Our first stop on our final day in Jerusalem was at Pater Noster in the Mount of Olives right by the hotel. According to Luke 11:1-4, it was here Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer. That prayer is inscribed in various languages on the walls including Malayalam. After this we were given the option to visit the alternate location of Jesus’ tomb (Garden Tomb) – the rock-cut tomb is located outside the city walls close to the Damascus Gate. Following this, we visited the Abbey of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (known as the Hagia Maria Sion Abbey since 1998) on Mt. Zion past the Zion Gate of the Old City. This church was built between 1900 and 1910 atop the remains of the Byzantine church “Hagia Sion”. The church has several niches with altars and two spiral staircases leading to the crypt ascribed to be the dormition of the Virgin Mary.
Connected to the Abbey of Dormition is the “Upper Room” (Cenacle), an alternate site of the Last Supper, where numerous events in the New Testament happened, as it is where the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem. The lower level has a large centotaph said to be the tomb of King David – its authenticity is in debate. The structure is unique for each level is a holy place to different religions – the ground level with its Jewish synagogues and the tomb of King David is important for Jews, the location of the “last supper” makes the 2nd level special for Christians, and the third level has a Muslim muezzin tower. A giant “Harp of David” sculpture (King David playing the harp) can be found outside. In the south-east slopes of the Mount of Olives is an Arab village named Bethany where the Sanctuary of Bethany is located. Again, numerous events in the New Testament occurred here including the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44). Bethany, home of Lazarus, Mary, and Matha, is where Jesus was anointed at the home of Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3). The Tomb of Lazarus is also here. A souvenir store and short camel rides (small circle - $3) were on offer in front of the store.
The tour bus rolled down to Jericho which is the oldest Palestinian town in the area and archaeologically verified to have had settlements as far back as 9000 BCE. Located well below sea level, it is the lowest permanently inhabited site on earth. En-route, we stopped by the site where Zacchaeus, the corrupt tax collector hid from Jesus (Luke 19:1-1) in a sycamore tree. We also stopped at a vantage spot around 10km from Jericho to observe the Mount of Temptation (Mount Quarantania), believed to be where Jesus was tempted for 40 days by Satan (Mathew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13). The mountain is over 350 meters high – atop, on a cliff is a wall of the ruins of the Hasmonean fortress. Below it is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the temptation (Mon-Fri 9AM -1PM, and 3-4PM, Sat 9AM - 2PM, Sun closed) and further down is a restaurant. A new cable car ride takes one up there from Tel Jericho. Hiking to the summit involves a 30-minute walk up a steep path. There are numerous caves on the mountain slopes that were inhabited by monks and hermits from early times. Lunch, a filling affair with falafel, chicken, pita bread, and regular continental food, was at a large buffet restaurant with a curio store inside called Temptation Restaurant ($15 buffet lunch, soup/salad only - $11, soup/bread only - $5). Few vendors touting dried fruits and such were in the vicinity of this restaurant. Dried fruits from Jericho are famed, especially the dates. Pricing is OK at around $10 or so for a pound of dried fruit. They also sell Sycamore Nuts (two small packs for $5) – that look and taste good although they are the humble peanuts fried with some kind of batter.
Our afternoon itinerary included a visit to the Dead Sea (Kalia Beach) back in Israel – 45/35 shekels for adults/kids. For that, you get a nicely maintained, well organized place with a number of public showers, changing areas, restrooms, etc. Contrary to the widely popular yarn, Dead Sea mud does not stain. Dead Sea provides the ultimate in floating experience – the high saline content propels you upwards and cushions you oh so gently! As the sea is muddy and uneven near the banks it is better to wade out a bit. Saying the water is saline is putting it mildly – even the tiniest drop stings the eyes like nobody’s business though a rinse will put that misery to rest. Mud, though messy, washes out fast. The minerals in the mud and the saline water combined are believed to have a therapeutic value that can heal wounds and other minor skin issues. Cosmetics made from the minerals in the Dead Sea are a good industry – the store has many such items, although price-wise they seemed rather steep.
Our last visit in Israel was to the Wailing Wall, one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, after the Temple Mount. Almost half of the wall was constructed in 19BCE by Herod the Great and the rest from the 7th century onwards. For centuries (with the earliest source dating back to the 4th century), this has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage. Through year round this site is open 24 hours a day, it is best to ask around and plan in advance as this is a venue for many ceremonies. Placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Wall is a practice followed by the faithful. More than a million notes are placed here each year. There are Western Wall Tunnel tours (about 75 min) available through the Western Wall Heritage Foundation that must be ordered in advance. Also, there is an exhibit called “The Generations Center” that offers a unique experience relating the fascinating story of the Jewish people throughout the generations (3,500 years). Our Israeli guide Gazan took his leave after this visit – we enjoyed the three days he spent with us and his communication skills were excellent – he works other jobs during the low season (5 months) and is tightly booked the rest of the year. Our group reached the hotel a little early than usual (5:30 PM) that day for an early departure (5 AM) and a long road-trip to Sinai (Egypt) was in the plans the next day.
- Holyland Trip Report - Jordan - Mount Nebo, Madaba - Day 1.
- Holyland Trip Report – Israel - Yardenit, Tiberias, Tabgha, Cappernaum, Ginosar, Sea of Galilee (Day 2).
- Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3).
- Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Jerusalem (Day 4).
- Holyland Trip Report – Israel – Jerusalem, Jericho, Dead Sea (Day 5).
- Holyland Trip Report – Egypt – Red Sea, Sinai (Day 6).
- Holyland Trip Report – Suez Canal, Cairo - Day 7.
- Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8.
- Holyland Trip - Gotchas to avoid.
- Holyland Trip - Jordan - Other Sites.