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"
BUT AS FOR ME, I AM LIKE
A GREEN OLIVE TREE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD
"
                                                                            PSALM 52

Gila's Tips for Tours

A Leisurely Walk to the Garden of Gethsemane

If you have a free morning to explore Jerusalem, try this walking tour starting at the Olive Tree Hotel, north of the Old City.  It takes you through both the bustling hustling city marketplace and quiet holy areas for moments of reflection.
 
Recommended gear:
• Comfortable walking shoes
• Hat
• Bottle of water
• “Modest” attire for men and women (shoulders & knees covered)
• Sense of humor
• Sense of adventure
 
Time frame: Walked briskly, this walk could be completed in 45 minutes.  But allow a couple of hours to explore and savor the sites along the way.
 
A good starting point is the Olive Tree Hotel, located on 23 St. George Street, adjacent to Route 1, in the American Colony neighborhood north of the Old City.
 
Kitty corner, diagonally across the street and to the right, with one’s back to the entrance of The Olive Tree Hotel, is Nablus Road.  In the springtime, use the tall purple-flowered jacaranda tree next to the tower of the St George Cathedral as a landmark for Nablus Road.  On Nablus Road, go left and then take an immediate right.
 

St. George Cathedral

Entrance to the Tomb of the Kings

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

St. George Cathedral

Entrance to the Tomb of the Kings

 
This will bring you to Saladin Street.  On your right, you’ll see an orange sign saying “Tomb of the Kings.” It will be pointing to a black grilled gate with a sign “Tombeau des Rois.”  (It’s French property.)  The gates will be locked. But not to worry. There’s a small turquoise door to the left, which is often open during the morning hours.  Walk right in, smile or wave, and turn right. Walk parallel to the black gate on your right.

Soon you’ll find yourself descending a two-thousand-year-old rock-cut staircase, past open cisterns, to enter a huge courtyard.  When you turn left, you’ll see a magnificent frieze decorating the tomb complex containing the first century AD tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene (today Kurdistan).  According to the historian Josephus Flavius, the bones of Queen Helena, a convert to Judaism, were sent for burial in Jerusalem.  Don’t miss the original rolling stone still “in situ” (in place). It once blocked the entrance to the complex of burial chambers, typical of first century AD tombs.
 
Exit the same way you entered.  Return to Nablus Road and turn left.  You’ll pass the entrance to St. George Cathedral on your left and then the Palestinian Pottery shop/residence, also on your left.  Across the street you will see the US Consulate.  DON’T LOSE YOUR PASSPORT!!!  The American Consulate used to be right here.  But unfortunately they moved to a more distant neighborhood.

On the side of the former American Consulate, to your right, you face a large memorial plaque in memory of Israeli soldiers who fell during the Six Day War.  Even further to the right, in an enclosed area, on the ground level, are large stones which are part of the “Third Wall” which fortified Jerusalem in the first century AD.  The building of the Third Wall was initiated by Herod Agrippas, grandson of Herod the Great, and completed on the eve of the Judean revolt against the Romans in 66 AD.  The Third Wall defending Jerusalem from the north, did not, however, prevent the Romans from conquering the city.
 

American consulate in East Jerusalem

Garden Tomb Entrance

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Former American Consulate

Look for this sign

 
Continue along Nablus Road with a stone wall on your left.  When you come to a sign pointing left to a narrow lane (Conrad Schick Street), turn in: this is the entrance to the Garden Tomb.  The Garden Tomb, discovered in 1867, is possibly the place where Jesus was buried, in the tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea.  (See John 19:41)  You will also view Gordon’s Calvary, identified in 1884 by Charles “Chinese” Gordon as the “place of the skull,” Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified.

If you are part of an organized tour, your itinerary will include a visit to the Garden Tomb with a tour and group fellowship.  If you come on your own to the Garden Tomb, you’ll find the uplifting atmosphere conducive to individual prayer and reflection.  Plan to spend a few quiet moments with your Bible and journal.  (Ask the concierge at your hotel to check opening hours for you.)

Now, as you exit the Garden Tomb, you’ll leave churches, stones, and tombs behind, at least temporarily.  Turn left and in a few minutes you come to a teeming area of activity outside the Damascus Gate.  First you’ll be bombarded with fresh fruit of all colors – strawberries, apples, loquats, oranges, peaches, bananas, plums, papayas, and humungous red-violet grapes (with each bunch a foot and a half in length) -- whatever is in season.  Fruit and vegetables are sold by weight, measured on old-fashioned scales.  It’s said they are more trustworthy!
 
