortunately, it sounds like they do more fighting than collaboration. In 2008, a fistfight broke out between the Armenian and the Greek monks and was caught on camera. Other fighting is not unusual.
On the other hand the Mosque of Omar is a fabulous example of differing religions getting along. In 637, Omar traveled to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in order to sign a peace treaty. He was invited into the church to pray. Luckily, he knew this would cause more conflict, refused and asked to pray outside. He was rewarded for this act by being granted land next to the church in order to be a mosque. This is how the two buildings ended up so close to each other and is a symbol of working together to keep the peace.
Our tour ended here and we decided to rest at our hotel. After a rocky beginning, we have decided that we really like The New Imperial Hotel. When we arrived, the kids loved their loft and Jeremy and I loved that we would get our own space. The view is just inside the Jaffa Gate, giving us Old City charm with easy access to the New City. Then the other evening, we lost cold water for the evening, which meant no toilet flushing, no showers; the maintenance person worked hours on the roof to fix the problem. The hotel staff ended up cleaning out a room that was under renovation and let us shower in there, and it was fixed in the morning We think the hotel is under renovation, and our room is very recently done. Most likely they made a plumbing mistake while working on one of the other rooms. Despite the water situation, the pros way outweigh the cons.
After resting, we tried to get to the New City via the Damascus gate, but with the muslim holiday, the crowds were too thick and we gave up and went back to Jaffa Gate and out that way. We wandered a bit. I got more pastries, the boys got ice cream. Yum! I really like the poppy seed filling.
As we were heading back to our hotel, we heard the cannon (and saw the smoke) that was fired by the Damascus gate. This marked sunset and gave the muslim population notice that the daily fast was over and that they could eat and drink again until sunrise.
We decided to go see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher again, yes three times today, while it was in a more peaceful state. The tour groups were gone. The only light was from candles. It felt more like a church than a zoo. We spent some time reflecting, and thought about waiting to go into Jesus tomb, but the while the line was shorter, it still probably would have taken an hour to get in. We decided to touch the stone that Jesus was anointed on. I can’t explain what I felt when I touched this stone, but the sadness, the gratefulness, the wonder that entered me was an experience unlike any other that I have had.
When we got back to our hotel, we rested a bit enjoying some music coming from outside. When we went out to the balcony we realized it was the sound and light show. We went up to the hotel roof deck and had a quite good view and sat and watched it for a while.