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  • Writer's pictureEryn

Revered and yet Divided - The Holy City of Jerusalem, Israel

The golden-topped Dome of the Rock in the midst of other sand-colored buildings beside a square of people in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel
The busy Western Wall and golden-topped Dome of the Rock, icons of the city of Jerusalem

As one of the oldest cities on Earth, Jerusalem is filled with a long and complex history. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its centuries of existence, and is still being fought over today. The city is claimed by both Israel and Palestine as the countries' capital and is disputed by the world's three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Despite these heavily debated conflicts, I believe the world can unite in agreeing that Jerusalem, being home to some of the holiest places on Earth, it truly is a city like no other.

Eryn walks up stone steps through a narrow alleyway with limestone walls under stone arches in Jerusalem's Old City
Exploring the narrow alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City
A stray cat standing under a bench against the limestone walls and stone pavement of Jerusalem's Old City
One of the 200,000 stray cats on the streets of Jerusalem
Eryn walks through the tunnels of Jerusalem's Old City Market where vendors selling items line each side of the limestone corridor
Wandering through Jerusalem's Old City Market where its ancient limestone walls are lined with vibrant vendors selling anything from religious items to spices and candies!

One of the ancient city's holy sites is the grand Temple Mount, the third holiest place for Muslims and the most significant holy site for Jews. For Muslims, the Temple Mount is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock, both debated to be the place from which the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended to heaven. To Jews, on the other hand, the compound is the site where King Solomon's Temples were built and destroyed as well as the place where, biblically, Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Due to its importance to both Islam and Judaism, the Temple Mount has often sparked conflicts between followers of the two religions. Despite this, it currently remains under Muslim management where non-Muslim prayer is forbidden.

The golden domed roof and ornate blue tiled walls of the Dome of the Rock behind trees, walls, and plants in Jerusalem
The ornate Dome of the Rock hidden behind its walls
The grey-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque behind the sand-colored walls of Jerusalem's Old City beside a road, greenery, and city buildings in the distance
The silver-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque at the borders of the Old City

A part of the Temple Mount we were able to see up close was the Western or Wailing Wall, the last remaining remnant of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. We watched as the warm sun illuminated its limestone bricks and as it towered over crowds of locals and tourists alike. It was somehow entrancing to watch people pray intently at its base, some sliding notes and wishes into its fissures and crevices. Being the holiest place at which Jews are allowed to pray, it is of immense significance to the Jewish people.

The sand-colored facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with its stone walls, arches, and windows under a bright blue sky in Jerusalem
The facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Green and white flags with crosses on them tied across the ancient structure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with its domed roof topped with a golden cross in the background
The Church's smaller dome which is occupied by the Greek Orthodox catholicon and holds the main altar

For Christians on the other hand, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most important sacred sites, for it is believed to enclose the place where Jesus was crucified, died, and was resurrected. Packed with worshippers paying pilgrimage to the church, its importance truly was not difficult to realize. As soon as I entered, the air suddenly cooled around me and my eyes began to adjust to the flickering candlelight and shadows. It was not far from the entrance where many believers can be found at the Stone of Unction or Anointing, the place where Jesus's body is believed to have been prepared for burial. Located beneath a colorful mosaic describing the events, worshippers knelt to touch the stone and pray.

Women with headscarves kneeling down to place their faces and hands on the Stone of Unction or Anointing in Jerusalem to pray
Worshippers praying before the Stone of Unction or Anointing
The interior of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre including a mosaic depicting the burial of Jesus, ornately decorated balconies, and the inside of its domed roof covered with mosaics and windows
A mosaic depicting the burial of Jesus beneath the decorated layers of the Church's interior
An ornate golden lamp hanging from an arch decorated with paintings with the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the background
If you look close enough, everything has a story to tell and this arch certainly appears to be describing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre's history!
Looking up at the stone tiled ceiling of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre above the underside of a balcony decorated with mosaic patterns and golden hanging lamps

Within the same church also lies the Tomb of Jesus beneath a great dome where a gaping hole at its top allows a streak of sunlight to peek through. This airy space is surrounded by a mysterious aura as pilgrims gather in the darkness, awaiting their chance to glimpse the interior of the tomb's shrine.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre's main dome ​above the Tomb of Jesus as light leaks in from the central oculus
The magnificent interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre above the Tomb of Jesus

The Rock of the Calvary is yet another sacred piece of Christianity that calls the Church of the Holy Sepulchre home and it is one of the most visited in the church. Being the place where Jesus's crucifixion is believed to have occurred, it is difficult to miss with its gleaming, gold ornaments. While believers unify in reverence of this holy site, it is yet divided into jurisdictions of the Latin or Roman Catholic, Copts, Ethiopian, Greek, American, and Syrian Orthodox groups of the faith.

The golden-decorated Rock of Calvary with its images of Jesus and hanging lanterns in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
The golden decorations by the Rock of Calvary
An ornate lamp hanging from the ceiling of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre decorated with colorful mosaic patterns of flowers, vines, and holy figures
Three ornately decorated golden lamps hanging in a row from the stone ceiling of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Where three of the world's major monotheistic religions intertwine, a diverse identity is forged for Jerusalem which we were lucky enough to witness as we visited some of its most important holy sites. Although conflicts are still very much existent in Jerusalem, it still unifies people worldwide to agree that it is unlike any other place on Earth. We may only wonder at what Jerusalem could be under circumstances of peace.

Eryn walks along a sand-colored path beside the tall sand-colored brick walls of Jerusalem's Old City Walls under a bright blue sky
Walking along Jerusalem's Old City walls

We visited Jerusalem in 2017 during our year-long trip around the world. Click on the link to read more!


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