Our pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Israel – a journey through centuries and legends

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What it feels like being in the Holy Land and praying on the tomb of Jesus

A journey to Jerusalem cannot be just a regular trip. No matter what you believe in, you cannot stay indifferent to one of the holiest places on Earth – the city with millennial history and a shrine for many faiths. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem is an emotion that everyone feels in his own way. Once it used to take months to the pilgrims from all ends of the world to go there. Those who made it were praised. Today going to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem is much easier but the act is still sacred to the believers. We took our time and the only thing I am sorry about is that we spent just a few hours there.

We parked our car at Mamilla mall – one of the most expensive shopping places in Jerusalem. There is also the nearby Mamilla hotel, a luxury accommodation in the immediate vicinity to the Old City of Jerusalem. We were lucky to be there on Saturday when the shops are closed and the parking is not busy.

Saturday (Shabbat) is a holy day for the Jews. Then they celebrate the 7th day of the creation of the world when God took a rest. On this day, the Jews are not allowed to work and the straightest believers abstain from 39 forbidden activities.

Mamilla mall

Mamilla mall

Mamilla mall is located at Mamilla neighbourhood, in the immediate closeness of the Jaffa Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem. The neighborhood was built in the 19th century outside the walls of the Old City, adjacent to the Jaffa Gate, and serves as an important natural bridge connecting the Old City and the new city. After the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, Mayor Teddy Kollek decided to turn the neighborhood, which had been a symbol of a divided Jerusalem, into the main bridge to a shared life among Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.

Why I am telling you this?

Because I want to show you that every street, stone and building in Jerusalem has its own unique story, its battles and fate. Numerous artifacts are telling the story of the holy city and no matter how much time you allow to spend there, it is never enough.

The Old City of Jerusalem

The Old City is still surrounded by fortification walls, most of them built during the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. At those times, the city was within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. During that period were built most of the gates to the city. In Bible times, the city was accessible through 4 gates. In 16th century 6 more gates were created but the old ones were closed. Nowadays there are 11 gates to Jerusalem, 8 of which are open. However, the most famous gate is still the Golden Gate, which, despite being closed for many centuries, is considered one of a major importance.

The fortification walls of Jerusalem

The fortification walls of Jerusalem

The Golden Gate to Jerusalem

There is no other city where Christianity, Islam and Judaism are interacting so closely. One of the most special places is the Golden gate which has its own legends in every religion. The Christians believe that Jesus entered Jerusalem through the Golden Gate and was welcomed with cheers. The Jews believe that the new Messiah will come through the Golden Gate. For that reason, one of the most expensive cemeteries in the world is located near the Golden Gate. Jews believe that on Judgement Day the first to be resurrected will be those who are buried in front of the Golden Gate.

The Golden Gate was closed back in 810 by the Muslims and reopened in 1102 by the crusaders. During Suleiman the Magnificent rule is was reconstructed but eventually closed in 1541.

Jaffa Gate

Most visitors enter Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate, built in 1538 during Suleiman the Magnificent’s rule. It was named after the Jaffa port because the road from the port to Jerusalem ends just in front of the Jaffa Gate. The old city and harbor of Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, has been for centuries a place where millions of pilgrims arrive on their way to Jerusalem. Jaffa Gate is located close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the holiest place for Christians.

Jaffa Gate - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA CARD #: 2002724999

Jaffa Gate in 18th century

The last Kaiser of Germany – Wilhelm II, was also greeted at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. During the preparations for his visit, a part of the fortification wall was destroyed so he could enter the city on his horse. So, since 1898 the Jaffa Gate features a bigger opening, enough to pass even a car. The Jaffa Gate was also a witness of British soldiers marching there after the end of WW2.

Have you watched a movie about Jerusalem? Maybe Ben-Hur or the Passion of the Christ? None of them was shot in Jerusalem but rather in Italy. The city of Matera is really reminding of Jerusalem and a favourite destination for us.

Near Jaffa Gate

So we entered Jerusalem through this legendary gate. Just upon entrance, you will notice the Tourist information office and the Tower of David. We first entered the Tourist Information because we needed some directions for our visit to Masada fortress and Dead Sea. Then we entered the city that we expected to be crowded and noisy but it was rather quiet and welcoming.

Tourist map of Jerusalem

Tourist map of Jerusalem

Obtaining certificate of pilgrimage to Jerusalem

As Christians, our main goal during our pilgrimage to Jerusalem was visiting the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But also we wanted to obtain Certificate of Pilgrimage, proving that we made it to the Holy Land.

