part of the problem with me not being involved in any trip planning and pretty much just tagging along (which, believe you me, for a solo traveler like myself is a bit strange!) is that i find myself awestruck and often times perplexed by what i’m seeing. or maybe that’s not a bad thing at all, but part of the process of truly discovering a city.
in the case of Jerusalem, i’m having a hard time wrapping my head around several truths, perhaps thanks to only really hearing about one side of the story in Sunday School growing up. for me, it’s always been a biblical setting where isolated events happened — THE END. boy was i wrong. not only is it the largest city in Israel (and not in a time warp stuck millennia ago), but once you do step back into time visiting the walled old city, well, my mind was blown.
of course there’s also the famous and old parts:
i don’t know why, but i didn’t expect such a Middle Eastern souq-like atmosphere, but if you think about it, that’s what Old Jerusalem is. an old town in the Middle East.
the biggest shocker for me, though, was the heavy Islamic presence. (*GASP*)
i had no idea that the Temple Mount was so highly venerated in Islam and that in terms of external appearances it’s pretty much an Islamic site (stronghold?) in the heart of what in my head was a biblical city. after learning more about the history of the place (i cannot recommend the tour of the Western Wall tunnels enough) i have a deeper understanding (and as such, only barely scratching the surface) of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have a much better appreciation of the enormous significance of this city that is at the crossroads of civilizations and reasons why it’s been, and continues to be, so contested.
i should also say that as a very (very) lapsed Christian who is now atheist, there was something really awesome about visiting these historic sites, touching the rock Jesus was supposedly crucified on, and hearing people wail and cry at the holiest of places. even with a heart of stone when it comes to religion, there is undeniably something going on here that makes me ponder faith and humanity. i guess that’s the purpose of religious sites, though, so you’ve succeeded, Jerusalem. and you didn’t even have to try.