Thursday, 16 February 2012

Israel and Palestinian Territories 3

Jerusalem from David's Tower

So far, in my Middle Eastern adventure, I have survived border control (post 1), toured Jerusalem and visited Nablus (post 2). Today we stick to Jerusalem again, and head just across the road to where we are staying, the David's Tower Museum. The views from the tower are some of the most spectacular in the city. It helped that it was a beautiful day.

View of the Citadel, the King David Hotel. Points for those who can spot the windmill.
It also houses a museum of the history of Jerusalem, which is very well done. It takes you all the way through from the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah, which is the outcrop where the Temple stood (although some scholars will contest that this happened near Shechem, where I visited the day before). According to Wikipedia, Jerusalem 'has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. That's a lot of history.

Interestingly, the Tower of David is a misnomer. It was not built by David, but by another character mentioned in the Bible: Herod of the Slaughter of the Innocents fame. The tower was one of three that protected Herod's palace, which you can see the ruins of in the museum.

We had lunch at the Christ Church guest house (where my parents were staying). The lunches there are really good quality and for a really good price. I'd definitely recommend it.

Afterwards, we tackled the Via Dolorosa. This is the journey that Jesus allegedly took from being tried to his crucifixion. Most historians would say that it was incorrect, and he probably started at Herod's Palace. However, it was a good reminder of what Jesus would have gone through, although they did seem to want to drive the point home with the amount of times he fell and his extra-biblical  encounter with Veronica.

The Ecce Homo Arch on the Via Dolorosa
We went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a vast complex of crypts, compounds and chapels of different denominations. The church, as a result, is often a place of conflict rather than peace and tranquillity. As a good little protestant, I also found the smells and bells a bit too much. For instance, there is a replica of the stone that Jesus was supposedly laid out on. It's not a particularly convincing replica: it's made of granite that would have had to have been imported from a far off land. However, people seem to be very enamoured with this replica, rubbing things on it and kissing it. My brother provided a very droll commentary of what we were witnessing, saying "this is the reason that Holy Sites are some of the biggest transmitters of communicable tuberculosis there are".

Ethiopian Monastery on the top of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The following day, we decided to tackle the Mount of Olives. This was a Friday. This was a mistake. Jerusalem is a city of the three Abrahamic faiths. You'd have thought they'd at least agree on which days to have off, but no. Muslims takes Friday off; Jews, Saturday; and the Christians, Sunday (although they seem to be a little less bothered about it). As a lot of the Holy Sites on the Mount of Olives are Christian we thought Friday would be a safe bet. Russian Orthodox will be open, we thought. Church of the Ascension will be fine. But no. The Mount of Olives becomes a ghost town on Fridays. Check your guide book, people.

However, what doesn't become a ghost town is the Muslim quarter, especially after the prayers have finished on the Temple Mount. We tried to enter back in to Jerusalem through the Lion's Gate (the closest to the Haram al-Sharif) but we were prevented by thousands of Muslims pouring out of the gate. We eventually had to walk round the city, to the Jaffa Gate.

Damascus Gate after prayers. Lion's gate was even busier.

We went back to the Western Wall to see what it was like as Shabbat began. As a child I always imagined it being a really sombre, eerie place, due to it's other name, "the Wailing Wall". However, this was filled with singing and dancing, and had a vibrant, electric atmosphere. Jerusalem is a city of contrast, conflict but also, it seems, misnomers.

Top tip 1: King David's Tower Museum. Brilliant.
Top tip 2: Check your guide book for opening times. Both Friday and Saturday are the trickiest, although a lot of museums seem to be closed Tuesdays.

To see more photos go to Israel and Palestinian Territories 1 or Israel and Palestine 2

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