Saturday, June 26, 2010

Old City of Jerusalem - June 24, 2010, part 2

I then descended, and finally went into the Jewish Quarter. Last year, when I was living in Jerusalem for the summer, I never went into the Jewish Quarter itself (although I went to the Kotel [Western Wall] several times).

Chabad St. in the Jewish Quarter

I took a few photos to give the students in my fall course on Jerusalem an idea of what it looks like, tried (but failed) to get into the rebuilt Hurva synagogue, and then went into a fantastic museum which is called the “Herodian quarter.” It consists of several connected buildings from the Second Temple period. It was uncovered by Israeli archaeologists after the Old City was conquered in 1967, and over a period of several years they discovered these houses and many fine artifacts. One especially interesting feature of the houses is that there are many mikvehs [Jewish ritual baths] in them – indicating that the houses may have belonged to priestly families, who would have needed easy access to mikvehs in order to go up to the Temple.

The first photo below shows a map of the Jewish Quarter, identifying where the Herodian houses are located. They are called “Herodian” because they were built and stood during the time of the Herodian dynasty. (Herod the Great was a vassal king of the Roman occupiers from 37 BCE to 4 BCE and his descendants ruled various parts of the land of Israel after that). Subsequent photos show rooms in the Herodian buildings with artifacts found at the site.

Earthenware pots and stone table.

Stone table in room with mosaic floor.

Mosaic carpet in large room.

Part of the scale model of the Herodian Quarter.

I came out eventually, and then went down the stairs that lead to the Kotel, but instead of turning in that direction, I went right and into the Davidson Center – a visitor center for the excavations at the southeast corner below the Temple Mount. I bought a ticket and went into the visitor center itself. There was a small exhibit of coins from various periods found in Jerusalem, and a propagandistic movie that the center screens about a supposed pilgrim of the second Temple period bringing his sacrifice to the Temple.

Coin from 70 CE, struck by the Jewish rebels in Jerusalem.

After that I went to walk around the archaeological park itself, first going to see Robinson’s Arch and the “springer” from which the arch to the Temple Mount rose in the first century.

Various tour groups were walking around, but at the end of the first century street, after all the huge stones thrown down by the Romans upon the destruction of the Temple, there was a bar mitzvah ceremony – a small family hovering fondly over a boy reading from the Torah. It was really quite sweet. I took a few pictures of them, and then went up some stairs and walked around the back of the site.

I started to hear loud booms – like gunshots – only later did it transpire that they were probably people shooting at an Arab wedding, and not, as I feared, some violent encounter in Silwan between Arabs and the Border Police.

After some wandering around the archaeological site, I went out through the Dung Gate and sat there for a while, just watching people go in and out – tourists going out to their buses, which were parked all along the road, a whole big group of Haredi kids going out to their buses, the Arab shopkeepers selling drinks and snacks to whoever wandered out, the cabs going by, the couple of Border Policemen stopping every Israeli bus and getting on it for a security check, etc. I finally got a cab ride home with an Arab guy who came over and offered me a ride. We sat in the front of his cab and ate artikim (one of those frozen ice cream cones) and I went home.

No. 2 bus, on its way into the Jewish Quarter.

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