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A Marathon Day

I am repeating the title I used two years ago for the actual opening day of touring. It certainly applies to today, which was quite similar to what I experienced then. In addition, this year the high temperature was 97.

The bus picked us up at our hotel at 8:00, and we headed out to our starting point on the Mount of Olives. As we sat with the panorama of the city before us, Yuval used it as a visual aid for a speedy overview of the last 3000 years of its history, with a brief nod to a previous millennium or two. Then the bus took us down and let us off at the Lion's Gate, where we headed in to the city and picked up the Via Dolorosa. In fact, this part of our walk took us over the same stretch Marty and I covered yesterday. This was entirely fine, as one gets a different perspective looking at things with a group, not to mention with guides. And the element of familiarity in what is otherwise such an exotic place was enjoyable. Faraj did much of the commentary, pointing out the event commemorated by each station and clarifying which ones are biblical and which have developed over tradition. Our walk brought us to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, within which lie the last five stations, those covering the events occurring on Golgotha itself. We paused in a rare bit of shade in the courtyard containing the Ethiopian Monastery and listened as Yuval traced the involved history of this vast and varied building.

Then we went in and visited the same places I saw two years ago: the two Golgotha chapels, one Catholic and one Orthodox, the Rotunda containing the shrine over the Sepulcher, where once again I probably won't go in, and the ancient tomb of Jesus' era, which is probably better to see anyway, as it actually looks like an ancient tomb.

As we did two years ago, we stopped at Abu Shukri, the famous hummus and felafel place and had an excellent lunch of hummus, felafel, Turkish salad, Arabic salad, and minted lemonade.

Afternoon took us to the Temple Mount. This was interesting: While we were in line to go up, some of our number reported a woman coming up to people saying, "Are you Jewish?" If they said no, she shouted, "The Temple Mount is ours! The whole world is ours. God gave it to us; it is not for anyone else!" Then when we were in the plaza before the Al Aqsa mosque, we heard a commotion behind us. Evidently, a Jewish group had come in and was praying before the mosque. Now it is strictly forbidden for anyone but Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount. Others can go there but can not bring any religious symbols and can not pray there. This policy is strictly enforced by the Israeli security, as violations of it are decidedly provocative. This time, the Muslims at the site started shouting "God is great!" in Arabic. I for one did not see the confrontation but could hear it. It went on for a few minutes, but Israeli security surrounded the offending Jewish group and ushered them out. Just a little local color! It might seem quite awful to forbid people to pray in this beautiful and holy site, and perhaps some day it will be different. But at this time, violating the policy is only prayerful for people whose religious view requires them to muscle out other religions. There have even been plots to blow up the beautiful Dome of the Rock, which has stood at the site since the seventh century, and an Australian fanatic did manage to set fire to the Al Aqsa mosque not that long ago, destroying much of the inside. It has been restored. We could not go inside either the mosque or the Dome of the Rock, as we are not Muslim.

While all the above was going on, Faraj explained the history of the area, which the Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. It is the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. Of course, as the location of the First and Second Temples it is also the holiest site in Judaism, where today Jews pray at the Western Wall. It is certainly the case that the Dome of the Rock is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, with its symmetrical octagonal shape, its brilliant blue tiles, and of course, its gleaming golden dome.

After exploring the beautiful plaza around the Dome of the Rock, we headed down the hill and walked over to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations next to it. As I had two years ago, I found the Garden a beautiful rest from all the stone of the Old City. And I really liked going into the church. As I had wandered around the church before, I welcomed the chance to sit in a pew and rest. It is a modern church with beautiful mosaics. Afterward we went across the road to another olive grove. Unlike the "official" Garden, which one can only walk around and has olive trees dating back over 1500 years (to Roman times, though not biblical ones), this garden, with newer trees maintained by Franciscans, can be visited. It is locked, but a friar opened it for us. We certainly appreciated the chance to sit on benches under the trees and reflect.

Then, thoroughly beat, we took the bus back to our hotel. About ten of us, including me though not Marty, went up to the roof and took a dip in the small but delightful pool. I am frustrated that my finger got into the picture I took, and I will replace it if I have the chance to take another.

Ethiopian courtyard of Church of the Holy Sepulche

Ethiopian courtyard of Church of the Holy Sepulche

Hotel pool

Hotel pool

Posted by mlld3536 17:00 Archived in Israel

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