OpenRoad Driver Volume 15 Issue 1 - Page 34

34 » OpenRoad Driver In Jerusalem churches proliferate on the Kidron Valley’s eastern slopes, while Mormons established the newest on the Mount of Olives. Most beautiful, Church of All Nations features a wondrous mosaic depicting Jesus mediating between God and mankind. Mordecai reminds us that Jesus prayed in the adjacent Gardens of Gethsemane before His arrest. Old Jerusalem crowns the opposite mount. A golden shrine revered by Muslims and Jews alike, Dome of the Rock rises above the city’s thick block walls. Muhammad is said to have galloped on his steed into heaven off the boulder enclosed inside. Four minarets soar above the adjoining Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muhammad led prayers. At Dung Gate, young soldiers check our backpacks. Entering the Jewish quarter, we gaze upon the lofty Western Wall, sole remnant of King David’s great temple. Orthodox Jews gather here dressed in black still mourning its destruction. Purifying at the plaza fountain, they pray at this most holy site. Joining the devout at the Men and Women’s sanctuaries, we write wishes on bits of paper and slip them reverently into the sacred wall’s niches. Passing through a tunnel and another checkpoint, we emerge in the Christian quarter on Via Dolorosa, or “the way of suffering.” Believing Jesus had dragged his wooden cross along this winding route, Franciscans established Stations of the Cross for spiritual meditation. Most are based on medieval legends, such as one dedicated to Veronica who allegedly wiped His brow. Another represents an actual Biblical episode. Inside its tiny chapel, a bronze sculpture portrays Simon helping Jesus bear the heavy cross. Via Dolorosa ends at Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by Emperor Constantine in 325 AD. His mother Helena consecrated it claiming the discovery of Jesus’ cross and tomb. Crusaders, Franciscans and Orthodox monks later revamped and enlarged it. Since 638 AD, a Muslim family has kept the keys, and peace between five resident Christian denominations. Caesarea offered large public baths featuring terracotta plumbing, marble benches and mosaic floors. Joining streams of pilgrims, our group trickles into the dim interior towards five further stations. Edging right, steep stone steps recreate the way to Calvary. Ornate chapels memorialize sites where soldiers had stripped off His garments, nailed Him to the cross, and crucified Him. Below another stairway, a long line of people await entry into the immense marble vault enclosing His tomb. Instead, Mordecai leads us to view the anointing stone and a small, obscure chapel. “Here, Jesus’ mother, aunt and Mary Magdalene may have watched His crucifixion,” he whispers. Departing toward Jaffa Gate, countless stalls line the narrow roadway offering olivewood mangers, hookahs, menorahs, vibrant enamelware, spices, olives, dried fruit and exotic sweets. Seemingly out of place, two T-shirts declare: Keep Calm and Eat Kosher and Guns N Moses. Onboard the ship again, lecturers present entertaining cultural insights. Cruising from Israel’s largest to its busiest port, we enjoy special Israeli cuisine: eggplant salads, latkes, falafels and rugelach, a fruit- and-nut pastry. In Haifa our new guide Lem points out buildings that reflect early Turkish and British occupations. “Our cities display different histories and lifestyles. In Jerusalem, we pray. In Tel Aviv, we play. In Haifa, we work,” he smiles. “And here, Muslims, Christians and Jews live together as neighbours and celebrate Hanukkah, Ramadan and Christmas as the Festival of Three Holidays.” From a Mount Carmel viewpoint, we admire the terraced Hanging Gardens of Haifa. “That gold-domed structure is the Báb’s mausoleum, founder of the Bahá’í religion,” Lem tells us. “In 1850, Iran executed him as a heretic, and exiled Bahu, his disciple. Bahu eventually settled here. As Bahá’í followers highly revere prophet Elijah, Bahu’s dying wish was to inter his teacher close to his legendary cave. Now, worshippers from all over make pilgrimages to visit the Báb and Elijah’s holy sites.” Acre lies twenty-five kilometres north. From a shady park inside the World Heritage old town, Lem tells us about Bahu’s imprisonment in the bordering Crusader fortress. He then shepherds us past enormous Al Jazzar Mosque, through a bustling street bazaar and into the Knight Templar’s tunnel, a dark 350-metre escape that exits at the Acre’s seawall. A long stairway leads us atop, where we gaze upon what has become a quiet fishing port. Here, we tour a small church dedicated to John the Baptist. Our day trip concludes at the Tunisian Synagogue where we contemplate a series of colourful mosaics outlining Judaism’s rich history. Caesarea is our final destination. Other shipmates choose to cross the Carmel Mountains into Nazareth, travel around