Old Railway Station - Home is where the heart is

From his 14th-century deathbed, King Robert the Bruce of Scotland asked that his heart be buried in Jerusalem. A war hero who had secured Scottish independence from England against heavy odds, King Robert had vowed to visit the holy city but had been unable to undertake the pilgrimage. Perhaps he felt that this way at least his heart would make the journey.
After the king's death in 1329, his heart was placed in a jewel-studded case and entrusted to a messenger called The Black Douglas. With a group of other men, The Black Douglas began the long, arduous trip to the Holy Land. But Moors attacked the men in Spain and mortally wounded The Black Douglas. Although he flung the case desperately in the direction of the Holy Land, it was picked up by the enemy. (King Robert's heart was eventually returned to Scotland and buried in Melrose Abbey.)
On the sixth centennial of Robert's demise, in 1929, a plaque in his honor was inserted into the floor of Jerusalem's brand new St. Andrews Scottish Church and Guesthouse. No one knew it at the time, but the sanctuary honoring the courageous king was built just above an enormous necropolis - an ancient burial site that would yield an exciting archeological discovery exactly 50 years later.
Make the Scottish Church and excavations part of an outing that runs along Derech Hebron and Kikar David Remez. Try to make it on a weekday, so most of the sites are open. Your walk begins and ends at the bottom of King David Street and the corner of Kikar David Remez.
A large sign points toward the church. Ask at the guesthouse reception for someone to open the sanctuary.
Dedicated to St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, the complex was built as a memorial to hundreds of Scottish troops who died in the conquest of the Holy Land during World War I. The church is a study in simplicity and a tasteful blend of Eastern and Western styles.
Decorative stained glass windows in varying shades of blue dominate otherwise unadorned white stone walls. The clean lines of the unpretentious arched ceiling suggest purity, and there is a feeling of spaciousness to the nave. Each seat in the modest wooden pews is named after a Scottish regiment, town or district whose name is inscribed on the back.
Whether by chance or design, the soft limestone chosen for the church's exterior is amenable to moss. As a result, the dark lichen growing on its light walls makes it look far older than its years. Not far from the church's oriental dome a bell tower flies the blue and white Scottish flag.
After visiting the church, examine the striking wall outside the guesthouse entrance. It is covered with stunning tiles created by well-known Armenian artist David Ohanessian 80 years ago. Then enter the beautiful Scottish-style guesthouse completed in 1930. Although it was completely renovated last year, it retains its plush, relaxed European look and offers a fabulous, panoramic view of the Old City walls and Mount Zion.
To reach the excavations, descend the driveway and turn right to reach the Begin Heritage Center. Ask when you can join a tour, and while waiting, have a cup of tea or a bite to eat on the balcony across from the Old City walls.
The unusual tour of the Heritage Center follows a young Menachem Begin from his hometown in Poland to his years in the Jewish underground, as leader of the Israeli opposition, prime minister and finally to his withdrawal from public life.
Begin, a passionate Zionist, activist and charismatic head of state, was prime minister during a particularly crucial time in Israeli history. Through multimedia innovations, films and pictures, an entire era comes to life before your eyes.
After you finish the tour (or if you didn't take it) exit the center through the glass doors leading to Derech Hebron. Then turn right and climb the steps at the edge of the building. You have reached part of a vast system of Jewish burial caves from the First Temple Period that contains nearly 150 rock-hewn caves.
Look up to get an unusual view of the Scottish Church, then have fun exploring this necropolis. Note that each burial chamber includes slabs or benches, with a raised headrest or an indentation for the head. In accordance with Jewish tradition at the time, the deceased were placed on the benches for the 12-month period of mourning.
Afterward, the bones were removed to a repository located beneath the benches, where they joined the remains of family members who had died before them.
In 1979, archeologists discovered an almost undisturbed tomb. Inside, along with arrowheads, ivory objects and gold and silver earrings, there were two small silver scrolls that may have been worn as good luck charms around the neck. The scrolls contained the words of the priestly benediction in Numbers 6:24-26 almost word for word: 'The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you....'
Dating back to the seventh century BCE, these are the oldest biblical inscriptions discovered to date. The originals are lodged at the Israel Museum, but you can see a copy at your next stop: the House of Quality, further down the street.
TO CONTINUE your walk, return to the Begin Center, exit and turn right onto the sidewalk that lines Derech Hebron. As you descend the necropolis steps, look up and you will see a large, glittering ceramic pomegranate sitting on top of the House of Quality. It is the creation of artist Ruslan Sergeev, whose gallery is inside the building.