This is both and easy and a difficult task. There are several types of certificates. If you travel with an organized group, the guide will probably arrange you a certificate issued by the Ministry of tourism of Israel. I heard that it is possible to obtain one of these upon visiting the church and you could also get it issued for you at several tourist offices. Another type of pilgrimage certificate is being issued by the order of Franciscans but we were looking for something else. The third option is a certificate issued by the Greek Patriarchate. As orthodox Christians, we decided that it was most proper to get one of these so we headed to the Greek Patriarchate.

The Greek Patriarchate street

The Greek Patriarchate street

That was not such an easy task because the Greek Patriarchate is working with visitors like us only for a short while in the morning and not every day. So we headed to their building in the hours when it was supposed to be open. However, we were met by huge closed gates. Luckily, in front of one gate we met a man that knew what we were looking for. After a short talk, he invited my brother to follow him and they came back with 3 certificates, together with 3 CDs with religious movies. I need to mention that the Greek

Patriarchate issues certificates only in 2 languages – Greek and Russian, and they cost 5 EUR each. We took the Greek version.

Lucky that we have proof of visiting the Holy Land, we headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

9 am is a wonderful time to walk around Jerusalem. The streets smell of warm bread and herbs and it is not difficult to become hungry, despite having breakfast some while ago. In those early hours, the shops were just opening and there were still no crowds on the narrow streets. The day was just beginning and we stopped on a stall to buy a bunch of candles and a wooden cross for our young daughter. The seller assured us, and we believed him, that the candles and the crosses were all produced in Israel. After our small shopping, we headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built under the orders of Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 335 on the place of a temple of goddess Aphrodite. The church was damaged and rebuilt numerous times through the centuries and its contemporary look dates back to 1810. Because of its historical and religious importance, its property is shared between different denominations of Christianity – Greek Orthodox. Armenian Orthodox. Roman Catholic, Egyptian Copts, Syriacs and Ethiopians. The church also serves as the main headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Stone of Anointing and Cavalry (Golgotha)

The first thing every visitor see upon entrance to the church is the Stone of Anointing. It is believed that the body of Jesus was anointed there before its burial. However, this tradition is only dating back to the crusaders era and the stone itself was added in 1810.

The Stone of Anointing, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

The Stone of Anointing

20 centuries back, this place was outside Jerusalem’s walls. It used to be a hill looking like a skull-pan of a head, where it bears its name. The Cavalry is probably the most visited place in the church. It is believed that Jesus was crucified there. Today there is a big altar there and the original rock where Jesus was crucified is visible through a glass window. Centuries ago, Golgotha was a remote hill but nowadays you just need to climb a couple of stairs to reach it and pray there.

Cavalry (Golgotha) altar, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Cavalry (Golgotha) altar

Aedicule and Rotunda

The shortest way to the tomb of Jesus is left from the Stone of the Anointing. Just a few steps and you find yourselves in the huge Rotunda, next to the Aedicule, under which the ancient cave is located. However, we chose the longer way and decided to walk around the church at first. Every piece of land in this church has its own legend and history and we witnessed numerous of niches, icons and rooms, each one dedicated to a saint or a historical event.

The Aedicule with the Tomb of Jesus, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

The Aedicule with the Tomb of Jesus

Our journey ended under the huge dome, near the Aedicule, where a long queue was waiting to see the holiest place in Christianity.

Before I tell you about it, let me mention that we were among the last visitors to see the tomb this way. Just a few weeks later, a huge reconstruction started which is due to end in spring 2017.

The tomb of Jesus lies under a chapel inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the Aedicule. The queue was making almost a full circle around the chapel and we were amazed by the diversity of people waiting to get inside. We met an Indian family with a baby, several monks and nuns, many Russians and some American guys wearing shorts. Unfortunately, there were also people asking “What is in there?” but we tried not to get offended by their ignorance.

 

The tomb of Jesus

After an hour, our turn came and we entered the chapel. They were letting groups of up to 8 people at once, each one having roughly 30 seconds to pray inside. The Aedicule consists of 2 rooms. The first one is containing the Angel’s Stone – a piece of the stone that used to cover the tomb. The inner room is where the tomb is. During our visit the tomb was covered by a huge marble stone in order to preserve the original rock from erosion and destruction. The rock was visible through several small openings. However, during the latest restoration the stone was removed and the tomb was opened and I will be really happy if I have the opportunity to go back there and see how it looks like today.

