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.