3rd – 4th April – Jerusalem   Leave a comment

From the Dead Sea we climbed up into the Judean highlands and soon arrived in Jerusalem and after a little searching, found our hotel on the Mount of Olives. We had a short walk around the local area to get some supplies and I  realised that due to it being an Arab district I couldn’t get any beer! Later we walked down the steep hill to the Valley of Kidron, visited the Garden of Gethsemane and made our first visit to the Old City. The second day was spent wholly within the Old City and the third day we crossed the Old City in the afternoon having being dropped off after our tour of Bethlehem (see next post).

Up to now our trip had not encountered any of the ethnic and religious issues that are the cause of so much trouble in Israel and the wider Middle East. During our stay in Jerusalem we saw many orthodox Jews, watched Bar Mitzvahs being conducted beneath the Western Wall, saw the Muslims leaving the Al Asqa Mosque after Friday prayers being met by lines of armed Israeli military and talked to a local and elderly Palestinian restaurateur about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Whilst understanding that there are powerful arguments, both humanitarian and religious on both sides of the argument, I can’t help feeling that if the extremists on both sides could be by-passed then a lasting peace would be achievable.

Although I do not actively follow any religion, I found being in the presence of a multitude of pilgrims of different faiths and seeing sites that are sacred to so many to be a deeply moving experience. If you possibly can visit Jerusalem at least once in your life..

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The view eastwards from the Mount of Olives, overlooking Palestine. The Dead Sea is just visible in the haze and the Jordanian side of the Rift escarpment is visible in the distance.

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The Garden of Gethsemane, where according to tradition, Jesus was arrested prior to execution. Some of the these olive trees have been proven to be over two thousand years old so would have been witness to the events.

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The Church of all Nations in the foreground is adjacent to the Garden of Gethsemane with the Russian Orthodox Church behind. You can see what a hard slog we had each day to get back to the Mount of Olives.

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The domes of the Russian Orthodox Church

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Another ‘gosh’ moment from Margaret

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A Greek Orthodox Church marks the claimed site of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary.

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The view westwards from the Mount of Olives. The Dome of the Rock dominates the view, the Old City walls can be seen in the lower part of the picture. The weather on April 4th and 5th was cold, grey and windy.

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I got up pre-breakfast and searched nearby gardens in the hope that some migrants would have been grounded but conditions were too bad for birding, however this Lesser Spotted Eagle was photographed later on our way down to the Old City and a flock of 500 White Storks was seen later in the day. The coverts are a little paler than the remiges and there is a just discernible pale double comma at the carpal, conclusive ID features.

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The current Old City walls date from the Ottoman era, in the foreground is the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, and excavation of buildings from the time of King Herod.

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As we entered the Old City we got caught up in the numerous Bar Mitzvahs that were being conducted that day.

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After an extensive security check we entered the plaza adjacent to the Western Wall. Jews do not enter the Temple Mount, the location of the First Temple built by Solomon and the Second Temple rebuilt in 515 BC, in case they step on, the now unknown, location of the Holy of Holies, but the nearby Western Wall is a site of pilgrimage and is considered the most holy accessible Jewish site. We could not enter any closer because of the bar mitzvahs in progress.

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Orthodox Jews

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From the Western Wall it is only a few steps to the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock where Muslims believe Mohammed ascended to heaven and many believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son. It is considered by some to be the centre of the Earth and where Adam, Cain, Abel and Noah made ritual sacrifices.

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Although I entered the Dome of the Rock on my visits in 1982 and 1986, we were not allowed in today.

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I am always impressed by the intricacy and beauty of Islamic architecture.

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Another view of the Mount of Olives, this time from the Temple Mount. To the right of the Russian Orthodox Church can be seen one of the many huge Jewish Cemeteries that cover the western slope of the Mount. The belief that the dead will be redeemed on the Mount at the Day of Judgement has meant that many are buried here, hoping to get a good place in the queue.

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Our journey through the Old City was by way of narrow and often covered streets.

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Small shops and stalls flank the narrow passages

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Cauliflower is unpleasant enough in its natural state without dying it yellow or purple!

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Having visited sites holy to Judaism and Islam it was the Christian faiths turn. This is the entrance to the  Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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This is believed by many to be the actual site of Christ’s crucifixion.

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Pilgrims touch the slab on which they believe Christ’s body was lain.

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Pilgrims queued and sang praises as they waited to enter the Holy Sepulchre itself, the claimed site of Christ’s burial and resurrection.

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The actual site upon which Jesus is said to have been interred.

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Millennia of worship by so many branches of the Christian faith has led to some superb decoration of this most holy of sites.

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Back in the warren of streets, you are constantly asked to view goods and haggle over the price, especially in the Arab quarter. This is something that many tourists love but I am rather uncomfortable with.

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A couple of days touring Jerusalem left me pretty knackered.

Posted May 7, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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