A Two Day Tour
James E. Lancaster, Ph.D.
Friday, December 11
We arrived in Israel at Ben Gurion airport at 4:05 PM on a TWA flight from Paris. I was with two business associates and they both headed for Tel Aviv. I took a van to Jerusalem for the weekend, checking in at the Sheraton Jerusalem Plaza Hotel.
This was my second visit to Jerusalem. My wife, Sharon, and I had been to Israel in June 1990 with a tour group from our church. Our guide, Benji, had taken us into the Old City of Jerusalem on each of the first two days of that trip - once to walk the entire length of the Via Dolorosa, then to the Cardo and Mt. Zion; and once to visit the Western Wall and Temple Mount. On both occasions the effect of the Intifada was very evident as most Arab shops in the Old City were closed.
My wife and I had wanted to go back into the Old City on a free day later that same week. But we ended up seeing only a small part of it because of a U.S. Embassy warning for Americans to stay out of the Old City, the result of potential unrest following a disturbance in Silwan in which a young Palestinian was killed. My wife and I had witnessed that event from a distance while we were out walking along the south side of Temple Mount across from our hotel (we were staying at the Seven Arches). Not getting to go back into the Old City was a big disappointment for us.
My goal for this visit was to see as much of the Old City as I could in two days and to photograph everything I saw. I had brought along my camera, a dozen rolls of film, a new electronic flash for indoor photography, several guidebooks, and a tentative list of religious and archaeological sites that I wanted to see. There were a few places that I had seen in 1990 and wanted to revisit, but for the most part the list contained new places that I had only read about since our earlier visit.
My proposed schedule was complicated somewhat by the fact that some of the Jewish places would be closed on Saturday. And because of our previous experience with the Intifada, and not knowing what the current "tourist climate" was like, I was just a little apprehensive about going into the Old City on my own.
I talked to one of the hotel desk clerks about the advisability of doing everything on my own versus going on a group tour the next morning. She recommended an Old City tour by United Tours as a good way to reacquaint myself with the city and assess for myself the current conditions. It was a good suggestion and, as it turned out, my concerns were unfounded.
That evening I had dinner in the hotel dining room. That was a most interesting experience because it was Shabbat and I was just about the only non-Jew in a large dining room filled mostly with families who, in addition to eating, were doing readings, singing songs and saying prayers - all audibly and individually.
After dinner I took a walk through the nearby downtown business district. Because of Shabbat it was almost deserted. Upon returning to the hotel I went over my list one more time.
Saturday, December 12
Saturday morning was overcast and a little foggy but not particularly cold. I walked about three blocks to the YMCA and had breakfast in a little cafe there. Very inexpensive. Across the street at the King David Hotel (very expensive) I arranged for the bus and walking tour of the Old City.
The tour, led by a guide named Alberto from Haifa, first went across the city to Mt. Scopus near the Hebrew University for a view of the Old City from the northeast. We did not go to the scheduled viewpoint on the Mount of Olives in front of the Seven Arches Hotel because of the potential for rock throwing at the bus. I didn't mind since I had seen that view many times in 1990.
Following a short stay on Mt. Scopus we drove to Mt. Zion and started our walking tour. Our first two stops were David's Tomb and the Last Supper Room, both of which I had seen in 1990. We then walked across the street to the Church of the Dormition which commemorates Mary's "going to sleep," not dying. This was an interesting modern church that we had not seen in 1990. It is especially noted for its acoustics.
The bus tour had originated that morning in Tel Aviv so most of the people were ready for a break, which we took at a cafe on the side of Mt. Zion. Following the break we entered the Old City through the Zion Gate and walked to the Cardo, the excavated remains of a part of the main north-south street of Jerusalem during the Roman and Byzantine periods (second to sixth centuries, AD). At this point I thought Alberto might be leading us along the same route as our first Old City walk back in 1990, but in the opposite direction. That proved not to be the case when, upon leaving the Cardo, we turned and headed into the Jewish Quarter.
We stopped at the Broad Wall then at the viewpoint overlooking the Western Wall Plaza. The Broad Wall was most likely built in the time of King Hezekiah in the 8th century BC and is probably a remnant of one of the walls of Jerusalem mentioned in the Old Testament.
Eventually we arrived at the Western Wall Plaza. Since it was Saturday, no photography was allowed. While there I walked into the men's prayer room under Wilson's Arch, something I had missed in 1990. Several Jewish men were preparing to pray and read from a scroll but were having some difficulty getting started since they needed ten men - a Minian in Judaism.
