Tour 1 - Jerusalem
Jaffa Gate - Tombs of the architects - Mosque of Omar - Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Via Dolorosa - Dames de Sion - Pool of Bethesda - Tomb of the Virgin - Gethsemane - Mt of Olives - Pater Noster - Bethphage - Hill of Offence - Dominus Flevit - Tomb of Absolom - Hezekiah's Tunnel - Pool of Siloam - Tomb of David - Jebusite shaft - Ophel excavations - Huldah gate - Peter Gallicantu - Dormition - Tomb of David - Mount Zion
For this tour you should plan to start at the Jaffa Gate no later than 8.00 am. The gate consists of a battlemented entrance facing north, parallel to the city wall not the large gap in the wall through the road runs and which most visitors think is the Jaffa Gate.
The breach in the wall was made in 1898 when Kaiser Wilhelm visited Jerusalem and announced his intention of riding into the city on his white horse. According to an ancient tradition Jerusalem would be conquered by a man who rode through its gates on a white horse, so the Kaiser's announcement caused a good deal of consternation among the inhabitants of the city. Efforts were made to get him to change his plans but the Kaiser rejected any alterations. (See his biography for an assessment of his stubborn character.) In the end the difficulty was avoided by demolishing a 15 foot gap so that the Kaiser could ride in, but not through a gate. In typical Middle Eastern fashion, no one has ever got around to rebuilding the wall and so the gap remains.
Extensive roadworks outside the gate have dramatically altered the appearance of the area and are, in my opinion, to be regretted. In the course of these roadworks a unique Byzantine church was uncovered with frescoed walls. It was bulldozed by the Israelis in order to provide a car park - one cannot help but contrast this bit of vandalism with the care accorded to every synagogue and mikveh uncovered. We do not begrudge the Israelis their pride in their own heritage, but we would appreciate a bit of respect for ours.
A few yards into the city notice on the left, behind railings and rather over-grown by shrubbery and coke tins, two tombs with turban head-stones. These are the graves of the architects who built the present walls of Jerusalem for Sultan Suleiman the Magnifcent between 1536 and 1540. According to legend they were beheaded for not including Mount Zion within the walls. Probably they were ordered to do so but embezzled the money.
Just past the tombs is a small tourist office. If you do not already have maps of Jerusalem and Israel you should stop in here and get some they are usually free. The people in this office are most friendly and helpful, though their assurance that you can travel anywhere in Israel without danger should be taken with a very large pinch of salt.
There is another tourist office opposite the Tower of David, run by the Franciscans. If you are there in summer this is a good place to visit as the management don't seem to mind if you relax in the air-conditioned comfort of their office and through the windows you can see long-haired back-packers and sweating matrons reviving in the coolness.
One of the shops in the row opposite the Jaffa Gate used to be owned by Moses Shapira, a converted Jew and antiques dealer who, in the 1800s, bought some scrolls from beduin which they claimed to have found down by the Dead Sea. No doubt he was a rogue who had previously forged some antiques the so-called Moabite sculptures but he was an alert and intelligent one. He staked his life's savings that the scrolls were genuine first century documents and for a time seemed likely to make his fortune from selling them to the British Museum.
Critics, who didn't believe that documents could survive 2,000 years and in any case didn't like their implications for the nice, new documentary hypothesis (whose fantasies are still treated as gospel by some), denounced him as a fraud and eventually, broke and discredited, he committed suicide in Rotterdam. The scrolls were thrown out as forgeries. Now, of course, we would give our back teeth for a glimpse of them.
Check opening times for the Tower of David, which tend to be a little idiosyncratic, and then continue down David Street and take the first turning on the left. Notice as you go up this street the Roman paving stones now brought up to modern ground level from ten or fifteen feet down. You will find similar stones in various placed in Jerusalem, dug up and re-sited by the Israeli authorities.
Take the third little lane on the right. At the end of the lane there is a small mosque, the Mosque of Omar. When the Arabs conquered Jerusalem in 638 AD their leader, Omar, was shown round the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Patriarch Sophronius. It so happened that the muezzin gave the call to prayer during the tour and the patriarch offered to let Omar pray in the church but he refused, saying that if he did so Muslims in later ages would undoubtedly confiscate the church as a Muslim holy place. Instead he prayed on this site and sure enough, in 1216, Sihab ed-Din built a mosque to commemorate the event. It is known as the Omariyeh Mosque and should be venerated by Christians as well as Muslims as a shrine to magnanimity and toleration. (Visitors are not permitted to enter the mosque, but you can see the interior of the mosque in a film on NWTV www.nwtv.co.uk)
Go down the stairs on the left to find yourself in the small square in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You may need to come back at midday to find the facade in sunlight. For many years the front of the church was held up by scaffolding as the different denominations that own it squabbled over who should do the necessary repairs and to whose design. The Israelis forced the Christians to agree and start work and the place is looking better already.
