This is where the action is.
Old city of Jerusalem is approximately 1 sq.km. piece of land housing few of the holiest sites of Abrahamic religions. It is divided into four quarters namely: Armenian Quarter, Christian Quarter, Muslim Quarter and Jewish Quarter. Until 1860, this area constituted the entire city of Jerusalem. However, currently the New City has expanded virtually all around it. This city is walled and has seven operational gates. It is unbelievable to see how so many sites of significance are fitted into this tiny grid.
I spent almost 3 days wandering in the narrow alleys of the old city. All of the 4 quarters have a distinctive feel: the smell, the people and even the cleanliness levels are different. Streets are lined by hundreds of little shops, alas most of them are souvenir shops selling expensive touristy stuff. Food is plenty and cheap in one of the restaurants. I spent long times sipping mint tea or pomegranate juice, eating falafel and watching people walking around.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre:
The New Testament (Holy book of the Christians) describes that this was the place where Jesus Christ was crucified and later buried in a sepulchre. The Churchs’ construction was ordered by the Roman emperor Constantine. Later the building was destroyed by Persians, rebuilt by Byzantines, damaged by Muslims, restored by Byzantines, changed hands to Turks, developed by Crusaders, changed control to Kurds and then to Khwarezmians, Turks again, British and finally today it is in the country of Israel. (phew! No, I did not memorize this).
As with other Christian sites I visited, this church was heavily crowded too. I visited this place twice and
unfortunately both times were high season – Christmas and Orthodox Christmas. Plus it was quite dark inside, so I don’t have many pictures. The church is gigantic and the guidebook identified atleast 24 different places of worship in different corners of the church. For a person familiar with Bibical stories especially, this place holds lot of significance because one is able to actually see what was hitherto only textual description.
Dome of the Rock:
By far in Israel, this was the most interesting structure I saw. The history of this place is simply fascinating – depressing, exciting and very interesting. The Dome of the Rock is situated on Temple Mount, the holiest site of Judaism. The First Jewish Temple stood here from 967 BCE to 586 BCE (destroyed by Babylonians), the Second Temple stood from 516 BCE to 70 CE (destroyed by Romans). During the Byzantine period and later during Crusader period, this place was briefly a Church. It was largely ignored until the arrival of the Muslims who built the current structure in 690 CE. This place is the third holiest site for the Muslims (after Mecca and Medina). Christians believe that rebuilding this temple will mark the second coming of Christ, while Jews believe that this site is where the Third temple would be rebuilt along with the arrival of Jewish messiah.
I had read before that only Moslems are allowed to enter this place but I went to the entrance anyway. The guard politely asked me to leave after I told him that I was not a Muslim. I disapprove this practise of barring entry for people of other religions – something that is prevalent in some Hindu temples too.
There is lot more in the Old City of Jerusalem to talk about, but I have spent 6 blog posts in Jerusalem region itself. Lets move north to explore Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee next.