Israel – Masada, The Fortress On The Sky

In the tiny rental car the Judaean Desert felt even more huge. A black bitumen road navigates between stony fields, rocky areas and along deep, dry valleys with some rare, green oasis. I have to admit, i always do enjoy traveling trough lonely deserts. All in a sudden a deep blue surface appeared on the edge of a plateau. I reached the Dead Sea region.

Not far from here i arrived at the foot of a mountain. On top of it is the legendary fortress of Masada.

Built by Herod the Great it has two palaces for himself and fortified city on the plateau of the mountain. Beside the space for the inhabitants it also has huge storage rooms and a clever system of water drains and cisterns. King Herod enjoyed life up here with big, painted halls, terraces overlooking the Dead Sea and even heated baths.

Later the fortified city was occupied by the Jewish on the First Jewish-Roman War. The story tells a sad end of the folks up there. When the Romans besieged the fortress, they even build up a ramp to breach the walls. The people inside the city decided not to go in slavery but rather commit a mass suicide.

Nowadays a cable car brings the tourists on the top. There’s still a long, steep way uphill for the wanderers. I preferred to spend some time up there and wander between the ruins. Some wall paintings are still well preserved, as parts of the Roman bath is too. Even the earthen ramp, which was built to breach the wall, is still good to see.

The view is just stunning. On the back raises the mountains of the desert with its nice rock formations. On the front lies the blue Dead Sea with the Jordan mountains on the other side. It was so beautiful and magic, i spent longer than planned, but regret not one minute of it.

The Wall – Art between Israel and Palestine

„There’s a sniper observing the area“ the Palestinian guide was pointing to the watchtower at the wall corner.

From there, a huge wall expands on both directions. This wall, also known as West Bank Barrier , was build by Israel for security reasons, as they claim. For the Palestinians it’s rather an act of segregation and further restriction of their freedom.

On the Palestinian side, it became a canvas for graffiti art. Palestinian and international artists put their messages and art on it, making it a huge board of resistance and shout for more freedom and peace.

Palestine – Bethlehem, Banksy and Jesus

There’s quite a controversy about the birthday of Jesus. While some historian beliefs it was actually in Nazaraeth, where he supposed to spend also his youth, other stays with the place written in the Gospels: Bethlehem.

After entering the city trough heavy guarded check-points, we stopped at one of the best known graffiti by the anonymous artist Banksy.

‚The Flower Thrower‘

The main program lead to the spot where, according to the gospels and the belief of christians, Jesus was born in a little shack. Around this place a big church with several units and chapels were build.

This Church Of The Nativity has different section according to different Christians churches, similar like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Old Jerusalem. And like there, here too they have this agreement of ‚Staus Quo‘.

Palestine – Jordan River, where Jesus got baptized, maybe.

A big crowd was gathered at the small, brown muddy river. It’s supposed to be the place, where Jesus got baptized in the Jordan river. These groups of believers obviously want follow their religion idol by get also blessed in that dirty water.

There’s a singing, praying and even screaming all over the crowd. A few standing in the water, all in white clothes, and holding the believers. Some seemed to hesitate, but loud prayers demanding to the supposing daemons to leave. Then, in a quick move, the priest dived the believer backwards into the river. A guy with a horn blows a deep tone to announce the new baptized, while the crowd was cheering and the singing is swelling in excitement.

The Jordan river is the border to the state of Jordan too. At the other side there’s also a small access to the river. The wooden platform is smaller and much less crowded. The few tourists from Jordan side was watching and filming the event. In between, there was a lonely guy, a bit off the crowd dipping himself into the river. When he reappeared he looked around, seemed to be almost a bit lost.

Palestine – Jericho, the oldest city ever?

Actually, there’s not really much to see on the excavation site of Jericho. At least it’s not as impressive than other sites in the area. But it claims to be „the oldest city of the world“, as our guide it stated proudly too.

However, the findings and some walls are dated back around 10’000years BCE. This would be as old as the newer founds in Anatolia, like Göbekli Tepe or Karahan Tepe, both i just visited recently too (there is upcoming more blog posts about my Turkey trip soon. Stay tuned!)

Near to the archeological site of Jericho raise also the ‚Mountain of Temptation‘, where according to the bible Jesus get tempted by the devil in his time of fasting.

We hadn’t the time to climb up or even get a ride up in the cable car. That’s the downside of a booked group tour, i have to admit. At least we had a stop for a splendid view on it and a juicy drink in the shade.

Palestine – Ramallah with Arafat Mausoleum

Palestine. Of course i wanted have at least a glimpse over the walls. To get an own picture of their life and get an idea of the region, its history and its inhabitants.

It was the easiest way to book a tour from Jerusalem. Fortunately the tour guide was a Palestinian who joined the tour bus after the border. He arrived late at the meeting point and gave us already a first idea about the life here. Despite he startet his ride of around 50km to Ramallah two hours earlier, he got stocked at a check-point, where they blocked the road for unknown reasons. We, the tourists, had to wait on a small coffee shop. It gave me the chance to go around the streets to collect first impressions of Ramallah.

