In a Walled City

The source of less trouble than you'd think, although Sharon did manage to spark a four-year uprising with a poorly planned visit. The Dome of the Rock, which dominates the profile of the Temple Mount, covers a stone implicated in numerous Man-God interactions throughout the Torah and Quran. Below, Jews pray at the Western Wall, the only remnant of the Temple destroyed by the Roman legions in 70 CE. 2005:03:04 14:17:15

It was discovered that my Ukranian roommate had never visited Jerusalem in his several months here. My Jewish American roommate was already planning to spend the weekend there with friends, and suggested we tag along. Thus early Friday morning -- but not quite as early as we'd planned -- it was off with us to the bus station.

Early was a necessity since Shabbat begins an hour before sunset Friday afternoon. Jerusalem (and Israel in general) being the sort of place it is, with the arrival of Shabbat the buses stop running and most Jewish-operated businesses shut down. While cabs can still be caught during Shabbat, they get scarcer and more expensive. This made the Old City a logical base camp for our wanderings, since it's dense with interesting things to do and see. After all, there's just not that many genuine walled cities left in the world.

It's a quick bus ride from the central bus station to the Old City, but we'd gotten a late start and there had been some nastry traffic getting out of the Tel Aviv area, so it was pushing well into afternoon by the time we arrived at the Jaffa Gate. Falafel was in order. It should be noted that, like everything else near the Jaffa Gate, the falafel is overpriced and subpar. Still better than any meal you can have in Rehovot for 10 shekels.

Having a couple of days to kill, I took quite a few photos on this trip. In the interest of length and presentation, I'll post a selection of them over the next few days. Below, the narrative overview of my weekend.

The first order of business was to wander generally in the direction of the Temple Mount, since Sam (American roomie) was told by a fellow on the bus that the tunnels under the Mount might still be open. This involved threading our way through the Armenian and Jewish quarters (by all means, refer to the map of the Old City). While many bits of the Old City look pretty much the same, it's still easy to navigate thanks to its size. Just pick a direction and keep heading that way at intersections. Even so, there is no point at which you can see very far, which means that the major sights tend to come up at you rather suddenly.

So it was with the above picture. One minute we're wending through closely packed cafes and gift shops, when we abruptly come out onto a terrace overlooking this scene.

Down some stairs and through an airport-grade security checkpoint, we came to a big open plaza bounded on one side by the Western Wall. Probably the largest open space in the Old City not on the Temple Mount. Wearing a head cover (preferably a yalmuke, unless you're a member of one of the Orthodox sects that mandates a specific gigantic hat) is obligatory to approach the wall; there's a bucket of cardboard skullcap affairs for the likes of myself, which meant I spent the entire time using one hand to keep the thing from blowing off my head.

The tunnels weren't open after all, so I suggested we instead check out the Via Crucies. Every Friday afternoon the Franciscan monks lead a procession down the Via Dolorosa, along which are the original Stations of the Cross, ending at the Church of the Sepulchre. During Lent this is a serious affair, drawing perhaps a thousand pilgrims. More on this in its own post.

Afterwards we wandered a bit in the Arab market, centered around Suq El-Bazaar road, until Alexi (the Ukranian) suggested we find food. Specifically falafel. Since most Arab shops shut down at sunset, this meant heading back to the Christian Quarter and lots of asking around. Falafel was had, at the correct price this time, if still a bit lacking in construction. Alexi had two. He would later get hungry again, which prompted us to try a Chinese restaurant we found still open.

We spent the night in the dorm apartment of some of Sam's friends at Hebrew University, which was largely deserted since most of his friends were camping in Jordan at the time. They're packed in pretty tight, and are not tidy people. I now have a much enhanced appreciation for the dorm here at Weizmann. Given two empty beds and three of us, I opted to sleep on the floor in Sam's sleeping bag, because a glance at the sheets convinced me that it would probably be the most hygenic option.

Saturday Sam was scheduled to eat the Shabbat meal with a family he knows in Jerusalem, so we took a cab back to the city center and Alexi and I set off on our own. He wanted more falafel, so I took him to a place in East Jerusalem that has the best (and cheapest) that I've found so far. My guide book suggested walking around the Old City atop the city wall, which seemed appealing since the weather had turned beautiful overnight. Only the southern section was open (the northern section adjoins the Muslim Quarter and East Jerusalem, so I suppose it was considered dangerous or some such), which runs from the Jaffa Gate around the Armernian Quarter almost to the Western Wall plaza. Many good photos were taken, which deserve their own post.

Our quest to find Alexi a restroom led us to the Armenian Museum, which has about three rooms in what I think is a wing of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. I should post on the Armenians some time, being as they are yet another people in the region with a long and tragic history.

Then it was time to meet up with Sam, and Alexi suggested (more!) falafel. He claims that he doesn't even particularly like falafel -- this was the first time he'd had it -- but that he simply can't turn down a meal that cheap. I'm not quite sure I buy that. Five falafel pitas in two days is quite a lot. Then we hung out in a nearby park for a bit, but as the temperature dropped precipitously upon sunset, we opted to start moving again. With nothing open yet, Alexi couldn't be bothered to wait for the buses to start running again, so we set out to walk back to the bus station. It's at least a couple of miles, mostly uphill since the city center is in a valley.

Resting my feet on the ride home was a real treat.


FYI, there was a relatively good article on Armenia in National Geographic sometime last year. I'd guess the September 04 issue but since I'm always two issues behind reading them it's hard to calibrate.

Hello there. Just spent a very pleasant hour reading your blog from Egypt/ Israel Palestine after trying to look up the geography of the region. Have you stopped. As I have just lost my job this is now what I do with my days. Where is your latest blog

Hi, thanks for reading!

I principally write about the places I inhabit. Since I left Israel in 2005 I don't write much about that space anymore; in general I am deeply reluctant to claim superior insight into current events in the region on the strength of having once lived there for a brief time. While I occasionally revisit my time there retrospectively, that is not a regular feature, nor the purpose of this blog.

But yes, I still write here, although the last few months have been a bit sparse thanks to offline constraints on my time.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on March 6, 2005 11:45 PM.

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