Fun things to do in Jerusalem

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    jewish cemetery

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Facing the Old City from the Mount of Olives the Jewish Cemetery was always important for Jews because of the huge necropolis at the southern part. We saw it on our way down as we were walking towards the Old City.

    The cemetery houses more than 100,000 graves, it’s really a huge number but have in mind that it used as such the last 3000 years (since the first temple period)! What we see today took its form during 16th century actually, in the ancient times the Jews were buried in burial caves that were scattered on the hill, we saw some of them when we visited the Tombs of the Prophets.

    It’s not just the most ancient in Jerusalem but also the most important and many Jews still want to be buried here overlooking the Temple Mount because according to Biblical verse Zechariah 14:4 when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin in Mount of Olives. Some of tombs are associated with bible figures (including prophet Zechariah) but also some notable rabbis, prime minister Menachem Begin etc In some parts we saw locals paying respect, placing a stone on a burial site is a traditional custom for a family member.
    As expected we enjoyed more the incredible panoramic views as the cemetery faces the Old City and Mount Temple.

    jewish cemetery jewish cemetery jewish cemetery jewish cemetery
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    tombs of the prophets

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    The mount of Olives is famous for the huge Jewish necropolis that is a burial place for thousands of Jews the last 3000 years! Before the 16th century Jews were buried in burial caves that were scattered on the hill.

    We saw the sign (tombs of the Prophets) and decide to check out this catacomb (only a small part is open to the public). The last three Hebrew Bible Prophets Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi (lived during 5-6th century BC) supposed to be buried here although this must be wrong as the tombs came in use only during the 1st century BC. We went down the staircase and saw a large circular central vault from where 3 tunnels stretch into the rock to the burial places. Some inscription suggest the catacomb was re-used to bury Christians during 5th century AD. I have to admit that we got bored and we enjoyed much more the view over the Temple Mount from the terrace outside :)

    There’s no entrance fee, there’s usually a guard/caretaker outside that will open the door for you.

    interior of tombs of the prophets entrance of tombs of the prophets follow the light map of tombs of the prophets tombs of the prophets
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    Dominus Flevit church

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Walking down Mount of Olives toward the Old City we saw people getting inside this small church. It’s a roman catholic church that was built in 1955 and is called Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept) thus it has the shape of a teardrop to commemorate Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem during his triumphal entry on the first Palm Sunday when he saw the Second Temple predicting its destruction and the diaspora of the jews (the event is known as Flevit super illam in latin). A small chapel was built during 11th century (crusader era) but fell into ruin after the fall of Jerusalem (1187). In 1518 Turks built a mosque on the remains but it was only in late 19th century when Franciscans built a small chapel and in mid 20th century the church we see today was built.

    Once more this was an excellent point of view for some photo shots of Old City of Jerusalem as the tiny church itself has nothing special (the decoration is relatively plain) except the beautiful window that face the Old City but I couldn’t take a picture of it from inside as there was a small ceremony taking place during our visit. But worth the visit anyway because it was way less busy than other famous churches.

    Dominus Flevit church Dominus Flevit church interior of Dominus Flevit church detail at Dominus Flevit church
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    Virgin Mary’s Tomb

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    At the very foot of Mount of Olives we saw the 12th century façade of a church that has a form of a cross and was cut into the rock. It’s church of the Sepulchre of Virgin Mary that (according to east orthodox church) is the burial place of Mary (mother of Jesus). Unlike catholics that teach about her Assumption (assumed into heaven in bodily form) East Orthodox church believe in Dormition of Theotokos, that she died like any human being and her soul was received by Jesus Christ while her body resurrected three days later.

    Anyway, the thing is that there was a cemetery from 1st century here and many churches were built and destroyed again and again over the quarried-out tomb that supposed to be Mary’s.
    The walled courtyard (pic 1) was full of tourist groups and many beggars here and there, we took some pictures of the façade than went down the wide descending stair (47 steps) that leads to the underground rock-cut cave that houses the tomb. Pic 2 was taken from the lower church as you look up the entrance.

    The place was packed (pic 3) with pilgrims (mainly orthodox Christians) that were waiting in line to worship the tomb by entering the apse that holds the sarcophagus (in encased with glass). It’s an empty stone bench with three holes that allow pilgrims to touch inside although most of them just take their time to take a picture of it (pic 4).

    There are also 2 side chapels, one for her husband (Saint Joseph) and one for her parents (Joachim and Anne) but the weird thing is the mihrab (indicating direction of Mecca) but I guess muslims rarely come here for prayer although it was part of Muhammad’s Night Journey (he saw a light over Mary’s tomb).

