Sunday, April 13, 2014

Week 2: The Dome, the Old City, and the First Field Trip

FIRST FREE DAY: Dome of the Rock and 
the Old City of Jerusalem

Since our LDS church services are held on Saturday to coordinate with the Islamic and Jewish worship days, Sundays were our free days. Unless we were on our long trips away from the Center, all Sundays were completely devoid of anything scheduled by the JC, except breakfast.

For my first Sunday, I joined a group going to exchange money from American checks to Israeli Shekels at Aladdin's (unlike Disney's movie, it's pronounced "all-uh-DEEN"), and then to visit the Dome of the Rock for the first time. I decided not to take my camera. Partially because I was probably still scared by the over-the-top warnings in the orientations. But I also wanted to take everything in only with my own senses. I cannot explain the world of difference it made.

Muslims can go through other gates, but Non-Muslims always have to go through a certain gate right next to the Western Wall, called Moors Gate. When you get through the security and you walk the long wooden covered ramp (Mughrabi Bridge) up to the elevated ground the Dome rests on, you come out of these very high doors onto something that sort of resembles a plaza or courtyard. There are some big trees to your left and a long stretch of ground that leads you straight to Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Islamic mosque that sits just south of the Dome.

(I'm including pictures I took of the Dome of the Rock just so you get the idea, but they were taken at a later date.) 

The construction workers laboring just south of the wooden ramp leading up to the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock. I took this picture through the wooden slats that wall up the ramp. I have no clue what they're working on here.

The facade of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the view you see just after you walk through Moors Gate onto the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif.

Me in front of Al-Aqsa.

So as you draw level with the front of Al-Aqsa, suddenly the "plaza" opens up on your left, and you have this magnificent view:

This view is from right in front of Al-Aqsa, facing north. The Dome doesn't look huge now because of the trees, but just you wait.

This is a washing station, so that Muslims (and others, I guess) can cleanse themselves before going up to the Dome.

As you walk closer and closer to the stairs leading up to the Dome, suddenly it looms over you, looking much bigger than it did from the view in front of Al-Aqsa.

The Dome of the Rock is octagonal, and has three rings or sections to it around the center where the Foundation Stone lies. The Foundation Stone is significant to several major religions. Most Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe it's where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son (Isaac according to Jews and Christians, Ishmael according to Muslims). It's where the Holy of Holies room of Solomon's Temple was located (or very nearby, anyway), and Muslims believe that the Rock is where the prophet Muhammed ascended into heaven for his "Night Journey".
You can learn a lot more about the history, architecture, and importance of the Foundation Stone at Wikipedia.
Also, this is a good cutaway picture showing the inside of the Dome, and this is a cool photo of the actual Rock inside the Dome (taken from this site).

This small structure just to the east of the Dome of the Rock is called the Dome of the Chain, or Qubbat al-Silsila. It's basically a prayer house for Muslims. The solid bit on the right side of it in this picture is the niche which indicates the direction of the Ka'aba in Mecca. Again, learn more about it at Wikipedia.

So many gorgeous tiles and designs! This is the inside of the small dome of the Dome of the Chain prayer house.

The view from the eastern stairway.

After visiting the Dome of the Rock, we explored the Old City of Jerusalem. I wrote in my journal about my first experience, 
"I have never seen so many shops with so many different varieties of the exact same things! When you’re not in scary corners where it smells like urine, the air is often filled with the smells of incense, spices, food, or candy." 

It's a magical labyrinth of sensory overloads, with light sifting down through colorful fabrics and makeshift roofs in the Muslim Quarter, gorgeous warm light bouncing off the tall creamy limestone in the Jewish Quarter. Each quarter (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian) has a different flavor and mood. 
I'd say most of us primarily stayed in the Muslim and Jewish quarters, though, as they were the most easily accessible and had the most delicious foods and interesting souvenirs.

This is part of the Via Dolorosa. It was almost always packed with different denominations of Christians on tour or carrying crosses to celebrate/make pilgrimage/re-enact Jesus' carrying of his cross to Calvary. 

This is the famous spice pyramid! OK, not necessarily famous, but it always seems to show up in featurettes of Jerusalem and the Old City.

(Tribute to Bendia! Lydia + Beno forever.)

The Old City really is so delightful, and so packed with so many trinkets, foods, and so many people of different countries and creeds.


So just FYI, everything I'll mention here really deserves a blog post of its own. I'm scratching the surface here. The history and coming about of the BYU Jerusalem Center is fascinating and rife with what I call miracles. Unfortunately, I really can't recount it. But Elder Holland of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done a lot of work to bring it about and commemorate its history, so I encourage you to research that.

Underneath the Center, under the stones carved individually by skilled hands, we were given the opportunity to sign our names on the foundation pillars. Apparently this was mostly so that we wouldn't sneak down there on our own to leave our legends on the walls. But it was special to me all the same to leave something physical of mine there with the Center.


Nearly each Monday was a field trip day. This time, we were taken to the Augusta Victoria Tower, Seven Arches (a hotel) viewpoint, Nabi Samwil, Tayelet, and Mar Elias (a viewpoint overlooking Bethlehem).

Augusta Victoria is a church/hospital on the very tip-top of the Mount of Olives. Its tower soars 140 feet high, providing a vantage point for seeing the whole Jerusalem valley to the west of the Mount, Judean wilderness to the east, and occasionally all the way to the Mediterranean Sea when the sky is clear.

An arch near the ambulatory/choir ish area, with the Chi Rho and Alpha and Omega symbols. Notice the lovely striped stone work! 

I thought it was Byzantine, but I can't find anything to back me up on that.

Next, the Seven Arches viewpoint was just that; so without further ado:

Next we visited Tayelet, Mar Elias or the Bethlehem overlook, and finally Nabi Samwil.

Such a horrid picture of me in my adventure hat, with so many more to come...
Bethlehem is behind me here.

 A couple of sites near and around Nabi Samwil-- a name which means "the prophet Samuel", named so because Byzantine pilgrims mistakenly took this site to be the birthplace of the prophet Samuel. It began as a monastery, then was rebuilt/ repurposed as a Crusader Church, and was turned into a mosque. I'm not sure if it still functions as a mosque, but we saw Jewish men and women entering it to worship.

To finish off this very long post, my second week in Jerusalem ended with the Jewish "holiday" of Yom Kippur. The word "holiday" suggests that it has a feeling of festivity, which Yom Kippur does not have, thus the quotations. Instead, it's considered the holiest day of the year and centers around atonement and repentance. 

My Hebrew language teacher (a Jew herself) told us that everybody goes around to everyone they know-- family, friends, etc.-- and asks forgiveness for wrongs they've done. It's quite serious and sounds like the "holiday" is full of tender feelings and resolutions to do better in the next year. In that way, it's not unlike our New Year's resolution tradition, except that Yom Kippur deals with commitments that are taken relatively more serious than losing 5 lbs. or getting around to planting a garden.

You can learn more from Wikipedia about Yom Kippur. 
(Sorry for using Wiki so much, but it has the best "Cliff Notes" versions of these things. Also, when it's concerning facts like these, there isn't much that can be too wrong.)

These are some good thoughts to marinate in as we come to the Easter season.
Have a Happy Easter or whatever you may celebrate, and I hope you try to fix something that could use some work in your life!