Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount
Monday 19 November: To give myself an overview of the ancient city I'm starting at the Tower of David and walking around the Crusader and Ottoman ramparts that enclose the city’s old quarters. I’m alone on the fortifications above Jaffa Gate when the peace is broken by the wail of sirens over the modern city. Some people below rush for shelter but these battlements have survived many explosions and still remain, so do I (later I learn that a rocket from Gaza has exploded near Bethlehem a few miles away). I’m not worried and enjoy the views over Mt Zion, the Church of the Dormition and the Mount of Olives. When I arrive at the western wall of Temple Mount there’s more wailing but this time it’s the sound of Jewish zealots worshipping the wall, black-hatted men with long pig-tails who clearly take it all too seriously. Segregated fat-bottomed females carry on in a similar fashion, eating is an obsession in Israel.
Tuesday 20: Today I opt for the 'free' walking tour of the old city. This time sirens sound close-by and we are ushered into a protected area - the missile shelter in the basement of the Tower of David, great. Soon it’s over and we head along the narrow market streets of the city’s four quarters: Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. It’s fascinating that these divisions still exist, set in stone. I’m staying in the well-run Abraham Hostel where, in the evening, the manager briefs the guests on the political situation regarding the Gaza conflict. Tensions are running high in Palestine and the check-point to the occupied territories has been temporarily closed. All tours to Palestine, including Jericho and Bethlehem, have been cancelled until further notice, tour groups have not being going there for a while.
Wednesday 21: Today I take a walk across the Valley of Kidron towards the Mount of Olives. My first stop is at the pretty olive grove of the Garden of Gethsemane then the Basilica of Agony. Mary’s tomb and the grotto where it’s thought Judas betrayed Jesus are nearby. There are good views back over Jerusalem and I head back through Lion’s Gate and along Via Dolorosa. The street is marked by stations-of-the-cross as this is believed to be the route along which Jesus dragged his cross. Large wooden crosses can be hired here and a group of rather intense English Christians, clearly upset by the experience, grapple with a large cross carrying it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Part of me wants to make the experience more realistic for them, but I can’t find anywhere to hire a spear.
Thursday 22: This morning I queue for half-an-hour to gain access to Temple Mount and the exterior of the Dome of the Rock. Its blue tiling is stunning and this appears to be the sanest religious site in Jerusalem. No wailing, no mock crosses, just scruffy kids playing football in the grounds. The mental hospital nearby has a regular stream of Christians each year who believe they are Jesus. Apparently they soon recover. I just wonder what happens when two meet - “I’m Jesus.” “No you’re not, I am . . .”
Despite a midday bomb bus attack in Tel Aviv yesterday a ceasefire came into effect today, hope it holds.
Friday 23: It’s raining hard today so I’m off to the Israel Museum. A lot of archaeology and fine art but the Dead Sea scrolls in The Shrine of the Book are the collection’s most important possessions. Good to see but not of great interest unless you can read them.
Saturday 24: The Room of the Last Supper has been rebuilt so many times over the years it can bear little resemblance to the original. I wash down my supper with the locally produced Jerusalem Stout. Sweet and black with a frothy white head - delicious.
Slideshow of Jerusalem.

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