"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." ~ T. E. Lawrence
It’s been a few weeks since I promised to post on my wanderings through the Old City of Jerusalem back in November 2012, so here it is finally with my apologies. Thanks for being patient, guys!
After we had walked down from the Mount of Olives, we drove our van just across the Kidron Valley and parked outside of the Zion Gate, one of the many gates leading into the Old City. The Zion Gate took us directly into the Armenian Quarter. The Old City has been divided into quarters for the Armenians, Jews, Muslims, and Christians. This allows each group to lay claim to their holy sites within the city, even those sites that overlap into each other’s quarters.
We had our tour guide, James, to help us navigate the maze of streets that makes up the Old City. James took us to several beautiful churches in the Armenian and Jewish quarters to start. And while the stunning mosaic work and phenomenal architecture got my attention, the cramped spaces and massive crowds piled into these buildings was off-putting in the extreme. Walking along the ancient and weathered cobblestone streets was much more to my liking, even though the weather vacillated between fleeting sunshine and rainy downpours. Something about the Old City invited me into the past – a place where Crusader architecture collided with Turkish influences. Minarets reached up to the sky beside church steeples. The monks walked by in stoic prayer while the Muslim call to prayer blared over loudspeakers. And the beautiful Hebrew script boldly marked the pathways. Worlds had truly collided in that place, time held little significance.
We wandered through the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall of the Dome of the Rock. Just being in that place with all of it’s history and considering the current politics of it all was awe-inspiring. So much so that I’ll write a separate post about the Wailing Wall soon.
When we left the Western Wall our stomach were churning with hunger and the rain clouds had returned in full force. James led us through a labyrinth of streets to a cozy restaurant that served up toasty falafel, savory lamb skewers, and creamy humus. A little hot Arabic coffee and a refreshing mint lemonade rounded out our perfect meal. In no time we were refreshed and ready to continue our exploration of the city.
By this time the rain had still not let up and parts of the street were flooded. I rolled up the legs of my jeans and was grateful that I’d opted to wear some flip flops that could get soaking wet instead of a soon-to-be soggy pair of running shoes. Already polished smooth by centuries of passersby, the ancient cobblestone streets were slick with water. Our rain jackets kept us dry as we trudged through the city to the Christian Quarter and our destination, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Church is massive and shared by six different sects of Christianity. The Russian Orthodox had laid claim to the site they believe is Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. The Greek Orthodox had built a church within the Church over the place they believe Jesus was buried. The church was full of tourists and worshippers that had come to light smokey incense with a prayer and kiss the shimmering icons.
Disputes have arisen between some of the sects rights to what parts of the church. There is a ladder that was set up in the 18th century and hasn’t been allowed to be removed because of one such dispute. James pointed it out to us and I couldn’t help but think that it symbolized the stale mate that had arisen between the religious groups that gathered there. As beautiful as the Church was, I was only too happy to leave the crowded and stuffy interior behind and emerge back onto the rainy streets of the Old City.
James took us further into the Christian quarter to street lines with shops. Us ladies couldn’t have been more thrilled to be released for shopping! Poor James found a spot out of the rain, bought a cup of coffee, and waited so patiently for us. We chatted like school girls as we ran our hands over the soft fabrics of pashminas, eyed glittery jewelry through glass cases, and found funny t-shirts to take home to our families as souvenirs. My linguist’s heart thrilled to chat with shop keepers in Arabic and barter over silly trinkets more for the banter of conversation than in search of a great deal.
Dusk was starting to fall and some of the shops were closing down. We met up with James and he navigated us through the flooded streets back to our van. James pointed out the history Promenade as we marched past it and I could just envision sitting there with a cup of Arabic coffee watching the people go by. Then we were back in our van, warming our soggy, cold toes, and show each other the treasures we had found in the bazaar.
Our long day complete, we were happy to get back to our Palestinian host families in Bethlehem and enjoy a delicious meal with them.
*This is my 250th post – woohoo!