The limited time to pray in the tomb passed quickly but we felt really happy and glad to have visited this sacred place. Upon exit, we lit our 33 candles. We are now giving away candles to our friends and close people, hoping that they will bring them peace and happiness.

The markets in Jerusalem

The small shops and stalls are everywhere in the Old City of Jerusalem. You can buy anything – from crosses and candles, through any types of souvenirs and of course food. What we liked most were the fresh juices that could be found anywhere. Our favourite was the pomegranate juice and we never missed an opportunity to enjoy one. I would also like to recommend a restaurant but I just found out that the place where we had lunch was recently closed. It was a really nice Lebanese restaurant. But no matter where you go, the falafels are really good.

A nice guy making pomegranate juice in Jerusalem

A nice guy making pomegranate juice in Jerusalem

 

Western wall

It is not easy to navigate in Jerusalem and despite we had a map, it was almost useless. Luckily, there are many signs navigating to the main objects like the Temple Mount and Western Wall. After some time we found ourselves on the Western wall plaza, one of the most sacred places for Jews.

Western Wall, Jerusalem

Western Wall

There I proved a little improvident and I received some critics from the people praying there. An elder Jew woman argued at me because I was taking pictures. I was not aware that it was forbidden to press any buttons on Shabbat so I obviously annoyed the people with my camera. Next time when I visit religious places, I will do my best to get prepared.

Temple Mount

Temple Mount is the symbol of Jerusalem and the most visited place in the city. Temple Mount is an important shrine for both Christians, Muslims and Jews. It is the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest place in Islam. In Christianity, it is also considered and important place and is connected with Jesus Christ’s life. Temple Mount’s history dates 23 centuries back.

Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock

Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock

Temple Mount is visible from far away with its most notable building – the Dome of the Rock. The large octagonal blue building with the huge golden dome on the top was built above the place considered to connect the Earth and the Heaven. Under the dome lies the Foundation stone, considered a shrine by both Muslims and Jews.

Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount

Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount

 

What is so special about Temple Mount?

Let’s get back through history.

The place is present in the Old Testament and is related to Abraham – the first of the three patriarchs of Judaism. The story says that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son on the Moriah mount, where the Temple Mount lies today. Later the Solomon’s temple, a.k.a. the First Temple, was erected there. It was destroyed in 586 BC but restored 70 years later as the Second Temple. It survived until 70 AC when it was destroyed by Romans. And these are not only legends. While there are no archaeological evidence about the existence of the Solomon’s Temple, there is proof that the Second Temple really existed.

Second Temple period

Temple Mount witnessed a huge reconstruction during Herod the Great’s rule, known for his large projects including the Masada fortress near the Dead Sea. Initially Temple Mount was a steep hill with narrow flat surface on the top. Herod ordered a massive enlargement. High walls were erected around the four ends of the mount and the space was filled with ground in order to enlarge the surface. After the reconstruction, the area of Temple Mount increased almost twice, to the 150 000 square metres today. Today’s Western wall was a part of this massive project and is the only building that survived from those times. The Second Temple was destroyed by Romans in 70 AC. Nowadays it is the most sacred place Jews are allowed to pray on.

Temple Mount, Jerusalem

After the tragic conquering of Jerusalem by Romans, the temple was destroyed and the place around it was abandoned. The city was invaded by Arabs in 637 and its history became again. The hill was recognized as a holy place for Muslims. It is believed that there the prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven to receive orders from Allah during his Night Journey. According to some sayings, this event occurred at the Dome of the Rock, but others believe it was in the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque.

The Christians also recognize Temple Mount as a shrine because it is related to the life of Jesus.

Mughrabi bridge

Mughrabi bridge

 

How to visit Temple Mount

So today the Temple Mount is the spot in Jerusalem that attracts most visitors. But it is also one of the hardest places to access. Temple Mount is freely open only for Muslims who can enter it through 11 gates. All other visitors are let by just one gate, located near Western wall plaza. It is open only at certain days and times so you have to plan your visit carefully.

Opening hours:

Winter:

Sunday – Thursday: 7,30 – 10.30 and 12.30 – 13.30

Summer:

Sunday – Thursday: 8,30 – 11,30 and 13.30 – 14.30

Temple Mount is closed on Friday and Saturday.

Even of you go there in the opening hours, you are not guaranteed access. It might appear that the area is closed for security reasons and the Israeli guards can close it anytime. We were there on Saturday so we had no chance to see it.