Enter the church through the low door. Immediately in front of you on the floor is the rectangular Stone of Unction, where the body of Christ was anointed prior to burial. Behind it a large mural depicts the crucifixion and the anointing. Notice the skull at the foot of the cross. According to legend, Jesus was crucified directly above the spot where Adam was buried and some of His blood dripped on Adam's skull, thus ensuring his salvation.
Go up the steep narrow stairs on the right of the entrance to the gloom of Calvary and its garishly ornamented altars. Pilgrims always put their hands in the socket for the cross, which is preserved underneath the left-hand altar. You can get away with using flash photography, but please be aware of worshippers and pilgrims, for whom this visit is the fulfilment of a lifetime's dreaming and keep any disturbance to an absolute minimum. Do not shove your camera in someone's face, no matter how picturesque they may look, and behave reverently at all times. (This applies to all places of worship, Christian, Muslim and Jewish.)
Return down the stairs you climbed and go under Calvary to the Chapel of Adam. Notice cracks in the rock, supposedly dating from the earthquake at the time of Jesus' death and carefully preserved behind glass. Medieval pilgrims were shown a skull in the largest fissure, which they were assured was the skull of Adam.
Godfrey of Bouillon, first Crusader king of Jerusalem, was buried here and his sword preserved as a precious relic until 1810, when jealous Greeks finally managed to "lose" both tomb and sword in the course of repairs to the structure. The feud between the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic (known as Latin) churches is one of the less attractive features of the Holy Land and does little to commend our faith to either Jew or Muslim.
Continue along the corridor past the Chapel of the Mocking and down the stairs at the end to the cistern in which St Helena found the True Cross. Notice the many small Crusader crosses carved on the wall on your left. St Helena was the mother of Constantine and some have claimed that she was British (Welsh). Legend states that three crosses were found in this cistern and the right one identified when it drove the devil out of a woman.
Return back up the stairs and continue round the ambulatory, noting the chapels of the Division of the Vestments and the Prison of Christ. Just past the so-called Prison you come to the rotunda, in the centre of which is the Tomb of Christ. From about nine o'clock onwards the queue stretches back to the Stone of Unction and beyond, but if you have not dawdled you should be able to get in alone and spend some reverent minutes absorbing the atmosphere of the place.
According to tradition, this chamber was once a normal Jewish tomb cut into a rocky outcrop. This was deliberately obscured by a temple to Venus, built by Hadrian after the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132 AD. St Helena demolished the temple and built the first church in front of the grave. A space for processions was cut all the way round the tomb, leaving the chamber intact in a cube of rock in the middle of the open space. Later the courtyard was roofed over to form the rotunda of today.
Unfortunately this was not the end of the story. In 1009 Caliph al-Hakim, the violently anti-Christian ruler of Egypt, ordered that all churches and shrines should be destroyed, and his men set to work with a will on the Holy Sepulchre. The cube of rock was demolished but its ruins served to preserve the outline of the sacred chamber to a height of a foot or more. This has since been built up to form the structure that you see today.
This is not the place to discuss the conicting claims of the Garden Tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In my opinion the balance of the evidence is in favour of the traditional tomb. On the other hand, Gordon's Calvary is more likely to be genuine and both it and the Garden Tomb are far more emotionally satisfying.
Photography is permitted both outside and inside the tomb, but do show respect for worshippers and don't take too long. (You will need a very wide angle lens, 28mm at least, for the interior). The first chamber is the Chapel of the Angel where the angels spoke to the women, the second is the actual tomb.
Round the back of the tomb is the Coptic chapel and behind that, through a doorway in the rear wall of the church, the place where both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were buried, stinking pits off a now disused chapel. These water-filled holes look like first century kokhim, so it is ironic to consider that, if Christ was buried anywhere within the church, these neglected cavities may be the genuine tomb!
Leave the church and in the courtyard turn left (east) through a small doorway and up narrow stairs to the Ethiopian chapel. (The courtyard door may be shut, in which case try knocking.) If at all possible leave these poor but devoted Christians a small donation. Go through the chapel and turn left when you leave it. Cross the roof garden and out through a doorway to a bare lane with a grand locked doorway on your left. There is a broken pillar here which marks the Ninth Station of the cross.
Go along the lane to the right, away from the broken pillar, through a doorway, and follow the lane down a ramp. Turn left at the bottom and up to the next junction where you turn left again. This brings you to the Eighth Station of the cross with a marker in the wall on the left consisting of a Latin cross and the Greek word "Nike" "Victory".
