Wednesday, May 07, 2008
As promised, I had an interesting day yesterday and now here is the travel log and photos to go with it.
We hired a guide to take us to the Mount of Olives to see the many places up there that are not really within walking distance for normal humans without a camel to ride or some kind of donkey. For me, a taxi was the way to go. Considering that some of the areas it felt like we are taking off in a small plane on a short runway and could not have sat up if we wanted to.
We started at the garden of Gethsemane, or where Jesus spent his last night before he was arrested. The olive trees there are still original from that time. There are 8 of them. I have attached a photo. The garden is lovely, but tourists are only allowed to walk the perimeter, not go inside. The church of all nations is there, it has mosaics dating from the 5th century, they are under glass so the photos did not come out at all. There is also the rock where Jesus prayed the three prayers before his arrest. It is right under the Catholic alter and the chairs around it are for Mass. There was a service in progress while we were there, so it was difficult to actually see much. I was impressed with this church because several countries all got together and built it with no fighting. With as much blood that has been shed in this area, that in itself was a miracle.
Next was the Dominus Flevit, or the Lord Wept church. There are spectacular views of the old city from the sanctuary of the church and a mosaic from the 5th century that is completely intact. Also part of what came alive for me was an excavation of hundreds of tiny stone caskets that held the remains of infant boys that were put to death in order to kill the coming Messiah after it was fortold that Jesus was being born. Seeing the piles of them, no bigger than a modern cement block drove home the amount of fear that must have pervaded the area during that time.
The church of the Pasternoster, or Our Father is a church that houses the place where Jesus taught the Lord's prayer to his apostles. It is written on huge wall plaques taller than me in over 150 different languages. When it was first built it housed the plaques is 60 languages. The reason they have built the church is due to an excavation of the Lord's prayer on a tablet that was written in Latin. The church has been rebuilt and expanded several times since the times of the crusaders. There is also a Carmelite nunnery that runs the gift shop there. Lots of things made of Olive wood, plus hand embroidered Rosary bags made by the nuns. I got most of my souvenirs there.
We had to skip the church of Mary Magdalene because it was closed. Another time. I still have two weeks.
Next was the tomb of the Virgin. This is where the disciples took Mary's body to be protected. There is also the house of Mary that just holds a sarcophagus and notes the place where she was ascended into heaven body and soul. The two places are separate and different Christian religions believe different things. We also visited the home of Mary, where her parents are buried.
The tomb of king David is the exact same place as the hall of the last supper. They were both built in the time of the crusaders to mark these significant places. There is also a mosque on the same property from the time when there was full Muslim rule.
The last stop on top of the Mt. Zion was of course, a gift shop recommended by the tour guide. It was huge and we had the place to ourselves because two tours buses had just left. We had the best tea ever and wandered for at least 30 minutes. I finally found the roman glass pendant I wanted and some earrings that I will probably take apart when I get home. I liked the glass, but the design just did not do anything for me.
On our way down the hill we stopped at the Mosque of the Ascension. A mosque you say? Yes, the place where Jesus's body was taken to heaven is in the middle of a Muslim mosque. Its a tiny place, no bigger than a large bathroom, circular stone building with a rock on one side of the floor that is supposed to be Jesus' last footprint before he was taken up. It was built almost 400 years after he died.
After all of that, we went back into the old city for a late lunch and a bathroom break.
We still had time with the guide, so he asked us if we wanted to do the Via Dolorosa, or the stations of the cross. We agreed, since we were paid up for the whole day. It was really interesting to hear the tour guide's account of each station. He had asked us at the beginning what faith we were and how religious we are. He said he would give us the balanced tour and tell us what each faith believed at each station. That was really cool. I guess by this point, I should not have been surprised how little the Christian faiths agreed on.
We saw each station and ended in the church of the Holy Sepulchre where the crosses and the anointing stone are kept. Actually it is just where the holes where the crosses were. That is a hard sentence. I put all the religious souvenirs that I got from the nuns on all the holy places, so they could be blessed. It is amazing to me that so many things are still out there to touch. There are some things behind ropes or Plexiglas because of looters or people wanting to steal or deface it, but really, there is a lot of stuff unprotected. The first two stations are hotly debated, but the prison where Jesus was kept is all built in stone, you can even see the holes in the stone where the shackles would have been. I could stand up on the different cells, but my head bumped the top. It was very cold and damp in there.
Near that church is Mary's home. I covered that before, so I won't do it again. What was cool is the hall of the last supper is only a few hundred feet from where Mary's house is.
On the way home, we stopped at Hezekiah's Tunnel and the pool of Siloam. The pool is at the end of an underground stream that is the same stream that King David used for water when building the original city before 1000BC. It is considered to be one of the oldest sites in Jerusalem. We passed on the 1700 foot wade through the whole thing in thigh deep water, but enjoyed watching the school kids come out soaking wet and laughing. There are even T-shirts that say "I survived the tunnel" like the ones you see at amusement parks.
Because of traffic, we passed by the Christian cemetery where Oskar Schindler was buried in 1974. There is a WWII memorial and museum there as well as a Holocaust memorial nearby. Another day for that.
I think I would like to go back to the house where Mary lived. They were about to close by the time we got there and we only stayed for maybe two minutes before we were ushered out by the security.
We made it home, took showers, ate a snack, went swimming in the pool downstairs, got dressed again and went out for sushi. I've never had kosher sushi before, so that was interesting. They only had four kinds of fish. No eel, no shrimp and a very limited selection of other items. It was the only restaurant so far that has not had an English and Arabic menu.
Today I am resting and will probably get some groceries after I am finished downloading the pictures.
All is well.