Treat yourself to a “bagele,” a soft oblong-shaped roll nearly a foot long, and coated with sesame seeds.  Don’t forget to ask for zaatar, a native spice from the oregano family, which comes rolled in a page of newspaper.  Break off bite-size pieces of the bagele and rub them in the zaatar spice. 

On Fridays and Saturdays, the outdoor market days, the entrance to Damascus Gate will be extremely crowded, as locals stop to bargain for everyday commodities like shoes, children’s clothes, ladies’ underwear and even plastic flowers!
 

Damascus Gate

"Bagele"

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Market day at Damascus Gate

Be sure to buy a "bagele"

 
As you approach the gate, look down to your left, and you’ll see the 2,000-year-old Roman Gate and tower, possibly in place during the time of Jesus.  Note the flat-bellied “dressed” stone decorated with indented margins, trademark of Herod the Great’s skilled stone masons.  This was part of a triple-arched entrance to the second century AD Jerusalem renamed Aelia Capitolina by the Roman emperor Hadrian.  The Roman Cardo (Latin for Main Street) started here.  You can stroll along its later extension in the Jewish Quarter on another day.

The Old Roman Gate was discovered by a British archeologist named Hamilton in 1937 and excavated in the 1980s by Israeli archeologist Menachem Magen.  When Jerusalem is once again flooded with tourists, the gate will be reopened.  In the meantime, unfortunately, it is used as a garbage bin by the vendors.

The Damascus Gate, called Sha’ar Shechem in Hebrew and Bab el-Amud in Arabic, is the main entrance to the Old City from the north.  On Fridays and Saturdays, when it’s elbow to elbow, if you aren’t careful, your wallet may go home in someone else’s pocket.  It happens, even to the natives, on market days!

About fifty yards inside the gate, you’ll come to a fork in the road.  The street on the right leads (after a few twists and turns) to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Take the left fork.  We pass through a covered market area and once we come out to the sunlight again, we will take the second left.  You’ll see Armenian-decorated wall tiles labeled Via Dolorosa, where we turn.
 

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We are now at the Third Station of the Cross, where Jesus fell for the first time. Before you turn left, go forward just a few paces until you are standing on huge 2,000-year-old flagstones.  They were found two decades ago when modern pipes were being laid eight feet beneath the street.  Archeologists dated the flagstones to the first century AD from the coins and pottery shards lying on them.  It was then decided to re-lay the stones at street level, so today’s pilgrims could literally walk in the footsteps of pilgrims of Jesus’ day.

Back up a few paces and turn left onto the Via Dolorosa.
 

Via Dolorosa sign

Ecce Homo Arch

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Look for this sign

Ecce Homo Arch

 
Some of the shops on your right specialize in icons, a number of which are imported from the former Soviet Union.  If you are an “icon-noisseur,” you may find a rare item to add to your collection.  If you are a novice, enjoy the Turkish coffee as you browse the selection.  Buyers beware!  The true bargain (in hundreds of percent profit) is usually made by the merchant.

Continuing on, the next point of interest is the “traditionalEcce Homo Arch over the street.  It remembers Pontius Pilate saying, “Here is the Man” to the waiting multitudes. (John 19:5)  (When you face the Ecce Homo Arch, the Temple Mount is down the alley on your right, but the entrance for non-Muslims is by the Dung Gate)
 

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Under the arch, on your left, is the Sisters of Sion church.  (Sundays, the church is closed to the public.)  Inside the church, for a small fee, take advantage of the opportunity to examine a segment of underground Jerusalem.  Descend to the cistern, originally a water reservoir connected to the Antonia fortress, built by Herod the Great.

Take a look at the “Lithostrotos” (the Pavement) with its intriguing, carved designs, believed to be “game-boards” for popular games played by Roman guards on duty.

Exiting the Sisters of Sion, turn left.  You’ll see a stone staircase with a grilled railing leading up to a boys’ elementary school called the Omariyyah.  The school is located on the site of the Antonia Fort, named by Herod after his friend and patron, Mark Antony.  When Pontius Pilate came to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, it’s believed that he stayed here.  On Good Friday, the Franciscans start their procession along the Stations of the Cross at the top of the staircase, inside the school, with an exceptional view of the entire Temple Mount.
 
On your left is the entrance to the Church of the Flagellation, Station One on the Via Dolorosa.  As you walk along the Stations of the Cross, don’t look for anything familiar from the “Passion of Christ.”  Mel Gibson didn’t film on location!