    This cave church is highly atmospheric because of the dozen of hanging lamps/lanterns and the sense of antiquity because of the blackened walls that hold icons while numerous pilgrims sing gospels around. Most tourists skip it making a major mistake.

    The church is open daily 6.00-noon and 14.30-17.00

    entrance to Virgin Mary���s Tomb view from inside pilgrims at Virgin Mary���s Tomb Virgin Mary���s Tomb
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    The Judge’s tomb

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Just outside the church of Mary’s tomb we saw an open four-columned structure in Islamic style covered by a dome. This monument is actually the tomb of Mujir al-Din, a Palestinian religious judge (Chief Qadi) and historian in Jerusalem during the 15th century.

    He is famous as the author of a book about Jerusalem and Hebron in the Middle Ages that was published in 1495 and was used centuries later as a great detailed view over the topography and social life of Jerusalem in 15th century.

    He was born in Jersalem in 1456 and died in 1522.

    The Judge���s tomb
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    greek monastery of St.Stephen

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    We had finished our tour on Mount of Olives and we were ready to visit Old City but we saw one more church on our way to Lions’ Gate. According to the sign outside it’s the Greek Monastery of St.Stephen.

    It’s dedicated to a greek-speaking Hellenistic Jew of 1st century AD Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr (a protomartyr) who is consider one of the first deacons of the Christian church.
    He was accused of blasphemy, went on trial and became a martyr in 35AD when he was stoned to death! Witness of the martyrdom was Paul the Apostle. Noone really knows the exact location where he was buried but during 5th century a priest had a dream about the location which is where now stands the church.

    First we visited the church on the ground floor, simple church where we took some pics of the iconostasis and then we went downstairs where the setting was kind of weird (pic 4) but closer to the real story where the stoning supposed to happen… Nothing special in general you can easily skip this church.

    greek monastery of St.Stephen entrance of greek monastery of St.Stephen lower church
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    Lions’ Gate

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    "Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?"
    Genesis 49:9

    There are seven different open gates that lead into the Old City of Jerusalem. Lions’ Gate is located north of eastern side and was the second one we saw and as Damascus Gate it also leads into the Muslim quarter. Many Christians prefer this one because it marks the starting point of the last walk of Jesus Christ from prison to crucifixion through via Dolorosa. The gate is also known as St.Stephen’s gate (by Christians), Sha’aar Ha’Arayot (in Hebrew but it also means Lions Gate) and Bab Sitna-Mariam by arabs (St.Mary’s gate)

    We approached the gate as we came from Mount of Olives. It’s not impressive but we stood for a while to check the four lions (two pairs of them) that are carved on the walls of the gate and were placed there by sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to honor the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks in 1517.

    …they don’t look like lions though (pic 3), probably they are leopards but don’t forget that traditionally lion was an emblem of Jerusalem since the biblical times and the Kingdom of Judah. The gate was built by Ottomans along with the present walls of Jerusalem in 1539. Inside the gate wasn’t so busy as I expected… we followed the Lions Gate street that becomes Via Dolorosa street after 100meters.

    approaching Lions Gate Lions Gate lions over the gate inside Lions Gate Lions Gate street
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    Santa Anna church

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Lions Gate is called Bab Sitna-Mariam by arabs which means St.Mary’s gate. It makes you wonder why but just inside the gate there’s the church of Santa Anna which is believed that was built on the spot where was believed by the crusaders that was the birthplace of Virgin Mary (mother of Jesus).
    It was built in 1138 in romanesque style replacing a previous byzantine basilica (5th century) and before that during the roman period there was a pagan shrine dedicated to the greek god Asclepius. Saladin didn’t destroy the church during his conquest of Jerusalem (1187) but turned it into a madrasa (Islamic college). One of the most prominent students was Mujir al-Din that wrote the famous author of a book about Jerusalem and Hebron in the Middle Ages that was published in 1495 and was used centuries later as a great detailed view over the topography and social life of Jerusalem in 15th century. We saw his tomb outside Lions Gate.

    The church was donated to Napoleon II (by Sultan Abdulmecid I) and still belongs to the French government. We took some pictures and left as there were other much more important churches to see that day.

    Santa Anna church interior of Santa Anna church
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    stations of the cross along via Dolorosa

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    With a guidebook in hand you will enjoy much more the path of Suffering, of course you wont have to carry any cross just the book and your camera :) Watch out for the roman numerals on the walls on each station. If you do it early in the morning it must be much more atmospheric but in mid day it was like hell with hundreds of others tourists around us so it was hard even to navigate through the windy route.