Retrace your steps to the cross-roads. When you go straight across you are in the Via Dolorosa. Keep your eyes open for plaques for the remaining Stations of the Cross. When you come to the T-junction with el-Wad Street turn left and then second right for the continuation of the Via Dolorosa. (More Roman paving stones here.) There are three Stations of the Cross at this junction, the third is at the entrance to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate.
On your left is a row of souvenir shops. One, slightly below ground level and called something like "4th Station T-shirts Shop", is run by the al-Rajabi family. Their prices are no more exorbitant than any others and the brothers, I have found, are more obliging than most. Ask for Ahmad; though last time I was there he was away in America studying.
Be ruthless in your bargaining. Never fear that you will somehow cheat an Arab trader. He may complain that you are ruining him and that his wife and children will starve; he may assure you with tears in his eyes that he is making a loss on the transaction but because you are the first/last/nicest customer of the day he will bear it, but when all is said and done he's the guy with the Mercedes while you make do with a Ford Escort.
The Via Dolorosa brings you eventually to the convent of the Dames de Sion, marked by the Ecce Homo arch across the road. This was a normal Roman triumphal arch, erected by Hadrian in the middle of a large paved forum on the east side of Aelia Capitolina. The main span of the arch crosses the Via Dolorosa while one of the smaller arches beside it forms the backdrop to the altar in the convent chapel and is revered by the good sisters as the very spot where Pilate said "Behold, the Man".
The entrance is the door on the left just after the arch. If the door is shut, don't be afraid to ring the doorbell or knock. Pay your money inside the room and go round, making sure to visit the chapel (left after the ticket office) and the excavations (straight on after the ticket office). At one time the stone pavement was thought to be "Gabbatha", the courtyard of the Antonia fortress from the time of Pilate, and the sisters made a good thing out of the tourists who flocked to see something genuine. Unfortunately more recent excavations have proven that the pavement is a century later than the time of Christ Hadrian's forum, probably and the sisters have quietly handed management over to a commercial concern which is much less friendly and quaint. The first time I visited after the handover the management still told the original story but when I pressed them they reluctantly admitted the truth.
This commercialisation of the Dames de Sion is a matter of lasting regret, though I applaud their honesty. The dames were lovely souls and to be conducted around the scenes of the trial of Christ (as was truly believed in those days) by a pale-faced nun, with sincerity, pity and love for God shining out of her eyes, was an experience that stood out amid the hundreds of bogus sites presided over by more mercenary organisations.
Note the Struthion Pool which supplied water to the temple, also the beautiful modern mosaic of Christ carrying His cross. The "games" scratched into the pavement have nothing whatsoever to do with the trial of Christ, despite the pious claims of some evangelicals.
Near the convent there is a Greek Orthodox monastery of 1906 with the inscription "Prison of Christ" over the doorway. The cells are in fact stalls for the horses of the cavalry stationed in the Antonia but it is conceivable that they may have been used for holding prisoners.
The next block on the left holds the Church of the Flagellation, opposite a ramp leading up to the Omariyeh Boys' School (which is the First Station of the Cross). This is part of the Franciscan Bible School which includes a small archaeological museum and a model of the city.
A little further along the Via Dolorosa, also on the left (north), is the Pool of Bethesda and Church of St Anne. The Pool is genuine but it is difficult to make sense of the tangled ruins or to photograph the puddle of water. The pool down to which you can climb is probably part of a temple of healing built during the Hasmonaean period but most popular in the time of Aelia Capitolina. The pool which Jesus visited is beneath the ruins of the Byzantine church built about 438 AD by the Empress Eudocia.
The Church of St Anne is the most beautiful and best preserved Crusader church in the Holy Land. It is supposed to be built over the home of Anna and Joachim, Mary's parents and the crypt marks the birthplace of the virgin, so you might as well visit it and enjoy the tremendous echo. Saladin turned the church into a Muslim theological seminary, hence the Arabic inscription above the main door. It was given back into Christian hands in 1856 after the Crimean war.
Continue along the Via Dolorosa and out St Stephen's Gate. (The Jews call it the Lion Gate, after the two lions carved on the outside, while the Arabic name is Bab Sittna Miriam Lady Mary's Gate because the supposed home of Mary is down in the valley.) Walk down the hill, turn right onto the main road, cross the bridge over the Kidron and down into the Greek Gethsemane on the left, a sort of rock grotto where Jesus prayed. Also visit the church and descend the long flight of stairs to the Orthodox home of the Virgin.