At this point we were supposed to go next onto Temple Mount. But for some unexplained reason the Muslim authorities had closed all the gates. So instead, Alberto took us up El Wad Road (also called Hagai Street). This was fortuitous because I not only got to see a new part of the Moslem Quarter of the Old City, but watching the tourists along this street also removed what trepidation I still had about exploring the Old City on my own.
El Wad Road is an interesting street that runs from the Western Wall Plaza to the Via Dolorosa (and on to the Damascus Gate) through the heart of the Moslem Quarter. It is lined with shops, many of which appear to cater to the Palestinian population as much as to tourists. Part way up the street Alberto made a right turn into the Suq El-Qattanin. This is the "marketplace of the cotton merchants," a fascinating vaulted street originally built about 1330 AD. At the east end is a gate (Bab El Qattanin) that opens onto Temple Mount directly opposite the Dome of the Rock.
We picked up the Via Dolorosa where it intersects El Wad Road. As we worked our way up the hill the narrow street became more and more crowded until, at the intersection with the Suq Khan Ez-Zeit in the heart of the marketplace, the crush of humanity became almost impenetrable. With some persistence, a little shoving here and there, and continually searching for Alberto's red cap, we made it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Our 1990 group had been here on the first day of our tour and saw Calvary and the sepulchre (tomb) but not much else. My wife and I had both felt like we needed more time to see the church. So this time, while the rest of the tour group lined up to see inside the sepulchre, I did some exploring on my own of this historic structure that was last rebuilt by the Crusaders and dedicated in 1149 AD. I had enough time to see most of the main level of the church, including two still intact, first century burial caves in the western apse of the Anastasis (rotunda) behind the sepulchre, and some of the columns and walls of the original structure, built by the emperor Constantine in 335 AD, as well as the rebuilt structure of 1048 AD
Upon leaving the church we walked up to the Jaffa Gate where I left the tour group. They were headed for lunch then on to Bethlehem.
I walked over to Christ Church, which is near the Jaffa Gate. This Anglican church, which dates to 1848, is advertised as the first evangelical Protestant church in Jerusalem. They were just near the end of their Saturday morning service, which concluded with communion. I stayed until the communion was over and the part of the service I saw was very different and very moving. Afterwards I had lunch at the church-run cafe directly across from the Citadel. Again, it was very inexpensive.
After lunch I walked back to my hotel (only a few blocks away) to exchange my sweater for a jacket as the weather was turning colder. I then walked back to the Old City and went to the Church of St. James. This 800-year-old church, in the heart of the Armenian Quarter, is the headquarters of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem and has a fascinating interior, quite unlike any other church I saw while in Jerusalem.
I wanted to explore some of the area around the Dome of the Rock so from the Armenian Quarter I walked along St. James Road, or Ha-Hayim Road, Habad Street and the Street of the Chain (Bab El-Silsileh Street) to the gate onto Temple Mount. I still couldn't get in. It was only about three o'clock but the mount had closed to tourists for the day. So I walked back along El Wad Road and down the lower part of the Via Dolorosa that Alberto had skipped in the morning. I was looking for the street to the Church of St. Anne but couldn't find it. Later I determined that the street was entered through a courtyard, a fact I had forgotten from our 1990 visit.
Unable to find St. Anne's, I walked back up the Via Dolorosa to the Christian Quarter. As I walked along the Suq Khan Ez-Zeit I noticed in one of my guidebooks that I was at the stairs to the Ninth Station of the Cross (only mentioned in passing by our guide in 1990). I walked up the stairs and found some interesting views of the upper part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well as the area where the Ethiopians live. After walking through the Ethiopian village I found a back entrance into the church. It took me down some narrow stairs, past a chapel where a mass was being held, and out into the plaza in front of the church.
At this point I walked over to the nearby Church of the Redeemer since it was getting late and would be my last chance for some pictures from the church's tower. The tower has an observation area at the top that provides some of the best views of the Old City. (Closed Sunday)
From the Church of the Redeemer, I went back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This time I concentrated on the lower levels of the Church. I saw crosses carved in the walls of the stairway to the lower level by Crusaders back in the 12th century AD and explored the lower level Chapel of St. Helena, the still lower level Chapel of the Finding of the True Cross, and the Chapel of St. Vartan, which I happened to see quite by accident.
