The heritage of Jerusalem

By | Category: Travel destinations
Jerusalem's Wailing Wall

The Wailing Wall

Jerusalem traces its origins back to biblical times. It is a holy place for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. What is really amazing is that given its history the old town, barely one square kilometre and incorporating 220 historic monuments is on the UNESCO list but is not a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall is part of the retaining wall supporting the temple mount, considered the holiest shrine in the Jewish world. Kabalistic tradition or more specifically Jewish mysticism, says that all prayers from around the world ascend to this spot. People come, not just to pray but also to leave written messages and prayers on small scrapes of paper that they bury in the wall’s crevices. The area, which has tight security, is floodlit at night. Particularly on the Sabbath, a Friday night, it is apparently very atmospheric with people dancing. Visitors can explore tunnels that have been excavated under the wall, which in days gone by connected the ancient city with the Temple Mount. A 75 minute guided tour has to be booked in advance.

King David brought the Torah to Jerusalem in 1,000 BC and this is said to be the reason why Jesus came here. The Dome of the Rock built in 705 AD was on the site of the original Jewish Temple. Today its golden facia is a distinctive feature of the city’s landscape. Now a Muslim shrine, the mosque is built over a sacred stone believed to be the place where the Prophet Muhammed ascended to heaven, and is recognised by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the site of Abraham’s sacrifice. For Christian’s it is also the place where Jesus spent his last days, and where his crucifixion and resurrection took place. Ornately decorated both inside and out sadly, at this moment in time, only Muslims are allowed inside.

a statue Of King david outside his tomb

a statue Of King David outside his tomb

Entry to see the Tomb of King David – it is questionable as to whether his body was actually buried there – is through a courtyard which is part of a former Franciscan monastery. A room on the upper floor of the thousand year old building is thought to be the place where the Last Supper was held.

The old city, incorporating Mount Moriah and the Temple Mount, is surrounded by walls that have seven gates. Still to this day this small area has a Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish quarter. The Via Dolorosa beginning at St Stephen’s Gate, also known as the Lion’s Gate, follows the fourteen Stations of the Cross, the route Jesus took from his trial to the site of his crucifixion. The narrow path winds its way through the Muslim quarter where there are lots of little shops selling souvenirs. We went directly to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which encompasses the last Stations of the Cross including the place where the crucifixion took place, and Christ’s tomb. Needless-to-say, there were queues with a priest hurrying people along.

From the top of the Mount of Olives, the hill where Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem, there are spectacular views of the old city, and the Dome of the Rock. At its foot is the Church of All Nations with its Byzantian mosaic façade, and next to it the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus meditated, and was betrayed.

Many Roman cities had a Cardo, a grand main thoroughfare flanked by two rows of columns, bisecting the city from north to south. It was the main commercial avenue of Jerusalem for almost 500 years and was paved in the second century when Hadrian rebuilt the city. In the sixth century it was extended south to the area that is now the Jewish quarter of the old city. It was only excavated in 1970 as previously this part of the city was under Jordanian rule. A section has been revived as a shopping street selling mainly souvenirs. We were able to walk through part of it, and what was really lovely was stopping to hear a group of off duty soldiers, both men and women, using the space for a singsong.

model of how Jerusalem once might have been

the model of old Jerusalem in the Israel Museum

Near the Knesset, home to Israel’s parliament is the 20- acre site of the Israel Museum. It is somewhere not to be missed and it is advisable to allow as much time as you can for a visit. Made up of three collection wings, it is home to the Dead Sea Scrolls written in the first, second and third centuries BC and only discovered by Bedouins in 1947. A detailed scale model of ancient Jerusalem in 66 AD, shortly before its destruction by the Romans will give you an idea of how the city used to look. The archaeological section tells the story of the land that became Israel, and how it played a central role in history as located at the crossroads of the three continents of Africa, Asia and Europe more than 1.5 million years ago. The museum has a superb collection of Impressionist and post Impressionist art including works by Renoir, Van Gogh and Degas. Audio guides are included in the entrance fee but it’s worth trying to visit at a the time when there is a free, guided tour scheduled. www.imj.org.il

If anyone has ever had any doubts about whether the atrocities of the Holocaust ever took place, a visit to Yad Vashem will dispel them. The Jewish people’s memorial to the murdered six million holds the world’s largest collection of information on the Holocaust. Photographs on display are not for the faint-hearted!

Jerusalem is built on the Judean Hills. The main Tel-Aviv Jerusalem highway, as a memorial, still has remains of armoured cars that were destroyed in the 1948 war lining the route.

Do remember that in Israel their week begins on a Sunday. For religious reasons, most shops are closed on Friday afternoon and Saturday as well as Jewish holidays when a lot of the city comes to a standstill, including the public transport.

For more about Jerusalem, click here.

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