In 1882 the British Order of St. John erected an ophthalmic hospital on Derech Hebron. The first building was located on the other side of the street (today's Mount Zion Hotel), while the structure that is today's House of Quality and a second, adjacent to the hotel, were added in 1927. Hospital buildings were connected by an underground corridor.
Enter the House of Quality and gaze at the walls, which are covered with symbols of the noble families that contributed to the establishment of St. John's Hospital. Eagles represent nobles who intermarried with Prussians; the fleur-de-lis indicates marriage with the French Bourbons.
Look for a 'spider' on the wall. This is the symbol for Scotland's King Robert the Bruce. According to legend, Robert had failed six times in his attempt to free the Scots from the British yoke. Hiding in a cave, depressed and discouraged, he suddenly caught sight of a spider hanging by a long, silvery thread and trying to swing itself from one wooden beam to another above its head. On its seventh try it succeeded, giving Robert the courage to try again: This time, after an eight-year war, Robert defeated the British at the Battle of Bannockburn.
The little room off the furthest wall is covered with lovely ceramic tiles, also decorated by Ohanessian. If you examine the Maltese cross on the ceiling, the symbol of the Order of St. John, you will find that it has four v-shaped arms connected at the base. The resulting eight points represent eight different virtues, among them loyalty, glory and honor, respect for the church, piety and bravery. Next, hunt for the intertwined initials of the donor, Watson Hamilton, hidden among the tiles.
Today the former hospital hosts over two dozen studios and galleries whose artists work with materials ranging from ceramics and wood to enamel, glass and precious stones. The House of Quality is open seven days a week and much of the time you can watch the artists at work. However, even if a gallery or studio is closed, you can enjoy the beautiful and often amusing window displays.
Avi Biran, for example, created a special plate for armchair sport enthusiasts, with a place for pumpkin seeds and shells. His displays also include unusual variations on skullcaps, and receptacles for perfume (including a garbage cart!).
Aviva Haezrahi's 'marrano boxes' are fascinating, cunningly designed to hide hanukkiot and other Jewish paraphernalia; Oded Davidson's modern Judaica includes a seder plate whose 'arm' holds a tiny barbecue; Naomi Sarel's paintings and creations feature traditional headdresses and costume.
An artistic fence on the second story was designed by the late sculptor David Palombo, famous for the iron gates leading to the Knesset and Yad Vashem.
NOW CROSS the street to reach the Cable Car Museum, housed in another former hospital building. Israel conquered much of Mount Zion early in the war, but Jordan held the walled Old City and there was no safe way to get supplies and troops up the mountain or to evacuate the wounded. Even after the armistice in 1949, vehicles and people moving below the Old City walls were potential Jordanian targets.
A tunnel built between Mount Zion and Mishkenot Sha'ananim on the other side of the road was too narrow to handle much traffic and included many impractical bends. Finally, innovative engineer Uriel Hefetz came up with the idea for a cable car across the valley that was put into operation in December 1948. Although it was used for only a short time it was kept ready - along with the tunnel - for any emergency. So secret was the cable car that until it was revealed to the public in 1972 few people in the country knew of its existence.
This unique museum has three rooms and includes historic photographs and the original car (only the cable line itself has been restored). Walk through the gate, turn left, ascend the steps and look for the sandbags. If the gate is closed, enter through the Mount Zion Hotel.
After enjoying the museum, continue to the hotel. Heavily damaged during the War of Independence, when it served as an Israeli outpost, it is considered one of the city's most elegant hotels. Walk inside for a splendid view of Mount Zion from the lobby and coffee shop. Then cross the street to Squill Hill. In autumn, the hill is covered with flowering white squill, the first blooms to emerge at the end of the summer.
Continue to the corner and turn right to reach Kikar David Remez and the Old Railway Station. Covered with stunning murals and today host to book fairs, restaurants and various kinds of entertainment, back in 1892 this historic station served the very first train to run from Jerusalem to the coast. The trip took nearly four hours to complete.
Jerusalemite Yosef Navon, highly respected by the Turks, was granted the franchise for building this first railroad. But Navon ran into financial problems and sold the rights to the French company that actually carried out the job.
The railroad's inauguration on September 26, 1892 was a day of great celebration. According to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's newspaper Ha'or, there were 'masses of people on Emek Refaim... Jews, Arabs, Greeks, Europeans, Asians... carriages running back and forth... and the square, almost always desolate, humming with people, their faces joyful... voices crying, 'the steam engine is coming!' ... and it comes, the train to the city of David and Solomon... Everyone feels that the blowing horn of the steam machine is bringing a new day... Jerusalem is connected to the world!'
The station closed in the summer of 1998. Today trains run from the new station in Malha.