The following letter appeared in the Queries & Comments section of the Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April, 1996.
I was pleased to see the announcement of the year-long emphasis on Jerusalem's 3000th anniversary in BAR. Jerusalem has become a favorite city since my wife and I first visited it in 1990. I returned for a short visit in 1992, and the two of us returned again in June 1995 (the 2999th anniversary?).
Our goal on our most recent trip was to visit as many religious, historical and archaeological sites as possible in one week. But we wanted time to explore them at our own pace. So we planned our own itinerary, including staying at a guest house inside the Old City.
We went on four different half-day, guided walking tours (one by Archaeological Seminars and three by Zion Walking Tours - all excellent) and spent one afternoon at the Israel Museum, where we had a guided tour of the archaeological wing.
The rest of the time we simply walked to various places in and around the Old City following either a guide book (usually the Blue Guide Jerusalem or Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's The Holy Land) or a map (Aharon Bier's Old City map superimposed on an aerial photograph). Our selection of what we wanted to see was significantly influenced by reading BAR and other BAS publications.
One of the many highlights of the week was visiting the Western Wall Tunnel. Dan Bahat's excellent article ("Jerusalem Down Under," November/December 1995) helped fill in some background information, particularly about the north end of the tunnel.
Two other highlights of the week were walking through Hezekiah's Tunnel and visiting the Chapel of St. Vartan in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The latter contains the ancient drawing of a ship and accompanying Latin inscription. It's normally closed to the public but an Armenian bishop agreed to let us in.
Much of what we saw during the week is usually not included in group tours. For example, using The Holy Land as a guide we walked most of the Muslim Quarter streets adjacent to the Temple Mount, plus the inside perimeter of the Temple Mount itself, to look at Mamluk buildings with their distinctive architecture. We also explored the entire Ophel Area from Robinson's Arch around to the straight joint. While there we talked with archaeologist Ronny Reich, who gave us a good description of the work going on in conjunction with the 3000th anniversary.
The week was a remarkable experience. We can certainly attest to the validity of your comment that "nothing can compare to a trip to the Holy City itself and the opportunity to explore its archaeology on the site."
We ended our stay with a train ride from Jerusalem to the coastal city of Netanya where we joined up with a group tour from our home church in California. After a few days in the Galilee area we came back to Jerusalem for four more days. We felt like we were coming home.
James E. Lancaster
Last Update: 4/24/99