Go across the road to the Catholic Gethsemane. This has altered tremendously over the years. When I first came here in 1958 you could wander freely among the trees. Even in 1967, when we led a party of Indian clergymen around the Holy Land, each one insisted on being photographed kneeling ostentatiously beneath a gnarled tree. Later still, gravel paths were laid; now you are not allowed among the trees at all. There is no question of these being the actual trees beneath which Christ prayed, as the Romans cut down all trees during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Photography is now allowed in the Church of All Nations after many years of prohibition, which was a reaction to the idiot tourist with a Kodak Instamatic who rushes into a church, "Hello Dallas!" hat on head, cigar in mouth, half-naked wife close behind, and fires off his flash in the face of the worshippers while exhorting them to "smile for the birdie".
Photography should be conducted in a way that will not intrude upon the piety of others or disturb the solemnity of these holy places. I used to use a range-finder camera with a near-silent leaf shutter and loaded with fast film, now of course I have a digital camera, but the technique is the same. I lean up against a wall or pillar, set the shutter to whatever slow speed is needed ("B" if necessary; digital cameras will set it automatically) and make do with the results. Under no circumstances should you try to use a flash where people are praying or services are in progress. With a digital camera you may be able to set the sensitivity (analogous to the film speed) to enable flash-less photography.
Inside the church, which is rather dark, you will find the very rock on which Christ prayed, surrounded by an ornamental railing like a crown of thorns. Although you and I might view a site such as this with healthy scepticism, others regard it as a most sacred place and we should be sensitive to their feelings. The same applies to all "holy places", Christian, Jewish and Muslim. We would expect others to respect our church buildings and we should extend the same courtesy to them.
Outside the entrance to the garden turn right, take the left-most of the three lanes and walk up to a garden on the right from where you can photograph Jerusalem and also the olive groves in the Kidron Valley. The original Gethsemane was probably like one of these. The three tracks are very ancient they can be seen in early photographs and engravings of the Mt of Olives made before there were churches on the hill and it is quite possible that they date back to the time of Christ. Jesus may well have ridden down the right-most path during His triumphal entry.
Climb to the top of the hill where a road runs along the ridge. If you go left you will end up at Mt Scopus, an Israeli enclave cut off from Israel proper before the Six-day War. The Institute of Archaeology at the university has a constantly changing exhibition of objects found in Jerusalem, as well as a permanent display of objects from Qumran. It is open 8.00-5.00 Sunday to Thursday and admission is free.
Turn right towards the summit of the Mount of Olives and after about a quarter of a mile the road bends sharply right and then left. The Mosque of the Ascension is on the left just before the dog-leg. This is the summit of the Mount of Olives, which is 818m above sea level, some 70m higher than the temple mount. The building is Crusader but was turned into a mosque by Saladin. In a remarkable display of tolerance, Christians are allowed to meet in the courtyard to celebrate Ascension Day, staying overnight in tents. Hooks in the wall support an awning to shelter the pilgrims. Inside the octagonal building you will be shown Christ's parting footprint, indelibly impressed in the rock.
The six storey belfry, which is the most conspicuous feature of the Mt of Olives, belongs to the Russian Church of the Ascension and is not open to visitors, though if you can get permission to climb it the views to the east are said to be magnificent.
A little further on, just after the lane runs off on the left, you will find the Church of the Pater Noster with the Lord's Prayer inscribed on the walls in 44 different languages including, I think, Welsh. This church is also believed to be the spot from which Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world.
Note: the sites mentioned in the next two paragraphs are now - I understand - cut off by the Israeli "security wall", the enormous barrier they use to imprison the Palestinian population. It is no longer possible to visit these places on foot and probably not possible by any practical means for private individuals, though I believe that tour groups can get through by arrangement.
Go down the lane on the left, away from Jerusalem, along a ridge leading towards Bethany. After about a quarter of a mile, on the left, you will find the church where Jesus mounted the donkey for the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The mounting block is preserved inside, along with distinctive monochrome murals. This is the starting point for the annual Palm Sunday procession. Not many visitors make it this far you have to ring the bell for quite a while before the caretaker appears and a donation to these less frequented churches would be a good idea.
Beyond, also on the left and on the far side of the corner where the road turns right towards Bethany, is a Greek monastery. Ring the bell and be prepared to wait for an answer. There is nothing very significant here apart from the view (including the Herodion to the south) and inside the church dramatic modern murals depicting beasts from Revelation breathing fire and rockets while death on a pale horse is accompanied by a squadron of jet planes. Another donation, please.
Return to the road running along the crest of the Mount of Olives and continue to the big hotel and car park at the end, which by now will be crowded with tourists and camels. If you must have a camel ride this is as good a spot as any, but be prepared to pay heavily for the privilege. Early morning or late afternoon are the best times for bargaining. This is the traditional site for photographs of Jerusalem, with the city spread out below you and the Dome of the Rock in the foreground. Beware of the pickpockets who crowd this spot; they will have the watch off your wrist and the wallet out of your money belt before you know what is happening. Despite our warnings, several tour group members have lost cameras or wallets here. This part of the mountain is known as the Hill of Offence because of the tradition that this was where Solomon's wives built the shrines to their idols and sacrificed their sons to Moloch.
