Day 3: A Visit to the Old City

Jerusalem Travel Blog

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Sara and I properly covered for modesty and heat protection in the Old City.

"Here old is REALLY old." -- Benah, our tour guide of the Old City

Today is a field trip to some of the most amazing places in the world.  We begin with a bus ride through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (of Psalm 23 fame) which I am surprised to learn in a real place (so named because of all the killing that took place here during a long ago battle).  We pass Oskar Schindler's grave in a Christian cemetary and then park just outside the Old City walls.  The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian.  The Armenians are Christian so their quarters kind of blend in together.  The Jewish and Muslim quarters are the largest in area.

The walls of the Old city--you can see El-Aqsa Mosque in the background.
 

We begin in the Jewish Quarter on Mt. Zion.  We enter the Zion Gate which is riddled with bullet holes, remnants of Israel's 1948 fight for independence.  Benah the guide reminds us that "here tradition is stronger than the truth."  It's hard to accurately know what happened when and where in this city and most people rely on faith, not facts, to guide them.  We walk past the site of Jesus's last supper and the trees where Judas hanged himself.  We enter the room where King David's tomb is, though Benah points out that from an archaeological point of view, it is unlikely to be the actual King David's tomb.  The room is designed with Muslim influences therefore making it much more recent than King David's life. 

We travel along the Cardo, the main road of the Old City that cuts through the heart of it (hence the name Cardo).

The busy streets of the Old City.
  We see places where the road has worn away to the original road that lay here thousands of years ago.  Next we tour an archaeological museum and see relics from Herod's palaces of 2000 years ago. 

After a quick lunch of rice, veggies and of course, more watermelon, we have a little free time to explore the Old City.  It is a hot day and since we've arrived in Jerusalem, Sara and I have kept seeing the same small freezers of "Nestles Nok Out" ice cream bars everywhere.  We decide to get some ice cream as we puruse the market stalls of the Old City.  The market is packed, cramped and slightly dark.  We navigate up and down each aisle, but cannot find any of the ice cream freezers we've seen everywhere else all week.  A normal person might just give up the quest for ice cream, but it's REALLY hot, we're a little fatigued and it sounds so good.

All we wanted was a Nok Out.
  So we keep walking--briskly as we've been given only 45 minutes of independence--but we can't find anything, but cheap sandals, tacky souvenirs and spices.  Somehow we stumble into the Muslim Quarter and wander into what I call a Vegetarian's Worst Nightmare.  It's a grocery corridor filled with the strong aromas of Middle Eastern spices, onions and meat.  We see a display of goats heads within arms' length.  We see animal carcasses (leaving nothing to the imagination as to where this meat came from) hanging from the ceiling.  We walk even quicker, keep our eyes down and our focus at the literal light at the end of the tunnel.  Finally, we emerge into an open aired section of the city where there are plenty of small cafes.
Men praying at the Western Wall.
...and Nok Out bars.  We are so excited.  We only have 10 minutes to buy, eat, enjoy and get back to our group meeting place.  We both decide that there is no way we will go through Butcher Alley again and somehow through sheer luck (because I know our navigational skills aren't that good) we find our way back.  

Afterward we get back on the bus and return to Ramat Rachel for another lecture, dinner and time to change before returning to the Old City at 10pm.  We come to visit the Western Wall, the holiest site in all of Judaism.  Since the destruction of the first and second temples, Jews have come to the Western Wall to pray (the location of the temples is where the Dome of the Rock--a Muslim mosque now sits so it's as close as Jews can get to the temple site).

The women's side of the wall.
  Before we have time to visit the wall, our program leader Peter tells us, "The wall is alive.  You've seen other examples of antiquity today, but they're all just ruins--only alives to tourists.  Not the Western Wall.  The wall has karma."  Peter is right.  The place is magical.  The wall is crowded at this late hour with men praying on one larger side than the women (seperated by a dividing wall).  We write prayers on little pieces of paper, wash our hands (as is the custom) and walk up to the wall.  It amazes me that in such a well-known, much-visited public place every single person is having the most private, intimate conversation with God.  Some people go up to the wall to touch it, whisper to it or pray.
A man washes before going to the wall.
  Others stay back holding prayer books and reciting words.  It is an amazing experience to witness.  Once we've been up close to the wall, we walk backward (always facing the wall) to meet with our group again. 

Next we take an underground tour of the Western Wall (much of the original wall is now buried underground as the result of thousands of years of construction here).  We go down nine stories to walk on the original road outside the wall which was used by the likes of King Herod and Jesus.  We learn that Muslim villages built over the road and walls in the 7-9th centuries.  We also learn that the full Western Wall (of which we walk the entire length) was only discovered in the late 1970s/early 1980s.  When these tunnels that we're walking in were first discovered, many Arabs were upset because they thought the Jews were trying to infiltrate the Dome of the Rock and Jewish archaeologists and construction workers were even murdered as they worked here.  In truth, Jews would never dig underneath the Dome of the Rock as to not disturb what both religions refer to as the "holiest of holy," the site where God touched down and created man.  The tunnels are narrow and cramped, but we get an impressive view of the Jerusalem of yesteryear. 

Our tour wraps up just before midnight.  On the bus ride home we watch the clock go from 23:59 to 00:00--an experience we will repeat several times before our trip is through.  It was a long day, but a profound one too.

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Sara and I properly covered for mo…
Sara and I properly covered for m…
The walls of the Old city--you can…
The walls of the Old city--you ca…
The busy streets of the Old City.
The busy streets of the Old City.
All we wanted was a Nok Out.
All we wanted was a Nok Out.
Men praying at the Western Wall.
Men praying at the Western Wall.
The womens side of the wall.
The women's side of the wall.
A man washes before going to the w…
A man washes before going to the …
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photo by: daynnightraveller