In a word, fascinating.
Also, exhausting and annoying. There is never enough time, enough room, enough energy.
Tip: It is a challenge for Levelers. The feet, hooves, wheels and seismic shifts of ages have ensured no level surfaces. Hills abound as do steps and you are at 2,500-3,500 feet above sea level. Bring a balance aid, prioritize and take your time. You can do it a little bit at a time. I only had a day but highly recommend scheduling 3 to 5 depending on how important the historic and religious sites are to you. Just remember, it would take a lifetime to fully absorb this city.
I will walk you through a few of the highlights.
|Get your bearings at the Mount of Olives.|
Start high to get your bearings of the city, especially the old city. Stand at the parapet in front of the Church of all Nations.
|Pat of the Christian cemetery.|
Ahead inside the old city walls is the gleaming Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount and adjacent is the Al Aqsa Mosque. Only Muslims are allowed inside. In back, beyond the wall, is the Tower of David. The gray dome is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. To the far left outside the Dung Gate is where the Palace of David once stood. The old city is divided into quarters: clockwise from bottom left, Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim.
Warning: You will be doing the Old City on foot, but you will be inspired by other pilgrims, many in much worse physical shape. If they can, so can you.
The "new" city is truly new; the first settlement beyond the walls wasn't made until 1860.
|Church of all Nations|
|The oldest olive trees in all of Jerusalem.|
Tip: Public restrooms are to the left at the end of the street up to the side entrance.
|The door is designed as an olive tree.|
|The rock upon which Jesus is said to have rested is surrounded by continuous crowns of thorns.|
Tip: You exit through the front door. There are 14 shallow steps down to street/bus level.
The Crucifiction is said to have occurred on the mount as well.
The Old City
We entered through the Dung Gate. Like the other eight gates in use, there are three arched portals: one for entering, one for exiting and the middle one for the military to control both directions. The ninth gate, the Mercy (Golden) Gate is closed until as the Jews believe, the Messiah enters or, as the Muslims believe, the just will pass on Judgement Day. Christians believe it is the gate through which Christ entered the city.
|Old City walls.|
It's the closest thing left to the Temple where the spirit of God lives, according to Jewish dogma. It's really just a retaining wall further shored up by Suleiman's builders, but Solomon's original temple could not receive more veneration.
You, too, may be affected, especially by the devotion of the women, whose side is much smaller than the men's and who seem to be much more genuine in their prayers. Anyone is welcome to leave a message scrunched in one of its cracks and according to our guide, you can now fax or email a message to be placed there!
|Stop No. 5 on the Via Dolorosa|
This allegedly is the path down which Jesus was forced to carry his cross en route to Golgotha. It winds throughout the old city and its 12 stops are marked with plaques. We traveled about half of it between the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Jaffa Gate where we exited the old city.
Tip: It can be physically challenging at times but if you take it slow, it's doable.
|Groups can be intimidating outside the church.|
Protestants believe the Garden Tomb is outside the Damascus Gate but Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox believe this is the spot where Jesus was buried.
As you can imagine, there is much pomp and circumstance here, crowds of milling pilgrims and tourists, venders and guides.
|Inside one of the many chapels.|
|Look inside the grotto where the true cross was supposedly found.|
in 362 A.D., when Constantine sent his mother, Helene (later Ste. Helena), to Jerusalem to follow up on a vision he had experienced, this is where the remains of the Temple of Venus stood. She was given a tour of the city's holy sites and told this was where the Crucifiction occurred. After prayer, she had the site razed and after some digging, supposedly found the true cross buried underneath.
|Was Jesus buried here?|
|Or here where the only decoration is a simple row of stylized olive leaves?|
|Everyday life is the best show of all.|
|The walk to the Shrine of the Book.|
This repository of the Dead Sea Scrolls, on everyone's must-see list, is outwardly impressive, but after hiking around the old city, the 23-acre campus was daunting. Just as well because our time was extremely limited.
Tip: There is elevator access directly from the reception area to the Shrine of the Book.
Unless you take the elevator, you will walk through the entrance area and around, down a series of easy steps. You will also see lots of steps if you want to reach what are supposed to be superb collections in the other buildings.
|Scale model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period.|
Warning: After walking down 12 steps, the interior is exceptionally dark, both for effect and to protect the precious sections of the scrolls which are arrayed in the circular room behind glass. However, those displayed are copies, not the originals, which makes the whole protection bit moot. Steps abound, none of them lit and several in our group tripped. Definite hazards.
I would like to return but if I do it will be early in the day when legs and knees are fresh.