Return northwards, walking on the Jerusalem side of the road and you will notice a flight of steps on the left descending towards the city. Go down these. At the bottom of the steps on the left is the Tomb of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, an interesting example of Jewish tombs. It is in private hands and there is an admission charge. Apparently the owners of the land used the site for storage until the tourist boom, when they dug it out thoroughly and christened it with the names of some less well known prophets who were not already endowed with tombs. Look out for strips of paper inscribed with prayers, stuffed into cracks in the rock by pious and gullible Jews.
Continue down the narrow lane to the church of Dominus Flevit on the right, which marks the spot where Jesus wept (flevit) over Jerusalem. As you walk in notice the ossuaries in the garden on your right. The present church was built in 1953 but there was a Crusader church on the site. Photograph the church inside and out.
Particularly effective for dissolve projection is a matched pair (you will need a tripod) of the interior of the church looking towards Jerusalem, one with flash to light the interior and the other without, both set to give correct exposure for the view of the city.
The technique is to take a reading outside the church say 60/f5.6. Next calculate the correct aperture for the flash photograph inside the church, say f2.8. (The shutter speed is irrelevant as the flash is so short that it can be ignored.) As, by the law of reciprocity, 250/f2.8 is the equivalent of 60/f5.6, set your camera to 250/f2.8 and fire away. The trouble is that your big SLR camera probably will not allow flash at a faster speed than 60 (or 125 if you are lucky), so you may have to use your little camera with a leaf shutter, which will synchronise at any speed. Alternatively use a long time exposure for one picture, which is correct for the interior but will wash out the city, followed by a second picture with the correct exposure for the city, in which the interior will be too dark. With digital cameras you can accomplish much the same effect by careful use of Photoshop.
Go back down to Gethsemane. If this is a Tuesday or a Thursday morning and you are lucky, the Russian church of St Mary Magdalene, with its golden onion domes above Gethsemane, will be open. There is nothing to see even the wall paintings aren't much but be sure to give a donation as the Russian sisters are very poor.
Back at the main road turn left. This was at one time the main road from Jerusalem to Jericho there is even a half mile of tatty dual carriageway but there is now a modern by-pass. Photograph the facade of the Church of All Nations, noting the rather curious choice of antlered deer (symbol of Diana the huntress?) to flank the cross, and continue along the road to a blocked off track on the right. During the period 1948-1967 this was the main road from the Old City to Bethlehem, both of which were in Jordan, but since the unification of Jerusalem you can now follow the more direct route from the Jaffa Gate and down into the Valley of Hinnom.
WARNING. This road leads to Silwan, which is not a friendly place. That is why the Israelis have blocked it off. I have never had any real trouble - apart from kids throwing stones - but others have. Walk quickly and positively, smile at everyone you meet but ignore or brush off attempts to get you into conversation and, if at all possible, take a big friend. Under no circumstances should women venture along here without one or more male companions.
The reasons for the nastiness of the inhabitants of Silwan are a microcosm of the problems that beset the whole Middle East: all the parties involved, including the Christians, are convinced that God is on their side. This means that everyone else is wrong, morally as well as legally, and justifies all manner of oppression and cruelty. Less greed and more tolerance would go a long way towards allowing everyone to live in peace.
On the left as you go down the track is the tomb of Absolom, a big block of stone surmounted by a curious, up-side-down funnel. The building has nothing to do with Absolom and in fact dates from early in the 1st century AD. There is a hole in the facade and if you are sufficiently curious it is possible to climb up to the room at the top of the monolith by clambering up a crack on the southern side. The floor is thick with dust and stones, probably thrown in by passing kids, and to one side three small steps lead up into the roof space, which is blocked by fallen stonework. Centuries ago this was the abode of a hermit and, having clambered up here, you will appreciate that he must have been an agile hermit!
The rooms behind the monolith, known as the Cave of Jehoshaphat, contain nothing of interest so if they are locked don't grieve. If they are open you will need your torch to investigate the interiors.
The next monument down the valley is the tomb of the Ben-Hezir family of priests, which dates from the 1st century BC. It was identified by an inscription on the lintel above the pillars. Next to it is the so-called Tomb of Zechariah, which is probably part of the Ben-Hezir complex. Once again the interiors of these monuments may be locked but there is nothing of interest. Photograph and move on quickly.
