sites of israel explained
Glass bowl in the Herodian Quarter
Leon Gork your tour guide in Israel
The Jaffa Gate
The Knesset Parliament of Israel
Jaffa Gate David's Tower
The Scroll of Fire
The Dome of the Rock
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
The Jaffa Gate
The completion of the walls around Jerusalem in 1538 and the 8 gates was cause for great celebration for the inhabitants of the city, who had lived here in great fear of murder and plunder by Bedouin from the nearby Judean Desert. For the first time, since the Crusaders, in the 12th century, Jerusalem’s inhabitants had a wall to protect them. The safety of living in Jerusalem became known far and wide and, naturally, Jews came from Turkey and Europe to re-establish their communities in Jerusalem. They came in boats to the harbor of Jaffa and so called the gate by which they entered Jerusalem the Jaffa Gate.
The original name of the gate, still called that name by the Arabs, was the Gate of the Friend (Bab el Halil) in honor of Abraham, the forefather of the Jews and the Arabs and the friend, famous for his hospitality, whose tomb is in Hebron and is visited by many Arabs as a holy place. Naturally as they started their journey from this gate they called it the Gate of the Friend, Bab el Halil. The Jews, however still like to call it the Jaffa Gate, in memory of the harbor where they arrived when they came to Israel.
The Walls of Jerusalem
Today one can hardly think of Jerusalem without it's walls, but it must be remembered that Jerusalem was without walls, excepting some ruins, from the days of the Crusaders, 400 years before Suleiman, the sultan who ordered the walls to be built at the beginning of the 16th century. Suleiman, known as “Suleiman the Great” also Suleiman the law giver, was a builder, true to his namesake, king Solomon of the Bible, builder of the first temple, had the walls built in 1538, and of course the 8 beautiful gates of Jerusalem, so that the city would be safe to live in. Suleiman can certainly be called wise because he realized that the way to attract people to a city is to make it safe for inhabitants. He was also aware of the massive economic potential of Jews, who had immigrated to the Ottoman Empire, of which he was emperor, after their expulsion from Spain. These people, being religious Jews, who saw it as an obligation to live in the holy city, would come flocking to Jerusalem, once it was made safe, with a wall around it. He was right; the Jewish population of Jerusalem tripled in one year after the walls were erected. The walls made Jerusalem famous as a safe city and people flocked to live here, especially the Jews. One could say that the Jewish community of Jerusalem had been revived thanks to the safety ensured by the walls. The walls of Jerusalem are only one of the many beautiful structures created by Suleiman, who was known for his aesthetic tastes. He employed one of the greatest architects the world has known, Sinan, who was also a civil engineer, famous for designing bridges, walls and military fortifications. His most famous structure is the Sulemeinia Mosque in Istanbul. His legacy continued and architects used techniques invented by him to design the Taj Mahal. The walls were not only designed for defense, but also for beauty that would attract visitors That's why he included a beautiful walkway for visitors to walk along the top of the wall, to enjoy views of the city, beautified by Suleiman, who regarded Jerusalem as one of the cradles of Islam. The walls were an important factor in increasing Jerusalem's economic wealth, because, attracting people to live here the land around the outside of the walls started to be cultivated as it had only been in the days of Solomon. Food was produced to feed the ever increasing population. Taxes were collected by Suleiman's Janisaries at each of the gates, from merchants wanting to enter the city to sell their wares.
The Road to Jerusalem
There were no proper roads for carriages until the 1867 when the Kaiser of Austria, Franz Joseph, came to visit the Jerusalem’s holy sites. Travelers from the coast like the returning Jews who disembarked at the harbor of Jaffa, made their way on foot or by donkey to Jerusalem. The journey took two days, with an overnight stop at an inn at the entrance to the valley leading to Jerusalem, known as Bab el Wad. From here the road passes narrow, winding defiles with steep cliffs on either side. Until the six day war of 1967 Jordan (then an enemy country) held the territory on either side of the road, giving the road the name “the Jerusalem Corridor” and making it quite precarious to travel to Jerusalem. Today, since the 1967 6 day war, Israel controls all the territory and a wide, modern road carries the traveler swiftly to Jerusalem.
It opens out a a bit at the settlement of Shoresh, on a high hill, the masreik (comb), on the one side and Newe Ilan on the other. This, overlooks the road and the villages alongside, Abu Ghosh and Deir Rafat. These villages contain interesting remains of the road and buildings alongside it, such as milestone, Roman fortresses, monasteries of the Crusader Times, making a walk along the route of the ancient road an interesting experience.
The Wailing Wall
For 2000 years Jews have overcome all obstacles to visit the Wailing Wall. I had dreamed of coming here since I was very young and finally managed it in 1959.