Even if you were lucky to be let there, you need to be careful. Non-Muslims are not allowed into the mosque and Dome of the Rock. Also, dressing rules should be observed. Modest dressing is obligatory, including long sleeves covering the elbow and shoulders. Shorts are not allowed either and the women are advised to avoid tight clothes. Sandals are allowed, scarf is not required and there is no entrance fee.

Temple Mount as seen from the Church of the Redeemer. Our pilgrimage to Jerusalem

Temple Mount as seen from the Church of the Redeemer.

Another forbidden thing is praying on Temple mount for non-Muslims. This is the reason why the Western wall is the holiest place Jews can pray on.

Church of the Redeemer

Church of the Redeemer, the second Protestant church in Jerusalem

Church of the Redeemer, the second Protestant church in Jerusalem

In the Lebanese restaurant where we had our lunch, the waiter advised us to visit the Church of the Redeemer – the second Protestant church in Jerusalem. It was built in late 19th century and today offers a very interesting experience for its visitors. One of the main attractions is the bell tower that can be climbed against a small fee. Up there you can enjoy a great view to Jerusalem. You can also go down to the basement of the church and view an archaeological layer of ancient buildings. The church itself is also a very pleasant and welcoming place and the sounds of the organ made our visit magical. I strongly recommend it to any visitor!

Instead of finale

Our trip to Jerusalem was so rich of emotions that we have difficulties remembering specific facts and places. Visiting one of the holiest places in the world was a real luck for us, and maybe a gift. The only thing we lacked was more time to enjoy this marvelous city. If someday we have another opportunity to go back, we would not miss it. We really want to see the renovated tomb of Jesus and Temple Mount.

Writing this article took us a lot of time and effort and we are still not very confident about sharing it with the public. Writing about so many religions – some of them familiar to us, others not at all, was a challenge. We really hope that we did not offend anyone’s faith with some stupid mistake or misunderstanding. If you think something is wrong, please tell us, we will be really grateful!

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Rali Ilieva
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Rali Ilieva

Изключително интересен пътепис! Благодаря ви и за останалите такива, които създавате в думи и фотографии! Следя и чета и интерес. С този ва Йерусалим ме запалихте и мен! Билети самолетни – ясно, места за нощувки – също. забележителностите – прекрасно описани от вас. Имам въпрос – след кацането в Тел Авив с какво става придвижването до Йерусалим?На място ли организирахте придвижването или нещо предварително се изисква като резервация?

Andrey Andreev ПPhotography
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Ха, за този въпрос не съм подготвен, ние имахме осигурена кола (брат ми пребиваваше в Тел Авив) и просто с него откривахме местата. Но със сигурност има как да се стигне лесно от Бен Гурион (летището) до Йерусалим, повечето туристи това им е целта. Според бързото проучване, което направих има автобус през 20-тина минути и пътуването трае малко над час. С влак също е възможно, но трябва да се прекачите в Тел Авив и времето за пътуване е над 2 часа. Чувал съм, че е красива гледката от влака. И има и споделени таксита (https://www.partner.viator.com/en/13978/tours/Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem-from-Tel-Aviv-Ben-Gurion-Airport-Private-Arrival-Transfer/d920-5209JRSAPTHTL?SUBPUID=) Всички транспорти са сигурни, за… Read more »

Nutterum
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А от къде може да се закупят израелски шекели? Приемат ли се български дебитни карти в Израел или са твърде високи таксите? Питам, защото във в интернет виждам, че Tavex.bg предлагат, но трябва да пътувам до Варна за да обменя.

Andrey Andreev
Guest

Точно Тавекс има, за нас е лесно, защото го има и в София. Вероятно най-лесно е да обмените на място долари или евро. Аз лично навсякъде плащам с карта и не съм имал проблем, но не съм теглил пари в брой, за да преценя таксите. Долар + карта, май е най добрата алтернатива. Разбира се с шекели ще е най-лесно.

Петър Андреев
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Петър Андреев

Здравей, още на самото летище име обменно бюро (аз там обменям евро или долари в шекели), но не съм убеден, че имаха най-изгодния курс. Но ако имаш дебитна карта, то съвсем спокойно можеш да си изтеглиш. На мен ми е 10 лв на теглене от 800шекела (около 400лв) . Навсякъде може да се плаща с карта (при плащане нямаш такси за превод, поне с кредитната е така), освен в такситата и малки сергийки по улиците. В стария град на Йерусалим може да се плаща и на магазинчетата с карта, но за да се плати ще те размотават до едно помещение… Read more »

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