Vail Daily column: Jerusalem: A city teeming with life
March 23, 2013
Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in a series of installments from photographer Dennis Jones, who is traveling in the eastern Mediterranean. Arriving in the bustling, megalopolis of Jerusalem, we make our way to the B&B I found through a new, to me, website, http://www.airbnb.com. It is mainly for those with a spare bedroom or small apartment to rent. A great resource for budget travelers like ourselves.The room is clean and comfortable and after getting settled, we head off to the Old Quarter and a true middle-eastern experience. Local bus transportation is easy. We get off near the Joffa Gate and must first traverse a modern, high-end shopping mall. Its open-air design, built from the buff-colored stone of the region, is striking. Upscale stores and restaurants line the wide passageway along with an exhibition of whimsical, modern, Israeli sculpture, which lends a delightful, comical air.Exiting the mall, the Joffa Gate and the massive stone walls of Jerusalem are before us. Tourists from around the world are everywhere, doing what tourists do.The tourist office, just inside the gate, provides a map of the maze of narrow alleys and covered bazaars, which proves essential. During the next few days, even I, with my keen sense of direction, got lost time and again.Entering the dark, narrow alley that serves as the main “street,” we find a long series of wide steps lined with shops descending into the semi-twilight. It’s a typical souk. Owners stand outside their shops, quickly size up your nationality and address you in your language: “Hello. Come in, let me show you …” “Hello, Where are you from?” Typical touts. Narrow alleys filled with more shops run off at right angles.Church of the Holy SepulcherMy goal is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Walking in, we find it quite dark. Inside the main entrance is large slab of marble, two rows of lamps hang above it. People come, kneel, pray and kiss the slab. Some people consider this, where Jesus’ body was laid out after crucifixion, to be the 13th station of the cross, This is the most unusual church I’ve been in. Its design appears haphazard. To the right of the slab, steep steps ascend into rocky areas above. Another station of the cross? Down a corridor, a broad set of stairs descends to a lamp-lit altar area. More stairs descend even farther to a small chapel overhung by enormous bedrock.On the main floor, an enclosed sanctuary sits beneath a beautiful mosaic dome of Jesus. Outside it, a line snakes around the focal shrine, the tomb in which Jesus was buried. People waiting in line sing, pray and finger rosaries, waiting for their chance to descend into the tomb.A cross section of humanityExiting the church we wander aimlessly, taking in the atmosphere of the Old City; tour groups block the narrow streets; shopkeepers and restauranteurs incessantly invite us in; old men sit engrossed in backgammon; nuns in unusual habits parade through the alleys; arab women in hijab and chador pass in groups; a blind man sells Kleenex; old women beg along the margins; a boy with a huge platter of bread balanced on his head works his way through the crowds; young boys play soccer between the legs of everyone; motorbikes roar quickly past, darting among the crowds; men sit smoking hookahs in subterranean shops beneath vaulted, stone ceilings 2,000 years old; souvlaki sellers carve their massive, turning stacks of grilling meat; antique stores display ancient antiquities for sale, pots, sculptured heads, Grecian urns, coins, icons, etc.; an old well with Arabic writing sits broken in a wall; well-armed Israeli soldiers of several races patrol with weapons slung over shoulders; a Philippino man carrying a five-foot-long cross is being photographed by his friends; pilgrims gather around each station of the cross to pray, sing or hold a brief service; orthodox priests with long beards in many styles of hats and robes purposefully walk to some unknown destination; Palestinian schoolgirls walking arm in arm, laugh and talk; groups of yeshiva boys, yarmulkes pinned to their heads, stand in animated conversation; bearded, orthodox Jews in long, black coats, side locks extending beneath their various styles of hats, walk past talking on cell phones; Jerusalem is a bustling cross-section of humanity and religions, filled with residents living and working in the blind alleys and winding, narrow streets of the old quarter. It is a city alive with cultures and teems with life and religiosity.Dennis Jones is a local professional photographer and writer. He and Yolanda Marshall are traveling in the eastern Mediterranean. To see more photos, visit his blog at: http://email@example.com.