Our excitement is palpable, today we will finally be seeing Jerusalem for the first time. Before that, we will stop at Masada. It is cold and rainy and the Israelis are all happy for the blessing. Apparently, they had a very dry and warm winter. There has been no precipitation for almost 3 months. Today, there is a threat of flash floods on our way to Jerusalem. The short route may be closed, so we may have to travel an additional 2 to 3 hours to get to Jerusalem the long way around. We may not even be able to see Masada. Our guide Yaakov has been checking road closing announcements constantly. Just before we left our hotel, he found out that they are letting a few cars through on the way to Masada, we might luck out so he decided to push through towards Masada.
The first time I really recall having heard about Masada was on a TV series with the same name aired many years ago. The story stuck in my mind ever since. We took a cable car ride from the Masada visitor's center to the top of the rock plateau or mesa on the edge of the Judean desert and overlooking the Dead Sea. Herod the Great built palaces for himself on top and on the side this mountain and fortified Masada. The most famous story here and the subject of the movie was the mass suicide of 960 Jewish rebels and their families hiding in Masada, as a response to the Roman siege, towards the end of the First Jewish-Roman War
From the top, you can see the snake road scaling the mountain that was used in ancient times and is still in use by visitors who opt to climb or come down on foot and not use the cable cars. Archaeological remains of Herod's three-tiered palace on the side of the mountain exists, as well as storage facilities, large bath houses, a synagogue, barracks and cisterns. The ramp the Romans built during the siege remains intact. Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
|Ruins in Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea. |
The flag of Israel stands to affirm "Masada will not fall again."
After Masada, we pushed on to Jerusalem via the Jericho route, the traditional route pilgrims from the Galilee region would take to reach Jerusalem. There are still danger of road closures which would mean we have to be diverted south, work our way around the Judean desert mountains and then north again to Jerusalem. Luckily, the flood waters were not that bad, the passages clear and we reached Jerusalem safely. Upon arrival, we were treated to a panoramic view from Mt. Scopius. Shalom Jerusalem.
|View of Jerusalem from Mt. Scopius. The Temple Mount, dominated by the golden dome of the blue mosque is in the foreground.. The Temple Mount is an important site to all members of the 3 monotheistic religions, Christians, Jews and Islams.|
Our itinerary in Jerusalem, pretty much followed the last days of Jesus. One of our first stop was the place was in Mount Zion, where many believe King David is buried. After visiting King David's Tomb, we went upstairs to the site of the Upper Room, Cenacle, which tradition dictates is where the Last Supper took place, a frequent meeting place of Jesus and His followers in Jerusalem during Passover and where Jesus appeared before His disciples after His resurrection, in particular, the place where Thomas touched Jesus' wounds. It is also believed to be where the Judeo-Christian movement started. The building itself has been destroyed and reconstructed through the years until today's Gothic style architecture. True to the schedule, the Last Supper was said to have occurred on a Thursday, the same day we visited the site. Most of the Holy Sites throughout the Holy Land are in the custody of the Franciscan order.
We entered the Zion Gate into Old Jerusalem, and walked through the labyrinth of streets (one could easily get lost here) towards the Western Wall. The Old City is divided into 4 quarters, Christian, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim. I think we were in the Armenian quarter, or was it the Jewish quarter?We came across The Cardo, a colonnaded street from the Roman period that was found during relatively recent archaeological digs. The Cardo is the main street of the time with stores lining the sides.
Through the many twists and turns and ups and downs on the streets of Old Jerusalem, we came upon a big opening. This is the Western Wall or the Kotel, which is the last remnant of the Great Temple. Due to its proximity to the "Holy of Holies" in the Temple, it is the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people. Today, people write notes to God and place them between the cracks of the ancient stones of the Wall. It is sectioned off for men and women. I tucked in a prayer for our family, friends and especially for my UP Prep '65 classmates.
|Hasidic Jews praying in front of the Western Wall|
After, our guide took us to the Western Wall Tunnels, another archaeological site where serious excavations were done after the Six Day War in 1967 to reveal the rest of the Western Wall. Here you can see how the Temple Mount was originally constructed and supported. Impressive is a single stone 45 feet long and width between 11 to 15 feet, weighing 570 tons (est.) which was installed on the wall by human beings without powered machinery. You still see Jews (mostly women) praying inside the tunnel, as it is the closest spot to the original temple.
|A Jewish woman praying inside the Western Wall Tunnels|
Note: All sketches were painted on an Arches Carnet de Voyage Travel Book with artists grade Schmincke and Daler Rowney watercolors.