If there are several men in your group and you have the time, you might like to look for two other tombs. The first, which is about 100m north-east of the entrance to Hezekiah's Tunnel, is the "Tomb of Pharaoh's Daughter", which quite respectable authorities have thought was an Egyptian temple erected by Pharaoh's daughter after her marriage to Solomon. It is more likely to be a tomb as the Egyptians did not usually excavate temples, (Abu Simbel is the obvious exception), but no one can be absolutely sure and the tradition makes a good yarn.
Approximately 60m south is the tomb of "... yahu who is over the house" which forms the basement to an Arab house. An inscription, now in the British Museum, declares "This is the tomb of ... yahu who is over the house. There is neither gold nor silver here, only his bones and those of his slave-girl. Cursed be the man who opens this." The occupant has been identified as Shebna or Shebanyahu, Hezekiah's steward, whose ostentatious tomb was condemned by the prophet Isaiah (see Isaiah 22:15-16).
Continue on down the Kidron Valley. Above you on the right is an area of bare rock, marked by a ring of stone, the foundations of a second century BC round tower, which may be the tower in Siloam that Jesus mentioned. It used to be possible to clamber up above this bare area until the Israelis built an army post there to keep an eye on the restless inhabitants of Silwan. It is probably better now to go a little further down the valley and then up a narrow lane on the right to this army post and talk your way in. On the left of the post courtyard are two long, round, broken tunnels that end in dead ends. They look rather like the entrances to a small underground railway. These are probably the genuine tombs of David and Solomon, ruined by later quarrying (the alleged "Tomb of David" on Mt Zion is a total fraud). Unfortunately they were used as toilets by the locals (and now probably by the army) and stink horribly. Return to the Kidron Valley.
Continue down the valley towards Silwan. On your right, below the side wall of a mosque, is the entrance to the Virgin's Fountain and Hezekiah's Tunnel. The key used to be held by a local Arab and there was no charge for admission, though a small gift was always appreciated. Now the area has been taken over by the Antiquities Department and there is a charge and all sorts of inconvenient restrictions.
The steps lead down to the Virgin's Fountain, otherwise known as the Spring Gihon, but it is no longer possible to enter Hezekiah's Tunnel from here. Instead you have to climb up the hill and enter an area of excavations where you purchase a ticket. To do so you must walk across a large area of metal-mesh flooring. Behind you as you stand at the ticket office window there are stairs leading down under the flooring to where recent excavations uncovered what is claimed to be the palace of King David. (The claim is disputed by many archaeologists.)
From here you leave the excavated area and walk down a flight of steps to another excavated area where you can see the millo or retaining wall that supported a terrace on which houses were built. One of those houses, dating back to the time of the Babylonian capture of the city, can be seen. It is easy to see how a couple of men with crowbars could destroy the city by levering out the foundation stones in a terrace near the top of the hill. The ruins of the first house would cause the lower terraces to collapse all the way down to the bottom of the slope. Continue past these excavations and out through a gate onto a path. You might think that this is the end of the tour, but turn left and continue on down the hill and eventually you come to another entrance on the right where you show your ticket and are admitted to the Jebusite tunnel.
This was the route by which the Jebusite women accessed water without leaving the safety of the city. Go down the tunnel, being thankful that you don't have to walk back up again with a clay pot of water on your head and a glimmering candle your only light! At the bottom notice two holes in the floor. The first leads down to the water of the Gihon Spring, the one to the right is a dead end, abandoned when the Jebusites hit a patch of extremely hard rock. When this tunnel was first excavated you did indeed have to climb back up again, but now a hole has been dug at the bottom that will take you out into another area of unidentified ruins and so down to Hezekiah's Tunnel.
The tunnel is half a mile long, very narrow and for about half its length very low, so that you have to walk at a crouch. It should not be attempted by anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. At one time it was advisable to wear shoes as the stones on the bottom were painful, but since the Israelis have taken it over they have paved the floor (though you will still encounter the occasional stone, so tread carefully). Plunge in; your trousers and shoes will dry very rapidly in the heat at the other end unless you are unfortunate, like one friend who took my advice literally and plunged in, missed his footing and ended up sitting neck deep in the icy water. At the other end he found that the weather had changed abruptly. The sun was hidden behind clouds, the temperature dropped and it rained for the next two days. How he cursed me as he trudged around Jerusalem in soggy shoes!
The level of water in the tunnel varies; I have usually found it no deeper than my shins but once it reached to above my knees and the unfortunate friend reported it well above his waist. Indeed, the tunnel is sometimes closed when the water reaches the ceiling. The Arabs suspected the Jews of damming the outlet in order to interfere with their income and they may well be right.
