Western Wall & Temple Mount: Old Jerusalem Rings Real

For Jews the most holy site in Jerusalem, and in the world is the Western Wall. Also referred to as the “Wailing Wall”, today it refers to a nearly 200 foot section of an exposed ancient wall once part of The Second Temple dating back to the 19th Century BC. The exposed section of this wall rises about 60 feet above a plaza dedicated to prayer. As a sign of respect, visitors entering the plaza, regardless of religious preference, must don a head cover. Volunteers happily provide small cardboard yamikas for those not prepared.

Wailing wall refers to pilgrimage of people who come here to weep the destruction of the Second Temple.

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According to Jewish teachings, the Western Wall was built by King David and that today’s wall is actually built on top the foundation of the first Temple. It also states that God promised the Wall will never be destroyed.[34] Jewish teachings declare when Vespasian, the Roman Emperor called for the destruction of the Temple, he ordered Pangar, the Duke of Arabia, to destroy the Western Wall. Pangar pained himself and just couldn’t destroy it because of God’s will that the Wall would never be destroyed. When asked by Titus why he didn’t destroy it, Pangar boldly declared that its existence would stand as a reminder of what Titus conquered. Titus ordered him executed immediately. In Jewish lore here is a prophecy that states when water begins to trickle through the stones of the Wall, it is a signal of the coming of the Messiah.

I noted that a meter high fence separated two prayer areas in the plaza adjacent to the wall. One for women and the other for men. The wall extends into a building where books line the walls and intimate cubbies are provided for group prayer readings. I wandered through here watching people cry and burrow their heads into the wall. When leaving the sacred area, they walk backward never taking their eye off the wall.

The Wall itself is not only important to Jews because of its relationship to the First Temple. But it also represents one of the four sides of the Temple Mount which atop it sits one of the most holy places in Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque and it’s signature gold Dome that commands much of the “skyline” of the Old Town and the Dome of the Rock, the oldest Islamic structure in the world.

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It was here that according to Jewish Midrash that after God created the world he rest and where, according to the Old Testament, God gathered the dust that he used to create Adam and Eve. The first two temples were built here and today there are plans, amid controversy, to build what they hope will be the third and final Temple.

But both Israeli and Palestinian authorities claim sovereignty over the site. And deeply rooted and old as the wall, this conflict drives the wedge between the Western and Middle Eastern Worlds. Though, in 1967 Israel did appoint a Muslim council to manage the site.

While these images and the tidbits of history nestle deep in my memory, walking through Old Jerusalem brings history, the people and the places alive–making it real and in my face. I knew the importance of this wall, but until you see the orthodox jews deep in prayer along side the Manhattan advertising executive who after praying while bobbing his head up and down in a kinetic if not like an epileptic fit, asked me to take his photo next to the wall, nothing seems real.

Quietly I watched the men and women in prayer and asking if appropriate to shoot some pictures, I was given a nod of okay by a Rabbi wondering the plaza. Like the Christians kissing and praying at the tomb of Jesus, the Jews kiss the wall and pray. While above Muslims gather in the Dome of the Rock and bow toward Mecca while firmly pressing their foreheads onto the prayer carpets laid out for the loyal.

It’s all here. Old Town Jerusalem.

Mount Olives, Temple Mount, St. Peter, Virgin Mary, Mary Magdelene & More.

One night I ventured into New Jerusalem in hopes of tapping into the modern city while finding some great food. But because of the festivities and our president’s visiting entourage, even this solo traveler had a tough time finding a table at one of the cities nicer restaurants.

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Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City.

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Above: The Church of the Dormition, a roman Catholic church where purpotedly the Virgin Mary fell asleep for the last time. Adjacent to this church is the tomb of King David which sits where supposedly the Last Supper was held.

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King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion.

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The Last Supper?


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On the Eastern Slopes of Mount Zion and with dramatic views of the Kidron Valley, The Garden of Gethsemene and the walls of Palestine sits the church of St. Peter’s in Gallicantu, on the site where tradition states the grand palace of high priest Caiaphas sat, is where Jesus was brought to jail after his arrest. Its name (Gallicantu, means the cock’s crow) is given after the story of Peter’s thrice denial of Christ before the cock crowed as it was here that Peter denied him the third time.

On this site a Byzantine church was built in 457AD but destoyed in 1010, and then rebuilt by the Crusaders in 1102 (who renamed it to the present name). The church was in ruins again in 1320, and rebuilt in 1931.

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There’s a good reason that for thousands of years the hill above the Kidron Valley with panoramic views of Jerusalem and the old city is called Mount Olives.

