Wall Walking and the City of David!

Trip Start Jul 06, 2010
Trip End Jul 24, 2010

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Weather has cooled since we got to Jerusalem. We are over 2500 feet above sea level, so the altitude makes a huge difference, especially when you consider we were at about 1500 feet BELOW sea level at the Dead Sea.

After walking the Western Wall Tunnel yesterday, today's project was to investigate the possibility of a walk along the Ramparts and get down to the City of David to check out the Hezekiah Tunnel. 

The Ramparts are the full set of city walls around Jerusalem. The city makes headlines over the conflict between Palestinians and Jews, and is known as a place with historical significance dating back to Bible times. One of the things that has surprised me, however, is the medieval charm of the city, including this impressive set of 16th century Ottoman walls completely encircling the city. During this era, Ottoman Turks controlled all the Middle East, much of northern Africa, and were pushing their way up into the Balkans toward Hungary and ultimately Austria.

We mounted the wall at the Damascus Gate, largest and most impressive of the City's gates, in the Muslim quarter on the northern edge of Old Jerusalem. The goal was to walk counterclockwise to the Jaffa Gate on the western section of the wall, then continue to the so-called Dung Gate (three guesses on which of the city departments carried on its work in this vicinity - first two don't count). 

I've walked on a number of city walls around the world, including Rothenburg, Germany and Xi'an, China, and have found wall walking a great way to look DOWN into a city, often into traditional neighborhoods, to observe life from a bird's eye view. We experienced this, in part, on Jerusalem's ramparts, but the Old City is so crowded with construction from various periods in its storied past that, although we had good panoramas of the hills surrounding the city, we were able to see very little street level activity.

As we approached the southern section of the wall, Dormition Abbey loomed just outside the Zion Gate, on Mount Zion. Dormition Abbey is a striking ecclesiastical structure which houses the tomb of Virgin Mary, one of three sites claimed for this distinction. A short detour took us off the wall through the Zion Gate, still pockmarked with bullet holes from some of the heaviest fighting seen in the City during the 1967 War. We bypassed the Abbey, following signs to David's Tomb and the Upper Room, purportedly where Jesus ate the Last Supper on the night he was later betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Conveniently located beneath the hall of the Last Supper, we stopped in to see David's Tomb. Records show that this site was not given attention as David's Tomb until the Crusader era; other evidence indicates that this iconic king of Israel was buried either in the City of David, a stone's throw away across the valley, or in the king's ancestral home of Bethlehem.

Back on the wall, we continued towards the Dung Gate, pausing to watch a soccer contest between kids out on school recess. One of my quintessential Jerusalem moments came when I witnessed a Jewish boy execute a "header" on the soccer ball. As it floated towards him, he reached with his right hand towards his head and snatched away his yarmulke skull cap, popped the ball upward with the crown of his head, then plopped the yarmulke back in place as if this was routine soccer form. 

We exited the wall for the final time at the Dung Gate and turned south through the gate towards the City of David. We've been impressed with the national park system in place throughout Israel. The City of David National Park is an quiet oasis in the busy Arab town of Silwan. As you walk through the gates, harp music (David's favorite instrument) draws you into the complex and seems to bar any noise of the 21st century from following. We purchased tickets, watched a short film on the history of this original site of Jerusalem, then followed signs towards Hezekiah's Tunnel.

During the conquest of Canaan by the Children of Israel in the late second millennium BC, a Canaanite tribe named the Jebusites occupied the heavily fortified hilltop city of Jerusalem. Later, around 1000 BC, it was one of the last walled cities that remained out of King David's control. So confident were the Jebusites of their impregnable walls, and the secret shaft they'd sunk to the their water supply at the Gihon Spring, that they paraded the blind and lame along the city walls, taunting David that these were the only guards they needed for protection.

The secret shaft, however, had been revealed to David, and became a Trojan Horse that allowed David's men a surprise access route into the city. Some three hundred years later, in the days after Israel had split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Assyrian juggernaut laid siege to the city. The Assyrians had already taken the northern ten tribes into captivity, and Hezekiah, king of Judah, in anticipation of the siege, commissioned an extension of the Jebusite shaft with a horizontal tunnel more than 500 meters (more than 5 football fields) though solid rock which fed the spring into the city.

Water still courses through the tunnel, which was discovered in 1838, and this is one of the only 8th century BC structures in the world that the public can walk through, if they don't mind getting wet.

We had our sandals on, and descended the Jebusite shaft to the tunnel, then took the plunge into the dark. There is no light in the tunnel. It is completely dark! We had flashlights, of course, and worked our way slowly from north to south. The tunnel was narrow, in some places requiring us to scrunch our shoulders together, in some places requiring us to bend over. The water, for most of the half kilometer, was only up to our calves, but a couple of places were deeper - up to our thighs.

It was an eerie feeling, knowing you were climbing through a tunnel chiseled out 2700 years ago by men afraid of the coming Assyrian siege. Apparently two teams worked at opposite ends, and met in the middle. How they did it is beyond my non-engineering comprehension. The tunnel we walked today was not even close to a straight line, zigging and zagging at frequent intervals. How allowances were made for the twists and turn, and the two groups still met with only inches difference in direction of their shafts seems a minor miracle.

A plague on the tunnel wall marks the place where an inscription directly into the rock wall had marked the meeting of the two teams. That inscription was lifted off the wall by the Ottomans and now resides in a museum in Istanbul.

We exited out of the tunnel at a pool where local Arab kids were playing. Imagine playing at the exit to Hezekiah's Tunnel every day of your kid life. A few steps away is the newly discovered Pool of Siloam (2005), where Jesus told a blind man to go wash the mud from his eyes in order to have his sight restored. 

We hiked back to the national park entrance gate, then finished the day by walking around the base of the eastern city walls, through the Lion's Gate, and on to our hotel. 

We've had most of 4 days to explore Jerusalem. We've seen a lot. We've marveled at the intersection of faiths. We've felt the struggle of the Jews. We've witnessed the dislocation of the Palestinians. We've reached out to touch the soul of the City. We've wondered at the power of this place!
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Jan on

What an amazing blog!

I have been in Israel twice and will be touring with some friends on their first trip next summer - this will be one of my links for them as a must-read before we go.

friesendm on

Appreciate your kind comments. Hope you and your friends find it helpful in planning your trip. I am just skimming the surface myself. I look forward to returning in February leading a walking tour.

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