On the final day of the main trip, we took a walking tour in the Old City. It was a cold and rainy day, leavened by some most welcome blue sky breaks. Anahid said that the rain was good, because it would be even more crowded on a nicer day. Typical tour guide talk! It was crowded enough. Every so often our group came to a stop in the twisting, winding lanes as passing groups put us into total gridlock.
You enter and exit the walled city through L-shaped gates, so shaped to slow down any invading marauders. Most car drivers have enough sense not to tackle them; it was fun to watch those that were bold enough to try. Our tour bus dropped us off near Jaffa Gate and disappeared for the day. In the Jewish Quarter, which is predominately residential, we stopped at the Western Wall to submit our prayers and supplications on tiny pieces of paper which we jammed between the stones that comprise the wall. The section where women did this was separated from the men's. Twice a year the paper bits are removed and buried in the desert. Supplications to God should never be thrown away. The Western Wall supports the outer portion of the Temple Mount where the Second Temple once stood.
The Christian Quarter is lined with religious institutions, artisan's workshops, and souvenir shops belonging to the twenty different Christian denominations represented here. There we followed the final five Stations of the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. To keep the peace between the notoriously quarrelsome Christian factions, a Muslim family keeps the keys to this church, locking and unlocking it daily. The church is believed by many Christians to be built over the spot where Jesus was nailed to the cross, died and rose from the dead. Groups from foreign lands passed us, singing hymns, faces glowing. Here, I began to feel like a religious imposter. Long lines of the truly fervent were waiting to touch the crack in the floor caused by the earthquake that occurred at the moment Jesus died. There I was taking up space, feeling quite mystified by it all. Anahid talked non stop, describing the significance and importance of each nook and cranny to the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Christians, the Russian Orthodox , the Roman Catholics. My head began to swim.
The Muslim Quarter is the liveliest area of the Old City. It's also the most claustrophobic, confusing and crowded. It had the most interesting looking shops. Leather goods made out of camel skin seemed to be a hot commodity. I hope we will have time to return to subject ourselves to the vendors' too effective bargaining skills. I was surprised to see some of the Stations of the Cross there as well. That's the problem here. The real estate is so precious, that a mosque is jammed in next to a Christian church, which is wedged in next to a yeshiva. Part of the church of the Holy Sepulchre is also in this quarter. I continued to feel confused.
I think of Armenia as a small, downtrodden country, but it was the first nation to embrace Christianity when their king converted in 300AD. After the Armenian kingdom disappeared at the end of the fourth century, it adopted Jerusalem as its spiritual capital and has had a large presence here ever since. Here we stopped in a building that was supposed to be the spot where Jesus and his disciples had their last supper No one believes that really is the case, but nevertheless, this crusader church converted into a mosque was crammed with the faithful. We had lunch in the Armenian Quarter in a restaurant carved into the hillside that would have been an equally good spot to have had that last supper.
I believe we were supposed to see a bit more, but the rain fell harder and we were cold. Since we will be here a few more days, we returned to our beautiful hotel to try to dry out and sort out all that we had seen and tried to learn.