So almost 4 months after taking our trip to the Middle East, today I'm finally sharing the last of our photos! I figure I need to get these posted before we leave on another vacation later this week, so I'm happy to finally be getting these up!
(There are a lot of pictures in this post, hence why it took me so long to put together!)
The last stop of our trip was Jerusalem, undoubtedly the most important city in Israel, and probably the world, for the historic and religious significance it holds to so many people. We drove to Jerusalem from the Dead Sea, returned our rental car, then headed to check into our hotel. Jerusalem is definitely a big city that spreads out over a fairly large area. While Tel Aviv felt somewhat modern, almost American, Jerusalem definitely felt like no where else I had been before. There is such a wide variety of people walking around the city, many displaying religious convictions in the way they dress, it definitely makes for very interesting people watching!
We figured the best way to start off our visit to Jerusalem was with a walking tour of the Old City. The Old City is the walled area within Jerusalem that used to actually be the entire city before it expanded in the mid-1800's. It's divided into four quarters--the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter, and the Armenian quarter. We took one of the free Sandeman's walking tours (these tours are available in many cities across Europe and took a few of them during our trip there back in 2010) and it was a good way to get an overview of the city.
The streets of the Old City are filled with merchants selling all sorts of interesting things
We walked through the Ethiopian Chapel on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it's interesting how many different groups of people have a stake in this city!
The iconic view of the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall)
The Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter
The Armenian Quarter is the smallest and quietest of the four. Our tour guide said that the Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity as it's official religion, and they were given their own quarter which has allowed them to preserve their own unique culture.
Just like Istanbul and the other cities we visited in Israel, there were cats everywhere in Jerusalem! They were so cute and friendly, but Cam and I may have gone a little overboard allowing them to get so close to us!
This little guy would not leave us alone!
Walking around the Old City after our tour...
So the only issue we had while in Jerusalem was with our original hotel; the place that we had originally booked was in a great location and it was a really good deal...but it was just dirty. It was a combination hotel/hostel that was definitely targeted towards a younger traveler, and while we did have our own room with a private bathroom, it was just too grimy for me (and I may or may not have thrown a
major minor fit about it). Maybe that's a sign I'm getting old! The next morning, Cam found us a new hotel that was more to my standards :)
The Jerusalem Tower Hotel was in a great location and the rooms were clean and modern
We got some breakfast and then decided we wanted to do a more in-depth tour of the city's religious sites, so we opted to go on the 4-hour Holy City Tour offered by Sandeman's. While it did take us to different sites than the free walking tour from the day before, if I had things to do over again I wished we would have done a different tour with a guide who could have given us a little more perspective as the Sandeman's tour was all about being extremely politically correct, and I feel like we may have missed a little of the real Jerusalem in a way.
We got to see many different areas of the city and Jerusalem has such a long, complicated history that I honestly can't remember ever detail of what we saw...whoops.
The Old City is surrounded by high walls and there are different gates that all have different names where you can enter...also most signs in Jerusalem are written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English
It was so interesting to observe the Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem as they clearly display their religious beliefs in the way they dress/wear their hair, even at a young age. Also, you can see how the walls of the Old City are marked with tons of bullet holes, a constant reminder of the complex and sometimes violent history of this place.
The Abbey of Dormition
Statue of King David placed where he is believed to be buried...however, the statue has been vandalized and it's nose has been broken off because apparently statues depicting human figures go against Jewish beliefs
We got to see the room that now stands in the spot where the Last Supper was supposedly held. This is a popular site with Christian tourists and it was so interesting to see a group of visitors from Africa who were singing and dancing! That was really one of my favorite things about visiting Israel, to see Christians visiting from all over the world that each had their own unique way of praising the Lord!
We walked over towards the Western Wall to go up on top to Temple Mount...but like everywhere in Israel, you had to go through security first!
Walking past the Wailing Wall
Some artifacts on top of Temple Mount..
The level of detail in these carvings was just incredible!
So Temple Mount is actually the area on top of the Western Wall where Solomon's temple would have actually stood. The Jews believe this is the place where God chose for his Divine presence to rest. It's also believed to be the spot where Adam was created and where Abraham bound Issac, and it's still considered extremely holy. However, today two separate Muslim sites sit on Temple Mount, the Al Asqa Mosque (in the photo above) and the Dome of the Rock (in the photo below), and because the Muslim's control the area Jews are not allowed to pray up here so that's why they pray at the Western Wall.
The Dome of the Rock is extremely stunning from the outside, however, non-Muslim visitors are not allowed to enter.
We got a picture in front of it anyway!
After leaving Temple Mount, we walked the Via Dolorosa, which is the path that Christ walked carrying the cross, and includes signs for all the different events that took place on the day of his crucifixion, or the Stations of the Cross. I know that the Stations of the Cross are a much bigger deal in Catholicism but I think that it's really meaningful for any Christian. To really imagine Christ carrying the cross and see signs marking the spots that he stumbled and was flogged really brings the events of the Gospels to life. Nine of the stations are along the Via Dolorosa, where as the final five are inside the Church of Holy Sepulchre.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered the most important Christian site in Jerusalem as it's believed by many to be the site of Calvary where Christ was crucified, and it also houses the site of his resurrection. It is without a doubt one of the most fascinating historical/religious sites that I've ever visited due the fact that control of the church is shared by many different sects of Christians. The arrangement in which they control the church is very complex, and they each have different shrines set up around the very large church. There is a lot of Orthodox influence throughout the church, and it's extremely ornate inside. Unlike St. Peter's Basilica in Rome that's extremely cavernous and open, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is fairly dark and confusing. It was quite the experience to walk around!