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It has a definitive Russian architectural style with its onion bulbous shaped golden domes, that’s because the Church of St. Mary Magdalene which sits on the slopes of Mount Olives outside the wall of the old city was built by Alexander III of Russia.


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At the foot of Mount Olives sits The Church of All Nations which overlooks the Garden of Gethsemane where according to the scriptures Jesus and his disciples prayed on the night before the crucifixion. It’s also where the Virgin Mary is supposed to be buried.

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On the slopes of Mount Olives with views of Jerusalem and the Kidron Valley is perhaps the youngest church in Jerusalem, Dominus Flavit was built on holy ground in 1955 where Jesus wept while taking his last view of the great city of Jerusalem with the Holy Temple commanding the scene. It was hear the Jesus realized the tragic fate ahead. It was here just adjacent to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus told Peter before the cock crows, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.
The design of the sanctuary is that of a tear drop representing Jesus’ tears he wept for Jerusalem.

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Yours truly sitting in one of the cells where Jesus was purportedly imprisoned the night before the crucifixion. On the walls of this pit are emblazoned three Byzantine crosses and a shadow of a praying figure. Thought to be dated from the 5th Century when a Byzantine Shrine memorialized this site.

Below these images were shot at The Dome of the Rock. Which sits atop the Western Wall.

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Note the sundial in Arabic.

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The Dome of the Rock dominates the Temple Mount as known to the Jews and the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to the Muslims. Built in 690 BC it’s the oldest Muslim Shrine in the world.

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In all Islamic Mosques and artificats you’ll never find an image, painting, picture of a human form or Mohammed. Only animals and geometric shapes are used. Here are a few from The Dome of the Rock.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Of all the venerated religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem, most important to the Christians and an important pilgrimage target is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where purportedly Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected. Today the Church is the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, but interestingly the key to the site is actually held by a Muslim caretaker. This is because rivalry among Armenian, Greek and other Christian factions have long created problems and tension among Christian. Usually at stake are changes to the church’s exterior, furnishings or interior artifacts and holy curios. Today, most of the church must remain status quo. That is, the different Christian sects have agreed that there can be no changes, some things can’t even be cleaned. A ladder once used to work on the front of the church still remains and cannot nor will not be taken town.

Inside the Sepulchre sits behind loosely hung velvet ropes yet worshippers can touch, kiss and present rosary beads or other curios while praying for the Lord. The church was mildly crowded with Greek monks milling about while candles burned and tour guides whispered. Some walked with their eyes closed circling their heads as if in some trance, yet others with hands held together in prayer softly mumbled hymn like prayers — all in worship and respect for the one that died for their sins. I’ve certainly been in more amazing gothic cathedrals, great baroque churches and massive monasteries, but this must be the most holy and as the string of Christians continued to line up so they could rest their lips on and kiss the sepulchre I continued my exploration of Old Jerusalem.

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Old Jerusalem & Sixty Years of Israeli Statehood

I feel that President Bush is following me. Not really. But this is the second time during my journey that our president and I have been in the same country. In February we crossed paths in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and now today on May 14 in Jerusalem. This day is very important to Israeli’s as it marks the 60th Anniversary in which the United Nations proclaimed the State of Israel and thereby ending more than 30 years of the British Mandate. IMG_9637_2.jpg

But an ensuing war thrust the Old City of Jerusalem into turmoil and at one point an agreement divided the old city between Jordan and Israel with Israel ultimately declaring Jerusalem its capital. Yet Jerusalem and its old city has seen a tumultuous ride since it was referred to as Rusalimum in ancient Egyptian texts. Jerusalem during the Hyksos Period saw the reign Kings David, Solomon and Judah and ultimately a continuous battle between the Assyrians, Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar. Then as the centuries clicked away Jerusalem fell to the Persians, Egyptians, Maccabeans, Romans, and Byzantines before the Muslims took over the city ultimately pushed out by the Crusaders. Then the Egyptian Memluks have their turn before Sultan Suleiman and the Ottoman’s rebuilt the city and constructed the walls that still exist today. By World War I the British commanded the territory until after World War II when Israel was formally granted statehood sixty years ago to this date.

Not that I expect you to remember all this or that it’s entirely complete. Suffice to say that the lands that are now Israel have changed hands dozens of times over the last several thousand years. And while President Bush is congratulating Israel on its 60 years of statehood, the Palestinians, Syrians and many others in the Arab and Muslim world who’d rather abstain from such pomp and circumstance. As unmarked dark black cars with tinted windows and nests of antennas are escorted through the streets by a bodacious display of lights, sirens and artillery, its another blatant snub in the face those who would have preferred an alternate destiny for the holy land post World War II.

And then these are the problems of the world. Today and Yesterday. Will be tomorrow, too.

