My third day in Jerusalem began rather dramatically – the drain in my basement hallway had exploded with a river of excrement, due to a problem with the Jerusalem sewers and not my lovely hostel. So running away from the pungent smell of my room I ended up in the “City of David,” a complex of archaeological remains, many actually pre-dating the biblical king and even featuring a Canaanite toilet seat!
One of the main highlights is wading through Hezekiah’s Tunnel – a 500m long tunnel channelling water from a natural Gihon spring and hiding it from invaders, preventing the water system being poisoned etc. 500m doesn’t sound particularly long but when the water is waist-deep the journey does take a while – and also the novelty begins to wear off. You can however see from the different heights of the tunnel roofs where the two tunnelling teams met, 3000 years before a similar event with the more waterproof Eurotunnel! There was also a wet floor sign by the exit – a bit of an understatement! There are also the remains of a stepped road leading up to the temple used until Jerusalem’s destruction in 70CE, which is now underground, showing how quickly street levels can change.
Walking back through the streets of the old city, I ended up at a much more contemporary sight and whilst it is easy to be lured in by the might of history and religions surrounding you, the current political situation should not be forgotten. The Museum on the Seam visibly shows the signs of a conflict that despite current peace, has not in fact been solved and effects the everyday lives of thousands of people.
One instance I personally experienced when getting the bus between Palestine and Israel was due to the merits of my British passport I was allowed to remain seated on the bus as opposed to Palestinians who where shepherded through rigorous security checks. I do not personally have a problem with the checks themselves but feel that all bus passengers should be treated equally. Anyway this museum hosts changing contemporary art exhibitions with a socio-political slant and whether or not the art is to everybody’s taste, it is art that can honestly and not pretentiously be called thought-provoking.
To end my day I ended up where nearly every Jewish Jerusalemite was before the Shabbat shut-down – the Mahane Yehuda food market. The atmosphere was amazing; towers of spices, heaps of dried fruit, wheels of halva (a sesame-paste confection looking worryingly like paté) and vats of olives with half a city crammed into it’s covered tunnels, buying their whole family’s food for the weekend.
As someone who loves cooking I spent around three hours (possibly a bit excessive) attempting to narrow down my food purchases for the week-end resulting eventually in a rather bizarre combination of onion bread, a punnet of pomegranate seeds, a kilo of dried kiwis (yup my Hebrew definitely needs some work) and some mini pastries. It made a change from the houmous wraps I’ve been living on ever since – food in Israel being prodigiously expensive. You can get a train from one end of the country to another for the same cost as two packets of biscuits. I wish the same was true back home and you could get to Edinburgh for the price of some McVities Hobnobs though! I ended the day as mentioned in more detail here, joining the Franciscans on their weekly Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa.
My next morning began thankfully with the smell of cleaning products in the corridors but again took a slightly bizarre turn when I ended up wandering around a girl’s school in East Jerusalem. I’d been told the Rockerfeller Archaeology Museum was in a castle-like structure just outside my nearest city-gate although it seems the city is home to several castle-like structures. The school receptionist seemed quite amazed as to how I’d bypassed security to get inside and bemusedly directed me to a near identical building just down the road.
Whilst the Israel Museum is Jerusalem’s more famous institution, this free museum contains some stellar artefacts. One of these is the best preserved Jericho plastered skull (from around 7000BC) I’ve ever seen (the British Museum has far a cruder one) – these amazing constructions that are some of the earliest embodiments of ritual objects and art ever and the construction process is surprisingly complex (I wrote a university essay on them so can physically write 3,000 words about them!). Another highlight was the carved stucco work from the 8th century Umayyad Hirsham’s Palace just outside Jericho. Although many artefacts were not labelled, and the museum contains a depressingly high proportion of bland pottery, this less well-known museum is definitely worth a visit.
For the afternoon, I took a fifteen minute bus journey into Palestine although I will write about my two separate trips later as I feel they definitely deserve a dedicated post.
My Sunday morning got off to a rather depressing start in my futile attempt to track down a Sunday mass. I turned up at the Holy Sepulchre for the 7:30 mass only to find out it had happened two hours earlier when I was still sound asleep! I then attempted to go to morning mass in the Armenian Cathedral in Jerusalem and attempting to find the entrance of this secretive quarter of the city took longer than I had imagined meaning yet again I managed to miss a Sunday mass. Rather dejected at not managing to go to church in the Holy Land of all places, I eventually trudged off to get the bus to the Israel Museum.
This museum holds the very best of Israel’s rich archaeology ranging from amusingly cartoon-like Canaanite coffin lids, prehistoric grizzly stone ritual masks and surprised looking ossuaries to Romano-Jewish funerary busts.
Whilst it was the archaeology section that took most of my attention, another highly interesting wing was the Jewish decorative arts section containing synagogue interiors from around the world, bejewelled etrog boxes for the Sukkot citrus and intricate Yemenite bridal jewellery. It also has an amazing collection of Mesoamerican archaeology along with a vast wing of mediocre art which I got lost in trying to escape the museum after around 4 hours of staring into cabinet cases had taken its toll! Lastly however I paid a quick visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls and whilst undeniably important, they are not the most stimulating thing to look at in a museum environment, although their pavilion is quite bizarre – a sort of inverted lotus being perpetually watered for some unknown reason!
Heading back into the Old City, I decided to make one more attempt at visiting the elusive Armenian quarter and luckily managed to see inside the often locked up St James’ Cathedral during vespers. The endless lanterns in the tiled and carpeted interior alongside chanting and incense meant I spent more time just sitting and taking in the atmosphere and only as they were ending remembered to turn my camera on and even then the photographs hardly do justice to this often unexplored part of Jerusalem.
During my last breakfast in Jerusalem at the amazing Austrian Hospice I had some rather illustrious company at the table next to me – the man who should currently be Austro-Hungarian Emperor and his brother. Still slightly bemused at my mornings company (most people probably don’t recognise them unless bizarrely like me royal genealogy is a hobby) I paid a visit to the only area around the Old City I’d left completely unexplored – Mount Zion.. Here are a variety of sites worth visiting such as King David’s apparent tomb (erected by the Crusaders despite lacking a body of the biblical king) as well as the apparent room where the Last Supper occurred.
The last church I visited was the Church of the Dormition, whose exterior I had been presuming the whole time was the Armenian Cathedral! Inside the church is rather auster with the exception of several large-scale mosaics. The crypt however I far more interesting containing a sculpture of the Virgin Mary on her deathbed as well as rather fittingly considering my company at breakfast; chapels dedicated to the various countries that once made up the Austro-Hungarian empire.
My last port of call was the Christian cemetery on Mount Zion, and although most famous for containing the grave of Oskar Schindler, I was mainly hoping to find the grave of Flinders Petrie; one of the founding fathers of modern archaeology. Sadly however as I was unwilling to check every name in the midday heat I sadly left having not seen his grave. A slightly disappointing end to my amazing week in the chaos of Jerusalem before I headed into the emptiness of the desert…