Our tour guide pointed out the place of “Wall” from the rooftop of David’s tomb on Mt. Zion and I thought I could see it. We couldn’t go there because it was in the Jordanian part of Jerusalem and Jews weren’t permitted.
I didn’t realize the pent up feelings I had for the “Wall” or the Jewish People until I finally visited the “Wall” in 1967, just after the 6 days war, I stood at the “Wall” and wept bitterly and uncontrollably because suddenly I realized the loss we suffered 2000 years ago wasn’t just a building called the “Temple”. It was much more than that:
It was as if I was standing up to my knees in the blood of my people just slaughtered by Titus’ Roman soldiers. I felt as if I and all the Jewish people had just become homeless orphans wandering through a world seeking love and mercy from the nations for 2000 years.
For 2000 years the nations of the world have had the opportunity to fulfill the words of the Bible: “And you shall do no wrong to a stranger or oppress him…..” “And you shall not afflict any widow or orphan.” Ex.22.
2000 years of wandering in vain. In every nation they sought shelter and instead were cruelly persecuted by antisemitism. Cruelty still abides in the world, the principles of love and mercy, denied to the Jews for 2000 years are still not applied and people and nations are still cruel to each other. This is why we “Wail” at the “Wailing Wall”.
The Western Wall Tunnel
This archaeological excavation is under the houses of the Arab neighborhood of the Old City and makes it possible for the visitor to walk along a part of the Western Wall that had been hidden for nearly 2000 years.
A small part of the Western Wall, known as the Wailing Wall, has always been visible, since the time of the destruction. Jews have been going to pray there from time immemorial. But this tunnel, dug laboriously for 20 years from 1967 to 1987, provides one with a clear glimpse of the magnificence of the Temple that once was.
Stones buried deep underground kept their newness and look as if the temple was built only yesterday. The narrowness of the tunnel and the strong reinforcing prevent the Arab neighborhood above from being damaged. Above the tunnel the Arab population continues their lives undisturbed. In fact the exit of the tunnel is in that neighborhood and we walk back to the Western Wall that way.
Mt. Zion: The Upper Room.
The Upper Room is the name of the place selected by Jesus to celebrate the Passover meal.
In the times of Jesus the word “Upper” referred to the neighborhood of Jerusalem we call today Mt. Zion. It was a suburb of Jerusalem, inside the walls (The walls of today are from the 16th century, not from the time of Jesus).
In the days of Jesus an “upper room” could mean one or all of several places; an upstairs room of a building, an elegant room or a room in an elite neighborhood of Jerusalem
From history and archaeological excavations we know that the priests lived on Mt. Zion in quite luxurious dwellings, and they supplemented their income by renting rooms to pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the three compulsory pilgrim festivals; Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.
Jesus and His disciples, however, stayed on the Mt. of Olives, possibly, being people of moderate means, they couldn’t afford the rent to stay on Mt. Zion for the whole duration of the feast, which was 8 days.
They could, however, afford to rent a luxury room for a few hours to celebrate the Passover meal in fitting elegance. This is, possibly, the reason why they return to Mt. of Olives after the meal and Jesus is betrayed there and not in the Upper Room.
The building in which we see the Upper Room today was built by the Crusaders(12th century.) over the tomb of David, and was used as a dining room of their Monastery of Mt. Zion.
The Crusaders believed that three events took place here: The burial of King David, The Last Supper and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
This belief is based on a verse in the Gospels where Peter, on the occasion of the Pentecost, says; “ And David’s tomb is with us here to this day ”. This places David’s Tomb and the Pentecost at the same site.
Pentecost is in turn connected to Passover because on Passover the Jews became a free people and, as free people they could accept G-d’s law, which they received on Mt. Sinai on the 50th day after Passover.
An additional factor uniting the three events is the Jewish tradition that David was born and died on Pentecost.
The prophet Isaiah says that “Torah”(knowledge of G-d) will go out from Zion and the word of the L-rd fromJerusalem.
During the 1st and the 2nd Temple periods Mt. Zion was a residential suburb of Jerusalem. Archaeologists digging there in the 30’s and 70’s proved this by the discovery of remains of magnificent dwellings: Houses with wine and oil cellars, private mikvaot, beautifully plastered guest and living rooms etc It was a beautiful suburb, from where you got a good view of the Temple and for that reason was called “ the Mt. from where you see Zion, which was another name used by the prophets for the Temple. When the prophet says “we are marching upwards to “Zion” he doesn’t mean Mt. Zion, he means the Temple on Mt. Moriah.