Market places are always nice to get in touch with the locals. That was also the first stop in Ramallah. I was surprised about the openness of the people and how friendly they were. They gave me a wink, showed me their display or just smiled friendly. The same in the streets, where sellers were keen to explain what goods, spices or beverages they sell. Most attention caught the guy who sold iced tea in a very effective way.

Once in Ramallah, we also had a short visit to the Arafat Mausoleum. Although Yasser Arafat, the first president of the Palestinian National Authority, wanted to be buried near the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the Israeli government didn’t allow it. To his honor , the nobel peace prize holder at least got his mausoleum in Ramallah with lots of symbolics.

Israel – Jerusalem, the Armenian Museum

In the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem stands a big building which host now the Armenian museum.

These rooms was build originally in the 1850’s as a pilgrim guesthouse, became later a monastery, a seminary and also an orphanage of survivors of the genocide from 1915.

After a five year renovation it just reopened recently as a museum and memorial of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.

Beside many handicrafts and artifacts of the Armenian culture, especially also the famous ceramics and ornaments, it tells the story of the tragic incidents and deaths from the 24. April 1915, which is still denied by the Turkish government.

Israel – Jerusalem Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum)

To understand Israel, one have to understand the history of its people.

The traumatic peak of the Jewish diaspora was the so-called holocaust in the 1930’s in Europe. The official website of Yad Vashem explains:

„The Holocaust was unprecedented genocide, total and systematic, perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators, with the aim of annihilating the Jewish people. The primary motivation was the Nazis‘ anti-Semitic racist ideology. Between 1933 and 1941 Nazi Germany pursued a policy that dispossessed the Jews of their rights and their property, followed by the branding and the concentration of the Jewish population. This policy gained broad support in Germany and much of occupied Europe. In 1941, following the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis and their collaborators launched the systematic mass murder of the Jews. By 1945 nearly six million Jews had been murdered. „

Walking through the rooms of museum/memorial, the visitor learn about how the hate against the Jewish people raised. It displays many individual fates and the suffer of an entire folk. Not to forget all the heroes, who fought and helped these people to escape.

It’s a place to remember the loss and keep in mind to fight for a peaceful future. At least i’d like to understand it that way. Unfortunately, i was informed at this very day, that Israel army attacked and destroyed the airport of Aleppo, which is crucial for the help of victims of the recent earthquake in that region. This incident wasn’t confirmed, nor denied, from the Israel officials. But it let me a bitter taste when thinking of the future of this region.

Israel – Jerusalem Ramparts Walk

It was a secret tip i read about: walk on the walls of Old City Jerusalem.

And indeed, it was a good advice.

Just behind the Jaffa Gate i got the tickets for the ramparts entrance, and some spicy breads to go. The city guide with his small electro car had no job for me, but had a small talk while he waited for other tourists.

Once up the wall, one get a very different view of Jerusalem, on both side of the wall. But at this point i let my images give you an impression of it.

Israel – Holy Places In Jerusalem (2/2)

There was much more to see in this holy city. Most obvious the Dome of the Rock on top of the temple plateau.

The area is bigger than it seemed from below. Tina, the tour guide, lead us over a wooden ramp along the western wall to the plateau near Al-Aqsa mosque. From there the view opened to the famous Dome of the Rock.

Around the plateau are many trees and park like areas where family gathering for a picnic and kids playing happily. But in the middle of all stands raised in the middle the Dome of the Rock with shiny, golden Dome.

To my surprise a group of orthodox Jews appeared on the spot. Actually it’s not allowed to Jews to come near to the holy of holies before the „new temple“ is erected. Tina explains us, it’s allowed to walk along the top of the wall of the plateau, but not getting to close to the centre. These groups are always escorted from a bunch of Israeli police for protection, but also from muslim watchmen, who not allow them to get to close on their holy buildings.

The last stop was on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That place where Jesus supposed to be crucified, buried and resurrected from the tomb. Not less than six different Christian churches claiming the right to control that spot. The Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian Orthodox. Over the centuries they fight about the right to be holier than other ones, until it came to an agreement in 1757, so called Status Quo, which says, there can be changed or removed only with the agreement of all the other five churches.

This leads to very disturbing stories, as the so-called immovable ladder. A simple, wooden ladder at one of the windows on the Armenian sector, which is at same spot since 1728 and can’t be removed because of the Status Quo.

Once inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there are many rooms, halls and passages between the different sections and churches inside. Tania, our guide, explained a lot of the history, legends and rituals of each sector. But i can’t stop wondering and observing the lot of pilgrims coming from all over the world, kneeling in front of a certain rock, touching a stone board in prayers or kissing an image of a saint.