Unencumbered by the stroller on our second weekend in Jerusalem, we parked on the west side of the Old city, and enjoyed a lovely morning walk through Old Jerusalem. We entered through Jaffa Gate, with its Israeli flags waving and David’s Citadel standing watch over this part of the city. I had a dilemma- whether to not take pictures and just soak in the experience of walking in a living museum, or snapping pictures every second capture for posterity everything we saw. I opted to do a little of both this time. We decided to not walk on the ramparts and walls of Jerusalem because some reviews said that it may be unsafe- both from a crime perspective and a child safety perspective- for families. We had a fine time walking through the city on the ground.
The Dung gate is just south of the Temple Mount. Once we reached that part of the city, it was hard to miss. With the golden dome and blue tile of Dome of the Rock, minarets and other mosques, the Temple Mount is large and imposing. I can only imagine what it looked like when Solomon’s temple or Herod’s temple were still standing. Even today with several smaller structures on the mount, it is a prominent feature in Old Jerusalem!
From our awesome City of David tour, we headed back into the Old City and stopped by the Western Wall, or “wailing wall”. This site is one of the most holy sites for those of the Jewish faith. Basically a Herodian-era retaining wall, it represents the only remains of the holy temple, after it was destroyed in the Roman invasion in 70 A.D. A plaque near the wall explained why this wall is so important: They believe that the “foundation stone” is where Adam was created, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob worshiped God. It is where the Ark of the Covenant was placed, and where Solomon built the first temple. This specific wall was built in 20 B.C. as part of a western expansion of the Temple Mount. During the Ottoman period, the Jews started to come to the wall to mourn the loss of their temple. To this day, the wall is a holy place and pilgrimage destination for Jews from all over the world.
Security is tight around the Western Wall plaza for obvious reasons. The plaza was constructed after the Six Day’s War, when the Israeli forces captured and annexed the Temple Mount for Israel. The wall used to be in a narrow alleyway, but over the years following the war, a neighborhood was leveled to make room for the plaza, allowing thousands of worshipers into the area at a time. Before entering the plaza, men and women are screened separately, keeping with Orthodox Jewish beliefs. Austin was wearing sleeping Owen in the baby carrier on his back. The security guard asked him to put his backpack in the scanner. Austin was so confused, he said, “You mean my baby?!” We all had a laugh about that one!
Men and women have separate prayer areas at the wall. Landon and I went in the women’s area, which seemed to be much more crowded. Many women were stuffing their papers with prayers written on them into any crack they could find, and then touching the wall and praying there. Older ladies brought up stools and chairs so they could stay at the wall longer. The lower stones on the wall are the Herodian era stones, which were carved so precisely that there is no mortar in between them!
Austin went over to the men’s side. Landon and I missed it, but there was a washing station by both the women’s and men’s entrances. Men and women are supposed to wear head coverings at the wall, but I did not see this being actively enforced. Modest dress is also required/encouraged. Shoulders covered, clothing to the knee.
Visitors to the Western Wall can also explore the nearby tunnels to check out more of the original foundation stones. There are organized tours and self-guided tour tickets. With two small boys, we try to pare down our itinerary to a few items per day, and the City of David tour won over the Western Wall tunnel tour. On our way back to our car, we stopped and ate schwarma and a giant plate of hummus and pita bread. My boys love Israeli food! These lions were in the same small courtyard as our open-air lunch restaurant.
On our way back to the car, we walked through the Jewish quarter of the city, and checked out the Cardo- Jerusalem’s main drag 1500 years ago. It’s amazing that it is so intact with the flat roadways and pillars! By this point, Owen had spent hours in the baby carrier and just wanted to walk. Vehicular traffic in the Old City is very limited- many of the roads are too narrow for cars anyhow. So, we let Owen walk for awhile. It was slow going, but he loved the freedom to explore on his own.
Walking around Old Jerusalem and visiting the Western Wall were highlights of our time in Jerusalem. I’m sure for my Jewish friends, a visit to this site is much more religiously meaningful, but I enjoy learning about other faiths and watching people practice their religion with devotion. If we had more time and less kids, I think we would have checked out the Western Wall tunnels and nearby Davidson archaeological museum, but I think our time in Jerusalem was just right for us. Soon, we were back in the car and on to the Dead Sea!