Monday, November 6, 2017

Touring Middle East 8: The Old City Jerusalem

Obviously, we spent most of our time in Jerusalem in the Old City (and its surroundings), just like every tourists who come over to visit. There’s no other places with a longer, more colorful history (believed to be more than 3000 years old) yet relatively well preserved, despite being fought over again and again for the past 2000 years. First and foremost, this small walled enclave of slightly less than 1 square kilometer (just to give you some reference – Hong Kong Island is 80 times bigger) is the heart of much religious significance, whether you are Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and that’s our major reason why we were here – to visit some of those Holy Sites key to Jesus’ life, especially in the last days before He’s betrayed, arrested, crucified, buried and rose again.

We spent about 2.5 days there altogether this time, starting with one early morning when we had a quick walk-through of the Old City. We entered through Herod’s Gate, one of the seven city gates which are accessible from outside and one that led us into the Muslim Quarter in the northeastern part of the city. The Old City Jerusalem is divided into four quarters – Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter and Armenian Quarter – and historically inhabited by different people of different religious beliefs.

Church of St Anne
Walking through the narrow alleys lined with shops on both sides, we arrived at our first stop of Church of St Anne on the edge of the Muslim Quarter. It is located in a beautiful courtyard and thought to be at the birthplace of Mary, Jesus’ mother. The acoustics of the cathedral building was great with the high dome ceiling so all of us enjoyed a few songs inside.

The 7th station marks the place where Jesus passed through the Gate of Judgment, and fell for a second time carrying the cross

We then made our way into the Christian Quarter, following the famous path of Via Dolorosa, or the "Way of Sorrows" to commemorate the route Jesus followed where He was condemned, carried the cross to the Calvary where He was crucified and buried (and resurrected) Traditionally the path was marked by fourteen "stations" which Christian pilgrims have followed for centuries, each marked for an event on the day of crucifixion as described in the Books of Gospel, ending at Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built, destroyed and re-built several times on the site known as the Calvary or Golgotha, which according to The Bible as where Jesus was crucified and buried.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
To me personally it's a humbling experience retracing the path as Jesus walked with the cross, with the gloomy weather on the day of our visit added to the sense of sorrow-ness through our time of devotion. Church of the Holy Sepulchre is unlike any other churches I have visited anywhere in the world. I am sure to many this represented the holiest of all holy sites – five of the fourteen pilgrim stations are actually located inside the complex which made up a lot of chapels controlled by different denominations and groups, but I can’t help but feeling a little over-the-top with the crowd shoving and pushing and all the elaborative decorations. In the center of the church rotunda is the “Holy Sepulchre”, built upon the spot traditionally believed to be one that Jesus was buried and resurrected. There was a long line queuing to see the actual spot underneath but we gave up waiting (He’s not there anyway – that we knew as a fact without having to verify it ourselves)

Western Wall during Sukkot
The other sights in Old City were fascinating as well – many considered sacred in Judaism and Islam.  Western Wall was packed with Jewish pilgrims - many dressed in traditional Orthodox Jews outfits - at the height of their Sukkot festival celebration. We donned the kippah (a requirement even for non-Jews) and joined them up close at the legendary wall, now considered the closest Jews are allowed to access to their temple for prayers. King David’s Tomb was considered to be the burial site of David, King of Israel at Mount Zion. Outside was a sculpture of King David playing a harp, a reference to 1 Samuel 16:14-23 in the Old Testament. It's also the site known to be where the Last Supper took place.

Herod's Gate

Jaffe's Gate

On the side between Damascus Gate and Jaffe Gate (largely Christian Quarter and part of the Muslim Quarter) is where the busiest streets are. Through those little alleys and side streets one can find everything from clothes, household supplies, souvenirs (a lot of them), meat and seafood, restaurants and cafes, or even barber shops, tailors and antique stores. We made a quick stop at Jafar Sweets for a plate of traditional knafeh, a Middle-eastern dessert made with soft cheese topped with caramelized orange syrup (and a lot of coloring), for that interesting savory and super sweet combination. Did require an acquired taste to enjoy, but worth a try.

(Jafar Sweets: 40 Beit Habad St., Old City Jerusalem)

Church of All Nations

Garden of Gethsemane
We didn't get to visit the landmark golden dome, or Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, as this Islamic holy site is now closed to visitors, but we got a clear view of such from afar from the nearby Mount Olives as we visited the Palm Sunday Road where Jesus entered Jerusalem as King (Mathew 21:1-11) and the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested 3 days later.  (Mathew 26:36-46) Next to the Garden was the Church of All Nations, another magnificent building with good ambiance to be still and reflect.

(Touring Middle East - Part 8)

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