Jerusalem was a very different place from Tel Aviv. There was a lot more obviously religiously observant Jews here and a lot more Arabs, so it was a bit more tense. There were also a lot more armed soldiers on duty around the city. I stayed in the Old City in a hostel not too far from Jaffa gate near the border of the Armenian and the Christian sections. The building was ancient like much of the rest of the city, and again, I opted for sleeping on the roof. The view of the city was incredible, and often I’d wake to the sound of church bells or the Adhan. There was a basement area to hang out in when it got hot and a single maybe 15″ bulky tv down there. On the second or third day I was there, we all crammed into that basement to watch the ground invasion of Gaza begin on that little tv.
Because of the strife in Gaza, tensions were inflamed in Jerusalem and the Haram ash-Sharif was closed the entire time I was there, as were some portions of the Arab quarter. So, I saw what religious sites I could from the other denominations. I visited the Wailing Wall and traveled to the catacombs beneath it on one of my failed attempts to see the Temple Mount. I checked out the Tower of David and walked along the walls of the Old City. There were plenty of churches to see with Christianity’s long presence in the city.
Obviously the most interesting one was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The thing you see when you walk in is the anointing stone where Jesus was supposed to have been prepared for burial. People from all over the world congregate around it, kissing it or praying to it, and it looked like some had little vials of water that they blessing over it. As you pass by that, on the left is the Holy Sepulchre where you can actually stay overnight in on vigil.
More interestingly though, if you head to the right you’ll pass by all kinds of specific chapel rooms for different denominations. So you’ll pass by an Ethiopian Church, to Catholic, to Orthodox and so on. Some are bigger than others, and one or two rooms actually looked abandoned. Its a strange experience to walk through this patchwork of a church, and every room has a different style of decoration and a different language is being spoken.
Before heading on to Ramallah, I took a day trip with a couple of Australians to Jericho and Bethlehem. When we visited the Church of the Nativity, it was under construction and kind of underwhelming. We traveled through a market after and actually found a Starbucks in Bethlehem. That’s a bit sad, but I thought it worth noting. We spotted a few Banksy painting while we were there and headed on to the Herodium outside of town.
The Herodium is a fortress built by King Herod the Great sometime around 20 BC built on top of a mountain. Its pretty high up so it affords a great view of a lot of the West Bank around it and the ruins are pretty impressive themselves. You can travel down into the tunnels beneath it where supplies and water are kept. It was destroyed during the Jewish War against the Romans, but was rebuilt and used again during the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
The last leg of our daytrip was to head to Jericho, one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world. The old city itself was small and took little time to take in, so we decided to head up the mountain on a cable car to see the Monastery of Temptation. Its a Monastery built into a mountain that’s said to be where Jesus fasted for forty days while Satan tried to tempt him. Unfortunately, after hiking up the mountain, the monks were apparently calling it a day, so we weren’t able to get in to see the actual monastery. Still, the view of the dead sea was fantastic and dust devils were kicking about in front of it, so I’d say it was worth the ascent.
After a few days, I traveled to Ramallah. The owner of the hostel I stayed at in Jerusalem was an Arab with family that also ran a hostel in Ramallah, so I had somewhere to stay when I got there.