The first low bit of the tunnel leads to a sharp left-hand bend, with a hole in the blocking wall opposite you. Scramble through this hole to find yourself in the original Jebusite tunnel at the end of which is the shaft up which Joab climbed to capture the city for David. The sides of the shaft are rough, so probably there are no great difficulties in climbing up it, but the problem is the first twelve feet to reach the hole in the roof. Unlike me when I tried it, Joab undoubtedly had a couple of hefty soldiers to give him a leg up. Were you to climb up, you would find yourself at the bottom of the Jebusite Tunnel you have just visited.
Scramble back and continue through Hezekiah's Tunnel, noticing the dead-ends on left and right where the diggers were unsure of direction. Also notice the different angles of the pick-marks in the walls, proving that the tunnel was dug from both ends as the Siloam Inscription claims. When Edward Robinson, the American scholar, first crawled through here in 1838 the tunnel was choked with stones and silt and he had to wriggle along on his back with a candle in his mouth, never knowing when the spring might suddenly run full force and drown him.
Just as you come in sight of the exit look carefully on the left about elbow height for a rectangular hole from which the famous inscription was hacked out and stolen by an antiques dealer. (A replica of the inscription has recently been placed near the hole.) The inscription was discovered in June, 1880, by two boys playing in the pool of Siloam, one of whom happened to be a pupil of Conrad Schick, a German architect, and therefore aware of the importance of such scratchings in the rock.
Archibald Sayce was the first to decipher the ancient Hebrew characters, sitting in the cold water for several hours while holding a candle above his head. In 1882 another German, Hermann Guthe used dilute hydrochloric acid to remove limescale from the inscription. He also published a photograph, so as you prepare to take your picture, think of old Guthe struggling with his heavy tripod, black cloth and glass plates.
In 1890 the inscription vanished, only to be rediscovered some months later in the home of a rascally Greek who claimed to have bought the broken pieces from some Arabs for 35 napoleons. My guess is he paid them to hack the thing out. The original was sent to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in the Topkapi Palace, but went missing for a number of years until Dr Siegfried Horn visited there and searched for it, eventually recognising it in the storeroom. "We've wondered what that was for ages," the staff told him. "We nearly threw it out once or twice because no-one knew what it was." There is a reproduction in the British Museum, if you can't get to Turkey to photograph it.
You will come out in the Pool of Siloam. Notice the continuation of the tunnel at the far end of the pool. The famous tunnel is, in fact, only one of several which distributed water to the gardens in the Kidron Valley. Photograph the pool, go up the steps and down towards the left. This will bring you back to the valley bottom. Notice how the end of the hill (Ophel) has been cut away to make an escarpment and improve the defences.
Turn left to where on-going excavations have revealed a larger pool with stepped sides. Coins and pottery prove that this is the Pool of Siloam of the time of Jesus: the pool at the end of Hezekiah's Tunnel is now thought to be Byzantine. A white minaret nearby is supposed to be the Tower in Siloam which collapsed in Jesus' day. Also nearby is the fig tree which Jesus cursed. Both tower and tree seem to be doing remarkably well.
Climb back up the steps to a bitumen road. Turn right towards the main road outside the walls of Jerusalem, on which you turn left and enter the city via the Dung Gate. Turn right immediately inside the gate and visit the Temple Mount excavations (there is an entrance fee). With luck, the excellent computer reconstruction of the area should be working, so visit the museum first and enjoy the presentation. Note particularly the way in which Robinson's Arch descended into the valley.
First of all walk up beside the Haram walls and notice the huge stones that make the foundations of the temple platform. One of the cornerstones is 4 feet high, 6 feet wide and 36 feet long. Its weight has been calculated at 36 tons! I'm glad I didn't have the job of dragging it into position! In a couple of places pits have been dug beside the wall, revealing the depth of the stone foundations (this was, after all, the Tyropoean Valley).
At the far end is the remains of a Roman road thought to date from the time of Christ (the latest excavations cast doubt on that). If so, we can be sure that at some time or other Jesus would have walked along this road. I am proud to report that the Diggings team was one of the many groups who excavated here, discovering some arrow heads and ballista stones fired during the 70 AD siege of Jerusalem. We were working in a square about 30' to the north of Robinson's Arch.
Back the other way you come to Crusader houses and an Omayyid palace, then, on your left on the other side of the modern city wall, you find the steps leading up to the Triple Gate, whose blocked up outline you can see in the wall. Jesus and His disciples undoubtedly walked on these steps. As you complete the circle notice various mikvaoth or ritual baths and the huge cistern which served Akra, the citadel in the time of the Maccabees.
Although the place looks like a builder's yard, littered with stones and rubble, in the time of Christ this must have been one of the most sought after residential areas in the city; near the sacred precincts of the temple, high enough to benefit from whatever winds were blowing, and the private mikvaoth indicate a certain level of luxury and vanity. Probably we should picture this area as the homes of wealthy pharisees, who would have most to lose should Jesus' rule of love and equality ever come to pass.
