January 5, 2011
Jerusalem is a city hovering between heaven and earth. Set at the heart of Israel, on the summit of the Judean mountain range which divides the desert from the sea, its gentle slopes are filled with spire-like cypresses and twisted old olive trees- a tapestry of ochre and green.
The first thing to do in Jerusalem is to go up to the Mt. of Olives and get acquainted with the city from this vantage point.
A special effort to get there at sunrise is well rewarded by the spectacle, spectacular at any time of day, but even more so when the first rays of sunshine give the city their golden touch.
Here you have Jerusalem at the palm of your hand – the legacy of 3,000 years of history crammed inside the walls of the Old City, and beyond that the modern buidlings and parks of the 20th century. Turn about face, and you look out over the Judean wilderness and 3,500 feet down to the Dead Sea.
Comes the great moment when you go through one of the city gates and plunge into the sights, sounds and smells of the Old City.
The old walled city, a World Heritage site, has been traditionally divided into four quarters – Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters.
You will have to draw your five senses as well as your two feet. There are no vehicles within the walls, but nevertheless, it could never do justice to the countless sites and sights that are packed into an area smaller than one square kilometer.
The pace of the eastern mediterrenean is the right tempo here to separate the secular from the sacred, the picturesque from the monumental. Not to be missed, are the three great sanctuaries of three great religions - the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
It is impossible not to be attracted to the various exotic bazaars that dot the city in every direction, and quite some willpower is required not to wander off into quieter lanes and courtyards that are no less interesting and picturesque.
However, not everything is at ground level l. The Ecce Hommo Convent, on the Via Dolorosa stands on top of the Roman Antonia Fortress, where the Judgement of Jesus took place, and still lower are two enormous Herodian water reservoirs.
Climb the roof of the Holy Sepulchre Church, and you find yourself among the humble dwellings and the mulberry trees of the Ethiopean priests who have their convent there. Going down again into the Russian Alexander Convent, down into their basement - a massive section of the city wall and the gate that led to Golgotha. A whole section around Damascus Gate stands unnoticed, unless you go down below – on an enourmous cavern created when the stones for Solomon’s Temple were quarried.
Jerusalem is a city of stones, and every stone is drenched with history. If you are adventurous enough, you can admire the vast paronama of athe city by going up on the ramparts at one of the of the four gates and taking a walk on top of the walls.
Looking towards the east you can see the Mt of Olives, Gethsemane, the Kidron Valley with their memories of the Old and New Testament.
Jerusalem keeps its visitors busy the whole day however there is more beyond its surroundings. Bethlehem, Hebron, the Dead Sea, Jericho – memorable names that you will not want to miss and Jerusalem is the natural gateway from which to visit all of them.