Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Christian Quarter

Visiting the Old City of Jerusalem wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, venerated as the site of Golgotha where Jesus was crucified (although some scholars now dispute this). The church is also said to be the site of the resurrection and contains the Aedicule where Jesus is buried. The original church was destroyed in 1009 by Fatimid Caliph, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah who ordered the destruction of all Christian sites in Jerusalem. In 1027 after negotiations between the Byzantine empire and the new Caliph, Ali az-Zahir, the son of Al-Hakim, the reconstruction of the rotunda and it's surrounding building began. The church was further renovated during the 12th century by crusaders who built the Chapel of Saint Helena on the original ground level of Hadrians Temple, and later in 1555 Franciscan friars rebuilt the Aedicule to include an ante-chamber. In 1808 a fire broke out in the church and severely damaged the building resulting in the rotunda collapsing and damaging the exterior of the aedicule, the rotunda and the exterior of the aedicule were rebuilt in 1809 by  by architect Komminos of Mytilene. Renovations on the church have been ongoing since 1959, some of which can be seen in the photos below.

The entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with the immovable ladder visible under the top middle window.

Christians blessing crosses and cloth on the Stone of the Anointing where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial
Unfortunately the queues to see inside the Aedicule where Jesus is said to be buried were about an hour long so I decided to forgo seeing inside and instead explored the church for a while. It would have been amazing to see the church during Easter mass and this is definitely something I will be returning to do sometime in the future.

The Aedicule, where Jesus is said to be buried, although this has been disputed by some scholars.
The Chapel of Saint Helena built on the original ground floor of Hadrian's Temple.
The biggest surprise was the amazing scene that greeted me when I came out of the church, the sun had just gone down and all the streets were lit up by a multitude of tungsten and fluorescent lights illuminating a vast array of colourful souvenirs and clothes that hung from the shop fronts that lined the streets.

Muristan Road at dusk, Christian Quarter, Old City Jerusalem

Sud Aftimos, The Christian Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem.

Trader in Beit HaBad Street

Waist in the Old City is collected by a small tractor and trailer that is almost too big for some of the smaller laneways

Beit HaBad Street, which runs between the Christian and Muslim Quarter.

IDF Soldiers patrol Beit HaBad Street, which runs between the Christian and Muslim Quarter.

Street seller in Beit HaBad Street, which runs between the Christian and Muslim Quarter.
Damascus Gate, Old City, Jerusalem

I made my way along Beit HaBad street towards the Damascus Gate which only takes about twenty to thirty minutes and that's stopping every two minutes to take photos. The Damascus Gate was absulutely stunning and leads onto the very busy Sultan Suleiman street, I walked along the outer wall and entered the Old City again through the new gate in the Christian Quarter. It was eerie to say the least, there wasn't a soul around for the first few minutes, then I spotted two police officers who were heading in the general direction of the Jaffa Gate so I just followed along.

On arriving at Jaffa Gate I had what can only be described as the nicest coffee I've ever tasted, and if you know me you will know that's no small feat, so if you like your coffee make sure you drop in to Versavee Café and Restaurant. Refreshed and caffeinated I headed off to explore for another while and made my way down David Street, I could have spent my entire trip exploring the old city and since my visa is valid till May I think I'll be returning soon.

Trader selling a ukulele to two Yiddish Jews on David Street in the Christian Quarter

An IDF soldier helps an elderly man on David Street in the Christian Quarter

David Street

David Street

Fruit and vegetables line one of the many laneways that branch off from David Street.

David Street, the Christian Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem.

Tired and a little hungry, I decided to walk the 3km back to my apartment, which was perfectly safe even at night, a taxi would have probably cost about 40 shekels (€8), once he turns on the meter, they have a habit of leaving it off so make sure you ask them to turn it on or you'll get fleeced. The bus costs even less, about 6 shekels, but at the time I didn't know which bus to get or where to get it. If your planning a visit bear in mind that there is no public transport on the Sabbath, that's from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, buses and trains stopped running at about 1pm on Friday and started operating again at about 4pm on Saturday. It's still possible to get around using taxis and sherut (shared) mini buses, I got one from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and it only cost 35 shekels which is only €7. In Jerusalem the sherut depart and arrive at Zion Square, across from Ben Yehuda Street. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Western Wall

Visiting the old city in Jerusalem has always been a dream of mine and one that was long overdue, one year to be exact... thanks KLM! I decided to walk the 3km from Hebron Road to the Old City because I couldn't make head nor tail of the bus schedules (it was my first day there!), absolutely everything is in Hebrew, which, if your a tourist, make it's almost impossible to get around until you figure which bus numbers take you where, the walk was quite enjoyable anyway so I didn't mind. I arrived at the Jaffa Gate at about 2pm and was rather surprised by the small crowd, I had always imagined the old city as a bustling metropolis of traders and religious pilgrims.

Jaffa Gate, Old City, Jerusalem
I made my way through the almost deserted Armenian Quarter towards the Zion Gate heckled occasionally by over enthusiastic traders who hover around the entrance to their souvenir shops. Every corner of the Old City seemed to have security cameras which made me feel a little uneasy and I was glad when I finally started to see crowds of people again.

Cyclist, Armenian Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem

Street trader, King David's Tomb, Jerusalem.
Soldiers resting in Ha-Khurba Square, Old City, Jerusalem.

Soldiers making their way to the Western Wall, Jewish Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem
The closer I got to the Western Wall the more and more soldiers I began to see, there was literally thousands and I thought to myself this couldn't be normal. It wasn't until I entered the main plaza that I realized what was going on, it was a graduation ceremony for the new IDF soldiers, in the centre of the plaza there was a section cordoned off with hundreds of guns laid out on tables. I made my way down through the crowds of soldiers toward the wall and was quickly turn around again by an angry looking women gesturing for me to go around to the other side, a young lady was kind enough to inform me with a slight giggle, that I was in ladies section and men were not aloud to pray here.

IDF soldiers attending a graduation ceremony at the Western Wall, Old City, Jerusalem
IDF soldiers laying out assault rifles during a graduation ceremony at the Western Wall

Worshippers at Western Wall
When I finally made it to the men's section of the wall I felt a little uneasy photographing the worshippers, I wouldn't dare do it in a Roman Catholic church so it just didn't feel right. After observing for a few minute I spotted two Chinese men filming the worshippers and they had no problem getting up close and personal so I decided to hell with it, I here so I may as well just photograph them... what's the worst that can happen!

Western Wall
Palm reader at the entrance to the Western Wall, Jerusalem.
Finding the Western Wall was a lot easier than finding my way back to the Christian Quarter, I wondered down numerous dead ends which led to private dwelling and only for the kindness of an old lady who saw me trying to decipher my map (yes I had a map!), I would have probably spent the entire night roaming around the Jewish and Armenian Quarters.