Old City Exploration

Hands down, the best part of being in Israel is getting to explore with my best friend:

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I’m so lucky to have such a great travel buddy! Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement and, arguably, the most significant day of the Jewish year – begins tonight, so we wanted to take the morning and early afternoon to visit the Jerusalem Old City for some site-seeing before a serious day of reflection. We took a roundabout way to walk to the Old City so we could walk along the race circuit for the upcoming Formula One Road Show (info here). Noah is EXTREMELY excited about Formula One, so I anticipate lots of cars in my future next week!

Along the walk, we had a lot of great views looking out on Jerusalem:

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We also spotted lots of sukkot (temporary outdoor structures put up for the holiday of Sukkot that begins next Wednesday):

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I love being in a country where Jewish holidays are so publicly noticed. I definitely plan on taking some walking tours next week to check out all the sukkot around the city! When we eventually arrived to the Old City, we headed to get tickets for the Ramparts Walk. The Ramparts Walk is a series of catwalks lining the top of the Old City walls:

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The walk gives incredible views looking out over Jerusalem and also views of inside the Old City that would generally not be visible from the regular roads. We did the southern part of the walk (planning to return in the future to do the northern part). Looking out beyond the city walls, we got great views of the Sultan’s Pool, Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Yemin Moshe (neighborhoods just on the outskirts of the Old City):

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East Jerusalem:

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And an excavation site just outside the Old City walls:

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Looking into the Old City, we had the rare opportunity to peek into the Armenian Quarter:

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The Armenian Quarter is actually its own walled city within the main Old City walls, and the quarter is closed off to the public. The views over the walls from the Ramparts Walk are essentially the only opportunity to see into where that community lives. Even so, the view of these basketball courts inside the Armenian Quarter were a nice reminder that we’ll all not so different in the end. 🙂

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We also walked by the Church of the Dormition: a church built by German Catholics to commemorate the eternal sleep of the Virgin Mary:

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After finishing the Ramparts Walk, we headed to the Kotel (also called the Western Wall or Wailing Wall – the only remaining remnant of the second temple). The space was all set up and ready for the anticipated influx of people coming for Yom Kippur – evidenced by the extended mechitza (divider to separate men and women during prayer, used by Orthodox Jews):

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I went down to the wall and spent a few minutes with a book I selected from the public prayerbook collection at the kotel (various prayerbooks are provided for public use):

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Before leaving the Old City, we took a detour to the Christian Quarter and spent a little time looking around inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

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The church is arguably the most significant Christian site within the Old City walls, marking the place where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried, and resurrected. The interior of the church is very unique, because it is actually shared among many Christian denominations. The various denominations each have a section of the church for their own shrines, art, and communal prayer spaces. As a result, different areas of the church have very different feels – reflecting the diversity of the denominations which control that specific area of the church.

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When you walk inside, you immediately see the Stone of Unction – also called the Stone of Anointing. Christian tradition believes this is the spot where Jesus was prepared for burial, and many people go to crouch and kiss the slab:

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In the center of the church is an area called the Rotunda. At the center of the Rotunda is a chapel called the Aedicule, inside of which is believed to be the Holy Sepulchre itself – the room where Jesus was buried and then resurrected. The tomb can only hold about 4 people at a time, so there was a long line of people waiting to go in and visit the site:

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Visiting the Old City was a ton of fun. I feel so lucky to be living in Jerusalem with the opportunity to visit these sites and see places that have been central to belief, faith, and identity to so many of the world’s people for literally thousands of years. Inside the Old City, it is also especially striking that while thousands come here on pilgrimage to see the sites of the world’s holiest city, it is also home to thousands of people whose regular lives are held within these city walls. Between the tourist shops and restaurants selling pizza, there are butchers, tailors, stores selling regular clothes and household items to Old City residents, and even a gym and internet cafe:

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Thinking about this dichotomy today reminded me of a poem by Yehuda Amichai, one of Israel’s most acclaimed modern poets:

Tourists, by Yehuda Amichai

Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
And on the top of Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust over our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.

Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower, I placed
my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was
standing around their guide and I became their target marker.
“You see that man with the basket? Just right of his head
there’s an arch from the Roman period.
Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!” I said to myself:
redemption will come only if their guide tells them, “You see
that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next
to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit
and vegetables for his family.”

 

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