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Jerusalem

"A new world. A better world. A kingdom of conscience…a kingdom of Heaven."

Taken from Kingdom of Heaven, one of my favorite movies of all time, these words never fail to strike a chord within me; for it’s idealism, it’s truth, it’s message of HOPE.


For Holy Week this year, instead of going to the beach as has been the case the past decade, I decided to go on a solo pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Why solo?

I have always believed that faith is a personal journey; one which does not have a destination, but is a continuing process of getting to know the Divine by which we get to know ourselves a bit more.

Definitely, the highlight of this trip would be the old city of Jerusalem.

Being the history geek, architecture admirer and student of religion that I am, I could not help but feel excited weeks before actually stepping foot in the city; where not only Jesus had done so but also countless Hebrews, Christians, Muslims, Romans and Ottomans before me.  Indeed I had always wanted to visit Jerusalem and now I was finally going to get my chance

So when we finally got to Jerusalem from Galilee, I felt an urge to go to her as soon as I could.  Something was calling from within and the weight of that feeling was inpalpable.  I HAD to go there; fatigue be damned.

Barely 3 hours after check-in, at 8:30pm right after dinner, with no one, and armed only with my prayers and curiosity, I started my walk to the Old City.

The walk to the train station took around 15 minutes.  Fortunately, my hotel, Dan Jerusalem, is in the more suburban (aka safe) part of town.

Ammunition Hill



Of course I had to pose for the mandatory, backpacker, hero shot.


Jerusalem’s rail system is actually very organized, convenient and easy to navigate.  From my stop at Ammunition Hill (which used to be controlled by Jordan until Israel got it during the 1967 war for all ye war buffs), it would take 4 stops to get to the Old City Stop at the City Hall.


Jerusalem LRT
I was surprised at how many teenagers were riding the train.  Safety at night is definitely not an issue here in the city for these kids.

Once I got off City Hall, I saw the majesty that is the Outer Wall of the Old City.


Walls of Jerusalem

A picture cannot describe how massively awe-inspiring this structure is.  Meant to survive a siege from would-be invaders, this is, without-a-doubt, a grand symbol of power and intimidation.  Perfectly lit for those seeking pictures, this was definitely the most imposing wall I had ever seen.


Jaffa Gate

To enter the city, I passed through the Jaffa Gate where early European pilgrims made their entrance all the way from the port city of Jaffa.  Once inside, it felt like I had just stepped back in time as everything looked, smelled and felt ancient.  The fanboy in me screamed out Prince of Persia with a dash of Skyrim and Dragon Age and a hint of Assassin’s Creed.


Jaffa Gate 2


Seriously, look at those streets!  I was half-expecting a shrouded figure to drop from above and stab me, the whole freakin time!


David Street Souk

The alleys were filled with religious sites and shops galore.  Various vendors competed for my attention, showing me their wares of sheesha, arabic headgear and religious souvenirs.  In other words, it was a shopping paradise for me.

I went down David Street, to pray at the famed Western Wall.  Located on the western side of the Temple Mount (a site holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians), it is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the courtyard of Solomon’s Temple.  Thus this place is the most holy site for all of Judaism.


Wailing Wall

Also known as the Wailing Wall to us Christians (though never call it that around a Jew) (no, seriously, they get irate),  It is an imposing structure full of written letters on its cracks, rabbis doing their dance-like motion while praying and Jews crying out to it with neither shame or discretion.

I glad that I made this trip at night, as during the day this place gets full with worshippers (Jews and Orthodox Jews) and tourists.


Wailing Wall Letters

I was able to insert a written prayer into one of the cracks, where I hope it will stay for awhile.

Ironically, on top of the Western Wall, on the Temple Mount itself stands the Dome of the Rock.  The mosque, with its solid gold dome, is said to be where Mohammad ascended to Heaven, making it the third holiest site in all of Islam.


Dome of the Rock

Some of the other things the Dome is noted for:

a.  Enshrines the Foundation Stone, the very rock Jews believe was used to create the Earth, where Cain and Abel made their sacrifices to God and where Abraham lay Isaac down to sacrifice him as God had ordered him to.  Said to be the holiest site on Earth, Jews pray towards the Foundation Stone just as Muslims pray toward Mecca.

b.  The very center of the Dome is where the Holy of Holies for the Jews was supposed to be located.  The Holy of Holies is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, which in turn was where the Ten Commandments were kept.

c.  The Dome is located on the Temple Mount where Jesus preached to the crowds and where he got angry at how the Temple had become a marketplace and decided to cleanse it.

Walking around further, I ran into a few other sights:


Hurva Synagogue

a.  The Hurva Synagogue located at the plaza center of the Jewish Quarter and is the most prominent synagogue in the Old City.


Armenian Quarter

b.  Some excavations and archaeological sites near the Armenian Quarter.


Cardo

c.  Some random Byzantine columns along one of the alleys in the border between the Armenian and Jewish Quarters (where I assume is the favorite spot of Altair for looking over the area for targets to take out)


Muristan

d.  The Muristan which is the center of a complex of streets and shops in the Christian Quarter and also the location of the first hospital of the Knights Hospitaller.

As for the rest of the sights: Via Dolorosa (Stations of the cross) and Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Golgotha - where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected), I will be going with the group on Good Friday, which I assume will be an even more reflective experience.

My walk around Jerusalem was a very pleasant one filled with a wonderful mixture of prayer, awe and reflection.  Getting lost in and around the alleys was a pleasure, as there is always something interesting around the corner.  I can understand how having the holy places of all three major religions within close proximity of each other can make for a volatile situation.  I pray that we remember that the central principle of all our faiths is LOVE, and this includes tolerance and respect for each other’s beliefs.

With regards to safety within the old city, I can say that it is very safe to walk around and in fact, I highly encourage it for people who like me, have an urge to satisfy; a burning desire to see and feel the place.  Of course, common sense is a must (like don’t flash your money around) as though it is a holy city, there are pickpockets all around.

Jerusalem was everything that I ever dreamed it would be.  It was a pleasure to feel the weight of the history and sanctity of the various sites, even more so that I did it ALONE, just like the pilgrims of ancient times.  I will be back to this most holy of places, the very center of the world.

Wailing Wall Prayer

"A new world. A better world than has ever been seen. There, you are not what you are born but what you have it in yourself to be. A kingdom of conscience, of peace instead of war, love instead of hate. That is what lies in the end of a crusade. A kingdom of heaven."

Amen.

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