Temple Mount, the legendary platform built to support the Second Temple, now where Dome of the Rock mosque stands, has very restricted opening time for non-Muslims everyday except Fridays and Saturdays. Arrive early in the morning, we accessed the ground via the elevated walkway next to Western Wall Plaza. It was such a stark view shift. A moment ago we were watching Jewish people, some of them now wearing a Tallit (Jewish prayer shawl) praying in front of the Western Wall, the next second we have the imposing domed mosque arise from the horizon.
The Dome of the Rock is extravagantly decorated with beautiful tiles. We had just seen Taj Mahal couple of months before, but still amazed by the workmanship and fine detail. The ground atop the Temple Mount is massive. Even with the constant flow of tourist group it didn’t feel crowded. From the platform of the Dome of the Rock there is a fine view of the nearby Mount Olive.
As non-Muslims are not allowed inside either the Dome of the Rock or Al Aqsa Mosque (the black Dome), our Temple Mount visit took only an hour. We walked towards the back of the Temple Mount which seems to double as a local school backyard where a lot of children were playing. This lively scene was a strong contrast to the serenity of the area around the Dome of the Rock.
We left Temple Mount through the Muslim quarter walking towards Lion’s gate. From there to Mount Olive is an interesting half hour walk passing all the hustle and bustle of the Muslim quarter. Walking on the narrow cobbled streets lined with shops, it felt like entering an Arabic Souk. All the stands were piled up with fresh products and souvenirs, accompanied by smiling shopkeepers eager to get every visitor’s attention. Though they were more polite and restrained compared to the souks in Marrakech.
Mount Olive is home for various biblical events in both Old and New Testament for which beautiful monuments were built and worshipped for centuries. We started the journey at the Tomb of the Virgin: a richly decorated, dimly lit underground cave where the Virgin Mary believed to be buried. The nearby splendid Church of All Nations, although pretty young compared to the centuries old monuments on the Mount, is also well worth a visit to see its richly decorated interiors. It sits next to Gethsemane where Jesus is said to have wait in prayer after the Last Supper.
Leaving Gethsemane garden outside the Church of All Nations, we walked uphill on a narrow path, where most people in groups walked downhill. It would make more sense taking a bus to the top of the hill and walking down, especially in hot weather. There are several Jewish cemeteries on the way. They are extremely tidy, without any flowers or icons. It was first time for me to see Jewish cemeteries and I was quite touched by its simplicity. We also stopped by Dominus Flevit Church to see the famous framed view of Jerusalem from the Church Sanctuary.
Because the tomb of the Prophets and Chapel of the Ascension charge an entrance fee, we skipped these and headed straight to the beautiful Russian Othodox Church St. Mary Magdalene and Paster Noster Church atop Mount Olive. The beautiful gardens provided a peaceful and rewarding resting point, as well as a fine view over Jerusalem’s Old City.There are buses outside Paster Noster Church took us straight back to Damascus gate.
Yad Vashem Museum
The last stop of our busy day was Yad Vashem museum, Israel’s official museum dedicated to the Holocaust victims. From Damascus gate, the museum is easily connected via Jerusalem’s (only) metro Line 1. Having already visited Jewish Museums in Berlin and Moscow, I was very impressed by the depth of Yad Vashem’s exhibition. It shows a lot more background and historical details accompanied by artifacts, videos, photographs, and speeches. The preserved speeches were perhaps the most moving ranging from the hatefully disturbing to viscerally terrifying (a mayor explaining how he had to send the elderly and preadolescents off to die so the able bodied could remain).
The museum also has stunning modern architecture. The exhibition halls are arranged along a long corridor in a zigzag route. The corridor widens to an open-air platform at the end of the route, a relieving and reflection space for visitors who had just gone through a heavy journey.