The Holy Sites of the Old City

Our last day in Jerusalem was our reason to be there:  A tour of the Holy Sites in the Old City.  An all-day tour wasn’t enough time to go to all of the sites, but it hit the more significant ones.  And when you’re talking about the capital of the Holy Land, you can imagine these places were VERY significant.  If you don’t know anything about the treasures of Jerusalem's Old City, know about these:

The Dome of the Rock:  This place is one of the most prized pieces of land for both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, which makes it extremely precious and delicate.  It has a long and very distinguished history.  One, the location of the Dome is the original site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, the Temple Mount.  Two, the Foundation Stone, located at the heart of the Dome, is believed by Jews to be the location of the Holy of Holies in the Second Temple, and therefore the holiest place in the world.  Additionally, the stone is believed to be where Abraham prepared his son Isaac for sacrifice.  The Dome’s location has additional importance in Islam because it is where, in the miracle of Isra and Mi'raj, Mohammed ascended into heaven to speak to God and the major prophets before coming back to earth with instructions for God’s people.  The dome was built in 637 A.D. and, though it was converted to a church for a brief period by the Crusaders, Muslims control the mosque site today.

There are strict rules to follow while in the site.  Besides the usual dress code regulations, men and women aren’t allowed to touch and non-Muslims aren’t allowed to enter the mosque.  Jewish people do not enter the site’s grounds at all.  We originally thought it was in silent protest to the Muslim control, but we later learned that it’s because, since the temples were destroyed, we can’t be sure where we are stepping and they could unknowingly trod on the holiest of holy spots.   

The Western Wall:  On the site where the Dome of the Rock is today, originally stood the First and Second Jewish Temples.  King Herod expanded the Second Temple and, in order to make the hill level, built a gigantic, rectangular platform foundation.  When the second temple was destroyed, that platform foundation remained as just four walls.  Today, the wall encloses the grounds of the Dome of the Rock.  With us so far?

So, a small section of this wall is called the Western Wall.  It is considered to be the closets of the walls to the original temple, and so it is considered to be the holiest one.  Today, many Jews come to pray at the Western Wall because it is the closest they can get to the Temple without entering onto the holy site.  This small section of the wall is not the only surviving portion of the original wall, like many people circulate. 

At the Western Wall, prayer is separated by men and women.

The Church of Holy Sepulcher:  This Church is the Church of all Churches.  It’s where it went down.  This church is built over the locations where Jesus was crucified and buried.  Therefore, where he died, and where he rose from the dead. YES, all one church.  The original church was built by Constantine the Great’s orders in 325 A.D.  It has been torn down and rebuilt many times with the surrounding buildings of Jerusalem coming right up to its border.  The result is a church unlike any other, made of many different rooms with many different denominations adorning throughout.  It’s probably best that the church is so different—no building could encompass the greatness of what happened here and it would be foolish to try. 

Unfortunately, this church also shows the internal competition between denominations that control it.  The territories are strict and sensitive between the groups with each one elbowing the other for more space.  It’s heartbreaking, and not the way it should be.

The church's entrance.

The stone where Jesus' body was lain and prepared for the tomb.

Via Dolorosa (The Way of Suffering):  This is a path through the Old City that is held to be where Jesus walked to his crucifixion.  It includes nine of the Stations of the Cross, including the trial by Pontius Pilot, the three falls, and where Simon of Cyrene carries the cross for Jesus.  The five other Stations are all within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

Where Jesus laid his hand to rest.

The Way winds through the normal streets of the Old City, just as Jesus would have as he carried the cross.

In addition to these spectacular sites, it’s possible to see King David’s tomb, the remains of an ancient Roman street, and the place where the Last Supper was celebrated.  It was an exhausting day, but we returned to our room invigorated by the wonder for all we got to see!

King David's Tomb.

King David's Tomb.

A replica of the ancient mosaic map of Jerusalem that we saw in Madaba.

Wow can’t be said enough.  With our heads and hearts full, we left Jerusalem to continue on through Israel.  Though the great city will be with us forever.

Click Here for our full Israel Gallery.

Israel, an Introduction

Israel is the mecca for us.  Its history is long, deep, and full of a turmoil that continues today.  There's no wonder that the land is fought over so viciously: it is precious and, to many, worth the greatest price.  We feel honored to have walked on the streets, gazed at the hills, and even stood in the places where the events took place that literally give our life its meaning.

Unfortunately, the land of Abraham is full of us measly men and women and the imperfections reflect that.  But these faults don’t diminish Israel’s value.  In fact, they create a desperate desire in all hearts to preserve the land and the history that it holds.  We’ll try to relay the depth and breadth of our awe as we walk you through our remarkable stay in the Land of All Lands. 

Before we get into our Israeli itinerary, we should discuss the border.  After Africa, Egypt, and Jordan, we were very relieved to be in a more westernized country.  Ryan almost kissed every person at the border crossing, and he kept saying “We are really happy to be here,” like a crazy person.

Blakely was pretty excited too.

The first thing we noticed was that soldiers abound.  The second thing we noticed was the women soldiers, which after Egypt and Jordan, was a stark though welcome contrast.  All of the border soldiers were impeccably uniformed and frankly good-looking, and they hold their weapons at the ready.  The sight of soldiers is one that will carry through all of Israel and they carry their automatic weapons visibly.  


Lastly, we went to Israel in a time when tension between Israel’s Palestinian population and Jewish population was escalating.  While this was worrisome, we had no issue avoiding the protests or violence.  Israel’s citizens heavily depend on tourism and no one, on either side, wants a tourist harmed because the repercussions would severely damage their economy.  We never felt threatened.  Instead, we were troubled that such a magnificent country is torn apart with complicated and seemingly unsolvable issues.

Since our time in Israel was jam packed, we’ve divided the posts by region and that, to some degree, will separate what religion each post focuses on (the exception, obviously, being Jerusalem where Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all rein).  We were overwhelmed with wonderment for all of the different religious sites in Jerusalem.  And, with all my heart, I wish what we share wouldn’t drive us apart, but instead would bring us together. 

More to come.  Until then, here are some of our favorite pictures.

Our sunrise bike tour had us a little loopy.