christmas

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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Third Christmas on Road

Two years ago I was freezing in Osaka Japan. Year ago awing the magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra India and now wandering the old city of Chiang Mai, North Thailand.

December 2010 — Merry Christmas from Osaka, Japan!

Heavy rain clouds are swaying over city as am doing my first wanderings near hotel in Tennoji area. Weather in coast has been little warmer than in Kyoto. Train took about an hour, all the way through urban sea of buildings, roads, bridges etc. The second most populated metropolitan area of Japan.

Was bit surprised how well one can manage with English here, compared what the reputation is (hard). All larger street names and metro lines are small printed in English, as well as restaurant menus, adds, slogans, brands.. People often speak least word or two. European like division younger generations being more fluent speakers than older ones does not seem to exist.

Watching people at street, shops etc. people feel a bit reserved, compared to, say, spontaneous and always laughing Africans. Its hard to get smiles back on the street. But once contact is made, and “ice broken”, Japanese do not hide their curiosity. And after knowing even better, not their feelings either. Code of hospitality and manners are also quite unique and bit funny for stranger. When passing by street construction for instance, there is usually one worker, an older man in his blue working clothes and a helmet, guiding pedestrians very politely, nodding, smiling and waving to the safe passage. Even if there is no car coming either direction! @ Osaka

December 2011 — Merry Christmas from Agra! Am stucked, it seems, to city of Taj Mahal. Trains are packed this time of year, and trying get next train to Mumbai, am only on waiting list at number 26th. Indian railway booking on small stations is ordeal of unique kind. Usually booking window has half circle of travel agent guys overtaking everybody else, coming and going, talking each other and phone, arguing and yelling with the booking officer behind the window. Behind this half circle is normal queue of other people, hoping some miracle of getting their turn with ticket buying. To avoid the hassle, one can buy tickets in advance from big stations like Delhi. Or pay some extra (though not what they ask at first) for travel agent to buy ticket either from net or the station. Takes bit of practice, but after a while, using trains in India is no issue at all.

Went to see today Taj Mahal. What a breath taking sight! Of course not only foreign travelers want to see Taj, but Indians from all around the big country as well. Inside the mausoleum where Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal are resting, queues and rushing was just crazy. But marble jewel of Taj Mahal still took breath away from this visitor! I tried to schedule visit at sunset for the best light, and it worked. Cloudless evening sky was giving beautiful orange and purple hues to white marbled buildings. That was the Christmas this year for me. Wonder how it will be in 2012, hopefully with friends and family, with nice ham and other Christmas delicacies. @ Agra

December 2012 — Missing traditional Christmas foods and seeing relatives, but other than that not much. Definitely not the weather! My Thai visa is almost over, so walked to bus station and bought ticket to Laos border. Tomorrow, not a single regular bus. So am going 26th and visa ends 27th. Bus should arrive to border little before it closes at afternoon, so lets see what happens. Busses can go all the way to Luang Prabang, but decided to be bit adventurous and take a boat on Mekong river from border to city, slow one, two days on river. Thats the plan at least!

Been enjoying my time here in Chiang Mai, visiting water falls, parks on the hills covered by lush forests and saw also fascinating old ruins of Wiang Kum Kam where Lanna king first found the capital for his kingdom, some 800 years ago. Location wasn’t very very good one. After 15 years from of its founding, flooding river buried it to thick mud. So city was rebuilt to current place. Pretty expensive and laborious trial and error for ancient city planners! What todo this Christmas here? Probably go see new Hobbit movie with a friend. Christmas dinner will be big bowl of steaming hot delicious Thai pork noodle soup, very spicy! Merry Christmas! @ Chiang Mai