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Jerusalem by foot

"Jerusalem by foot" Continued...

Issue: "Building a city," March 24, 2007

Other historic churches are closer to the summit, which also boasts the Mount of Olives Bazaar and Last Paradise Dry Clean.

4) Walk through the Kidron Valley onto the rocky ridge once settled by the Jebusites and conquered by David 3,000 years ago. The "City of David" site has walls from 1300 b.c. that belonged to the Jebusite acropolis and fragments of what was probably David's palace. You can climb down a shaft that David's soldiers may have climbed up when they captured the city, and wade through thigh-high water in the tunnel that Hezekiah built to connect the city with the Pool of Siloam, which is still there. Note: Bring a flashlight and understand that the tunnel is not a safe theme park ride but a slippery walk through dark, cold water, and may require a guide.

5) Continue west from the "City of David" site to the St. Peter in Gallicantu Church, which commemorates the traditional site of Caiaphas' home and Peter's denial of Christ. The sound effects-a tape of a rooster crowing-are cheesy, but the underground dungeon caves beneath the church, rediscovered in 1889, make the visit worthwhile; Jesus may well have spent the night in them before being taken to Pontius Pilate. The walls have holes where iron rings for chains apparently were attached, and the only add-on is a stand with copies of Psalm 88 ("I am counted among those who go down to the pit") in 43 languages, including Chaldean, Maltese, and Tahitian.

6) A little further west, on Mount Zion, is the Hall of the Last Supper; you might search for it and miss it several times unless you know that it's on the second floor of a building that houses the Mt. Zion Diaspora Yeshiva. This is the traditional site of the upper room in which Jesus had His last Passover meal and instituted the Last Supper.

Crusaders constructed the current building and included Gothic arches, but it's a plain place that's perfect for contemplation if not crowded. On the first floor lies what is called the "Tomb of David," but archeologists who accept the historicity of other traditional sites scoff at this one.

7) If you walk through the Zion Gate into the walled city and head eastward, you'll approach the Western Wall, built by Herod in 20 b.c. as a retaining wall to support the Temple. When Roman troops razed the holy structure 90 years later, they left this Wall, which became a place of pilgrimage for Jews throughout the centuries. Now, men (who get three-fourths of the Wall space under the strict sex segregation now in force) and women come and stand before the huge blocks of stone all through the day.

Some who come stick in the cracks messages to God on little pieces of paper. Many place one or both hands on the Wall and lean their heads to touch it: The Wall is cool in the morning and warm from the rays of the late afternoon sun. In front of the Wall is a plaza in which some Orthodox Jews recite prayers and others read while walking in circles. Non-Jews are welcome, but all males must cover their heads; those who don't are chased by an enforcer who gestures toward a box that contains cardboard skullcaps.

Beyond these seven prime sites are some others worth taking in:

  • Just south of the Western Wall you can climb a ramp that will take you through the Moor's Gate onto the Temple Mount. Unless you're a Muslim, you will not be allowed into the two mosques on the mount, including the famous Dome of the Rock that covers the spot where the Holy of Holies stood (and is also where, by tradition, Abraham almost slew Isaac), but you will come to understand that the Temple was a very large building.
  • If you don't mind repeatedly getting lost, wander through the walled city's souq, the alleys filled with shops selling everything from T-shirts to fine sandalwood carvings. Shopkeepers will beckon you, sometimes insistently, but you can just say Lo ("no" in Hebrew) and gain good practice for being equally emphatic to "guides" at historical sites who will stick by you and demand payment unless you fend them off early.
  • If you pay attention to the news, you'll have a sense of how risky it is for Americans to venture into Palestinian Authority territory. If you go, you'll see that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem doesn't have as much bling as some Jerusalem churches, but it's still a far cry from a stable. Nevertheless, the trip is worthwhile for the opportunity to talk with (and patronize the shops of) Christian Arabs who have it tough economically and psychologically, ground as they are between Israeli and Islamic millstones.
  • The Mea Shearim neighborhood, northwest of the walled city, is a center for the ultra-Orthodox; Israelis call them haredim, from the Hebrew word for "fear" of God. The haredim follow East European style from two centuries ago, often wear bekeshes (frock coats), gartels (long belts wrapped around the frock, dividing the "good" upper part of the body from troubling lower parts), and shtreimels, ultra-wide fur hats. Most of the men have long beards, but those clean-shaven (and their sons) grow sidecurls that some wear loose but others braid. Women generally wear long dresses and head coverings, usually scarves but sometimes wigs, if married.
  • The Israel Museum in West Jerusalem exhibits Dead Sea scrolls in a wonderfully designed building with a cave-like entrance and a clay-jar-like overall design. Dress is modern here: Some visitors wear low-rider pants (boxer shorts showing) and T-shirts proclaiming "Guns and Moses" or "Torah-Just Do It."

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