Thursday, July 1, 2010

First Trip into the Old City

After class today Claire(one of my roomies), Anna K. and I took a taxi down into the old city. This was my first time actually seeing the city in person and not on a movie or documentary. We entered the city through the Damascus Gate tourists usually enter through the Jaffa Gate. Pictured at the right is Damascus Gate. Once you enter the gate the streets are very crowded. Shopping stalls line both sides of the walkway. Claire has lived in Israel before so she knew her way around. I was totally lost. We headed for the Western Wall one of the sites everyone comes to see in Israel. Going to the wall was like going through airport security they scan your bag and you walk through a metal detector. Observing the Sabbath in Israel means not using electricity. But the metal detectors require electricity there is a sign that says the Rabbis have given special permission for the metal detectors to be used on the Sabbath day.
The Western Wall was originally built by King Herod to support the Second Temple. The wall is Judaism's holiest site. It is the largest section of the Temple area that remained standing after its destruction in 70 CE by the Romans. The larger stones near the bottom of the wall are the oldest ones. The smaller stones near the top were added by later rulers of the city to try to make repairs however they couldn't duplicate the large stones Herod's workers were able to produce.

Here we have the famous Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock I believe is the third holiest site in Islam. The Dome was built by the Umayyad caliphs in 691. I believe it is real gold.

This is called the Broad Wall. Its part of the wall that once encircled the City of David, the Temple Mount and the Upper City. It was built by King Hezekiah in the seventh century BC! It was built at the same time as the tunnel. I will be visiting Hezekiah's tunnel some time but we didn't have time today.

To the right we have the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is Golgotha also called Calvary the site of the crucifixion. The location was determined by Saint Helena the mother of Emperor Constantine during her pilgrimage somewhere in the 330's. Saint Helena was the first Christian Pilgrim. The church Constantine built was destroyed as were several other churches built on this site. I'm not sure when this version was built. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is unique in that six different Christian denominations own part of the church. Sadly it is not an easy going Christian partnership.

Here is an example of the uneasy relationship that exists between the different sects. See the ladder? You can see where it is on the picture above as well. This ladder is a point of argument. The ladder has been there since sometime during the 19th century. The Christian sects that own different parts of the church can not decide who has the authority to move this ladder so it remains and will probably be there until it falls apart. My pictures inside the church didn't turn out too good it's low light conditions inside. I'll try again another visit for pictures inside. There are certain chapel areas that are absolutely beautiful then you turn the corner and there is a run down area and you know its because they are arguing over who controls it. I think of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a microcosm of the Christian faith. I find it very sad that in one of the holiest places in Christianity they can't work together to make this church truly magnificent. It is a beautiful church in some areas but seeing the run down corners makes me sad that they can't work together.

We had dinner at the falafel stand just inside Damascus gate. All the guidebooks agree its the best falafel stand in the city. I agree with the guidebooks its wonderful. I'm planning to do a post soon about food here so I will go into what falafel is then.

After dinner we went to see a shopkeeper that Claire met the last time she was in Israel. Shopkeepers here are different than in America. They want you to come in a chat for a while. They served us coffee and we talked for a while. Okay so Anna K. and Claire talked to practice their Hebrew and I tried to follow along as best as I could. We didn't buy anything this time but they don't mind because they want to develop a relationship with you so when you are looking to buy you will go to them. They have nice merchandise too. The store is called Ali Baba it's in the Christian Quarter the owner's name is Shaaban. We didn't meet Shaaban this time but we talked with Rida who was very nice.

We exited the city through the Jaffa gate because its the tourist gate and its easier to catch a taxi there. When we got back to the apartment, Claire made some Hibiscus tea out of the hibiscus she haggled for in the city. It's really good tea but you have to add sugar to it otherwise its too bitter. The taste is a mix between fruit juice and hot cider its so good.

Questions from the comments: The olive trees in Gethsemane. It may be a while before I get over there. My best guess for why there aren't 2000 year old olive trees is the number of times Jerusalem has been invaded since the time of Jesus. My other guess is the development of the area they may have cut them down.

My Hebrew homework. My Biblical Hebrew class does not have a textbook so my homework is on worksheets. The worksheets do not have any English explanations of what we are doing in each exercise so I'm not sure how exciting that would be to see. I'm also not sure how that would photograph but I guess I can experiment with that over the next few days.

I have now made it through my first week of classes. I'm looking forward to my weekend...I'll have more time to study and review everything I've learned so far.


  1. I enjoyed reading about your afternoon in the Old City. The history behind The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and being a microcosm of the Christian faith was fascinating. It seemed silly not to have long ago taken that ladder down. What an extreme example I thought until you put it in that context. How sad to see this division impact the glory of a beautiful church. The pictures of the Damascus Gate, Dome of the Rock, Broad Wall and the Wailing Wall are beautiful to see. I notice the blue of sky is very intense compared to the sky in Texas.

    Haggling the best price on hibiscus tea is not something I would be comfortable doing but I know you will have to because it's the culture. The picture of your brewed hibiscus tea looked like I could reach over and take a sip. Ali baba sounds like it will be a fun place to return to again. Hard to believe that shop keeper's actually want to develop a relationship with you first so you'll buy from them later.

    Good to know that hailing a taxi is easier from the Jaffa Gate because it's used by the tourists. I'm looking forward to your return so I can see the tunnels and learn more about the Broad Wall.


  2. Excellent tourguiding, AC!

    The crenelations on the top of the Damascus Gate look weird. They aren't the vertical slits you usually see. Maybe you could ask someone why? They kinda look like T-shaped cutouts. Maybe they are for crossbows or something. Also don't have a clue why those round projections are there. Maybe some ancient architects notion of adding visual interest?

    I've seen many pictures of the Western Wall. Every time I do I wonder what kind of plant that is growing out of the cracks. Could you find out what it is? If they don't do some maintenance those plants will break up some of those blocks. Guess they don't take a weed-eater to it for the same reason that ladder is still there.

    Wasn't really sure what "falafel" was (thought, "FDR's dog hurt itself?") so checked Wiki. Does fried hummus balls dipped in hotsauce sound like a good description? They say that McDonald's serves McFalafel in some stores. Weird. Since you're going to do food later I'll ask about the fresh food. What do they have and where do they grow it? The pictures you've shown are beautiful but kinda stark.

    That ladder is amazing. More than a hundred years out in the weather through numerous major battles and nobody even grabbed it for firewood?

  3. Anna,

    We are enjoying your blog.
    Completing our stay in Italy/Switzerland tomorrow. Currently in Bormio, Italy.

    Grandpa & Grandma

  4. I love your pictures! Really interesting stuff. I've never been in that part of the world, so its really great to get your take on everything. That ladder is an amazing story. I'll be sure to share it with others. Keep up the great blogging and good luck with your studies!

  5. I really love all your pictures! The special permission to use the metal detectors is something I would never have thought of. I suppose if they didn't have that it would be a really big deal though. I guess I take using electricity everyday for granted.

    It's amazing that you are so close to so much history. I can only imagine how cool it is to see it all in person. This is such a great experience for you!

    That story about the ladder is amazing and sad. I'll be sure to pass that story on to others. It really is an interesting look at the politics behind it all. I'm amazed that someone just hasn't had enough of it and snuck up there to get it down.

  6. Anna,
    I love your posts and pictures. You've given us such good idea of what the culture and your new life is like! I would never have thought about a lot of the things you've told us. And, I love that you've invited questions and you've been able to answer them. Keep them going! I have to say it again - I LOVE the pictures!