Monday, September 9, 2013

Holy Land - Part 2

--Há uma versão em português logo abaixo--

Jerusalem; if there was only one word to describe this city it would be: Special! And I think this is the feeling that one comes away with when leaving this city, as I'm doing today, that this really is a very special place.

Considered a holy city by the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, faith is the element most present in the spirit of the city. And even for those who come not as pilgrims, but as tourists, there is no escape from that element, it is everywhere.

I spent 10 days in Jerusalem, I stayed at a place on the Hill of Scandal, next to the Mount of Olives, with a great view of the city and within relatively short walking distance of the Old City.

Due to the fact that I didn't know that I would have that amazing view, I went straight to the Western Wall area when I arrived to take my arrival picture. The view was also great, but to get there was very hard, since I had to face many stairs. And if it's hard to walk down the stairs with a very heavy bicycle, I don't need to say what it’s like to go back up. But at least I had the picture.

The last place I visited in Jerusalem was the place where everything began: The City of David.

The City of David is a small hill, close to the foot of the Temple Mount, and it is where King David established the capital of his kingdom 3.000 years ago, when he conquered the city that then stood there. Today it's a residential area and archaeological site, the most excavated place in the world.

I went on a fascinating guided tour there, in which, amongst other things, one walks through Hezekiah's Tunnel, a tunnel or aqueduct, built by King Hezekiah 300 years after king David, the main purpose of which was to divert the water from the spring (outside the city) into the Pool of Siloam, in the event that the city came under siege, which is described in the Bible.

I went through the 500 meters tunnel, dug in solid rock, with water sometimes above my knees, and of course completely fascinated by what was at that time a prowess of engineering: two teams excavating from opposite ends of the tunnel until meeting in the middle.

Every place you visit in Jerusalem is a special place, with historical or religious roots. And as I said, the place where I stayed was within walking distance of the Mount of Olives, which for me was very special to visit.

The Mount of Olives is mentioned in the Bible as being a place where Jesus spent a lot of time, teaching and resting. At the foot of the Mount there is a garden called Gethsemane, according to the Bible, the place where Jesus was with his disciples on the night he was arrested. There I saw millenarian olive trees, by tradition said to be the silent witnesses of Jesus’ prayer and suffering the evening before His crucifixion.

I can't say how amazing it is to have the opportunity to be in such places, but in Jerusalem you have this feeling all the time and it never ends.

Visiting the Old City was almost a daily program for me. The place, a walled area less than 1 square kilometer, is divided into four areas: the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. You never get tired of walking in its narrow streets, full of markets, shops and of course pilgrims and tourists.

There are around 40.000 people living in the Old City (out of a total of 800.000 in the whole of Jerusalem). You can find many monasteries, educational institutions and hotels, but the most visited places are the holy religious places.

For Jews it's the Western wall, considered to be a remnant of the Jewish Temple. For Christians it's the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified, and for Muslims it's the Dome of the Rock, considered by Muslims to be the place where Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven.

On different days I visited all three.

When I visited the Western Wall, where out of respect men are required to cover their heads, I left as is the custom, a piece of paper (with the name of my family members) in the crevices of the Wall.

Visiting the Temple Mount I met a Brazilian family of Muslims from my state. I'm always glad to meet fellow Brazilians and even more when they are "Gaúchos". Non-Muslims are only allowed to enter the Temple Mount at a specific time and by a special entrance next to the Western Wall. Once inside you can walk around the whole area, but cannot enter the mosques.

That's also a holy place for Jews, since it's where the Jewish Temples once stood. It's also believed to be the place that the Bible describes as Mount Mariah, where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Only when visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a place considered by Christians to be the place where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, did I feel comfortable enough to question its authenticity. I believed that everything occurred as described in the Bible, but for me, talking about Biblical places, it's always very hard to believe in specific locations when they are not geographical locations.

Garden Tomb
A river, a lake, a mountain, or a mount are places that even after centuries or millenniums you can be sure are the same places. But how can you know for sure that places like that are truly locations, when there is nothing that can prove it, only tradition.

I visited the two places in Jerusalem, believed by different groups, to be where Jesus was crucified and buried: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Garden Tomb. And even though you know that it could not be the real place, you still feel impressed by the idea of it being that.

So I paid more attention to what had happened in those days, and the tremendous meaning it has, rather than to where it happened.

The modern part of the city I only cycled around, which in itself  is already something nice. I could have visited many other places or have done many other things during the time I spent here, but even when lying down on the grass in a park or sitting in the shadow of the wall, watching people passing by, you know that these are also great things to do. Everything you do in Jerusalem becomes a great experience when you remember where you are.

I'm really thankful for having had the opportunity to go through this amazing experience, something I never expected or thought could happen.

So today I say good bye to the Holy City. And with that I end my time in Israel, but not in the Holy Land, now I continue cycling on the Palestinian side.

So let's keep going..