Today we began with seeing Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives and then making our way down what is known as the Palm Sunday Path towards the city. This route commemorates the path that Jesus took into Jerusalem when palm branches were laid down for him before his arrest and then crucifixion. From the Mount of Olives the entire city of Jerusalem stretches out before you. Because of the hilly nature of the area, pilgrims would not be able to see the city at all until they had reached one of the surrounding hill tops and so making it there would be cause for celebration. We started at the top of the Mount of Olives and then made our way past the Jewish cemeteries where family members have left small rocks on the grave to remember and honor those that have passed away. At the bottom of the hill the path leads to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before his final days. In this place they have built a church, called the Church of All Nations or the Basilica of the Agony, where that place of prayer happened. The church ceiling is decorated with the crests, symbols, and flags of other countries around the world.
We continued the path from the church taking us up the stairs of the wall of the old city. We made our way to the Western Wall for our tour of the excavations that are being completed of the Western Wall as people study the layers of the wall that are under the surface. Within these excavations is a Jewish synagogue where the music and prayers of the people reverberate off the walls. After seeing the underground portion of the wall, we made our way to the top to experience the wall for ourselves. The wall is divided by gender, allowing the men and women to have their own space for prayer and reflection. Traditionally people who visit the wall will write a note of prayer and tuck it into the crevices of the wall. Twice a year, all of these notes are collected and placed in a box and buried on the Mount of Olives with the belief that those prayers are now on holy ground and therefore more likely to be heard. The Western Wall is the wall that would have been the closest to the holiest part of the temple of Solomon before it was destroyed, so this is where the people come to pray as they cannot at the Dome of the Rock.
After stopping for lunch in Jewish Quarter of the old city, we continued on the path of archeology throughout the city until we came to the City of David National Park. This site is located within the city walls of old Jerusalem and is said to be the site of the biblical King David who as an Israelite leader conquered the fortified city of Jebus. This site is the original settlement core of the Bronze Age and Iron Age of Jerusalem. Visitors are led first to see the site from outside and then can descend down to the very heart of the city and make their way through the water tunnel that was used to overtake the city. There are two tunnels, one that is mostly dry and another that has a few feet of water of it, but both tunnels are quite small and not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia.
I ended the day with a visit to the bookstore of my new Israeli friend that I had met on the way here. She was not there but I was happy to visit with her two sons that run the store and tell them about what a joy it was to meet their mom on the plane. The bookstore was excellent, with a lot of books in English and a lot of books in Hebrew and a lot of books in both languages. I loved the books that were in both languages- with the English at the front of the book and then you can flip to the back and read the Hebrew. And I always enjoy finding books I know and seeing them in another language.
Jerusalem is really a beautiful city and every day that I spend here I find more to love about it.