Monday, February 20, 2012

Old City of Jerusalem

The other day I decided to pay a visit to the Old City because it was a warm, sunny day. I spent the earlier part of the day working on an article, and then in the middle of the afternoon took the bus to Safra Square (where the Jerusalem city hall is) and walked over to the Old City. The first photo is of Elisha Street, which goes down towards the northern part of the city from Safra Square.

My next photo is of the walkway that leads to the Old City along Jaffa Road, which was just renovated last year and now is much nicer to walk along.

From Jerusalem, February 13, 2012

The next photo is of Jaffa Gate, which was renovated last year (that is, the stones were cleaned –they look cleaner and have a lighter color than they used to). Notice the man standing to the right of the gate, with a cart next to him – he’s selling what Israelis call “bageles.” Obviously the same word as bagel, but referring instead to round or square bread with sesame seeds on it, which is best eaten with zaatar. All sorts of people were entering through the gate, including those you can see in the photo.

The photo below is from outside the walls – it shows a church on Mt. Zion, which is now mostly filled with Christian churches and cemeteries.

From Jerusalem, February 13, 2012
After I entered the city through the Jaffa Gate I continued down David Street into the Arab shuk (market). I passed by a spice shop – it had piles of aromatic spices artistically displayed, as well as nuts and dried fruit, and loose teas. I went in and bought spices, tea, and nuts – the spice was called “Philadelphia” (but not after the American city – it’s also one of the names of the Jordanian capital Amman), as well vanilla tea (really tasty), and mixed pistachio nuts and cashews. I didn’t take a picture, so I can’t show you how colorful the shop was.

I then walked over to the Jewish Quarter and continued along the Cardo. The Cardo is a street that was excavated when Israel conquered the Old City in the 1967 war. The Jewish Quarter was left in ruins after the 1948 war, and was not rebuilt by the Jordanians (who held the Old City from 1948-1967). When Israel retook the city, they decided to excavate the Jewish Quarter before beginning the rebuilding. This was a very smart decision – if they had just started to rebuild, it would have been impossible to do a really good archaeological excavation. One of the places that was uncovered was the old Roman road (the Cardo), one of the two main market streets in Jerusalem in Byzantine times (from the 4th to the 7th centuries CE). (The other is still a market street – David Street). You can see the pillars that had been on the road, which were re-erected by the archaeologists, in this photo.

From Jerusalem, February 13, 2012

The next photo shows Jerusalem in Byzantine times, in a copy of a mosaic map that is found in a church in Madaba, Jordan, from the sixth century CE. Someone placed the mosaic copy along the Cardo (which also has modern shops built into it). I’ve marked the map with several of the important buildings and streets of Byzantine Jerusalem.

My next stop was the main square in the Jewish Quarter, as you can see below.

From Jerusalem, February 13, 2012

I then went down the stairs from the Jewish Quarter to the Kotel (Western Wall). The Wall itself is part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount – it was originally built under King Herod the Great in the first century BCE, when he created a huge platform that was much bigger than the original rocky outcropping where the Temple stood. The retaining walls were needed to keep in the fill that was under the platform. The next two photos are of buildings that are currently on the Temple Mount – the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock is a much older building, from the late 7th century BCE, not long after the Muslim conquest. An early version of the Al Aqsa mosque was probably also built in the 7th century, but it was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. The current building goes back to the Crusaders in the 12th century.

Yesterday there were riots on the Temple Mount when Palestinians started throwing stones at tourists who were wandering around there - the Palestinians had been incited by false reports that right-wing Jewish activists intended to take over the Al Aqsa Mosque. Unfortunately, there are Jews who would like to destroy the Dome and the Al Aqsa, but they are a very small minority and the police keep a close eye on them.

From Jerusalem, February 13, 2012

The Temple Mount is holy to both Jews and Muslims: Jews because the Temple used to stand there (it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE) and Muslims for several reasons – because it’s holy to Jews, and because the location of the Dome of the Rock is identified as the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven (while still alive) to meet the other prophets who had come before him.

From Jerusalem, February 13, 2012

The Dome itself was re-covered in gold leaf about a decade ago – it was financed by King Abdullah of Jordan. The tiles on the outside were made by Armenian craftsmen. It is a beautiful building inside and out – although now the Muslim authorities won’t let non-Muslims inside, unfortunately.

The holiest place where Jews can pray is at the Western Wall (the Kotel). Below is the women’s side, and after it is a close-up of two pigeons standing on ledge above the women’s heads.

From Jerusalem, February 13, 2012

I went to the women’s side, and while I was there, I heard a woman praying out loud in a very soulful manner. I started listening to what she was saying, and I realized that she was reciting a prayer that is usually said only in the morning prayers (Nishmat Kol Hai). She was leading a number of other women in prayer – I went over and asked her for the booklet she was using, and followed along as she sang part of the prayer and then asked if any of the women wanted her to give them a blessing! Her hair was covered and she was wearing a long skirt, so she looked like a pious Orthodox Jewish woman, but she was doing something very unusual for the women’s side of the Kotel – leading others in prayer, and even singing as she did it. Usually, at the Kotel, women only pray by themselves, as individuals, while the men prayer together as a group. And if women try to engage in communal prayer, with one woman leading them, they often get harassed by others (like the group called “Women of the Wall,” which was established over twenty years ago and still can get harassed). This women was clearly accepted by those around her. I had never seen or heard this before, but apparently it is a pious practice for both men and women, done when one has been saved from trouble or is praying to be saved. The woman who was leading the prayer at the Kotel asked women who were single to come to her and she would give them a blessing that they would find their mate and get married and have children.

The next photo is of a sign at the back of the plaza in front of the Western Wall. You may or may not have heard of this, but there are groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews who are trying to create even more separation between men and women – even telling them not to walk on the same sidewalk in religious neighborhoods, or making women sit in the back of buses that go through those neighborhoods.
From Jerusalem, February 13, 2012
They have also tried to do the same thing at the Western Wall plaza, without a whole lot of success, since people freely mingle outside of the prayer area.

I left the Old City via Bus #1, which goes to one of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of the city, but fortunately there was no separation of the sexes. The bus let me off close to where my visit to the Old City had started – at Safra Square. It was starting to get dark. I wandered around a bit, and then came to a charming sight in front of one of the buildings – three cats waiting for someone to come out of the building and feed them.

From Jerusalem, February 13, 2012

After staring for a while at the cats, I started on my way home.

1 comment:

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