The Holy City of Superlatives

Travel diary, day 3 of 14

Less politics today, and more historical fun facts: everybody likes to take a break on a Saturday, no? (Jokes apart, I find the idea of shabbath brilliant and terrifying at the same time: no work of any kind for 24 hours? No writing? No taking pictures? No smoking too?! That’s… That’s something I’m not sure how to react to!!).

The three girls magically become two -we’ll miss you, Sarah!- and just as magically join a free guided tour of the Old City after some very satisfying wandering on their own. This is what they learn from Ryan, their crazy repetitive but ultimately decent (and, let’s repeat it, free) American guide:

  • The Armenian quarter is the quietest and least populated
  • Armenian women were the most beautiful of all at the time of allocation of accommodation in the Old City, hence they got the best location within the walls (!)
  • The Christian quarter is the biggest
  • The Muslim quarter is the most populated
  • The Jewish quarter is the newest
  • Ultra-orthodox Jewish communities are the hugest haters of archeologists (…says Ryan the American guide)
  • Despite its name of “city of Peace”, Jerusalem is the most conquered city in the history of the world. By far. Because 33 takeovers are serious business
  • Jaffa gate was partly destroyed just a couple of centuries ago (maybe- don’t trust my dating system) to please what was probably the most shallow German VIP of all, Wilhelm something, who insisted he needed space to enter the Old City on a four-horse carriage. I just love this story
  • The Old City includes the holiest Christian site in the world
  • And the holiest Jewish site in the world
  • Aaaand I know what you’re thinking (Mecca, right?) BUT also the holiest or at least first holy Muslim site in the world!!!

Now if you feel that those are a few too many superlatives for one day, I am absolutely with you on that one. That was a lot to digest and I have even just given you the most concise summary here. Truth is, my remaining friend and I had to dig deep into numerous Wikipedia pages to get to the bottom of the story and fully understand what it really was that we were seeing! And even then… Well. Pretty alleyways and fascinating views apart, it’s still a matter of faith, isn’t it?

I mean okay, I saw the Western Wall and found out that it was only ever called Wailing Wall because of the silly mistake of an arrogant guy; and I saw all the women pray, their faces pressed against the Torah, their torsos waving back and front, their fingers scraping the stone to find a crack for their prayers scribbled on a piece of paper. I understand that the reason that wall is special compared to the Eastern, Northern and Southern ones is that it’s the closest (oh! Another superlative) to the rock they consider to be the centre of the world and main point of contact with God, or something like that. But did I feel anything? No.

I also visited all parts of the Church of the Sepulchre and witnessed similar behaviours on the slab of stone that Jesus was supposedly placed on after being taken off the crucifix; in front of the hole (let’s face it, it’s a hole) where the crucifix was planted; all around the stone itself that I think used to be part of the cave where he was buried or… I don’t know, I don’t actually remember exactly. It was a very beautiful church, for sure, and it amazes me that it is shared by nine different Christian denominations, and that it used to be even bigger than it is now. But did I feel anything? Hmm no.

The Dome of the Rock aka El Aqsa Mosque, with its golden glory and pre-Mecca prestige, we were not able to visit today but will on Monday. So I don’t know.

But my point is that today got me thinking about how personal religion really is for each of us. To me, it was more appealing to see a cat drink from a fountain than to queue up to enter Jesus’ tomb –which in fact we did not visit- and yet I firmly love and believe in God. At the same time, in my complete ignorance, I was very positively surprised when I found out that the square mile that comprises the Old City reunites active worshippers of three of the main world religions in pretty much the same square, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever found elsewhere. If yesterday, in Bethlehem, I had ended up forgetting about Jesus amidst current sociopolitical thoughts, today definitely brought my attention back to him and to all the stories/history surrounding him and all the others- prophets, non-prophets, messiahs and all.

Quite a unique situation, Jerusalem’s. And I wonder how it is to be one of the 35,000 people who actually live in the Old City, in a sort of spontaneous open ghetto where turning a corner can mean jumping through completely different customs and cultures. I also kinda wish I could see the city at its inception, 7000 years ago, or at the times of Hadrian, of the crusaders, of the Mameluks. Only three days here and already so many atoms of information turning over in my mind…

…but also some answers – even to questions I had forgotten to write: thanks to the prowess of our browsers, we now know that the inhabitants of Jerusalem are called Jerusalemites or, in Hebrew, yerushalmi; that the huge big furry fancy hats we noticed yesterday are in fact hats reserved for (Jewish) special occasions; that the weird demonstration we spied over last night when returning to the hostel was of conservative Jews demanding a stricter shabbath where people aren’t allowed to drive; and that the university of Bethlehem does not offer all kinds of studies, but certainly focuses on stuff that can be very useful when living in the Occupied Territories. Oh, also- an extremely long sunset walk taught us, among other things, that Jerusalem has REAL PARKS. True story. If you have lived in Amman for a bit you’ll understand the enthusiasm. And did you know that Oskar Schindler’s tomb is in a cemetery in the south of the city, too?

Superlative selfie: “little explorers’ adventures in the City of David”

50 totally great other pics HERE including a vvvvery golden Dome of the Rock! 😛


Food of the day: bread, Nutella, milk and an egg; shawarma and lemon tea; two Ferrero Rochers; hummus with ground beef and pita bread.

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