I think I have the perfect job, for me anyway. I travel the world, I work with some really cool high tech stuff, and occasionally work will sponsor a tour. Our most recent trip took us to Jerusalem. The amount of history concentrated into this city is kind of mind blowing when you think about it, and I was looking forward to soaking up as much of it as possible.
Even though the tour was only a day long, it was packed with great places. We started the tour on the Mount of Olives, then proceeded to the Western Wall. After that, we had lunch and made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was barely 5pm when we finished with the church, but it was already dark. November days are short, and we decided to call it a day.
Mount of Olives
The first stop on my whirlwind tour of Jerusalem was the Mount of Olives, to the east of Jerusalem’s old city. It is named for the olive groves that used to cover its slopes. The olive groves have since given way to a huge Jewish graveyard. For over 3,000 years, Jews have been making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem only to be buried on the Mount of Olives. The cemetery holds over 150,000 graves.
Over the last 2,500 years a series of temples have been built on this site. The Dome of the Rock (the distinctive building with the gold dome) is the most recent of these temples. Construction of the Dome of the Rock was completed in 691 CE and it is one of the oldest examples of Islamic architecture in the world. The gold plated dome is a relatively new addition. The gold was originally added to the dome between 1959 and 1961 and restored in 1993.
The Rock under the Dome is known as the Foundation Stone. According to the Bible, it is where Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son Issac to prove his fidelity to God. Spoiler alert: at the last second, an angel appears and tells Abraham that he does not need to sacrifice his son. Abraham is understandably relieved when he is told he doesn’t have to murder his son. So happy in fact, that he sacrifices a ram that he found caught in some bushes.
The Western Wall
The Temple Mount is one of the most important holy sites for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Second Temple, built by King Herod in the 5th century BCE, encompasses the Temple Mount. The outer retaining walls of the Second Temple still exist, but the temple itself was destroyed by the Roman invasion in the first century CE. The Western Wall is one of Judaism’s holiest sites because it is the closest to the Temple Mount.
The Western Wall (and presumably the other 3 walls) is not solid rock. There is a series of tunnels built into the wall, as well as an aqueduct.
When the Romans invaded Jerusalem in the first century CE, the 10th Legion was part of the army and someone left their mark.
Placing prayers in these pigeon holes is a relatively new development (around 1600 CE). A rabbi collects the notes and they are buried in the Temple Mount.
The stone pictured here is one continuous piece. If memory serves, it’s almost 14 meters long (around 45 feet), and weighs in at 350 – 400 tons. No one knows how the Herod’s engineers were able to move such a huge piece of rock.
The chamfers on these stones are all hand carved, and remarkably uniform along the entire edge. There is also no mortar used to join the stones together, and they are fitted so precisely that one cannot even slide a piece of paper between them.
Circa 150 BCE, an aqueduct was constructed in the Northwest corner of the Temple Mount, with the purpose of bringing water into Jerusalem. A couple decades before the Roman invasion in the first century CE, King Herod diverted the water from the aqueduct and it lay forgotten for nearly 2,000 years.
In 1876, General Sir Charles Warren, a British archeologist, saw a hole in the ground and decided he wanted to know what was in it and where it went. He promptly found a flooded tunnel and began looking for a canoe so he could travel down the tunnel to see where it went. Apparently, canoe’s are not common items in a land locked city on the edge of a desert (who knew?), and it took several weeks for him to obtain one.
Any excitement surrounding the discovery of the aqueduct was short lived though. In 1870 the entrance to the aqueduct was blocked and everyone forgot about it, again. Until 1987 that is. It has since been drained and made presentable for the general public.
When I entered this cistern, I was fully expecting to see a James Bond villain plotting how they were going to take over the world.
Stay tuned for part II of Twiget Tours Jerusalem. I’ll have it posted shortly. If you have any comments, or suggestions, please post them below. You can also sign up on my mailing list (on the right) to receive an email notification whenever I add new blog posts.