By Denise Mattia
Because of the great importance of Jerusalem to Jews, Christians and Muslims as the place God chose to dwell during the world’s creation, centuries of kings and rulers have commissioned builders and artists to beautify it. Still, despite wars fought over its possession, resulting in the destruction of several major monuments, Jerusalem remains a location of significant works of Hebrew, Roman, Early Christian, Muslim and Crusader endeavors – both above and below the ground.
On the drive to Jerusalem from the Yafo Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Jax Fax was among a group of journalists who stopped at an observation point on Mount Scopus to view the Old and New city. Travelers from Jerusalem on their way to the Negev Desert, the Dead Sea and Masada stay nearby at one of the oldest hotel chains in Israel, the Dan Jerusalem Hotel (visit danhotels.com), where they take advantage of the hotel’s restaurant and spa facilities.
Clearly visible from our observation point at the center of the citadel was Jerusalem’s best-preserved building, the magnificent Dome of the Rock (Omar Mosque), where the Temple of King Solomon housed the Ark of the Covenant. In the last quarter of the first century Herod Agrippa 1 built his Palace at the northwestern wall. Although destroyed in 70 ACE, four retaining walls remain, including 170 feet of the lower level of the Western Wall, the traditional shrine associated with Solomon’s Temple. (The upper blocks are considered Roman).
In the 4th century Jerusalem became a Christian town under Constantine, whose mother, Helena, was instrumental in having the first buildings of the Holy Sepulchre constructed, including the Rotunda of the Anastasis. In the 7th century Muslims occupied the city and in 691, the sacred rock became the Dome of the Rock, the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. Today the Muslim enclosure encompasses the Dome, the Aqsa Mosque and smaller Muslim buildings. A century’s old tunnel leads to the wall closest to the holy place, where Jews come to pray.
Beyond the western side of the citadel is the oldest and most important Jewish cemetery, containing over 70,000 graves, some of which date to the time of Solomon. Many who secure entombment near the holy city believe they’ll be among the first to rise at Judgment Day.
We continued our ride to Western Jerusalem and checked into the David Citadel Hotel (thedavidcitadel.com). Since the hotel is conveniently located near the city’s holy sites and cultural attractions, rather than rest, a colleague and I decided to get further acquainted with this historical city.
According to our notes, Sultan Suleiman built the Jaffa Gate in the early 16th century, connecting the Old and New Cities and the Armenian, Jewish and Muslim Quarters. Shell holes in the restored stone structure weren’t filled in; they’re poignant reminders of the 1947 war. A short distance away is the magnificent 2nd century (BCE) Tower of David. Subsequent to the original construction, the Tower was destroyed and rebuilt by Christian, Muslim and Ottoman conquers. Today, it’s the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, which houses extraordinary exhibitions of 4,000 years of Jerusalem’s history and features The Night Spectacular, an elaborate, stunning and well-organized sound and light show.
Constructed on what had become a slum in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli war of 1947-48 the new, modern, open-air Mamilla Mall nearby attracts visitors and locals alike, with luxury housing, hotels, cafes, more than 140 shops and a boon for drivers — an underground 6-storey parking garage. Flanking the wide promenade are creative contemporary sculptures placed beside upscale emporia such as Stern House, Abercrombie and Fitch, Gap and Tommy Hilfiger. We found shopping of a different nature at the Shuk Mahane Yehuda (Arab) bazaar to the north of Jaffa Road. Here, brilliant-hued haberdasheries and trinket stalls compliment the delicious aromas of kebab, baklava, halva, juice, spices and nuts in shops that border the narrow maze of alleyways.
Extensive excavation at the City of David continues to be conducted along the labyrinthian channels running south at the Temple Mount in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem. Originally begun in 1867 by Charles Warren, a British officer and one of the earliest European archaeologists, successive scientists have traced human remains and pieces of pottery to a Bronze Age settlement (3500 to 2350 BCE.). Our group walked paths the following day through tunnels, which included water supply systems, some of which continue to draw the resource from the Gihon Spring on the eastern slope.
In 2005 archaeologist Eilat Mazar unearthed Byzantine Era artifacts at Ophel, and, 13 feet below, the “Large Stone Structure” – the largest in the City of David – dating to 1,000 BCE. Phoenician ivory inlays, pottery and luxury items found there substantiate her claim that the site is likely the remains of King David’s palace.
We surfaced from under the ground to follow the Via Dolorosa, believed to have been the same way Jesus was driven from the house of Pilate to Calvary. (Marked by 14 Stations of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa was thought originally to be seven). The stations became the models for countless Stations erected throughout Europe in the late Middle Ages. The streets are narrow and closed in, and, judging from the wear on the cobblestones pilgrims and tourists have traversed the path for centuries.
Whether Jewish, Muslim, Polytheist or Christian, Jerusalem is a site of creative developments brought together by distinct societies. Visitors today walk among the miscellaneous ensemble of a city given to the beliefs of different faiths and peoples.
“This Year Jerusalem” was printed in the November/December 2015 issue of Destinations by Jax Fax.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.