bethlehem

Traveling In Israel — Part Two

Traveling Israel in summer 2018, visiting and studying historic sites. Second part of two posts.

Israel takes time to get adjusted into. Grasping the historic, cultural, religious breadth and depth takes a while. Jerusalem is the holy city for three major religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims, no other place on earth has such significance.

Pro tip: when visiting Jerusalem, the old town in particular. Download Jerusalem Audio Waking Tour app from your app store. It has several interesting tours you can follow your own pace, and focusing things that interest you. Besides, it’s free.

Jewish Temples. Over the course of long history, Jews had two significant temples that are long since been destroyed, but hold a special place in hearts and minds of the Israelites. First temple was built during reign of King Solomon (reigned BC970–931), the most famous king of ancient Israel. Solomon’s predecessor King David had brought the Ark of Covenant into his new capital of Jerusalem. But it was Solomon that built the permanent temple for keeping the ark secure in a chamber called holy of holies. Solomons temple was destroyed by Babylonians (BC587) and Jews were sent into exile in Babylonia. Similar incidents occur throughout the Jewish history, Palestine being in a cross roads of three directions where major powers grew: Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greco-Roman world.


Large model in The Israel Museum, of Herod’s Jerusalem, circa AD70. Jewish Second Temple is domineering structure above rest of the city. Museum houses also famous Dead Sea Scrolls. Definitely worth a visit, but reserve enough time, 5hrs at least!


At Western Wall. Current 500meter wall was once a section of Herod’s Second temple.

Centuries after returning from Babylonia, a Second Temple built at the site of previous one. This was then largely improved and re-engineered during reign of Herod (reigned BC37–4). Herod wasn’t independent king like Solomon had been, but a Roman client king of Judea, and thus not as popular ruler. Although he did grand building projects, those were to be short lived. Judea would erupt into open revolt against Romans, and Herod’s temple would be destroyed as a retribution once rebel had been quelled. Other outcome of the civil war was Jewish dislocation into other countries, that would last almost 2000 years, until foundation of modern Israel in 1948. Herods Second Temple is still a source of pride and identity for Jews, especially after archeology has revealed how majestic it actually had been. Western Wall, known also as Wailing wall, is the only surviving part of the temple. Wall was the destination of Jewish pilgrims during all the centuries of diaspora. These trips were often dangerous and expensive, sometimes completely denied, when region was controlled either by Christian or Muslim rulers. After 1963 Six Day War, old city of Jerusalem and Western Wall returned to control of Israel.


Hurva Synagogue.

New-old synagogue of Hurva has been built many times over the centuries. Even it’s name means ruin, as most of the time it’s place has been vacated by rubbles. 19th century Hurva was neo-Byzantine style, construction was supervised by Assad Effendi, the sultan’s official architect. It was destroyed by Arab-legion in aftermath of Israeli independence war in 1948. Current synagogue is reconstruction of it and was completed in 2010. To my eye current building resembles also grand mosques of Istanbul.


Immovable ladder.

Christian holy sites. Once Christianity had became state religion in Roman Empire (AD324), and especially later in East Rome, state became active patron and guardian of the holy sites of Palestine. Members of Byzantine royal house and other notables helped to organize and fund improvements of churches, monasteries or facilities such as guesthouses that growing number of pilgrims needed. Emperor Justinian (reigned AD527–565) was famous for his grand building projects. For example the impressive Hagia Sophia of Constantinople was built during his reign. In Jerusalem magnificent Nea church (New Church of the Theotokos) was described as jewel of Byzantine Jerusalem. Nea church as long since disappeared to history, but its foundations are still visible today.


Via Dolorosa is famous route that Jesus supposedly walked into his crucification. Christian pilgrims have followed this route for centuries, from Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, through Jaffa Gate into old town, and then to Golgatha, place of Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Exterior of Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Interior of Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


The Aedicule, which contains the Holy Sepulchre. The Aedicule has two rooms, the first holding the Angel’s Stone, the second is the tomb of Jesus itself.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre (consecrated 335AD) is perhaps the most important church of whole Christianity, and very impressive sight to this day. It’s built on a site where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried. Golgotha, from pages of Bible, is actually inside the church, likewise is his grave and several other stages of the biblical legend. Because such an importance, six Christian religious orders claim rights over the use of the church. For centuries this caused friction of church affairs, until Ottoman sultan in 1852, tired of governing the various squabbling ordered the status quo: nothing in church to be changed or moved. Immovable ladder above the main entrance is seen as a symbol of this state of affairs. Christians also do not have control to the keys of the church. For centuries, it has been trusted for safe keeping by a local Muslim family.


Stone of Anointing, where Jesus’ body is said to have been anointed before burial.


Nazareth. Modern basilica is built above the sunken grotto which according to faith was the home of the Virgin Mary, and the place where she received the announcement of the imminent birth of Jesus.


Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. It is one of the oldest churches in the world, original was completed sometime between AD333-339 (Armenian Etchmiadzin Cathedral is even older, being first built in AD301. See more here). Citadel-like structure of Church of the Nativity is built on top of the cave where Jesus was born to Mary. To reach Bethlehem, one has to cross the border to Palestinian side.

In usual Christmas imaginary, place of Jesus birth is often depicted as stable or barn. Place in Bethlehem is actually a cave.

What do the maps tell?

1400 year old Mabada Map and current satellite images. North is on the left side of both images.
Cardo maximus was main street in ancient Roman cities. Looking carefully, its outline is still visible in Jerusalem old town today. It is marked as blue in both maps, beginning from Damascus Gate (blue circle) as two parallel streets. It was also main thoroughfare for shops and markets. Mabada maps show location of Church of the Holy Sepulchre and site of New Church of the Theotokos (“N” in lower map) that does not exist anymore.


In red, Via Dolorosa, Christian pilgrim route to Golgatha (Church of the Holy Sepulchre) where Jesus was crucified. Green circle is Dome of the Rock, holiest site in the city for Muslims. Mabada map was made during centuries when Jewish Second Temple had been destroyed, but Muslim shrine hadn’t yet been built. And yellow line, Western Wall where Jews go to pray their God. Western Wall being only surviving section of Second Temple.

Interesting YouTube channel about historic Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Watch.

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In Holy Land — Part One

Traveling Israel in summer 2018, visiting and studying historic sites. First part of two posts.


Dome of The Rock is third holiest site for Muslims (after Mecca and Medina). Its not a mosque, but a shrine built on an ancient Jewish temple site. Nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque is also from the same period, when Muslims had first conquered the Palestine, late AD600.


Current walls around Jerusalem old town were rebuilt around 1535, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire. History of east Jerusalem (old city) dates back least 3 millennia.

Zion Gate, scarred by riffle fire from 1948 Israeli Independence War.


Old port of Jaffa as a backdrop for easy going beach life. For centuries Jaffa was gateway to Palestine. Jerusalem is inland, and road from Jaffa gate leads all the way into this port. Nowadays Jaffa is historic neighbourhood and part of city of Tel Aviv.

Traveling in Israel is easy. Everything from transport to finding a way and getting around is convenient. Public transport is efficient, automated, and runs often (excluding during the Sabbath). Also because the area of Israel is so small, it doesn’t take long to travel across the country. Israelis embrace the digital to the fullest. Once I couldn’t even walk into a pizzeria and place my order, without needing get mobile app to my phone for it. People are skilled in languages. Besides domestic Hebrew and obvious English, they often master third or more languages.


Beersheba downtown. City is modern, although it has few historic sights to see.

Beersheba. Arrived to town in Negev desert after an hour bus drive from Jerusalem. Beersheba itself, is an hour drive from Dead Sea resorts such as Ein Bolek and Ein Gedi. Temperature there rises to tormenting heights, saw 45 Celcius in mid summer mid day sun. Sea is 350meters bellow the normal sea level. Swimming is interesting experience, water is very warm and because the salienation, human body is actually lighter than the water. It would be impossible to dive under, if someone would be crazy enough to try. Salty water in eyes is painful experience!


Dead Sea seen from Ein Bolek, two hour drive from Beersheba. Opposite coast belongs to Jordania.

Sabbath. Was caught off guard by Israeli weekend. I knew “everything will be closed” but didn’t expect it to be so thoroughly like-Christmas-night closed. Friday is day of rest and prayer for both Jews and Muslims. Everything from small kiosks to shops, restaurants and cafes are closed. Sabbath is family occasion above everything else, and streets are almost void of traffic.


Shrine of Baha faith in city of Haifa.


Old Akko (Acre). Like port of Jaffa, Akko was gateway to Palestine for centuries. It was important port during the time of Crusaders. 1799 Napoleon also tried to muscle his way in, but was stopped by local Ottoman forces helped by British navy. Today old Akko is popular tourist destination, while modern part of city can be seen as part of Haifa metropolitan area.


In West Jerusalem. This part of city started to grow in 19th century, outside the confines of over crowded East Jerusalem.


Dusk at Kidron Valley, seen from Jerusalem old town.

Israeli Defense Force Soldiers. Having strained relations with its neighbors, Israel is in constant state of military readiness. IDF soldiers can be seen everywhere and most seem around 19 or so. It’s strange to see kind youthful face, almost a child still, lugging an automatic weapon in public places. And, how normal this is considered by everyone. Soldiers usually wear green/brown uniforms and boots, but it’s not rare to see soldier on a holiday, wearing shorts, t-shirt, slippers, and carrying a weapon. Or a young lady, with a chic handbag slung over one shoulder, and assault riffle over another. After 2-3 year long military service, it’s a tradition to take a long vacation abroad. Southeast Asia, South America… Somewhere away from stressful army life.


West Bank Wall separating the Jewish and Palestinian neighbourhoods.


Graffitis in West Bank wall, tradition that has continued since 2005 by artist Banksy.