Friday, February 09, 2007

The Damascus Gate, Jerusalem


For those of us for whom history, archaeology, theology, philosophy, domestic and foreign politics and geo-political events are of great importance, it is important to read this story and understand the history behind it. Many believe that if a true world-wide war and some sort of Armageddon comes, the source will be a conflict over this small patch of land on a hill in a place whose very name, ironically means "City of Peace."

In the Spring of 1998 I looked up at the tall, gray, solid walls and arched entrance way of the "Damascus Gate" entrance to the Arab section of "Old City" Jerusalem. The existing wall was built in the 16th century (1535-1538) by the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Turks. The 4,018 meter long wall incorporates older parts from the Second Temple, Roman, Byzantine and Medieval periods.
Before King David's conquest of Jerusalem in the 10th century BC the city was known as Jebus and the home of the Jebusites. The Bible describes the city as heavily fortified with a strong city wall but not much is known about it.
Entering the gate you I walked down an incline that immediately became quite narrow. It is the Arab market and bazaar. Live chickens, spices, silks and hanging lambs surround you. A canopy overhead keeps the sun off. Laundry is strung across 2000 year old buildings to dry.

If you walk far enough you come to the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple. The holiest site in Judaism. To the left of the wall there is a stairwell. Walking up the stairwell brings you to "The Temple Mount" or as it is known to Muslims, the "Noble Sanctuary" the third holiest site in Islam.

Here sits the magnificent Dome of the Rock, built in the 7th century A.D., and the Al Aqsa Mosque.

The Temple was the center of Jewish holy life for more than 2,000 years, the rock in the Dome is where Mohamed ascended to heaven to hear the word of God. The mosque is where 16,000 worshippers listen to Friday services.

It is a small, but beautiful area. Gardens, ancient olive trees, the great dome, the great mosque, 3,000 years of Jewish history. You can feel the electricity enter your feet from the ground and work its way up your body and into that primeval part of your brain.
Walking the Temple Mount was one of the most magnificent and sublime moments of my life. As a seasoned traveller (26 countries so far) I have seen and felt an amazing wealth of what this world has to offer. But on the Temple Mount, where Judaism, Christianity and Islam meld into one, where East and West not only meet but in some ways were created I felt I was suffering what some have called "Jerusalem Syndrome."

A feeling that is at once overwhelming, exciting, trance-like, spiritual, exhausting and seems to carry you through epochs of history. It always has been and remains an important place in the world. It is one of the most important patches of land in the world and it is iomportant to keep an eye on what happens there.

When I left the Temple Mount I walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Holiest site in Christianity. A whole set of of feelings and history had to be dealt with.