Mount of Olives tour and an Israeli Dagger!

Jerusalem Travel Blog

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We woke up a little later New Years Day, since we were out late, the night before.  We decided to try to walk the Via Dolorosa.  Rob guided up through the Armenian Quarter into the Jewish Quarter using the different maps.


We passed through Hurva Square where Hurva Synagogue sits.  The history of the synagogue justifies the name because Hurva means “ruins”.  A group of a few hundred Ashkenazi Jews from Poland found the synagogue.  Unfortunately they did not pay their debts so it was burned down by creditors just before it was finished.  Rebuilt in 1864 in a Neo-Byzantine style, it was destroyed in 1948 by fighting between the Arab and Jewish communities.

  All that was left by 1967 when Israelis captured the Old City was a single arch.  It is currently being reconstructed and almost finished.


We ended up overlooking the Western Wall area.  We saw a man selling yarmulkes.  We decided to buy a couple as souvenirs and gifts.  It was a beautiful clear day so we decided to get some shots.  Rob was not really clear on how to get to the beginning of the Via Dolorosa quickly.  I didn’t want to rush so we headed back to a shop in the Jewish Quarter and bought some fruits and nuts.  On the way back to the room to drop off excess items we found a great shop.  It had wonderful hand made ceramics.  We didn’t have time to stop because we were going to go on a tour of the Mt of Olives.



We got back to the Jaffa Gate where the tour from Sandmans New Jerusalem tours was leaving.  We bought the tickets and waited.  While we waited, Rob had a fresh ear of corn from a vendor.  That is true street food.  Rob also ran to a shop and got us drinks.  In the square where we waited there were vendors with their carts.  One cart was being played with by a young boy who thought popping wheelies….hillarious!


It was finally time for the tour.  Our guide, Dvir, got us all together and into a minibus cab to head to the top of the mountain.  Our first stop was Mosque of Ascension (originally the Church of Ascension) is the location where it is believe Christ ascended to heaven.

  Twice a year it is still used as a church (once by Orthodox and once by Catholics) to celebrate Ascension as the date is not agreed upon.  As we approached the entrance there were men outside to collect money for entrance and usher us inside.  Once inside the walls the only building left inside was round building.


Inside the building is a left footprint that is said to be the footprint of Jesus.  The footprint is off center in building to allow clear access to the altar of the mosque.  To get pictures I waited until most of the group was out and had Rob close the door.  He had to do it a couple of times.


From the mosque we start our descent down the mountain.  We passed a house with a huge Israeli flag flying.

  It is a Jewish family living in the Arab area as a political statement to say they deserve to be there.  The house is surrounded by surveillance cameras and has armed guards.  We could actually see the guard walking around on the roof with his gun out. 


We progressed down the hill and got breathtaking views of the Old city and the Dome of the Rock.  At the base of the Eastern Wall of the platform of the Dome of the Rock is a Muslim cemetery.  On the side we were on and over looking is the Jewish cemetery.  It is actually the oldest functioning cemetery in the world.  There are very few plots left and it is very expensive to be buried there.


The current walls of the Old City were actually built by the Ottomans about 450 years ago.

  The original walls were knocked down by the Mamelukes so that if the Crusaders took the city they would not have a walled city.  When the Ottomans rebuild they gave the wall a different shape so the oldest part of Jerusalem is outside the current walls.


Our descent took us into the Jewish cemetery.  We sat for a while and Dvir told us about the history of the area and pointed out interesting facts.  Over looking the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Valley of Judgment) we enjoyed the views to the Old City.  In the background we say the tower of a church near the Christian cemetery where Oskar Schindler is buried. 


We moved on to see the Dominus Flevit Chapel in the heart of the Jewish cemetery.

  Dominus Flevit translates to “master cried” or “the Lord wept”.  The sanctuary is currently controlled by Catholics.  As we entered the sanctuary we passed a necropolis where you could see the evolution of burial styles.  The oldest style was here the body would be left to decay for a year or so and then the bones would be moved to a niche with the bones of their ancestors.  The next evolution was to place the bones in individual boxes.  When the Romans came, individual sarcophagus were used. 


The chapel stands where the rock is that Jesus sat on and wept over the fate of Jerusalem.  It is in the shape of a teardrop and was built in 1955.  Jugs at the top symbolize catching the tears of Christ.  When you enter the chapel you notice the altar is opposite the traditional placement and has a huge window over it.

  This was done to allow worshipers to see the view Jesus had when he wept for Jerusalem.  There are wonderful mosaic floors both inside and out.  


Around the sanctuary and the city you see the Jerusalem Cross.  It is a large cross with four smaller crosses around it.  The simpler form of the cross is known as the "Crusaders' Cross", because it was on the papal banner given to the Crusaders by Pope Urban II for the First Crusade, and was a symbol of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The four smaller crosses are said to symbolize either the four books of the Gospel or the four directions in which the Word of Christ spread from Jerusalem. Alternately, all five crosses can symbolize the five wounds of Christ during the Passion. This cross is used on the flag of the Republic of Georgia and on the Arab-Norman chuches of Palermo.

