If I forget thee O Jerusalem…

If I forget Jerusalem I’ll know I’m getting Alzheimer’s, because it’s pretty unforgettable.

It’s not so much the layers of archaeological history; these are not as well-preserved as in other ancient cities of the Mediterranean, as my well-read friend Averil reminds me.

One of the few places (off the Via Dolorosa) where you can see down to pre-Roman street level

I suppose it’s the coming together of the three Abrahamic religions over the centuries, each one asserting its right to be there volubly and vividly and sometimes, alas, violently.

This sign was at the security-screened entrance to the Western (Wailing) Wall
Young Israelis do compulsory national military service – three years for the boys, two for the girls. They wear khaki, olive or blue uniforms, as here, depending on which branch of the service they choose to enter.

I mentioned in my last post (which was about my first day in Jerusalem but was written and posted yesterday) that an alarm had been sounded while I was in my hotel room in Tel Aviv. I went for a walk later and encountered English John coming back from his morning walk to the old city of Jaffa half an hour away. He said the explosion of rockets was audible there and he gleaned from the people around him that they had come from Gaza. I learned that night – Tuesday Nov 12 – from TV news that Israel had since retaliated and killed an Islamic Jihad leader with bombing strikes. The Canadian girls were on a new tour going to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee and they had to jump out of the bus and lie on the ground when the sirens went off. English Ashley, flying back to the UK last night, said it took an hour for her to get through airport security at Ben Gurion. It took me less than 5 minutes – just the time it took for the stern-looking security lad to ask why I went to Jordan and if I knew anyone there – but the Alitalia check-in took forever! (Mustn’t neglect the First World Problems.)

Bored cops in the courtyard outside the church of the Holy Sepulchre
Uniforms everywhere

Our first visit was to the Mount of Olives opposite the Old City.

Looking down from Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane and the church built on the supposed site of Mary’s assumption into heaven.
Ancient olive trees in Garden of Gethsemane. Tests show they are 800 years old, according to Adel.
Muslim women at Assumption church in Gethsemane. They venerate Mary too.
Christian Zimbabweans. We found these people later singing in a church in Bethlehem and it was just glorious.
Adel and Our Libby inside the church of the Assumption
Croatian mass at Gethsemane. Croatian knights bought the Garden in 1681 and donated it to the Franciscans, of whom you see a lot around here.
Franciscan friars
St Francis actually came here

St Francis was my father’s namesake, and mine too, in that our second, ‘saint’s’ names are Francis/Frances. I had a book about him when I was a kid. I liked him because he was kind to animals. I wasn’t so keen on the idea of giving away all my money to the poor, like he did.

And so we go inside the walls of the Old City…

The Old City – Golden Gate side

…and to the Western Wall – the famous Wailing Wall.

This was as close as I could get to the men’s side.
The women’s side
Me at the Wailing Wall. I did go over and touch it.
I veiled up to go into the mosque at the Dome of the Rock but it wasn’t open to infidels
Al Aqsa mosque

They’d changed the prayer times for the mosques so we couldn’t visit but I didn’t mind. I’ve been inside at least a dozen mosques in the last two years. Mosque, shmosque.

Thence to the Via Dolorosa, where we stopped at each of the Stations of the Cross. Historical authenticity very dubious but the passing cavalcade was as absorbing as ever. It was Sunday and lots of people on religious group tours strode along, praying or singing. I took video and audio but the hotel wifi isn’t up to uploading such big files.

Can’t remember which this Station was.supposed to be.
This group of Coptic nuns seemed to be keeping pace with us.
One of the Coptic nuns in the cavern supposed to have been the place Christ was imprisoned before the day of the Crucifixion
Dungeon in Christ’s prison. Again, no guarantee of historical authenticity
Mosaic inside the ‘prison’.
No confusion about this one, at least not for practising, ex- or cultural Catholics/Christians.
I may look like I’m about to grab one of those crosses but I didn’t.

Then to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Rasputin was on his way there too.

Some kind of orthodox monk/priest. Pity it’s only another cowardly rear shot because he was the dead spit of Grigory Rasputin.
Huge crowd inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The ‘Unction Stone’ – where Christ’s body was laid in the tomb donated by Joseph of Arimathea.
Important spot inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

You had to queue for about an hour to get to this spot. People did, though I heard at least one saying: ‘What’s this we’re lining up for?’ It was inside the Holy Sepulchre but I forget exactly what it was. Devotees of New Testament history, feel free to enlighten me. I think perhaps it was the spot where the Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena found three crosses, which led to the presumption that this was the burial site. (It was Constantine who converted Rome to Christianity.) But wouldn’t that have been Golgotha (Calvary)? Adel did mention Golgotha at one stage but I was beginning to suffer information overload and didn’t take it in.

These young military trainees were everywhere

There was a long queue at this ladies’ toilet. Many of the young female trainees needed to go too. This girl was behind me but she asked could she and her mate go ahead because they were under orders to get back to the team quick smart. I said ‘Yes, if you let me take a pic of you with your weapon’ (Alec, what is it please?) but she smiled, hesitated a minute then shook her head saying ‘We’re not supposed to allow that’. I let her go ahead of me anyway and we all snuck dozens of sneaky shots…..

….even the odd full frontal!

The woman was training the fellas.
Me at Herod’s Gate

We left the Old City by Herod’s Gate. There are seven gates, and I went through three: Jaffa (through which the British commander Allenby entered the Old City on foot after defeating the Turks in WWI), Golden (nearest the Temple Mount where the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock are) and Herod’s. I knew there was a Damascus and a Lion’s Gate, but when I googled to remind myself of the other two, I had to get up to Google page 9 before getting away from references to a symphony called ‘Seven Gates of Jerusalem’ by a Polish composer! Anyway, they are the Zion Gate and the, ah, Dung Gate. No dung-related gag springs readily to mind. Donations and suggestions welcome.

I’ll leave it there and post about Bethleham, Haifa, Caesarea, Jaffa and Tel Aviv separately because computer is saying ‘no’ to my latest attempt to upload a photo. I wonder if it’s because it was an image of the Security Fence/Wall between Israel and Palestine. Hmm. Stay tuned to find out if it’s some kind of geo blocking or suchlike. I’m keen to know too!