As you exit, again turn left.  Opposite the public WC (water closet), is a very friendly kiosk, the perfect place for fresh orange juice or ice cream.  Take a moment to relax and people-watch along the Via Dolorosa.  (Please note – the public WC is not the cleanest place in the Middle East.  Better to use the rest rooms at the Sisters of Sion or the St. Anne Church, coming up.)
 
Continuing straight down the hill, on your left, before leaving the walled city, is the Church of St. Anne and the remnants of the Pool of Bethesda.  The Crusader-built Church of St. Anne is intact and is graced with an extraordinary 11-second echo. Take a seat towards the front and sing your favorite hymn.  Don’t forget to pause at the end of each verse, to appreciate the echo. “Halleluya” and the Doxology are pilgrim favorites.

Next to the church are the remains of the original Pool of Bethesda where Jesus asked the man who was lame for 38 years, “Do you wish to be well?” (John 5)  Over the pool are ruins of churches built by the Byzantines in the fifth century and the Crusaders in the twelfth century.

When you’re ready to continue, we are going to exit, turn left and leave the Old City via St. Stephen’s Gate.  Tradition has it that Stephen was martyred in the Kidron Valley below us. Another popular name for the gate is “Lions Gate.”  As you exit, turn around and note two pairs of carved lions over the entrance. Whoops – someone got that wrong!  If you look carefully, you’ll see that the carved figures are not lions, but leopards. However, the name “Lions Gate” has stuck.
 

Lions Gate

Church of Mary Magdalene

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Lions Gate / St. Stephen's Gate

View of the Mary Magdalene Church

 
We continue walking straight towards the Kidron Valley.   We cross the street and continue down the hill.  A Greek Orthodox church dedicated to St. Stephen is on our right and the Church of the Assumption dedicated to Mary, further along on our left.  As we follow the main road we see the Mount of Olives and the gold onion domes of the Russian Orthodox church dedicated to Mary Magdalene.  The road winds to the right and we reach the Church of All Nations, built by 16 Christian nations at the close of World War I.  Over the triple arched portal is a magnificent mosaic façade representing Jesus as the hope of all humanity.  After admiring the façade and statues of the four evangelists, we retrace our steps to a narrow street leading up the Mount of Olives.  On our right is the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemane.

“Gethsemane” is derived from the Aramaic word for “oil press.”  It was here in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus was pressed so that he sweat blood. (Luke 22:44) He spent a night of prayer here, instructing his disciples to keep watch.  It was here that Jesus was arrested by the guards of the high priest.

As you enter the garden, you’ll see the eight oldest olive trees in Jerusalem, estimated to be as much as 2.000 years old.  We can’t know the exact age of the trees, for olive trees don’t grow in rings.  But we say, olive trees are like people, the older they get, instead of getting taller, they just get wider!  Note how the younger branches sprout right out of the roots.

All other olive trees in Jerusalem and its surroundings were apparently cut down by the Romans as they were besieging the city.  These, however, survived, or at least their roots did.

If you visit during the month of September or October, you’ll see the trees heavily laden with fruit, even at such an advanced age. Proper pruning results in a bountiful olive harvest.

Nearly 3,000 years ago, oil from the olive tree was used to anoint the kings of Judah. In Jewish tradition, the redeemer came to be called the “Anointed One,” Meshiach in Hebrew.  Its English derivative is “messiah.”
 

Church of All Nations

2,000-year-old olive trees

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Church of All Nations

2,000-year-old olive trees

 
Take advantage of two opportunities for private time at the Garden of Gethsemane. First, enter the Church of All Nations.  Perhaps you will observe a pilgrim mass in progress, or one of the regular Latin masses.  Then as you exit the garden, offer the gatekeeper a little “baksheesh” (a couple of shekels) to find the big black iron key that opens the private garden.  It’s part of the authentic Garden of Gethsemane, although its trees are younger.  You can usually find a private spot for prayer. For many pilgrims, private time at the Garden of Gethsemane is a highlight of their spiritual journey.
 
Resources for the walk:
 
Coming to Jerusalem soon?  Would you like to find the venues where you can quietly be transported back in your imagination to the time of Jesus?  To David?  To Abraham? 

Make every minute matter while you "Explore Jerusalem's Soul" with Gila's ultimate guide.  This up-to-date PDF (Adobe Acrobat) 46-page guide gives you the Top Ten places to meditate on the Bible, the Top Ten lesser-known churches worth visiting, the Top Ten most rewarding roof-top views and the Top Ten places for sampling Middle Eastern soul food. 

Pick and choose among 40 sites according to your temperament, time frame, impulse and imagination.  More on Gila's Jerusalem Guide...


GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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