Our breakfast at the East Jerusalem YMCA was at 7am. Tom & Isam arrived at 8am and we were off past the Jehoshaphat Valley on the eastern side of Jerusalem. The current 16th century walls are a little different than the walls destroyed by the Romans when they captured the city. We were told Hadrian built four city gates with only about 100 feet of wall beside them because he didn't want the walls used for defensive purposes.
Herod rebuilt the Temple and expanded the Temple Mount in the latter part of the first century B.C. The platform is supported by a series of arches along the southern section of the Temple Mount, an area called Solomon's Stables. A muslim palace was built south of the Temple mount in the eighth century, the site is now marked by a canopy.
We went through a checkpoint to get into the western wall area--ladies to the right, men to the left. After some time for prayer at "The Wailing Wall," we take a closer look at the wall itself. Excavations have revealed the stones used by Herod, above them stones from when the wall was repaired in Muslim times. The smaller stones at the top are from the Turkish period. The Dome of the Rock is resting on bedrock, the mountain peak protrudes inside the dome. This commemorates the spot where Abraham came to sacrifice Isaac, as well as the spot where Muslims believe Muhammed ascended to heaven. It was built in 688 A.D. The beautiful ornate graphics in the dome contain quotes from the Koran.
After visiting the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, we ventured off through the Old City. Dave ventured off on his own which sidetracked us for awhile. But finally we were all reunited and walked through the Zion Gate into what was believed to be the Essene area of Jerusalem in the first century, called Mt. Zion today. From there we hiked to the Tower of David Museum at the Citadel, just inside the Jaffa Gate. There we got a quick and comprehensive introduction to the history of Jerusalem.
On our way to Bethlehem we stopped for a lunch of Felafel and Schwarma just across from Rachel's Tomb. The city of Bethlehem was all torn up for further preparations for next year's onslaught of visitors. We walked up to the Church of the Nativity. It has a very low door so the Turks could not ride their horses into the church. The first church was built here by Constantine. It was destroyed by an earthquake. Justinian rebuilt it as a basilica. It is one of the oldest churches of Christendom, surviving through Persian and Muslim eras when many other churches were destroyed. Roman Catholic and Orthodox groups share the church complex.
We walked down under the altar and looked through the hole into the cave where Jesus is supposed to have been born. We walked to the adjacent church building and descended into the caves. In one of the small rooms, St. Jerome is supposed to have translated the Bible into the Latin Vulgate version. We sat and sang "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" and then discussed how Jesus had come into each of our lives. We prayed and then left the church about 3pm.
From there we drove to the Church of the Shepherd's Fields, where we saw a shepherd's cave from the time of Christ. Barlucci built the church here in the 1920's. The acoustics were excellent.
Before departing Bethlehem we stopped at the Three Arches Company to shop for spikenard, jewelry and olive wood carvings. It offers a complete selection of all of the souvenirs one could want. We then drove back to Jerusalem, admiring the beautiful plantings, the blooming almond trees, and the pansies, primroses and snapdragons.
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