What a cold and miserable start to the day. Our guide and driver, Jiries, was waiting for us when we left the hotel this morning, and we were very grateful that we didn’t have to wait in the cold for him – it was 4°C, but the apparent temperature was -3°C! Bracing! The relentless rain that added to the mix mid-morning made it a challenging day.
Mount of Olives
Be began our tour up on the Mount of Olives at the Church of the Pater Noster, which has the Lord’s Prayer on fine handpainted tiles in every language throughout the church. Christians clearly love seeing this prayer in their own language and pose for photos next to their version (or buy the prayer on postcards or olive wood slabs). The gift shop was staffed by the French speaking Carmelite nuns of the Mount of Olives Convent – so bizarre to hear the French language amongst the Arabic and Hebrew spoken everywhere else.
Chapel of the Ascension
Our second stop on Jiries’ itinerary was the Mosque of the Ascension, also known as the Chapel of the Ascension. Yes, the Muslims now ‘have’ the bit of land from where Jesus apparently ascended to heaven. These dudes charge 5 ILS ($2 AUD) for visitors to see the slab of stone, and don’t even pretend to put it in the donation box, it goes straight into their pockets, and no ticket or anything is issued. Easy money. I questioned Jiries about this, and he was ‘hush hush’ in his response. Almost like the bullied kid in school whose lunch money is taken by the thugs – no point in arguing.
Which brings me to the less pleasant side to this country. Everyone is out to make something. Now, I know that could be said for every place on the planet, but there seemed to be a bit more honesty in Egypt, and certainly in Jordan. Here, we have been warned to not leave anything in the hire car, as people will break into it just because it’s a hire car. That would never happen in Jordan. And there is a scam with the camels here, too. Jiries told us of a woman who was told by a camel wrangler that the ride was free, but then when it was over, wouldn’t let her off until she had paid 200 ILS (about $75 AUD). When I asked about the tourist police, he shrugged. It seems that they are prone to corruption, too.
The Garden of Gethsemane
The Garden of Gethsemane was filled with impressively old olive trees – knarled and twisted, some needing help to stay standing. Their craggy splendour evoked respect and wonder. Three of these trees have been dated at over 2,000 years old, which means they were there the night it all went down when Jesus was arrested.
Tomb of the Virgin Mary
A steep descent on slippery stone steps took us to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. A very popular pilgrimage for the devoted, but Joseph’s tomb, on the side as you descend the stairs, was not really gathering much interest. Many ornate Middle Eastern lamps swung from the stone ceiling of the catacomb, and the walls were lined with colourful religious paintings.
The Christian Quarter of Old Jerusalem was built around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is a big ticket item for visiting Christians. It was here that the body of Christ was laid out on a slab of stone for the Jewish ritual of cleaning. Devotees kneel down beside it now and kiss the stone, put their hands on it, lay their heads on it. They then join the queue to go inside Jesus’ tomb. A meaningful and moving experience for the devout.
Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross
It does not require religion to be interested in this part of Jerusalem. History buffs also get much out of a visit to this city and this famous road. Our journey today walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ was hampered by the deluge that descended on the city from late morning. Careful placement of footsteps was crucial for safety on the smooth, slippery stones.
For the uninitiated, the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa (also known as the ‘Path of Suffering’) are the 14 points that mark events that happened to Jesus on his way from the Church of the Flagellation to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Each point is marked with a picture, sculpture or etching into the walls of the Old City along the route.
Now the Via Dolorosa is a maze of laneways and shops, and unless you visit early in the morning, it is a crowded and difficult to navigate place. There were slightly less people due to the downpour, and we made the most of our time wandering through the area.
Jiries took us to an antiques shop owned by a friend filled with many authentic treasures. The two pieces I asked about were top end – a gigantic silver torah holder (about $100,000 USD) and a silver shekel from the time of Christ ($9,500 USD). I have a good eye for the expensive! The owner, Omar, was very eager for me to buy an ancient coin as jewellery, which can be later sold on at a profit, but I am pretty much done with shopping on this trip. A drawcard in his shop besides the antiques is what is purported to be the deepest and oldest well in Jerusalem. Of course, Omar, doesn’t mind people coming in to see the well, cause they then may want to buy something!
Our adventures continue in Israel with our time in Jerusalem…
Tour Guide: Jiries Asmar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Read our full Jerusalem story here:
Part 1: Bethlehem and Israel Museum
Part 2 (current): Old City