I was sitting on a stone bench in the Chapel of St. Helena, contemplating everything I had seen up to that point, when a clergyman (probably Greek or Armenian) unlocked a steel door in the wall behind me. A tour group with a guide went through the door and the clergyman sat down near me to wait for them to come back out. I asked him what was behind the door but I couldn't understand his answer. So I asked him if I could go back there and I think he nodded yes. Without hesitating I followed the group and in an area called the Chapel of St. Vartan saw the drawing of a ship on the side of an ancient building block. The drawing was probably done by a pilgrim to the Holy Land around 330 AD when the original church was under construction. I had previously read about this drawing in a couple of archaeological books. This area is not open to the public and I don't know how this tour group had arranged for access. At any rate I was in the right place at the right time and took advantage of it.
Some Protestant Christians are turned off by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because of its shrines, icons, etc. and prefer the Garden Tomb. I know of one tour group that skipped the church completely because of a lack of time. Regardless of whether or not the church is the actual site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Christ, it is never-the-less one of the most historic Christian buildings in Israel and deserves adequate time for a visit. (Note that there is considerably more evidence to support the claims of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre than for the Garden Tomb.)
I ended up spending well over an hour at the church and left after 5:00 PM, just as it was getting dark and starting to rain.
After dinner Saturday evening I walked over to the downtown business district again. The Shabbat had just ended and what a difference from the night before. The streets were packed with people even though it was raining - quite hard at times. The shops were all open and the cafes and nightclubs were doing a booming business.
After returning to the hotel I went over my list again - checking off what I had seen that day and planning for Sunday.
Sunday, December 13
Sunday morning was overcast and somewhat damp. I left the hotel shortly after 7:00 am and walked down to St. Andrew's Scots Church, then across the Hinnom Valley and up the west side of Mt. Zion to the Old City.
My first stop was another visit to the Cardo. Because it was early the area was pretty much deserted. While I was looking at the ruins of an ancient wall, I was approached by a man who offered to answer any questions I had or give me a tour of the area. I declined but he still wanted some money for his offer. I gave him a couple of shekels and he asked for more. I declined and walked away while he made some remark about my lack of generosity. This was my only encounter with begging while in Jerusalem.
I walked up David Street to the Citadel just as the shops were beginning to open. I was surprised to see one shop with a few Christmas decorations, including a small, scrawny tree. It was the only Christmas tree I saw and quite possibly the only one in the entire Old City.
I spent some time wandering around the Citadel area, including a stop at the visitor's center. I would have liked to have visited the highly recommended museum inside the Citadel, but unfortunately I just didn't have enough time.
I walked back down David Street to Habad Street. David Street connects with the Street of the Chain to form a continuous street of shops across the Old City from the Jaffa Gate to the Gate of the Chain onto Temple Mount. The gate is on top of Wilson's Arch at the north side of the Western Wall Plaza above the men's prayer room.
My main goal for Sunday was to visit some of the archaeological sites around Temple Mount so my next stop was Archaeological Seminars on Habad Street, where I signed up for a Second Temple tour. It included a slide talk by an archaeologist then a walking tour of the ruins along the south wall of Temple Mount and through the Western Wall tunnel. While walking to Temple Mount through the Jewish Quarter we stopped at the Broad Wall, the plaza near the Hurva Synagogue, the German Crusader Church, and the Western Wall viewpoint.
Our objective was the Ophel Archaeological Area around the southwest corner and along the south wall of Temple Mount. My wife and I had explored a small part of this area on our own in 1990 and I had subsequently read about the area in a publication of the Biblical Archaeology Society. In this area there are numerous remains of buildings, streets and other structures from Herodian times, including the monumental stairs that Christ may have used to enter the Temple area. There are also remains from the later Byzantine, Arab and Crusader periods. You also get a close up look at Robinson's Arch, its foundations, and the adjacent Temple Mount wall, including a Herodian building block with a fourth century Hebrew inscription. (The Ophel Archaeological Area is closed on Saturday.)
Nearby is the City of David. This is the ridge extending south from Temple Mount to the area called Silwan. I didn't have time to go there and some or all of it may not always be safe to visit. It includes an archaeological park with excavations of houses and walls from the Israelite period, the Gihon Spring; Hezekiah's Tunnel and the Pool of Siloam. The latter was on the itinerary of our 1990 tour but our guide chose not to go there because of the danger of rocks being thrown at the bus.
Our final stop was the Western Wall Tunnel. I had heard about the tunnel from some friends who were in Jerusalem in the summer of 1992. It evidently hasn't been open to the public very long. The tour first goes through some vaulted chambers and rooms dating back to the early Arab period (7th to 11th centuries) and before. From a large vaulted chamber that is behind the men's prayer room, a tunnel has been excavated along the western wall of Temple Mount to the northwest corner, where in Herod's time it connected to Antonia's Fortress. I saw large Herodian building blocks (some as long as 40 feet and weighing nearly 400 tons!) in almost pristine condition because this area was, for hundreds of years, covered with debris and, more recently, covered by buildings of the Moslem Quarter. At the far end of the tunnel is street paving, a building entrance and a rock quarry, all dating back to before the time of Christ. (The tunnel is also closed on Saturday.)
The tour by Archaeological Seminars was excellent and lasted almost five hours. The opening slide talk by the archaeologist on what we would see on the tour was good but I didn't learn too much new because of my prior research - I already had most of the slides she used in my own collection (I had purchased them from the Biblical Archaeology Society).
By the time the tour ended it was about 2:00 PM and I tried once again to go onto Temple Mount. Unfortunately they had again closed it to tourists early so I walked up to the Jewish Quarter for lunch. By now it had started to rain lightly. I found a small lunch stand run by a couple who used to live in San Diego but had emigrated to Israel about ten years earlier. After lunch the rain let up and I visited a number of archaeological sites in and around the Jewish Quarter.
Much of the Jewish Quarter has been rebuilt since 1967, often on top of archaeological sites, which are preserved under the new buildings. We didn't see any of this in 1990. In addition to the previously mentioned Broad Wall, the Jewish Quarter contains the Herodian Quarter/Wohl Museum containing the remains of several large houses from the period of Herod the Great, the Burnt House, a house burned during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the Israelite Tower from one of Jerusalem's early walls. I had previously read about these sites in an article in the Biblical Archaeology Review. (All except the Broad Wall are closed on Saturday.)
I also walked through most of the residential areas of the Jewish Quarter. They are an interesting mix of modern era construction and the building architecture and narrow alleys of an earlier era.
On the south side of the Jewish Quarter, between the Zion and Dung Gates, is an archaeological park that contains some Crusader period ruins plus the underground vaults of the Nea Church, built by the emperor Justinian in 540 AD, and the largest Christian church ever built in Jerusalem. There are additional ruins of the Nea Church nearby inside the Jewish quarter but they were closed when I got there. They are just off the Batei Mahse square that has a part of an ancient Roman era column on display.
By now it was late afternoon and I walked out the Jaffa Gate and around to the Damascus Gate for a few final pictures as the light was fading. During the Roman period there were three gates here, a large gate with a smaller gate on either side. One of the smaller, Roman era gates has been excavated below and to the side of the modern gate.
In 1990 my wife and I had walked along the top of the Old City wall from the Jaffa Gate to the Damascus Gate. It is also possible to walk from the Damascus Gate to the Lion's Gate or from the Jaffa Gate to the Dung Gate. The route along the wall is called the Ramparts Walk and there are some great views of the rooftops of the Old City, of resident's yards, and of the Dome of the Rock.
As the sun was setting I walked up to the business district, did a little shopping, and then returned to my hotel for my luggage. I took a taxi to the central bus depot and from there took a regular Egged inter-city bus to Tel Aviv, where I rejoined my business associates at the Sheraton Hotel, on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
Although not a part of the Old City, the downtown Jerusalem shopping area is just a few blocks away and is interesting to visit, especially on Saturday night after Shabbat ends. (The stores are closed during the Shabbat period.)
The Following Days
We had business meetings in Ashdod all day Monday. By that evening it was raining again - this time very hard. We had more business meetings on Tuesday in Lod (near the Ben Gurion airport) and got back to our hotel in mid-afternoon. I took a walk into part of the downtown Tel Aviv business district to do some shopping. The weather was miserable - very windy and still pouring rain.
We left Israel on Wednesday, December 16, 1992 at 6:45 am on a TWA flight to Paris. It was still raining hard at times and there was some flooding around the airport. I read later in the Jerusalem Post where the storm had set a record for rainfall at the Ben Gurion airport over a 48-hour period.
The two-day visit to the Old City of Jerusalem was a most extraordinary experience. I got to see everything on my list except the Citadel museum, Temple Mount itself, and the archaeological park in the City of David. I came home with almost 300 new slides and enough memories to last a lifetime, . . . or at least until our next trip.
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