It has been a long time since I went to visit places in Jerusalem with someone who has never been there before. Everyone in my family has been several or more times, as have most of my friends. Whether you love Jerusalem, revere it or feel uncomfortable there, it is certainly not a city that one forgets or ignores.
Penn State’s Tel Akko project visited Jerusalem last weekend. There were stops at the City of David, the Western Wall, the new Mamila Mall (more on that later) and the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. I’ve pretty much seen them all before, but many in our group had not. Most are not Jewish, but all visited the appropriate side of the wall – one side for men and one side for women – with proper dignity and respect. It is an awkward place. There are many women sitting and praying and always a line of women up at the wall itself making personal supplication or placing a small note between the stones. What becomes awkward is that no one ever turns around and walks away from the wall, one must back away. Lots of tourists and locals backing out of a small space can be chaotic.
The Wall is the remains of the outer retaining wall of the Second Temple built by Herod the Great. This is all that remains and of course, nothing remains of the First Temple, built by Solomon and destroyed by the Babylonians.
The City of David, however, is an interesting site. Done up in a sort of Disney park motif, it is perhaps the location of where David built his palace when he, if he, came to Jerusalem. Excavations in the area have gone on for a while, but there is great debate as to how old the ruins are and to whom they should be attributed. I’d like to think they were King David’s, but the archaeologist and scientist in me want some solid proof.
The strange thing about Jerusalem – besides the various religious groups and the many sects of these religious groups, Jewish, Christian and Moslem — is that wherever you walk, you appear to be walking uphill. There are either stairs, which one never returns down, or slopes one never sees the upside to. I realize that Jerusalem is not an M.C. Escher painting, but it acts that way sometimes. Climbing stairs with rails as hot as a stovetop and the golden sandstones, so indicative of the city, reflecting the glaring sun in your face. I do appreciate Jerusalem, but I must say, I don’t necessarily like it. Eventually, I left the group, before the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher (which I have seen many times) to walk through the shuk (outdoor street market) drinking Diet Coke and looking for a place for lunch.
Much more civilized.
But here’s the interesting bit about the Mamila Mall. A new mall was built by the Israelis to go over one of the valleys that surround the old city. It makes movement from one hill to the other much easier. But among the existing houses on the streets that were converted to the mall, was an historic house, the Stern House where Theodore Herzl, a late 19th early 20thcentury Zionist leader, stayed on his one visit to Israel. Rather than destroy the house, they numbered every single piece of stone, took the building down and then rebuilt after the base of the mall was built. It still has the numbers on it. Looks very weird.