Do not visit the Wailing Wall at this time. Go back out through the Dung Gate and turn right to follow the road up beside the walls. At the top of the hill turn left for the church of St Peter Gallicantu. (The more direct route following the road Malchei Zedek has been blocked. I'm not sure who was responsible.) There is now a small charge for entrance to the church and as the site is totally bogus I would advise you to skip it were it not for the beautiful mosaics in the sanctuary. Protestants may be interested to note a long Latin inscription on one wall that honours Mary with the title of "Redemtrix".
Stairs lead down from the foyer to the supposed prison of Christ. The attendant monks will assure you that this is the house of Caiaphas in which Jesus was tried. They try and support this allegation by pointing to crosses cut into the side of a circular hole by which, they claim, Jesus was lowered into the prison.
There are two things to note: in the first place there is no evidence that Jesus was ever imprisoned in the house of Caiaphas. Secondly there is evidence (the reports of pilgrims such as Bishop Arculf, Benjamin of Tudela or the Pilgrim of Bordeaux) which indicates that the Upper Room was originally identified with this site while the Coenaculum was regarded as Caiaphas' house. At some time the two have exchanged identities, presumably to suit the convenience (or safety) of the guardians of the holy places.
It is far more likely that the "prison" was a water cistern and the hole in the roof the means by which water was extracted. The crosses, which look to me like Crusader crosses, may mean nothing more than that the owners of the cistern were Christians and desired Divine blessing on their water supply.
Outside the church are various ruins and the remains of a stairway leading up from the Kidron Valley. There is nothing remarkable in this: the whole area is covered in ruins and the slope is sufficiently steep to make steps a necessity. When I was here in 1958 we were shown the very stone on which the cock stood when it crowed.
Outside St Peter Gallicantu turn left and follow the road round and up to the Zion Gate. Note the bullet marks pocking the gateway, sustained during the fighting in 1948. A little beyond the gateway there are marks of an explosion intended to demolish the walls, marked by a rather boastful little plaque. The area outside the gate is Mt Zion.
Opposite the gate is a lane. Half-way down it fork right for the Dormition Abbey. This is the Catholic site of the tomb of the Virgin, whose earthly remains repose beneath a suitable monument in the basement. As the Bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary is an article of faith for Catholics, I'm not entirely sure what is supposed to be buried here. Photography is forbidden, so stoutly refuse a donation.
Retrace your steps to the fork and this time go left. A sign points through a doorway on the left to a synagogue but in fact you go through a small courtyard, up some stairs and along a passage to the Upper Room or Coenaculum. The room is in Muslim hands, (hence the lectern and the mihrab or prayer niche in the side facing Mecca) and for long was forbidden to infidels and Jews. Needless to say, Jesus never saw this place.
Go downstairs, out through the courtyard and along the lane a little further to the Jewish tomb of David. You can usually find a couple of orthodox Jews praying in front of the Crusader cenotaph so be sensitive in your photography.
Outside the shrine is a Museum of the Holocaust, run by the Ministry of Religion, displaying blood-stained prayer shawls and bars of soap made of human fat. Men will be expected to wear a cardboard skull-cap to show reverence while ladies must wear long-sleeved dresses and also cover their heads. (These clothing requirements will apply in all Jewish holy places and, for ladies, in most Muslim ones as well.)
My father once asked a rabbi why Jewish men covered their heads to pray. The man nodded gravely and ran his fingers through his straggly beard.
"You know how God told Moses to take off his shoes when he was on holy ground?" the man asked.
"Yes," my father replied.
"Well, we Jews no longer take off our shoes, so we cover our heads instead."
A visit to Mt Zion before 1967 used to be quite a tense affair, for the Tomb of David was very much an Israeli outpost in no-man's land. You were always aware of the tension in the atmosphere, as no one could tell when a Jordanian sniper on the walls of the city might not take it into his head to decrease the number of visitors to the shrine by one. In fact, there were times when tourists were not allowed onto the Mount, though native Israelis always defiantly maintained a presence.
By the time you have done all this you will be ready to drop, so go back to the Zion Gate, turn left and follow along outside the walls back to the Jaffa Gate and thence to your hotel. As you go, notice the foundations of Crusader towers protruding from beneath the walls of Suleiman the Magnificent.
The Herodian wall south of the Jaffa Gate was 24 feet thick and even the Romans seem to have quailed at the thought of trying to batter through it. Instead they built a siege ramp, whose remains have been found sloping up to the wall, by which their siege engines were enabled to operate against the thinner, upper part of the wall.