The pinnacle of, I believe, the Tower of David poking over the ramparts near the Jaffa Gate. While the present tower is no older than the rest of Sulimain's wall, it stands on the foundations of a far older structure, claimed to date back to the time of King David. Aside from housing a museum, one can also ascend via the tower to take a stroll along the ramparts, but that would have been really unpleasant on this particular day. 2005:02:06 12:17:23
Ash Wednesday today. Well, yesterday my time, but most of you in the audience have seven or eight hours left as I write this. Of course if you're reading this in the archives three months from now -- sorry, it's over.
This was the first time I can recall not attending the dust-to-dust Mass. Sadly, my good Catholic upbringing was no match for a day full of meetings and the fact that I have no idea how to get to a Catholic church and back in less than most of a day. Which is why I made something of a pilgrimage of my field trip last Sunday. Consider this the continuation of my previous post.
The courtyard of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. There isn't really any spot from which one can get a good view of the building, crowded as the Old City is (and all the buildings sort of blend together, anyway), but an aerial view and other general information can be had from the Franciscans who help run the place.
The Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre contains the spot where Jesus was probably crucified, and as such has a good claim on being Christianity's most sacred locus -- if only because there is no such agreement as to where the Resurrection took place, and the Basilica contains one the candidate sites for that, too. So I set myself to at least find the place, which actually does take some effort, given that it lies deep in the twisty part of Aer Attika where the Christian and Muslim Quarters meet. You know you're in an old school town when major thoroughfares are occasionally actually stairs and frequently dive under buildings. On the plus side, there's no vehicle traffic to contend with.
What passes for a streetcorner in Aer Attika (that's a rough translitteration of the local name for the Old City -- which comes from the Arabic for "Old City"). A major intersection, actually, although it's kind of dead, this being the Christian Quarter on a Sunday afternoon. Yes, I had to back all the way up to the wall on the opposite side to take this shot. 2005:02:06 14:08:40
It actually wasn't that difficult to find; the biggest trick was making it through the Arab market without being hopelessly distracted by exotic spices. It's abrupt. Eventually you arrive at a low door in an otherwise nondescript wall; stepping through into the courtyard is jarring after the crowded paths of the Suk. It doesn't look imposing at first, since not much of the building is visible from any one vantage, until one notices that a high golden dome topped by a crucifix is visible over the rooftops. Oh, that's part of this same building. Cold, wet, and not really sure of my next move, humility came easily.
It's not the sort of place you take pictures in. Well, actually, it was bustling with neck craners taking pictures, but I wasn't there to be That Tourist. Nor, I think, would mere images do well out of context. They would lack the atmosphere of the monks of the five Patriarchates variously ringing bells, singing chants, censoring incense. (I guess the Russian Orthodox church counts as a sixth Patriarchate, but as far as I know they're not represented.) They would have difficulty capturing the cacophanous tumble of Crusader architecture shored up by Ottoman additions shored up by '90s renovations. And something as ephemeral as the weight of a millenium of prayer can probably only be experienced firsthand.
So I wandered for a bit, wrapped up in my own thoughts and trying to avoid the noisy tour group of what seems to have been Russian athletes of some sort. Sat for a bit in an out-of-the-way chapel, on a stone bench that was 500 years old if it was 50 and has clearly in all its history never been other than ice cold. Then it was time to be moving on.
I warmed up in this shop, sharing tea with the owner as he tried to sell me pillowcases. Those of you who got Christmas presents from me last year will understand why he's fond of me, as many of them came from here. The sweet mint tea is delightful. 2005:02:06 12:50:07
Afterwards, I dove into the real heart of the Suk, running through the center of the Muslim Quarter to the Damascus Gate. That, incidentally, is where you'd go if you cared to hire a taxi to Bethlehem or Nablus or Jordan; Israeli cabs won't (and mostly can't) reach Arab areas. Also, if ever you need a kilo of sweet paprika or a whole skinned lamb, or the best falafel on the planet, this is really the place to go. Not that I was there to shop.
I'm still not sure what drew me to the markets, actually. Why that experience, in particular, was the natural complement to my little pilgrimage. Perhaps the Muslim suq was the other half to a day on vacation from things Israeli. Or maybe I needed the busy market to ease back into a profane world. On the third hand, it could be that I was simply hungry.