The old city
Trip Start Jul 16, 1975
16Trip End Jul 15, 1976
Street crime in Israel is a third of that in America. Violent crime is significantly lower too. I rode Israeli and Arab buses by myself without incident. My parents never worried. One of my favorite pastimes was walking around the old city after school. Lots of winding streets. Vendors selling falafels, woodcarvings of the nativity and more exotic stuff I'd never seen before. About all I could afford were postcards and pita bread but it didn't matter.
The old city is also known as East Jerusalem
My favorite part of East Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Built on the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion. Who knows for sure where it really happened. I liked walking through the maze of musty corridors. Lots of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. And saturated by the smell of incense. It sure looked and smelled holy to me.
The most famous part of the old city is the Temple Mount. It's easily recognized by the golden Dome of the Rock. This is the site of the second temple built by King Solomon. The Western Wall is one of the few remnants of it still standing today. Jews like to pray there. I put on a yarmulke and walked up to the big stones too. Pretty strange experience being that close to history.
Archeologists discovered two of the four original gates that led into the temple. During a tour, I saw a staircase that had just been excavated outside the south wall of the temple mount. One theory, according to the guide, was that Jesus might have ascended these stairs on his way to judgment by Pontius Pilate. Who knows? But for a kid learning these stories for the first time, it's pretty easy to visualize.
Underneath the dome is a rock that's important to three major religions. According to Islam, it's where Mohammad was taken by angels. According to Judaism and Christianity, the rock originally rested inside the holy of holies. It was the site where Abraham sacrificed his son. You can see a hole through which blood was believed to have flowed into the cavern below. Also visible is a rectangular engraving. It has the exact same measurements as the Ark of the Covenant.
How did Jerusalem survive so long? Through countless sieges? An underground tunnel that allowed troops to sneak in and out of the city. More importantly, the tunnel also tapped into an underground spring. Jerusalem's residents could rely on water at one of its pools. I thought it was fascinating. One of my tours was scheduled to walk through the tunnel, about 300 yards long. It was canceled, unfortunately, due to dangerously high water levels. But the tunnel, built a few thousand years ago, is still in use today.