A Day in Jerusalem

Located in the Judean mountains, Jerusalem is a place that is sacred to humanity. I recently had the opportunity to visit there. I am not religious and this is not an essay on religion or Jesus but a description of the many interesting historic things to photograph. I only had a day. This is a a photo essay about that experience.

Old Jerusalem

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and also its largest city. The Old City is a small, 1 sq km, part surrounded by a limestone wall built by the Turkish ruler Suleiman the Magnificent. The Old City is divided into four quarters: The Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim Quarters.

It is in this Old City that we find sites of religious significance. The Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher for Christians and The Dome of The Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims.

Old Jerusalem

Old Jerusalem

Zion Gate

The city wall has seven gates: The Damascus Gate, Herod’s Gate, Lions Gate, Golden Gate, the Dung Gate (so called because the inhabitants used to through their garbage out here), the Jaffa Gate and the Zion Gate.

We entered through the Zion Gate which gives access to the Jewish Quarter.

The gates are not really gates in the modern sense, but a bastion-style structure in the wall, with an opening. Today, cars as well as people enter the old city through these gates, which were designed for horse and carriage so you can imagine the tight fit.

zion-gate

The Zion Gate

Once inside the Old City, a wonderful photographic world presents itself. Unfortunately, wielding a tripod is awkward and not really advisable. Partially because it is busy with lots of people walking around in very narrow streets, but mainly because of security. You have to pass through a security check not unlike the one found at airports. Having been advised of this, I had left my tripod in the car and relied on my image stabilized lens to get sharp pictures. I had actually brought two lenses: the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS and the SIGMA 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC.

The Canon 24-105mm was my main “walk-about” lens, which I used for most of the shots. Its reach pretty much covered most of my needs, although the 1.6 crop factor of the Canon 30D didn’t always give me enough of a wide angle view, hence the choice of the SIGMA.

Nothing can really prepare you for the impact this historic place has on you. It is by the far the oldest place I had ever visited. Its history can be traced back as far as the 4th millennium BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. One of the first places you come across after entering the city (Zion Gate) is The Cardo. The old Roman North-to-South main street, which acted as the “hinge” or axis of the original old city. It is so old that most of it now lies well beneath the city, with layers and layers of new buildings built over the millenia. The excavated part of the Cardo today, lies about 10 feet below the city.

The Cardo

The Cardo

The Cardo

The Temple Mount

At the center of the Temple Mount stands the Dome of the Omar Mosque, the oldest Islamic building in the world. The rock beneath the dome was the first praying direction for Muslims before Mecca. This rock is where, according to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven where he received the Islamic prayers before returning to Earth.

dome-of-omar-mosque

dome-of-omar-mosque

The Wailing Wall

Also on the Temple Mount lies The Western Wall, which is the main symbol of Jewish faith and the object of Jewish pilgrimage. The Wall is a remnant of Herod’s Temple Mount. The wall acquired the name “Wailing Wall” because during the exile of the Jewish people from the city, they could return once a year to mourn the destruction of the Temple. Today, there are always someone praying at the wall, which has a section for men and a section for women.

the-wailing-wall

the-wailing-wall

Mount of Olives

Seen from the Temple Mount, but lying outside the city wall, is the Mount of Olives, a site of many important Biblical events.

Mount of Olives

Mount of Olives

Via Dolorosa

The Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows, or Way of Suffering) is the route that Jesus walked on the way to his Crucifixion. The route is marked with 14 stations, the last five are within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The route leads from the Antonia Fortress to Golgotha, now the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Parts of the route lead through a lively bazaar, filled with people, noise and color. While extremely lively and quaint, I was a sad when warned to keep my wallet safe and to avoid merchants who did not display membership of the Israeli Tourist Association. A pity that such a historically significant place is full of pickpockets and vendors of questionable repute.

Via Dolorosa

Via Dolorosa

The 7th Station on the Via Dolorosa marks the spot that Jesus fell for the second time.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the most sacred site to Christianity in Jerusalem. It is built on a hill which was once a place of execution, called Golgotha.

The site was leveled by the Emperor Hadrian who built a new, pagan, city over the ruins of Jerusalem. He completely destroyed the site in retaliation for a major Jewish revolt.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

This is also the time in history that he changed the name of the country from Judea/Israel to Palestine.

Fortunately, Hadrian did not level the rocks into which the tombs were dug, instead he had the areas leveled by placing earth over the top of them.

In 331 A.D excavations revealed the tomb of Jesus and His cross. A church was built which was later rebuilt by the Crusaders in 1149. Today, the Church holds the tomb of Christ, the anointing stone and the Stabat Mater and is a most important place of pilgrimage for people from all over the world.

The Church is divided into five different sections, one each for different religious communities:

– Roman Catholic
– Greek Orthodox
– Armenian
– Copts
– Syrian Orthodox.

Once inside, I so wished I had a tripod. The church is magnificent with many colorful decorations, mosaics, altars and artifacts to photograph. Alas, I had to make do with hand-held shots.

Thankfully, the Canon 30D has superb high-ISO capabilities, rendering images with relatively low levels of noise. Important here is to shoot slightly “to the right”. Shooting in Raw and dialing in a + 1/2 or +1 exposure compensation provides an image with good signal to noise ratio. In post processing, the highlights can be recovered (thanks to Raw format) quite well with satisfying results.

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Jesus

Tomb of Crist

Tomb of Crist

The tomb of Christ, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The ceilings are a delight. Intricate decorations, beautiful paintings and mosaics decorate just about every surface of the church.

Roof in the Roman Catholic Section

Roof in the Roman Catholic Section

The ceiling of the Roman Catholic section, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Stabat Mater is a small altar marking the location of the Crucifixion. It is also the 11th Station of the cross. It is a richly decorated area with many people considering this an important place in their pilgrimage.

Mount Zion

Leaving the Old City of Jerusalem though the Zion Gate, we made a final visit to Mount Zion, the Church of the Dormition and the Coenaculum or Room of the Last Supper.

Once again wishing I had a tripod, the high ISO setting of the camera ended up doing the trick.

Room of the Last Supper

Room of the Last Supper

Courtyard of the Church of the Dormition

Courtyard of the Church of the Dormition

Conclusion

The significance of walking around this historic place is hard to put into words. No matter what your religious conviction, the Old City of Jerusalem is bound to leave you with a sense of wonder fulfillment. The history and religious significance had a deep impact on me, even though I am not religious.
Being there and having the opportunity to shoot some photographs were deeply rewarding and I can highly recommend a visit to this beautiful place.

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