Today was a rare “free day” for us with nothing scheduled. So, it was a great opportunity to go explore the confines of our new home in Jerusalem. I went out with a couple friends and we headed straight for the holiest place in the city, the Holy Sepulcher. I want to do an entire entry on this site in the future, so I’ll just sum up here by saying that this famous church houses the tomb of Jesus (it’s empty…I’m now a witness to the empty tomb!) as well as Calvary. In case you hadn’t guessed, yes, it is a large church.
After praying at the Holy Sepulcher for a while and attending mass in Portuguese we decided to see the rest of the city. I believe there are about 600,000 people living in Jerusalem and about 15,000 of those live inside the walls of what is known as the “Old City”. This is the area that is enclosed by the famous walls you always see in pictures. The size and shape of the Old City of Jerusalem has changed many times over the years. Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times that I think even the archeologists have lost count. The present walls were built by Suleyman the Magnificent from 1536-1541.That seems old, but consider that King David build the first walls around 1000 BC. If something isn’t at least a millennium old here then it’s considered new. One of the nice things about these walls is that you can actually get up on the top and walk all around the city. We decided to do this to get an overview of the city. You can’t quite go all the way around because the area near the Temple Mount is closed, but we still walked about 2.5 miles.
Most of the walk was actually kind of boring because you really can’t see much of the city. However, the highlight was the walk along the eastern wall. From here you are looking out across the Kidron Valley (remember the Bible says Jesus “went out across the Kidron Valley…well there it was…it’s real). I got my first look at the Mt. of Olives (also a real place) and the Garden of Gethsemane (real again…just like in the Bible). We had to end our tour of the walls at St. Stephen’s gate because that’s where the Temple Mount starts. From there we walked back through the Old City. Merely trying to get back home I ran into such places as the birthplace of Mary and the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross). I can tell that I will have plenty to do here over the next 5 weeks.