We rose rather late, after our late arrival last night and sauntered down for a leaisurely breakfast in the bowels of the hotel. Dani and Mike joined us after about 20 minutes and we enjoyed cheese, olives, bread, jam , cornflakes etc. and some lively chat. Christine and I decided to visit the Moslem and Jewish quarters today as buildings in these areas would be less likely to be open on Saturday or Friday afternoon, our other two opportunities to visit.
However our first stop was the ‘Garden Tomb’, possibly the tomb Christ was laid in, but possibly not! Certainly one got an idea of what such a tomb would be like and it was very pleasantly set out with some interesting trees and shrubs. A group of Nigerian Christians bought an unexpected burst of colour to the scene.
We then entered the old city through the Damascus Gate and after passing an array of vegetable stalls turned left into the Via Dolorosa. However we were momentarily waylaid by the sight of a pomegranate press and a man operating it to produce the most wonderful juice. Memories of Damascus flooded back as we tasted it’s sweet, sharp deliciousness! The wonderful cry of the muezzin filled the street as we headed for the Monastery of the Flagellation. This is Franciscan and is said to be the place where Christ was beaten. A beautiful courtyard and a lovely church greeted us, although Christine got told off for bringing her pomegranate juice in with her. Naughty Christine!
Back down the Via Dolorosa, I decided to try a back alley to see where it led, but we got turned back by armed police as it led to the mosque and so was for Moslems only. Naughty Richard!
So, instead, we entered a Greek Orthodox church to view the prison in which the two thieves and Barabas were supposedly kept. I think I’d have given up all hope if I’d been put in there! Next door was Jesus’s prison and, again, it was pretty grim.
Back in the Via Dolorosa we kept on down El Wad and into the souk, full wonderful smells and colours. We then got a bit lost and found ourselves trying to get into the Temple Mount again. This time a pleasant policeman explained that it was only open to tourists from the Western Wall side between 12.30 and 1.30. So we headed for the Western Wall. It was quite a sight and I think the first time I felt moved today. It wasn’t particularly busy and we both went down to the wall to touch it and to pray – Christine on her side and me on mine. Then we joined the queue to get into the Haram esh-Sharif or Temple Mount.we queued for about 20 minutes or so and eventually went through security just before 1.00 p.m.. We climbed up a steep walkway and on to the mount, and there before us was the Dome of the Rock. It is amazingly beautiful and set in very pleasant grounds with good views over the Mount of Olives. We wandered around it , but we’re not allowed in – Moslems only unfortunately. The same was true of the El Aqsa mosque, but there it is. We spent a very pleasant 40 minutes strolling around before some quite officious security people told us to leave.
By now we were hungry and found a delightful place to eat in the souk. According to the owner it had been there for 1,500 years and certainly it looked like it, but it was clean and the food was excellent – a dish of taboulleh and another of Baba Ganoush, washed down with mint tea – delicious!
Fortified we headed up a steep set of steps and into another souk – in fact three of them which run parallel into the Jewish quarter. We stopped at the Hurva Synagogue and went in. Hurva means ‘ruin’ in Hebrew and this synagogue had been rebuilt on the site of two others destroyed at various times. We took an audio guide around it and watched the scholars arguing over scripture in the synagogue before climbing up onto a balcony that gave panoramic views of the city. I had a distinct feeling of vertigo at the top, but managed to overcome it and circumnavigate the dome albeit holding on to the railings for dear life!
Back on the ground we visited the Cardo, the Roman street that ran through the heart of the city – hence the name, (we learnt from a passing guide). We meandered through much restored streets , where clearly a great deal of money had been spent on the buildings. This was a wealthier area than the Moslem quarter. We descended into the foundations of a modern building to view the remains of the old city walls and the climb back up convinced us we had done enough for the day. We stopped on the way back to look at an Armenian church where it was said Jesus met his mother on the way to Calvary. His footprints are apparently preserved in a mosaic floor!
An outrageously expensive coffee and baklava set us up for the final short walk to the Damascus Gate and our hotel. The moon has come up over the city and the place looks beautiful. A great first day, but an early rise tomorrow as we head for the Dead Sea and Masada. Tonight the four of us will exchange travellers’ tales over dinner and solve the Middle East crisis …..or maybe not…..depends on the number of beers we can afford really.