A chance to see where it all began -- and still is happening By Tom Tracy
When I first visited the Holy Land, in 1996, there were a series of
horrific city bus bombings and one of these deadly events took place
the same week our group of 100-plus American travelers were touring
I only knew that it had happened because I grabbed a copy of the
Jerusalem Post at the hotel that morning.
More current events underway this summer give the impression that its
not a great idea to travel there. At the moment and until things
settle down I couldn’t argue with caution.
But it must be generally noted that possibly at no time in history has
it been safer, easier or more affordable to go almost halfway around
the world and take in one of the great cultural cities of the world.
It's a shame how many travelers have not gotten around to Jerusalem
and its walled Old City. Even if you’re not especially religious or
don’t have any contacts or family here, you have reason enough to go
there as you would go to Rome or Paris or any other world patrimony.
The exciting part is that the Old City of Jerusalem is probably more
in touch with its ancient roots than the big European destinations.
You can see it everywhere and in the people who live there.
From the Crowne Plaza where I last stayed it’s about a 30-minute
stroll to Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Old City, an UNESCO
World Heritage Center. I carried only my Canon 5D and the sturdy 35mm
f/1.4 lens from Canon, as well as a Lumix point 'n shoot.
The Old City is usually full of visitors, volunteers, part-time
residents, visiting faculty, students and clergy and the foreign media
who regularly descend on the city.
Part of the fun is accepting that much of what is known about
Jerusalem is educated guesswork, subject to periodic revision and
rediscovery. Each new find opens another mystery and controversy.
The Old City is divided into four sections of unequal size. The Jewish
Quarter includes the City of David archaeological park, various
sephardic and other reconstructed synagogues and cultural centers as
well as the Western Wall -- an original foundational portion of the
Temple Mount supporting the Second Temple.
The Western Wall is the foremost place of religious devotion for Jews,
and others also come here to touch the old stones of the Wall.
Many places were build on previous historical sites. The large Muslim
Quarter includes the Temple Mount, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the
gold-covered Dome of the Rock shrine.
The Christian Quarter brings visitors to the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa, or Way of the Cross route. The
Christian pilgrimage culminates with a visit to the smaller Christ’s
tomb structure within the towering fourth-century Holy Sepulchre
Church. At least five ancient branches of world Christianity share that church’s spaces.
The smallest district of the Old City is the Armenian Quarter, with
its deep-rooted orthodox Christian schools, monasteries and churches.
Security checkpoints and a constant presence of local police keep
watch over the principal Holy Places.
Visitors can find specialty tours in the Old City catering to
religion, cuisine, history, women’s interests, lantern walks at night,
music, bar mitzvahs and tours by Segway.
Tom Tracy is a writer, photojournalist and event photographer in West
Palm Beach. He has traveled extensively as a travel & religion writer.
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