Those are the only other places in the world that I’ve seen this cross.


Just below the chapel is some of the oldest portion of the cemetery you can see the ravages of the wars and time on the graves.  We also had a good view of Church of St Mary Magdalene.  It is a Russian Orthodox Church built in Muscovite style.  It was built in 1885 by Tsar Alexander III in memory of his mother Maria Alexandrovna.  It is very distinctive in the landscape with its seven gilded onion shaped domes typical of the Russian Orthodox churches.


We exited the sanctuary and blended into the flow soldiers descending the mountain.  Our next stop was Church of All Nations or Church of Agony.

  It is I built over the rock in the Garden of Gethsemnae on which Christ prayed the night before he was arrested.  He was said to have been betrayed here two times.  The first was when he wanted to sleep and asked the apostles to watch over him and they all fell asleep.  When he awoke and found them sleeping he went to he rock and wept blood.  The second betrayal was when he was turned over to Herod here. Some of the olive trees are over 2000 years old.


The present church was built in 1924.  Twelve nations contributed to the construction, thus the name.  Each of the church’s 12 domes is decorated with the coat of arms of a nation that contributed.  From the front steps of the church you can see the Golden Gate in the Old City wall.

  It is s said that when the messiah comes the gate will open up.  The gate was permanently closed by the Ottomans.  This just makes the myth of them opening more spectacular. 


Crossing the street we entered the Tomb of the Virgin.  This is where it is believed the Disciples entombed the Virgin Mary.  This is considered to be one of the most intimate and mystical holy sites in Jerusalem.  It has been venerated since the 14th century as the tomb of St Anne and St Joachim, Mary’s parents.  The first crypt was cut in the hillside in the first century AD.  The current cruciform crypt of today is Byzantine.  We entered the building and walked down the 47 steps to the tomb.  Hanging from the walls and ceiling there are dozens of beautiful metal and bejeweled lamps.

  The tomb of Mary stands in the eastern branch of the crypt.  It is decorated with icons and scared ornaments typical of Orthodox Christian tradition. 


To enter the tomb you have to stop down and go through a small door. The tomb is covered with a marble and glass altar.  When I was in the room there were two women in there with me. One of the women was so disrespectful it made me furious.  She was just paging through the Bible that was on the altar.  Even though it was not here religion she should showed respect for another religion.  I am sure she would have been equally furious had I done that to one of her religions sacred items.


Once we exited the tomb it was time to go back to the Old City.

  We walked back to enter through the St Stephen’s Gate (Lions Gate).  As we enter the gates the traffic was at standstill.  Cars were coming from both directions and people had to blend into the traffic to move a couple of drivers were very irritated.  They were just laying n their horns.  We managed to wind our way through and end up on the Via Dolorosa at the 3rd station.  We were in an area of shops so we decided to leave the group and shop.  We found a shop with t-shirts and other things.  We made a deal on some shirts and an Israeli dagger.  The only issue was we didn’t have enough cash.  The owner preferred to not take a credit card but offered to walk us to an ATM.  We agreed and walked down the El-Wad to the Damascus Gate and exited the Old City.  We passed though different vendors and got to the ATM.
  Our card would not work in this machine.  The shop owner said not to worry we could go to another one around the corner.  All the while he was saying that he could just let us take the stuff and bring the money the next day but never stopped pointing us to an ATM.  We passed the entrance to the Garden tomb and passed through residential neighborhoods in modern Jerusalem.  It was pretty dark at this point.  We felt more comfortable with a local with us as we passed a couple of groups of young guys up to no good.  We finally made it to the next ATM.  No luck.  Rob was a little concerned and called the bank.  There was nothing wrong with our card, but bank are very careful about transactions in the Middle East.  There have been many cases where the amount withdrawn from the account is twice the amount given to the person.


No cash in hand we headed back to the Old City.

  On the way the shop owner remembered another ATM on the way.  When it didn’t work he point us to yet another while telling us stories of how he had given people merchandise and trusted them to bring the money.  The fourth try and no luck, but there was number 5, right next to it.  It was the same bank as the last one, but it worked.  We were able to pay the man and he walked us back to the Old City.  While we walked we passed through the dark streets and the local groups of kids.  I held onto the dagger we had purchased and thought, if I had to I could protect us.


The owner got us back into the city and pointed us back towards the hotel.  We weaved our way back towards the Jaffa Gate.  We passed more merchants trying to lure us into their shops.

  The labyrinth eventually gave way to an area we recognized. 


After a quick stop at the hostel to drop off stuff we went eat around the corner.  It was only an omelet but, it was tasty!


With full stomach and totally worn out we retired to the room and watch some DVDs and just relaxed together.  This had been another day full of history, revelation, and sadness in some ways.

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photo by: daynnightraveller