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Israel, the Holy Land

israel08 067The Holy Land remains a cachet entry on many a bucket list.You would be hard pressed to find any other place quite like Jerusalem.

Imbued with the history and reverence of three world religions, Jerusalem is a spiritual cradle of truly biblical proportions. No other city can boast such multi-denominational significance to Judaism, Christianity and Islam respectively.

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For the first-time visitor, the sheer volume, age and range of the  historic treasures is not just a head-rush, but potentially unwieldy.  It’s the life and times of Christ that capture prime interest, and I recommend you concentrate your sightseeing on that. Irrespective of your religious beliefs, the devout and the agnostic alike will be engrossed and inspired by the sights.Whether you hire a guide or self-discover the city, here are the essential landmarks to explore.

israel2 033The Via Dolorosa is the ultimate of walking tours, retracing the path that Jesus is believed to have taken, along with his cross, to his crucifixion at Calvary. The Via Dolorosa, which means Way of the Sorrows, begins in the Muslim quarter of the Old City, a multi-sensory riot of market life. The Stations of the Cross are marked out along the route, culminating in the site of his death and entombment.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre  is the holiest Christian site in Jerusalem, and pilgrims pour into the church to experience the site of Christ’s last hours. Built on top of Golgotha in 326AD, the church is governed by various Christian denominations including Catholic, Orthodox, Armenian Christians.

A Greek Orthdox chapel has its altar directly placed over the rocky outcrop on which Christ was nailed to the cross. You can bend down and touch the rock on which the cross was hammered into, directly below the altar. An exposed piece of Golgotha rock can be seen inside the church, shielded by protective glass.  The crack in the rock is believed to have been caused by the violent earthquake which erupted immediately following Christ’s death.

Christ's tomb

In the first century AD, Calvary was a rocky rise and disused stone quarry on the fringe of the Old City. Burial tombs were commonly cut into the rock, including the tomb where Christ was apparently laid to rest.

East of the Old City, The Mount of Olives delivers picture-perfect vistas. Hugely popular is the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. Venerating the site of where Christ prayed to God the night before he was arrested, the garden features the last surviving olive trees from 2000 years ago.

A short drive from Jerusalem takes you to Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem, where you can explore the gorgeous Church of the Nativity, Manger Square, and shop for an exquisite nativity scene, made in olive tree wood.

manger square

Nativity shop

The Temple Mount

The Temple Mount is an utterly beguiling and complex historic site.

Traditionally the site of Solomon’s Temple, it later housed the Second Temple before being destroyed by the Romans.

King Solomon was the son of David and his temple was built at the dawn of Judaism in 1000BC. Prior to its destruction, the temple housed the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the tablets of the ten commandments. It also marks the site where the great patriarch, Abraham, was asked to sacrifice Isaac.

In the ultimate clash of religions, the rise of Islam saw the Arabs sweep into Jerusalem in 630AD and seize the Temple Mount.

The Dome of the Rock was built a few years later, immediately on top of the old Jewish temple site.  It was one of the first and finest achievements in Islamic architecture. Intended to proclaim the superiority of Islam, the majestic gold-domed building remains a letterhead of Jerusalem.

For Muslims, the Temple Mount is a deeply sacred site, because it was from here that they believe Muhammad left the Earth on his Night Journey. Judaism’s most sacred site is the Western Wall. The towering stone-slabbed wall is the only surviving piece of the Second Temple.

After the Arabs seized control of Jerusalem, Jews were banned from accessing the Temple Mount, and this wall was the only part of the ruins they were allowed to approach. Hence, why it is commonly called the Wailing Wall.

Non-Jews are allowed to approach the wall, although decorum is expected at all times.

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