Text and images on this page are from our 2014 pilgrimage. Click on the pictures to see them in larger format.
After we finished our morning visits at the sites in the City of David, guide Foteh and driver Walid left us off near the Mamilla Mall so that we could enjoy several hours of free time wandering around the Old City and enjoying lunch on our own. Looking up from the bus stop, the Mall could almost be a replica of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it was quite pretty.
Everywhere we had traveled so far we had seen groups of African pilgrims in brightly colored dress. They were usually singing or praying or listening to their guide, so we hadn’t had the time to talk much with them. This group was waiting in the plaza just outside Jaffa Gate, so we stopped to chat with them for a while. When we asked them if their matching outfits were made from tribal fabric, they said “no,” they just had them specially made so they could find each other in a crowd. Great idea! And they were beautiful to look at, too.
The group that I was with decided to explore the area around the Jaffa Gate. (Click here to watch a fascinating documentary on the history of all the gates surrounding the Old City.)
The gate itself is a narrow entryway that was built by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century AD. If it weren’t for the more modern roadway right beside it (built in 1898), you might not guess how lively it is just a few steps inside — with street vendors, wandering tourists and would-be guides to the Old City all vying for your attention.
The fortifications in this area were first built by the Hasmonean kings in the 2nd Century BC in order to add defenses to the unprotected “Upper City” on the Western end. Herod built three large fortified towers named after his friend Hippicus, his brother Phaseal and his wife Miriam, who the historian Josephus records Herod executed. The current “Citadel” contains the remains of the towers and of Herod’s palace. You can walk the top of the wall to get a glimpse of everyday life in the Moslem Quarter.
A block inside the gate and across from the Citadel are the old buildings that used to be the swankiest hotels in the Old City: the Grand or Imperial Hotel (tall building to left in picture below) and the Mediterranean or Central Hotel (tall building to the right). Mark Twain stayed in the Mediterranean Hotel in the late 1800s when he was on tour, and his experiences would become the material for his travelogue The Innocents Abroad. It is now a youth hostel called the Petra.
Shopping in this area is a lot of fun, especially if you like bargaining. The owner of the shop pictured below met people just as they came in through the gate with offers of special discounts. I bought several beautiful scarves and some beads to make jewelry. Others got nice souvenirs and even a silk rug.
In the middle of the afternoon we played “amateur archeologist” at the Temple Mount Sifting Project in the East Jerusalem area of Emek Tzurim National Park. In 1999 when Moslem authorities began to build a new mosque on top of the Temple Mount, large areas were excavated and the discarded dirt was thrown into the Kidron Valley to the east of the Old City. Over 400 truckloads of this “trash” were rescued by an Israeli archeological team headed by Dr. Gabriel Barkay. Tourists are welcome to help sift for “treasure,” and this was one of the new activities for this trip that I was really looking forward to.
The visit began with a historical overview of Jerusalem and the Temple area, including pictures of some of the most important finds: fragments of ornamental stone and pottery from the Second Temple Period, arrowheads from both the Babylonian and the Roman armies that conquered Jerusalem, coins from just about every historical period (Pastor Randy found one from 1981!), and governmental seals and inscriptions.
After dumping the contents into a screen, it was washed off with handy water hoses. Each team also shared the talents of one of the trained archeological assistants. The little bits of stuff were broken up into a number of categories — glass, pottery, metal, mosaics, coins, etc. — and put into appropriate containers.
Each day the site volunteers collected some of the best finds of the day and put them on display for all the groups to see. A pretty beige and gray fern-patterned pottery piece (center left in the picture below) was found by our own Cheryl Deininger. The site volunteers didn’t allow her to hold on to it for long, though. What fun! And we hope to do this again during other trips in the future.
The evening ended with our travel company — George’s International — hosting us for a “Farewell Dinner Party” at the Christmas Hotel. The food and wine were excellent, and it was great to get away from the big tourist crowds at our regular hotel. We also enjoyed informal conversation afterwards with one of George’s owners. It was very interesting to hear the perspective of a local Jerusalemite Christian.
Click here for more pictures of our Free Time, the Temple Mount Site Sifting Project and our Farewell Dinner Party.