The Dome of the Rock
This is the view of Old Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
Nothing is as simple as it seems and this was the revelation that Israel gave to me. Entering a country has never been so difficult, complicated and time consuming as was the case from Jordan into Israel. We entered by land on a special bus and were essentially escorted to the “doors” of the border. In the Arrivals Area, we had to present our passport no less than 10 times and waited close to two hours before all of our groups luggage had been cleared by security. After such a long wait we were finally permitted to enter Israel only to be escorted by bus directly to Jericho which lies in the West Bank in Palestinian Territory and out of Israel again.
Once in Jericho (after going through yet another security checkpoint) which claims to be the world’s oldest town and the lowest town in the world at 260m below sea level, we saw the Mount & Monastery of Temptation where Jesus was tempted by Satan. The first things we were tempted by were freshly squeezed Pomegranate juice and Jericho dates. I passed on the juice but purchased a 1kg package of dates out of the trunk of a car
for $5 US. They were the most delicious dates I have ever tasted in my life and yes, I ate the whole box in a matter of a week. Delicious! The afternoon was more somber and serious. We visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s moving memorial to the millions of victims of the Nazi Holocaust. We only had about three hours to work our way through the museum which wasn’t sufficient to see all of the grounds as well which includes a children’s museum to remember the over 1.5 million Jewish children exterminated during the Holocaust. At the end of the exhibit is the Hall of Remembrance where the floor is inscribed with the names of victims. Before exiting the museum the doors open onto a vista looking over a grove of over 6 million trees planted to commemorate the over 6 million Jews exterminated during the Holocaust – an eloquent and breathtaking tribute.
Along the way, we also stopped by the Dead Sea also called the Salt Sea; it has 33% salinity. It is 423m below sea level making it the lowest point on earth. Nothing can grow in it due to its salt content hence the name but people
can float in it and we certainly did. It was the strangest feeling to float so easily lying on your back or on your stomach and even standing up! It also has certain health and healing benefits and the salt from the Dead Sea is used in cosmetics such as the skincare line Ahava.
From the Mount of Olives, I looked over to Old Jerusalem. It is a spectacular view with the Dome of the Rock as its centerpiece – so much religion, history, significance and controversy concentrated in this piece of land. As we descended the Mount of Olives by the Palm Sunday Road, we made our way to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus went to pray before Judas betrayed him with a kiss. The garden still has several ancient olive trees that may have been standing during Jesus’ lifetime. The peace in this garden was so serene and still even though it is now nowhere its original size and surrounded by a three churches and a Jewish Cemetery. Jerusalem, the Old City is surrounded by a wall which was commissioned by Suleymant the Magnificent between 1537 and 1542. The Old City is divided into Jewish, Muslim,
Armenian and Christian Quarters. I entered from Damascus Gate, considered the most attractive of all the gates but what I would consider the busiest and most crowded since vendors of all sorts of things are found here. The Lion’s Gate is the starting point of Via Dolorosa or The Stations of the Cross. This being the route that the condemned Jesus took as he carried the cross to the Calvary. Nine stations are outdoors and the final five stations are all in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Cavalry. This is where the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian and Coptic churches all believe that Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. The church itself is a collision of several types of architecture from various time periods. The cobblestone and winding streets of Old Jerusalem are filled with religious pilgrims, tourists, cats, school children, soldiers, shoppers and vendors trying to sell every kind of ware from cellphone cases to bagels to falafels to religious relics and souvenirs.
The Temple Mount was built over the biblical Mt Moriah, the location of the foundation stone of the world itself. It was here that Adam, Cain, Abel and Noah performed ritual sacrifices, and
where Abraham offered his own son, Isaac, to God in a supreme test of faith. It was also the location of Solomon’s First Temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was housed, and the site of the Second Temple (home of the “Holy of the Holies”, the sacred alter to which only high priests were permitted). This site is also considered holy by Muslims; it’s the 7th century site of Mohammed’s ascension to heaven to join Allah, making it Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina. The centerpiece of the Temple Mount is the gold-plated, mosaic-adorned Dome of the Rock which covers the slab of stone on which Abraham prepared his sacrifice, and from which Mohammed ascended to heaven. Unfortunately, non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque, so I was only able to walk around the Temple Mount.
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