The door was dark and cramp, cut from stone slab in such a way that all who enter are forced to bow in respect. It was originally gargantuan Byzantine craftwork, opening near fifty feet high; then cut down by the crusaders so that only pilgrim on horseback can enter at a time; finally falling to five feet at the hands of the Ottoman. The door was veiling however as it immediately opened to a massive Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Barren rock floor supported marble columns stretching to elevated wooden ceilings. Oil lamps hung from the spaces in between the columns and down the meridian of the floor. The Church of the Nativity was shaped like a cross, placing the altar at the head and the cave of the manger directly beneath the body. The decoration was lavish and was more luxurious in past eras. Remnants of mosaics scattered the suspended walls, splashing crimson and gold across the bare, beige paint. The air became damp and dank as the open air of the above moistened from body heat below the floors. Ducking under rock down a narrow tunnel breathed into a small cave crawling with tourists. The star of Jesus’ birth placed beneath a low altar to one side and the manger opposite on a descended platform. Shoving and pushing are way through lead us back up to the airy halls.
Living quarters of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and other religious groups had different cultures and looks. Muslim community was located on narrow marketplace alleys while Christian community had much wider streets. Jewish community felt more like a college campus. Two college students were playing guitars in front of the central synagogue. There even was a bagel café called Holy Bagel.
The Via Dolorosa also known as The Stations of the Cross is the final journey of Jesus. It starts where Jesus is condemned to death and then his crucifixation. We also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is where Jesus was buried. For me personally it was an amazing experience because it’s significance to the Catholic faith and I was walking where Jesus took his final steps.
At noon, the group stopped at a small restaurant in the middle of the market in The Via Dolorosa for our first taste of Middle Eastern food. Filled with tourists from all over the world, the small restaurant set its chairs and tables casually out in the street with nothing but a box of napkins set on the tables. A middle-aged man started introducing two choices of sandwiches that we have: falafel and chicken shehwarna.
Jewish men and women revere the Western Wall as the site most sacred to their faith. At this remnant of the Herodian wall, one can directly communicate with Yahweh, often by inserting slips of paper onto which he or she has written prayers. The significance of the Herodian wall stems from how it encases the Temple Mount, an Abrahamic complex dating back to David’s conquest of Jerusalem. Once we tucked away our own wishes into the Western Wall, we followed the ritual of walking backwards to the entrance designated for our gender. The ambiance and spirituality of the region instilled us with hope.