Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
110Trip End Nov 22, 2005
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Four different quarters
Traditionally Sukkoth means the beginning of the winter season and the onset of rain. Well they have that part right for it rained pretty much non-stop today. The old city wasn't really built for rain and the steep alleys cause little rivers as the rain washes down them. Despite the weather today was a great day for people watching. The old city has lots of tradition and religions and is a hive of activity during the day. It is a fascinating place to come and observe the different characters.
We took a walking tour in the morning covering the Armenian, Christian and Moslem quarters. The rain literally dampened our enthusiasm and made the guide rush certain bits but it was a good insight to the old city and a good introduction for Fee who hadn't been here before
The first quarter we saw was the Armenian quarter. The Armenians were persecuted and hence fled in substantial numbers to Jerusalem hence their own quarter. A large Armenian convent was built in the 13th century, houses were built around it and an Armenian community developed. They are very secretive and protective and much of the quarter is a compound with high walls around it, closed to tourists. We got to see a couple of churches and some of the ceramic shops (Armenians produced good ceramics) but there was little else to see so we moved on quickly. It is often hard to tell which quarter you are in as they often blend into another. All of a sudden we were in the Arab market, where they sell Arabs. I mean where Arabs sell things. It runs through the Christian and Moslem markets and is reminiscent of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
We were often taken down little alleys and shown buildings of importance. In between the Armenian and Jewish quarters was a Syrian Jaccobite church, which was the first church in the world built. That's the thing about Jerusalem- there are so many historical things within its walls that you could easily miss most of them. As we left the Arab market and ventured deep into the Christian quarter the items being sold changed. There were now lots of crucifixes and Jesus souvenirs (my favourite were the holographic pictures of Jesus- pure tack o rama). The shops had Christian names such as St James and St Stephens and there were little churches and nunneries. People in this quarter wore cassocks and nuns robes and many were heading to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Many Christians follow the Via Dolorosa, "the way of sorrows" where Christians believe Jesus carried on his back on the way to his crucifixion. There are 14 pilgrimage stations along the route, all are marked and some have small churches at the point
Within Christianity there is a lot of in fighting and so the church, which is enormous, has been divided up into sections and given to different Christians. This means that throughout the church there are lots of sub churches and rooms and they have been decorated according to which order owns that part of the church. The three biggest recipients are the Catholics, the Armenian Orthodox and the Greek Orthodox. Between these three they cover most of the church and are responsible for the ornate decorations. The Greeks have the spot where Jesus was crucified and this looks fantastic whilst the Armenians have the big tomb where Jesus was buried. All have several churches within the large church.
The Syrian Jaccobites have a small empty room, which is not decorated whilst the Ethiopians space is actually outside the Holy Sepulchre. They have a couple of small churches in the grounds and have built a small community which is where the live. As you can imagine all of these groups would like control over the entire church
As further illustration of the distrust between the Christians they had a rule put in place that they couldn't touch one another's possessions. In the 19th century someone climbed up to the second story and put a ladder there, in a section belonging to another Christian group. As the Christians whose property now had the ladder on it, couldn't touch the ladder, it has stayed there for over a hundred years and still can be seen when entering the church. If the Christians cant get on with one another how do they expect the Moslems and Jews to?
From the Church we went to the Moslem quarter very briefly. The guide felt uncomfortable walking through it and the tour soon ended. As we left the tour and went to look for lunch a Kiwi guy approached us and offered us a free tour of the Jewish quarter. Not wanting to pass up this opportunity we followed him around for half an hour as he showed us the sights of the Jewish quarter. Again the differences are astounding. Here most people wear a skullcap and many the black hats and suits. The souvenirs are skullcaps and Jewish Kiddush cups and candlestick holders and I believe are a bit more friendlier
We continued to explore in the afternoon. Last time I was in Jerusalem I tried twice to get to the Dome on the Rock but was unsuccessful so wanted to see it this time. Alas it was not to be third time lucky as approaching it I was stopped by armed guards and told, "this is not for you." I think because it is Ramadan no tourists are allowed into it. We decided to chance our luck and head into the heart of the Moslem quarter. We had been warned it was dangerous but with the amount of army people walking around I thought we would be safe. Deep in the heart there are less stalls aimed at tourists and more for the locals, selling vegetables, fruit and meat. There were are a lot of people staring at us and I must admit I felt a bit uncomfortable at times, especially when groups of young men would say things to me. We soon moved back into the tourist part of Moslem quarter, which was still interesting but probably safer.
In any case it was better than returning to the hostel. Some homeless people have moved in (which is the purpose of the place to provide shelter). It is an admirable cause but a bit disturbing. All sorts of strange people moving around, sleeping on floors and couches and in reception. Fee stuck in the room unable to leave. As I upload this onto the net (yes even the homeless get free internet) there is a Jewish guy with a beard to his knees lying on the floor next to me and snoring. An old guy next to him muttering to himself about God. And a guy with a shaved head and a skull cap listening to heavy metal music very loudly. I guess this is what is called character building.