Our first full day was a day full of trying to grasp the depth and complexity of the history here. It goes back thousands of years and has nearly as many interpretations. Who was here first? Who conquered whom? What religion takes precedence? All these are questions that take time to answer - and sometimes there are several answers.
We began on the Mount of Olives, with a spectacular view of the Temple Mount’s golden dome, that stands out among the arid, stone landscape.
And, as is typical here, each place has a story - a story most people have heard. But what’s so striking is to be able to hear about what happened thousands of years ago and see it now. Like this:
From the Mount of Olives, down one side of the valley and up the other, for a close up visit to the Temple Mount, pretty much the holiest place on the planet. Muslims, Jews and Christians all consider this spot sacred. Our Palestinian tour guide Noor A’wad gave us the historical rundown of how one piece of land can be so important to so many people of so many religions. At the moment, Muslims are in charge at the top, and the Al Aqsa Mosque is considered the third most holy place in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.
Even though Jerusalem bears the weight of the history of all three religions, some places are more important to some believers than others. That’s the case of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In Jesus’ time, the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by a wall. Executions and burials took place in an open field on a hill beyond the enclosure. Now, there’s a church built on and around the place where Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb. You can actually touch the cracked stone where his cross stood, and the stone where his body lay before being buried and the stone floor of the cave where he was buried. No doubt, this, along with Bethlehem, are the holiest sites for Christians.
Temple Mount for Muslims, Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians. For Jews, it’s the Western Wall. Because they’re no longer allowed to practice their religion openly on the top of the mount, Jews now pray on the western wall built to support the mount. Everyone, no matter your religion, or not, is allowed in to pray, take photos and contemplate. But men and women are separated.
Some of the day’s other experiences: