Today was an incredibly full day. We began by getting up before daybreak so as to walk the Via Dolorosa or Stations of the Cross before the streets got busy. Since nothing of the city from the time of Jesus remains, this is not the exact route that Jesus would have traveled. But, it may be pretty close. It was a very unique experience to be able to walk the streets of Jerusalem as Jesus did on the day he died. The last 5 stations are all inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and of course it all ends at the tomb. The Franciscans here are accustomed to add a 15th station commemorating the resurrection and it’s hard to be at the tomb and not think about the resurrection. Whenever I pray the Stations of the Cross in the future, I’m sure I will remember the many times I have walked the Via Dolorosa here in Jerusalem.
After breakfast, I planned to go back to the Temple Mount and take some more time for prayer. As I arrived at the Damascus Gate I noticed that there were police and soldiers everywhere and this was very unusual. I asked if the Old City was closed and they said no and I could go in. As I walked down toward the Western Wall there were police and soldiers at every cross street creating lots of little checkpoints. I knew something was going on. When I got to the Temple Mount I was told that it was closed today (even though it was scheduled to be open. I was very frustrated as I knew this was my only day to be able to go back on the Temple Mount. I finally asked one of the police what was going on and he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “We hope, nothing.” That didn’t really make me feel any better. I decided that since I couldn’t get on the Temple Mount I would tour the excavations along the walls below the Temple Mount. The girl at the ticket counter finally explained that the reason for all the fuss was because they were starting work on a new ramp to enter the Temple Mount and today was when they were actually going to start the 8 month project. The Muslims were claiming it was an attack on the Mosque, which is actually nowhere near this ramp. At any rate, they were holding press conferences and expecting some trouble from the Muslims.
I ended up really enjoying my time looking at the excavations around the walls. I think my favorite part was seeing the huge stones from the Temple Mount that the Romans had knocked to the ground in AD 70. The archeologists left some of them lying in a pile right where they fell, cracking the 1st century street below. I also enjoyed seeing the remains of some of the original entrances to the Temple Mount. At the very southern edge there are also remains of what is believed to be the city wall from the time of Solomon. It was a very impressive area.
Because of all the soldiers and stuff I passed on the way through the Old City in the morning, I decided I would return to Notre Dame for lunch by walking around the outside of the Old City. This gave me a nice chance to see the Kidron Valley and the Mt. of Olives again too. As I walked by the King Herod gate on my way home I noticed that there were a bunch of Muslims praying outside the walls. It was the time for midday prayer, so I just walked by and didn’t think much of it even though I hadn’t witnessed so many before. When I got back to my room I checked out the online news to see if they had anything about this new ramp. As I read the article I was surprised to see that there was a paragraph describing how 13 Muslims were arrested outside the King Herod gate after midday prayer for throwing stones at the police and inciting a riot. It looks like I just missed all the commotion by about 5 minutes.
After lunch I went back to the southern area outside the Dung Gate to the ancient City of David that I have mentioned before. My plan was to walk through Hezekiah’s water tunnel. I had worn all the appropriate clothes to get wet. However, when I got there I was told that I was 10 minutes to late. I was rather upset since I didn’t know if I’d get to come back. I did however spend some good quality time seeing the ruins of David’s Jerusalem. They are just starting to excavate now what they believe was David’s royal palace. It’s amazing to think of these ruins being 3000 years old. King David lived right where I was standing. That is still just amazing to me.
To finish up my day, I had made a reservation to tour what is called the Western Wall Tunnel. If you remember the Western Wall Plaza (formerly the Wailing Wall) you will note that only a small part of it is visible. The Muslims built up the ground level to parallel the top of the Temple Mount, so most of the Western Wall is underground. The Western Wall Tunnel runs all along the length of the Western Wall underground. This was a fascinating tour. You get to see and touch all the original stones from the time of King Herod. One of the stones was 14 meters long, 4 meters wide, and probably would have been 4 meters tall before the Romans tried to chisel the top off. It weighs 600 tons! It is the largest stone I have ever seen. I still wonder how they ever got a stone so big in place. As a comparison, all the stones in the great pyramids in Egypt are less than 10 tons. One of my favorite things about this tunnel was getting to see the bottom of the wall where the Herodian stones are actually resting right on top of the bedrock. There was a road that ran all along the base of the wall and we got to stand at the very end of it. This is the same road that we stood on the other day that ran all the way down to the Pool of Siloam. This is just an amazing tour. When we got to the end of the tunnel they told us we couldn’t go out the door there because of the potential trouble in the city, so we had to go back the way we came. I didn’t mind seeing it again and then took a safer way home without running into any trouble. What a great day!