Mural showing Christ being removed from the cross...clearly I am looking a little overwhelmed at this point in the tour! Cam always knows how to catch me at my best in photos...ha!
The Stone of Unction sits in front of the mural right when you walk in, and it's believed to be the spot where Jesus's body was prepared for burial. Religious pilgrims rub the stone with oil and kiss it.
A beautiful portrait of Christ in one of the domes
This is a (somewhat blurry) photo of the chapel which is believed to house the Holy Sepulchre, or the tomb in which Christ was buried and then rose again. You can actually go inside the chapel and see the actual spot where tomb is believed to be, and people wait in long lines to do this. After our tour ended, Cam and I figured we might as well get in line!
When we were almost up to the front of the line, entranced to the chapel was paused for a mass. Apparently the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, and the Armenian Apostolic churches all do a joint mass each day, and we had a front row seat! It one of my favorite experiences of the trip because when I looked out across the church there were Christians that clearly came from all over the world and everyone was just caught up in this service--it was really cool!
Going inside the chapel to see the tomb was fairly quick and it was more just a little prayer space that didn't really seem like a tomb. It was still neat to see though!
Upstairs in the church, you can see the spot where the cross supposedly stood. It's signified by an extremely ornate altar, and is an extremely popular spot with visitors.
The rock of Calvary
After fully exploring the Church of Holy Sepulchre, we ventured out to see more of the Old City.
Cam in the Jewish Quarter
We went to go visit the Western Wall at night, and it was such a neat experience!
Men and women are required to go to separate sides of the Wall to pray
Cam and I each went to our respective sides to stick our prayers into the wall. Jewish tradition is to place prayers to God on small slips of paper into the wall, and apparently over a million notes are placed in the wall each year. Twice a year, the notes are removed and buried on the Mount of Olives.
Cam's prayer is in there somewhere! He snapped a few pictures over on the men's side of the wall, which is quite a bit larger then the women's side.
The next morning, we headed out to visit The Garden Tomb which is believed by many Protestant Christians to be the actual site of Jesus's crucifixion and burial, as opposed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Both sites have a variety of evidence making their case why their site is more accurate, but I don't think anyone really knows for sure.
This site is outside the city walls and has a very different vibe then the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it's very open and natural as opposed to being an ornate building.
This is hill is what those at The Garden Tomb believe to be Golgatha, or the Hill of the Skull, where Christ was crucified.
The Garden Tomb area is really lush and peaceful, and personally I felt it resonated with me more spiritually.
There is a tomb carved into the rock that you can actually go inside, and for me this was a lot easier to envision the Easter Story in the Gospels of Christ's resurrection.
Inside the empty tomb...really powerful!
The Garden Tomb is a must-see experience if you're visiting Jerusalem!
After the Garden Tomb, we headed up to the top of the Mount of Olives which overlooks Jerusalem and is a place of significance in both the Old and New Testament. However, when we got to the top, all I could focus on was there was a camel there and I wanted to ride it!
The one thing I wanted to do in Israel was ride a camel, so I was pumped about this! I think I was so excited that I didn't even notice this camel looks kind of sick and something is definitely wrong with its nose...whoops.
It was actually a little scary when the camel stood up!
Also, I felt really bad for this little guy that owned the camel...at the time I was so excited about riding the camel, but looking back at this picture now it's a little ridiculous.
Best day ever!
On top of the Mount of Olives is a 3,000 year old Jewish cemetery that contains over 15,000 graves.
The Church of All Nations we passed by walking down from the Mt. Olives,
Later that afternoon we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. I've been to other Holocaust museums before and this was by far the most in-depth. Photos weren't allowed inside, but it was an extremely well-done memorial and I'm so glad we visited. I snapped this sunset photo just as we were leaving.
At night we walked around the Mamilla Mall, an outdoor shopping promenade located outside the Old City. I felt like I was at an upscale outdoor mall in the USA, and it was neat to walk around see more of modern Jerusalem.
Outside the Jaffa Gate on our last day in Jerusalem
Outside the old city, Ben Yehuda Street was the main drag downtown
One of the final things we visited in Jerusalem was Mahane Yehuda market, or as it's more commonly known, "The Shuk." This bustling market was filled with all types of food, and it was such a fun experience to walk around!
There are baked goods all over the place in Israel
Pomegranates are also really popular, and you can get fresh squeezed juice everywhere
So many spices!
Fresh made challah
My sister studied abroad in Jerusalem a few years ago, and one thing that she was adamant that we do in Jerusalem was try the chocolate rugelach from Marzipan Bakery in the Shuk. Rugelach is a Jewish pastry that kind of looks like cresent roll with a sweet filling inside, except the dough is a lot thinner and more buttery. Marzipan's rugelach apparently has a cult following and people come from all over to try it. We tried some chocolate rugelach fresh out of the oven and it was AMAZING. We both a few dozen and I even shipped some out to my sister in NYC once we were back in the US. Definitely have to try it if you every find yourself in Jerusalem.
Even though our trip to Turkey and Israel was months ago now, looking back on all these photos still makes me smile. I'm so glad we decided to go as we were able to see so much while we were there. And despite the fact that we were in Israel during a time of conflict, we didn't have any issues at all. God really watched out for us, and we were extremely thankful for all the friends and family that we had praying for us at home! Off all the places we went on our trip, Jerusalem was definitely my favorite. It's such a vibrant city that's still so alive with tradition. If you ever get a chance to visit, I'd highly recommend it! Xoxo