The bus ride between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is only about 45 minutes. Jerusalem is almost 2,500 feet higher in altitude than Tel Aviv, so the route included lots of ascents with sweeping views of the Israeli countryside.
Once we arrived in Jerusalem, I was immediately struck by the difference in the two cities. I had been told that Jerusalem had high security, and this was very apparent. Plenty of Israeli military were walking around (I later learned that military service is compulsory for all Israeli citizens over age 18). Many heavily-armed guards were present.
Adam and I headed to our hotel, the City Suites on King George Street. Similar to our experience in Tel Aviv, the hotel was small but very nice, with extremely helpful staff. We again were fortunate that the hotel was in a very convenient location.
We had lunch next door to our hotel at this falafel/shawarma joint. Locals were flooding in and out, which is always a good sign.
I stuffed myself with a delicious pita bursting with falafel and a ridiculous amount of toppings.
Adam and I then headed to Jerusalem's Old City. Our plan was to visit the Western Wall, then tour the Kotel Tunnels.
Here were some of the views enroute to the Old City:
Our first destination, the Western Wall, is a portion of the structure which originally composed the western retaining wall of the Second Jewish Temple atop the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is one of the holiest sites in Judaism, and also has strong significance in Christianity and Islam.
Once entering the Old City, we walked through a maze of local shuks (marketplaces):
We went through a security checkpoint to access the Western Wall. After seeing the Wall on TV and in pictures, I was stunned to enter and see it in person.
Men and women have to access the wall from different sections, so Adam and I went to our respective entrances. The women's section was filled with women praying silently or aloud. Many were putting prayer notes into the wall.
I was struck by how pious the site was. There is something very humanizing about seeing people in their moments of deepest prayer.
Next, we went on a fantastic walking tour of the Kotel Tunnels. The tunnels are adjacent to the Western Wall and were built to connect the ancient city with the Temple Mount. Our guide was exceptionally helpful in explaining the religious history and politics behind the Western Wall site. For example, the Western Wall runs alongside the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which are sacred Muslim sites (more about those later). Therefore, there are ongoing clashes between the Jewish and Muslim people over control of the wall.
Here are a few pictures of the Kotel Tunnels:
The sophistication of the tunnels built so many thousands of years ago is truly astonishing. The tunnels are truly an engineering and archaeological marvel.
We exited the tunnels along the Via Dolorosa. In Christianity, the Via Dolorosa is believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion.
Interestingly, the Via Dolorosa is in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. A local showed us a great view of the Rock of the Dome that I mentioned above:
We entered the church, then watched crowds of people paying enormous homage. After consulting our guide book, I learned that this church is the place where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
|The Stone of Unction, where Christ's body was laid after being removed from the crucifix and prepared for burial|
There are more sites of Christian significance in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre than I can even begin to describe here. We walked all around the church and I tried to take in the magnitude of all we were seeing. Our timing worked out to see a mass, which was an amazing experience. Everything felt completely surreal.
To close out the night, we went to dinner at a cafe called Kadosh. I accomplished my mission of eating local shakshuka:
My summary reflections from the day:
I was thunderstruck to experience how the holiest sites in three major religions are within such extremely close proximity to each other. The land is bitterly contested to this day. It was harsh reality to learn of the continuing discord across the three religions. I realized how much I take for granted in my peaceful American life, much beyond my own comprehension.
More about Jerusalem to come.
Linking up with Lauren, Van, Isabel and Marcella for Wanderful Wednesday; with Chris and Heather, Lauren, Ashley, Amanda and Brian, and Carolann and Macrae for Weekend Wanderlust; and with Lyn, Arnie and Jo, Sally-Ann, Anda, and Anisa and Katherine for The Weekly Postcard.