Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and is holy to three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For over 2000 years, different groups fought over this place. It’s been besieged 23 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, and attacked 52 times.
We flew into Israel from Tel Aviv and boarded a train to Jerusalem. I totally expected the Middle East to be pretty warm in February, but nope, it was snowing tiny little flakes in Jerusalem. If it weren’t for the Europe trip before this, I would have actually not brought any winter clothes, so I definitely lucked out there.
The Way of the Cross
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is probably what Jerusalem is most well known for. The Way of the Cross (aka Via Dolorosa) in Jerusalem is what is believed to be the actual path that Jesus walked during his crucifixion – regardless of whether you’re religious or not, it’s still pretty cool to see. This was a key event in the establishment of Christianity. The crucifixion of Jesus is considered to be historically true even by non-religious scholars.
The Way of the Cross begins with Jesus’ encouter with Pontius Pilate, the man who orders Jesus’ crucifixion. The Church of the Flagellation is built on the spot where Jesus was flogged by Roman soldiers before he carries the cross.
It’s said he falls three times during his walk.
Along the way, Jesus encounters several people (although some of these encounters are disputed):
- Mary – his mother
- Simon of Cyrene – he helps Jesus carry the cross
- Veronica – she wipes the sweat off of Jesus’ face, and so Jesus’ image was then supernaturally imprinted on the piece of cloth, now known as the Veil of Veronica
- the pious women – Jesus stops and gives a sermon
Eventually he makes his way to the location where he is nailed to the cross. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built on the spot where it is believed he was nailed to the cross, and his subsequent death.
This is supposedly the spot where Jesus dies on the cross (below)
He is then taken down from the cross and anointed on the stone slab below. Anointing is a ceremonial ritual where a person’s body is smeared in aromatic oil to introduce a divine influence on the body.
Finally he is laid to rest in his tomb.
Of course his body isn’t physically in there, because supposedly after his ressurection, he ascended to heaven.
The entire Way of the Cross and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was extremely crowded and people lined up everywhere to pray in all the spiritual locations, like Jesus’ tomb, the home of the Virgin Mary, the Stone of Anointing, etc. People even touched all the surfaces that Jesus was said to have touched and I could see them in deep prayer.
Western / Wailing Wall
In Judaism, the Western Wall is one of its holiest sites. The actual holiest site lines behind the wall, the Temple Mount, but due to restrictions, Jews are not allowed to pray there, and thus the wall became the place where Jews went to pray.
Some Jews go on a pilgrimage to the Western Wall, some spend hours praying there. If you look closely in the video below, there’s a fellow running in circles and singing while people around him are rubbing their beards against the wall.
The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount is a flat plaza built on top of four retaining walls (the Western Wall among them). Although Jews are not allowed to enter for prayer (e.g. praying, singing, or other religious displays), people are allowed to enter the area as tourists.
The Dome of the Rock is one of the Islamic structures built on the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, non Muslims are not allowed to enter. Inside the dome is the Foundation Stone, and has religious significance to both Jews and Muslims.
This is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The entire memorial consists of a museum dedicated to the history of Jewish persecution throughout Nazi Germany and the places it conquered.
The eternal flame honours the victims of the holocaust. In front of it is a stone crypt containing the ashes of the victims.
The Hall of Names pictured above contains the the names of millions of Holocaust victims. The shelves around the room contain the names, while the cone above display photographs of the victims. The people standing in the photo are all Israeli soldiers – Jerusalem had a huge police presence with a lot of them openly carrying assault rifles (I felt very safe). Even some men in public that I saw had buzz cuts – presumably they are/were in the military. A few days before we arrived, there was a terrorist attack where a driver rammed a car into Israeli soldiers.
This train car is an example of the cattle cars that Nazi Germany used to perpretrate the Holocaust.
The Garden Tomb
Some sects of Christianity don’t believe that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains the real tomb of Jesus Christ. They assert that the real tomb is actually elsewhere, which they dubbed the Garden Tomb
Outside Jerusalem’s old town
Because Israel has so many Jewish people, McDonald’s started a special chain that serves only Kosher food. Even though it’s kosher, it tastes the exact same as regular McDonald’s which is pretty amazing for what it is.
Oskar Schindler is famous for saving 1200 Jews during the holocaust. He is now buried in Jerusalem. Putting stones and pebbles on the grave is an ancient Jewish tradition to honour the deceased.
There are also a lot of stray cats everywhere! I didn’t see any dogs though, just lots and lots of stray cats everywhere. People must take care of them though because they all look pretty well groomed.
Photo album: here