Meanwhile the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has reignited the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Lebanon under the guise of enforcing a strike protesting government economic policies and demanding an increase to the minimum wage. Hezbollah mobs have blocked roads with burning tires and garbage cans, and set cars and fighting political opponents in open street gun battles. Never a dull moment here in the Middle East.

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Yet as I take quiet time to wander through the Jewish Quarter of Old Jerusalem and climb and walk above the city in the ramparts built originally by the Ottoman Turks, I can’t help but think that this is a city that belongs to everyone. For on these grounds walked the leaders, believers, followers and originators of many of the world’s great religions: Christian, Muslim and Jew. Two temples built and later destroyed mark the holiest land to the Jews. And yet just above the only remaining wall of the second temple is the second most important Mosque in the Muslim World, the Dome of the Rock. And a scant half-mile away is the site considered to be where Jesus was crucified. And in this city Jews, Christians and Muslims walk the same pathways, eat the same food, shop in many of the same markets. So close yet generations and history apart.

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My Israeli & Jordanian Quagmire.

A Wall Too Far?

Flanking the Dead Sea it’s hard not to consider the history of those lands just a stone’s throw from Jordan. I wouldn’t have much time to spend in Israel, so I had to make what time I had count. The wine regions of the north, the resorts of the west and the bustle of Tel Aviv would have to wait. Jerusalem, the world’s holiest city, would be my target. Of course there are complications.

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Getting into Israel usually requires a valid passport which the local authorities will gladly review and stamp. Problem is, Syria won’t let anyone with an Israel stamp in their passport cross into their country. And while some Israeli border agents are sensitive to this issue and might stamp a paper inserted into the passport, even this concept presents problems for would be overland travelers heading into Syria after an Israeli excursion. For exiting Jordan at either of the two major border crossings along the Dead Sea means a Jordan exit stamp in your passport. So even though you might not have an Israeli stamp, Syrian officials will look at Egypt and Jordanian stamps in an effort to see if either of those countries were exited through Israeli borders. And Jordan officials are certainly less sensitive to the diplomatic problems between Israel and Syria and the challenges these issues mean for travelers.

A second passport might help, but getting Jordanian officials to provide an exit stamp in a passport that shows no entrance stamp will likely result in a dicey and difficult conversation. So even if I could explain the concept of two passports and the need for avoiding any hint of my visit to Israel, I would have another challenge: the motorcycle and the Carnet de Passage.

Like a passport, my carnet is legal-sized book of papers that provide detail as to the ownership of my motorcycle and the countries it has entered and exited. I deposited quite a significant sum of cash with the Canadian Automobile Association, who is responsible for management and issuance of such Carnets in North America, so that if the bike failed to leave a given country the customs of that country would be able to collect taxes/duty on the bike. Some countries don’t require them while using it in others simplifies the border crossing and temporary importation of vehicles. The Syrian government requires a carnet. So does Israel.

Things would be easier if I were traveling south into Africa as Syria can be visited prior to Israel. But there are fewer options. I could avoid Syria altogether — a notion that many of my readers might advise, but doing so means missing out on visiting the oldest continuously inhabitated cities in the world and more. Stubborn as I may sound, I wanted to visit Israel. Plus, with the violence currently wreaing havoc in Lebonon, I have less interest in traveling through that country at this time.

So if I show up at the Syrian border with a Carnet stamped at either Jordan/Israel border crossing would mean there’s no way I’ll be permitted to enter Syria with or without Doc.

You might say I was in a bit of a quagmire.

Old Jerusalem Sits Behind A Massive & Ancient Wall

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But gazing from the old walled city to Sharon’s Wall dividing Israeli communities from Palestinians West Bank, one can’t help wonder if this is a good idea. Personally I find the old wall much more aesthetically pleasing.

But I discovered one other possibility. I could possibly cross into Israel from Jordan over the King Hussein Bridge. This would mean convincing Jordan officials to bypass stamping my passport using my promise of an “official” exit from Jordan through Syria. Then I would need to convince the Israeli’s, too. This border crossing is closed to private and commercial vehicles. Anyone looking to enter through the border must do so in a government sponsored bus.

So I found a local Jordanian who lived a block from the immigration and customs office who would watch and let me park Doc next to his home while I traipsed in Jerusalem on a bus. Success.

I received more hassle and interrogation from the Israelis than the Jordanians, but at least they didn’t hole me up in a small windowless office while paging through my passport a dozen times and repeating the same six questions for two hours like they did the Belgium guy who shared my taxi ride into Jerusalem.

In Israel and once again I’m faced with another language I know so little.

Shalom.

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A nice Israeli treat as I begin my discovery of Old Town Jerusalem.