    Station #1 Jesus is condemned to death.
    We started from Umariya Elementary School (station 1) where Jesus condemned to death. Pic 1 shows Praetorium (Pilate’s court), the prison where Jesus was kept while outside there was Lithostrotos (pic 2, it’s the greek word for pavement) where Pontius Pilate had his judgement seat and judged Jesus.

    Station #2 Jesus carries His cross.
    Ecce Homo convent is the second station where Pilate gave his Ecce Homo speech and places the thorns atop Jesus head.

    Station #3 Jesus falls for the first time.
    Located next to the Polish Catholic chapel (and previously city’s Turkish baths) we easily missed this one as we were trying to figure out the way :)

    Station #4 Jesus meets His mother.
    Station 4 is the Armenian Orthodox Oratory (built in 1881 and named Our Lady of the Spasm), easy to locate it next to the pizza eatery :) There’s no mention at New Testament that Jesus met his mother but films and popular tradition claims so…

    Station #5 Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus carry His cross.
    Pic 3 Chapel of Simon of Cyrene (1895) is the place where Simon of Cyrene was forced by romans to help Jesus carry the cross although it’s not clear if he had sympathy for Jesus or not. There’s a rock on the wall that some people try to touch

    Station #6 Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
    You’ll probably have heard the story, Veronica wiped Jesus’ sweat from his face with a veil that supposed to be imprinted supernaturally with the image of him. Once more this is not a story from the bible.

    Station #7 Jesus falls the second time.
    pic 4. Located next to a Franciscan chapel it’s easy to locate it because of the red door, this is where Jesus fell for the second time

    Station #8 Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem.
    Located next to the greek orthodox monastery of St.Charalampus this is where Jesus met some women and offered them a sermon

    Station #9 Jesus falls for the third time.
    pic 5. Hellen Coptic church is the last station outside the church of the Sepulchre.

    and then inside the church:
    Station #10 Jesus is stripped of His garments.
    Station #11 Jesus is nailed to the cross.
    Station #12 Jesus dies on the cross.
    Station #13 Jesus is taken down from the cross.
    Station #14 Jesus is laid in the tomb.

    Praetorium Lithostrotos 5th station 7th station 9th station
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    St.Helena Coptic church

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Copts Christians have their share in the Cristian quarter with five different churches along with the rooftop (!) of the church of the Holy Sepulchre.

    St. Helena church is the one we visited, it was built in 12th century over a large cistern that can be reached by a staircase. The cistern was discovered in 4th century by Helena (mother of Constantine the Great, she was the first saint of the christian church) and provided water to the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Don’t forget that Helena was the one that ordered the structure of Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem and Grotto of Nativity in Bethlehem but both of them were constructed a century later.

    St.Helena Coptic church St.Helena Coptic church St.Helena Coptic church St.Helena Coptic church
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    ramparts walk

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566) was the sultan of Ottoman Empire (1520 to his death) that was responsive for the impressive walls that surround the Old City when he restored the ancient walls of the city. 4,5km in length, 5 to 15meters high and about 3 meters thick they’re still impressive enough.
    When we reached Jaffa Gate we saw a map on the wall (pic 3) and realized that we could walk along the ramparts and see the Old City from there. You cant really do a full circle as the ramparts at Temple Mount are closed so you can either take the north route (from Jaffa to Lions Gate) or the south route (around the armenian and jewish quarters).

    I thought it’s an interesting way to see Old City and I wanted to do at least the first section from Jaffa Gate to Zion Gate but we were there late and couldn’t make it. Some friends told me we didn’t miss much expect the back junk areas of houses and stores :)

    The ramparts are open Sunday to Thursday 9-16.00, Friday 9-14.00

    Don’t forget to take some water with and wear a hat as the sun is a killer there and of course comfortable shoes as there are lots of stairs along with the uneven stone path.
    The entrance fee is 16nis

    map of ramparts walk
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    City Hall

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    When we got outside Old City from Jaffa Gate we walked a bit into the new part of West Jerusalem, 700m NW we ended up on a big square that is actually the spot between west and east Jerusalem. We decided not to take the tram but walk around for a while. It was very quiet that evening with only a few people playing with the bicycles you see on my photo (pic 2), they producing energy that activates the clocks, lights or the gramophone above them! Oh yes, we tried them all :)

    It’s Safra square that houses Jerusalem City Hall a building complex that was created in 1993, actually with several different buildings. The square was named after Jacob and Esther Safra, parents of the Lebanese/Brazilian Jewish banker and philanthropist Edmond Safra (1932-1999) who was responsible for new constructions of synagogues all over the world but also saved after renovation many old synagogues.

