Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Tour of the Holy Land Part IV - Old Jerusalem

Published:Saturday | February 25, 2017 | 2:00 AMPaul H. Williams
The Dome of the Rock, in the background, located on Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem, Israel.

If Israel is the Holy Land, then, Jerusalem, its capital, is the Holy City. And within that city there is a section that is surrounded by a thick and high wall.

It is called the Old City, a place with a long history of religious conflicts, and is considered one of the holiest places in on Earth, where three major religions are freely practised.

It has an area of 0.9 square kilometres (0.35 square miles). Up to 1860, this area constituted the entire city of Jerusalem, and within it are significant religious sites, such as the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque (Muslim), the Temple Mount and Western Wall (Jewish) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Christian).

Because of its vast number of heritage and religious sites, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1981. That is over four and a half centuries since the current city walls were built.

In 1535, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Suleiman ordered the ruined city walls to be rebuilt. The work took some four years, between 1537 and 1541.The length of the walls is 4,018 metres (2.4966 miles). Their average height is 12 metres (39.37 feet) and the average thickness is 2.5 metres (8.2 feet).

The walls have 34 watchtowers and seven main gates open for traffic, with two minor gates re-opened by archaeologists. Now, the gated walls of Jerusalem, which were originally built to protect the old city against invasions, are major tourist attractions.

Within the walls are four major quarters, the Jewish, Christian, Arab and the Armenian. The Muslim Quarter is the largest and the most populous, while the Armenian is the smallest. The Armenians are Christians who are independent of the greater Christian Quarter, where the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are located.

The Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Painful, starts in the Muslim section. It is said to be the route on which Jesus travelled with the cross to Calvary where he was crucified. It has 14 stations, important points along the way. When Family and Religion visited last December a group of Asians was seen carrying a cross along the path, which leads up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

 

A LONG HISTORY

 

Also known as the Church of the Resurrection, it is a massive centuries-old structure, of many archaeological influences. It is regarded by many as the holiest place in Christendom. It has the two holiest sites in Christianity, where Jesus was crucified, and Jesus' empty tomb, which is enclosed by an 18thcentury shrine. It has several more important sites including the last five stations of the Via Dolorosa.

The Jewish Quarter has a long history of conquests, exiles, destruction and reconstruction, and is replete with archaeological remains, including the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall.

The Wailing Wall is the last remnant of an ancient retaining wall of the second Jewish temple, built by King Herod. It is traditionally used by Jews for prayer and has been called Wailing because of the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of their temples. It is considered holy because of its connection to Temple Mount, situated at the extreme south-east of the Old City.

The Temple Mount, to the Jews, 'Mount of the House of God' , is known to Muslims as the Haramesh-Sharif, 'the Noble Sanctuary'. It is one of the most important religious sites in the world. It has been revered as a holy site for thousands of years by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The present site is dominated by three monumental structures, the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain.

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