When I first visited Jerusalem, in 1959, the city was divided; Mt. Moriah(The traditionally accepted site of the Temple) was under Jordanian control and Mt. Zion under Israeli control. The Jordanians didn’t allow Jews to go to their side of Jerusalem, so the only way to see Mt. Moriah was from the roof of an old Crusader building, known as the “Room of the Last Supper” which had been changed into a Mosque in the 12thcentury, when Salah e Din conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders. Standing on this roof you could identify the place where the Temple once stood by the prominent golden dome of the Mosque of Omar which stands on top of Mt. Moriah on the exact place of the Temple
The Jordanians of the 20th century weren’t the first to prohibit Jews from visiting the place of the Temple, generations of Jewish pilgrims longing to see the place of the Temple, had come to Mt. Zion, the nearest place to the Temple site that they were permitted, to see the place of the Temple, even though they only caught a glimpse of the place. You couldn’t even see the “Wailing wall” from here, you only got a rough idea of its location, as I had in 1959. People began to call this the Mt. from where you could see “Zion”, This name was eventually shortened to Mt. Zion.
Many traditions are associated with Mt. Zion:
The tomb of David is located here..
David was born and died on Pentecost, so Jews come here to celebrate the festival of Pentecost.
The prophet Isaiah prophesied that “ Out of Zion will go forth the Torah(Knowledge of G-d) and word of the L-rd out of Jerusalem.”
Christians believe that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper here with His disciples and at the same place the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples on Pentecost and they began to speak in tongues.
10 Jewish history is divided into two periods; 1st and 2nd Temple periods. The 1st Temple period refers to all of Jewish history from the time of David (1000 B.C.E.) to the destruction of the 1st Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. The 2nd Temple period is from the time of the return of the Jews from Babylon under Nehemia (500 B.C.E.) to the destruction of the Temple by Titus in the year 70 C.E.
11 Ritual baths.
12 It is only an opinion, albeit held by many, that the Dome of the Rock(Mosque of Omar ) is standing on the place of the Temple, there are at least two other opinions about the location of the Temple.
At this time of the year many Christians will be making their way to Bethlehem, to visit the town where Jesus, the Savior was born and possibly even stand at the actual site of the birthplace. Most visitors anticipate a feeling that will come to them when they stand at the actual site. It’s exciting, a mystery because they don’t know what that special feeling will be or when it will come to them.
Some visitor’s expectations are fulfilled and the visit to Bethlehem becomes a highlight in their lives that they will look back on and keep reliving forever. For others the visit will be a disappointment and Bethlehemwill remain in their memory as a scruffy Arab town filled with tour busses, postcard sellers and souvenir vendors.
I hope that the few background details here will help the visitors to Bethlehem fulfill the expectations of their visit and experience the excitement of touching the foundations of their faith.
It’s important to remember that at the time Constantine the Great built the first church here, 4th Century, Christianity wasn’t the only religion. There were many religions, all pagan, who competed with each other for attendance at their shrines. Temples competed with each other to attract more visitors. Each temple promised some other benefit to the visitor; Jupiter promised power, Aphrodite - success in love, Diana - success in hunting, Minerva - success in money matters, Aesclepius - health, Tamus - youth, Mars - success in war etc.
Temples also competed in beauty; mosaic floors, golden idols, beautiful music, dancing etc.
The church of the Nativity was built to enshrine and display three basic proofs that Jesus is the Messiah and so is the only One who can truly fulfill the needs of the believer:
1) the fact of the birth in Bethlehem. 2)the star.3) the manger.
The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is fundamental to Christianity. Being born there is fulfilment of the prophecy of Micah that great things will come out of Bethlehem and proof that Jesus is descended from the tribe ofJudah, a prerequisite of the Messiah.
The star on the floor of the cave where Jesus was born is a reminder of the new star that appeared in heaven at the time of His birth so fulfilling another prophecy of the Messiah, namely the prophecy of Bileam in the book of Numbers that “a star will come out of Jacob.”
The manger where Mary placed the baby Jesus to keep Him warm, was also the place where the ox and the ass were eating hay, a reminder of the prophecy in the book of Isaiah that “ the ox and the ass knoweth their master.”
The decorations not only beautify the church, making it more attractive than other shrines and so attracting more visitors, but they also helped the new believer understand who Jesus was, who was His mother and what was His ancestry. Icons, beautifully and lovingly painted, using the most expensive materials show Jesus with Mary. Mosaics made out of thousands of minute, different colored stones depict His ancestry, like the mosaic on the wall of the church of the Nativity. Beautiful chandeliers of Gold, bronze and porcelain symbolized the promise of light that will illuminate the life of the new believer.