Our Trip to Israel, Part 2: Jerusalem beginnings

On the second day of our Israel trip in November, we had lavish breakfast served in our hotel in Jerusalem. There were variety of salads, fruits, cheese, exotic nuts, dates, raw fish of different kinds with lemon and of course eggs, cereals and meat for the Westerners.
This type of breakfast was served in each and every hotel where we stayed during out journey. All these fruits, vegetables and dairy products were products of Israel. They have done an excellent job in developing their agriculture. Israel exports agriculture technology to many countries. It is one of the largest exporters of dates. We would find later on during our trip that they also grow excellent grapes in the Galilee region and produce fine wines.
After the breakfast, our bus circled around the beautiful valley around Mount Zion and stopped at the Tomb of King David (Prophet Dawood). We passed through the Jaffa Gate. This used to be the starting point to the road to Jaffa.  Zion Gate connects the Armenian quarter with Mount Zion and is also called the “Jewish Quarter Gate” because of its proximity to the Jewish Quarter. The Old City of Jerusalem is divided among Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim Quarters.
There is a saying that: “There are ten measures of beauty in the Universe; nine belong to Jerusalem and one to the rest of the world.” Holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there is not another city that has been the cause of so many armed conflicts as Jerusalem. Jews the world over pray in the direction of Jerusalem, Christians connect Jerusalem with the last years in the life of Jesus. Here, he taught, was arrested, crucified and resurrected. Muslims associate Jerusalem with Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque.The rock from which the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to Seventh Heaven.
King David united different tribes of Judah and made Jerusalem his capital. The First Temple was built here by his son Solomon (Prophet Sulaiman) during the years 961-922 B.C. It was the cultural and spiritual home of the Jewish people. We saw the statue and the tomb of King David. My eyes caught an Arabic calligraphy, Bismillah, right near the tomb in a non-functional mosque. Ilan pointed out to the Calligraphy telling our American companions the meaning of Bismillah. There was a functioning Dawoodi mosque in this area as well. On the western side of the Old City the massive structure of the Citadel looms large and overpowering. It stands on the site where Herod, built his palace at the end of the first century B.C. Only a small part of the city walls remained intact after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
The tower of Phasael , just inside the Jaffa gate, stands as a Jerusalem landmark to this day. It offers a wonderful view of the old city, Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. We then walked around the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and finally reached the Christian Quarter. The Armenian quarter, being the smallest of all four quarters in terms of size and population, was also the most restricted. Armenians are Christians but keep their identity separate due to their ethnicity. Unlike most Christians in Israel, they are not Arabs.
We entered the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the holiest sites for Christians. This church terminates the famous street of Via Dolorosa. Dolorosa was the pathway where Jesus walked bearing the cross from the palace of Judgment to Calvary. The church houses what is said to be the tomb of the Jesus and also serves as the landmark where Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected.
While we were inside the courtyard of the Church, a thundering sound of A’zaan (Muslim’s call for prayers) disturbed Ilan’s commentary about the church. He quickly changed the subject and told us that adjacent to the church was Umar Bin Khattab’s mosque. He explained that when Umar, the second caliphate of Islam, conquered Jerusalem in April 637, his men tried  to enter the church but he stopped them and reminded them of Quranic order that Muslims must respect the places of  worship for all religions, and thus he built the mosque outside the church. Umar’s conquest solidified the Arab control over Palestine and they ruled over the area until the First Crusade in the late 11th century.
In the afternoon, we visited the Burnt House, a magnificent building, revealed during the excavations of the Upper City. The Upper City was razed by the Romans in 70 C.E. The name “Burnt House” is the testimony to the destruction and burning of Jerusalem by the Romans. These are the archeological museums that contain the remains of the homes of wealthy Jerusalemites from the time of Herod’s Second Temple. We saw beautiful mosaic floors, ritual baths, furniture, coins etc.
After the victory of Saladin in 1187, life for the Jews became easier. Synagogues and centers of learning were built – a thriving Jewish community was established only to be destroyed once again during the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem from 1948-1967.  
Tune in next week for the third out of five installments about our recent trip to Israel.