Jerusalem: Between Heaven and Earth

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.

Centuries-old Olive Trees in Gethsemane

Mt. of Olives

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.

Sunrise at Mt. of Olives

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.

Dead Sea (from Bibleplaces.com)

Damascus gate

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.

Christian Quarter, Old Jerusalem

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.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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.

Western (Wailing) Wall

Bazaars around Old Jerusalem

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.

Basilica of Ecce Homo

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.

Roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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.

The Jerusalem Stone (a pale white limestone)

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.

Kidron Valley

Looking towards the east you can see the Mt of Olives, Gethsemane, the Kidron Valley with their memories of the Old and New Testament.

Bethlehem

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.

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