    There many sculptures and memorials all over the square but we realized we were desperate to find a WC! :) So we took advantage of one of the buildings where we asked the guard if there’s any public toilet around, the friendly guard was kind with us and let us in to use their facilities, later I noticed that this building (pic 4) was once the Russian hospital. On our way down to Jaffa road to take the tram we noticed 48 palm trees (pic 5)

    City Hall at Safra square City Hall view from City Hall Russian hospital palm trees at Safra square
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    Jaffa street

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    Jaffa (or Jaffo) street was probably the street we passed by most during the four days we stayed in Jerusalem as we were staying at Jerusalem hostel which lies in the middle of the street at Zion square. It’s the longest and oldest street in Jerusalem, very commercial in general with numerous stores, malls at intersections, restaurants and hordes of pedestrians on both sides.

    Getting out of the Central Bus Station most visitors will probably use the light rail to get downtown towards the Old City as Jaffa Street starts at the bus station and ends up at Jaffa Gate. Alternative you can walk the 2,2km long route in about 30’. It became a popular street during 19th century as the main expansion out of Old City walls but it just after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 that became the central artery of West Jerusalem. It was paved in 1861 but what made me really sad was the fact that it was also targeted by terrorist groups many times.

    As you walk down you will see the Mahane Yehude Market on your right, it’s the biggest market in Jerusalem, we love such markets and had some great lunch breaks there as there are many nice small eating places inside the market, let aside the spices, olives and dried fruits we bought :)
    Back to Jaffa street we saw lots of stores, many tourists, exchange offices etc We stopped for coffee at the intersection with King George street at bakery/pastry Maffiat Neeman, our diet was destroyed as we tried several different things there.

    Further down is Zion Square with the Twin Towers and again more souvenir stores but also side streets with many café (with outdoor seating), bars, restaurants etc Then on your left is Safra Square that houses the City Hall Complex.

    Jaffa Gate is a few meters away from there, you’re ready now to enter Old City from the western side.

    waiting for the tram at Jaffa street Light Rail stop at Jaffa street mural at Jaffa street Jaffa street

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    mahane Yehuda market

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    I love the markets no matter which town of the world I visit, so we did the same in Jerusalem. The first day we visited the arab market in old city and then the popular Mahane Yehuda market in West Jerusalem (tram stops in front of the market at Jaffa road).

    It has great atmosphere, a bustling colourful open market full of people (locals and tourists) through out the day. We spent some time checking the different items (more than 250 vendors selling fruits, vegetables, tahini, halva, meat, fish, cheese, desserts, spices, bread but also some clothing, even small boutiques!).

    We bought olives, nuts, dried fruits and bread. Biggest part of it is covered and among the numerous vendors we saw small café, juice bars and some nice small places to eat, we tried at least 2 of them (on different days) and loved the atmosphere. I’ve heard about several tours in the market (bakery tour, wine and cheese tour etc) but I don’t think it’s a good idea. Just walk around on your own through the maze of stalls, watch out for pickpockets as it gets really crowded, especially on Friday before Sabbath.

    Food ventors open Sunday to Thursday 8-19.00 and Friday till 15.00, restaurant and café stay open into the night

    mahane Yehuda market mahane Yehuda market mahane Yehuda market mahane Yehuda market mahane Yehuda market

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    ethiopian church near Mea she’arim

    by mindcrime Written Jul 11, 2014

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    I was on my way to Mea She’arim when I saw this walled-in Ethiopian church compound. It was built in stages between 1874 and 1901 by the Ethiopian emperor Johannes. It’s a round church modeled on churches in Ethiopia. All around are the residences of the monks and nuns.

    I saw three people going inside (pic 2) and followed them but I was surprised that visitors remove their shoes before entering the church. There’s a lion over the gate and an inscription “the lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed ”, it’s about the biblical visit of Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, according to my guidebook lion is the symbol of Ethiopian Christians that descended from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, who gave her a banner depicting a Lion of Judah when she visited Jerusalem.

    I took some pictures of the interior (pic 3) and then walked outside at the shade garden where cats were playing (pics 4-5)

    ethiopian church ethiopian church interior of ethiopian church cat outside ethiopian church cat outside ethiopian church
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