I would like to start this long blog post by mentioning that my holiday to Israel and Palestine was unlike any other trips that I have done in the past. It was a spiritual trip, a pilmigrage, a cleansing of the body and the soul.
DISCLAIMER: What you WON’T find here will be instagramable places, food recommendations or best shopping areas.
Every stone in Israel could be considered holy, there are many information and thing to be shared that will make this story never ending, therefore I am going to divide my guide into few different posts:
Betheleem and Jericho
Nazareth and the Jordan River
Tel Aviv and the Dead sea
Must read before you proceed forward
It is worth mentioning that a trip to the Holy land it’s spiritually awakening for the believers and the followers of the three monotheistic religions (Christianty, Judaism and Islamism), however it would be a complete waste of time for the atheist or believers of other religions and cults. Therefore I would strongly encourage my readers belonging to the last category to wait for a further article where I will provide useful information for a beautiful trip to Tel Aviv and the Dead sea, places which are suitable for any type of traveler.
The last thing that I will like to address since the beginning is the fact that the curent political situation of the Holy land doesn’t concern me, therefore I will refer to the geographical area of the country following the official geo-political map. To the present day (March 2023), the holy land is divided between Palestine (West Bank where important religious sites such as Bethlehem and Jericho are located and the Gaza Strip, the most problematic territory with often disputes between the two armies) and Israel which took over the Palestinian territories by force in 1967.
Now that we have clarified those upseting details of the modern world, let’s start our impressive journey in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, a pilmigrage that should be fulfilled by any Christian at least once in a lifetime.
Today there are over 2.2 billion christian believers, making it the major religion of the world, followed by muslims (1.9 billion) and jewish (15 millions).
What all of them have in common? The city of Jerusalem. .
JERUSALEMThe city of peace in Hebrew
I allocated 3 nights to my visit to Jerusalem and even though it seems enough time, I still didn’t managed to visit every single holy site. The hotel that I chose to stay in it is called Rimonim Shani, a hotel run by Palestinians, with great costumer service, affordable rates and amazing location (just 15 min walk to the old city of Jerusalem) and 5 minutes to the modern shopping area of the city. I truly recommend it!
To be able to manage your time properly and set up your priorities during this trip you must know that the old city of Jerusalem is divided in four different quarters, all of them equally important and worth visiting: Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian quarter.
As a Christian myself, I was interested in visiting the holy places of my own faith and there is nothing more important to start with than the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus took on his way to crucification and death.
If you choose to stay in the same hotel as I did, the closest entry to the old city will be the Jaffa gate, however this is the end of the Via Dolorosa. You must make your way through the multitude of shops and vendors in the Muslim and Christian quarter until the Lion Gate which is the starting point of Jesus suffering or simply book a taxi from the hotel direct to the Lion Gate.
Advice: book a tour guide, otherwise you will miss lot of essential information or use the ITravelJerusalem app which is a complete and free offline guide to the modern and the old city of Jerusalem.
Via Dolorosa is not a street but a route which follows 14 fourteen stations of the cross where pilmigrins stops for prayer and reflection.
Station 1: Jesus condemnation by Pontius Pilat. You will also be able to see the original pavement from the Roman times and the game that the romans used to play to condamn a person to death called the King’s game.
Station 2: Jesus was beaten, crowned with thorns by the soldiers and handed his cross. Near by, you will be able to visit the prison where Jesus, Baraba and other prisoners were hold, the exact pavement where Jesus made his last steps before crucification and the exact game that Romans played to decide his punishment.
Station 3: Jesus felt for the first time under the weight of his cross.
Station 4: The Virgin Mary watched her son passing by while carrying His cross.
Station 5: Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’s cross. Jesus has rested his hand on a stone which melted under his weight to provide some relief. The stone is now gluded to a wall where believers can place their hand and feel the connection with God.
Station 6: Where a woman from the crowd wiped the face of Jesus and his image was left imprinted on her cloth.
Station 7: Jesus felt again.
Station 8: Jesus consoled the weeping and mourning women of Jerusalem.
Station 9: Jesus third and final fall.
Station 10: Jesus was stripped by the soldiers who then divided his clothes between themselves.
Station 11: Jesus was nailed to the cross. Have a look to the impressive mosaic representing this moment.
The last four stations are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Station 12: Jesus died on the cross on the Golgotha’s hill. You will be able to touch the exact same rock where the cross was fixed.
Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross. One of the most miraculous place seen in Jerusalem was the Stone of Unction where Jesus body was anointed with oil and spicies in preparation for his burial. The believers are kneeling down, kiss it and collect all some of the holy oil that seems to be springing from within the stone itself.
Station 14: The tomb of Jesus and the place where every single year on the Easter day, the candles are miraculous lit from within the sky. The christians witnessing this miracle are often placing their hands and face directly on the flame to test on their own skin the fact that the magical flame doesn’t burn. Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher you will find the actual burial bed where Jesus body lay for three days and the stone where the angels have sat while announcing the resurrection of Jesus.
Advice: visit the church early in the morning (around 8 am) to avoid the big groups of pilgrims. First time when I visited the church I waited in line almost two hours while the second time just 15 minutes. It’s all about planning!
You will also be able to attend the Holy liturgy in the morning if you are a Christian. It is recommended not to eat or drink in order to be able to take the holy bread and wine at the end of the service.
Pay attention to the paintings and the architecture of the church and unbelievable things will unfold in front of your eyes. For instance, the Icon of the Crucification which miraculously drips oil and the pilar where some of the believers swear to have heard sounds of mourning and nails pierced into the Messiah arms.
Other important sites that shouldnt be missed are:
2.THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
The place from where Jesus enter in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Don’t miss the unbelievable view over the city of Jerusalem.
It is also believed to be the place where Jesus weped for the people of Jerusalem and foretold its destruction. It is marked by a tear drop shaped church facing the Old city. Unlike the traditional churches, The Dominus Flevit it is oriented to the west to face the city of Jerusalem.
I suggest you grab a taxi and have it drop you at the top of the Mount Olive and then make your way down by foot.
The most important stop here it’s at the bottom of the mountain, in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed with his disciples the night before crucification. The Church of all Nations was built here to mark the exact location.
Other places on the Mount of Olives are: the tomb of the prophets of the Old testament Zechariah, Malachi and Haggai, the Russian church of Maria Magdalena and the Chapel of Ascension from where Jesus ascended to heaven.
The Virgin Mary’s tomb it’s also believed to be here and is located in a crypt at the bottom of the mountain. The tomb itself is open and empty as according to the Christian tradition Mary was not buried but assumed into heaven. Next to it you will find the cave where Jesus and disciples often went to pray and sleep.
Once again, the ITravelJerusalem app will come in handy here if you prefer to travel without a guide. Personally I didn’t pay for the services of a guide because I didn’t want to have someone behind my back whenever praying or rushing me into the tour.
3.The room of the last supper
The only place in the world where the believers of the three monotheistic religions come to pray together.
Ground floor is hosting the tomb of King David where you will encounter jewish believers weeping over his resting place, women and men being separated by a thin wall.
Upper floor: the Last Supper room where according to the Christian tradition Jesus shared wine and bread with his disciples in the eve of his crucification. It is also believed that here, after his death, the Virgin Mary and the twelve Apostoles gathered here and being filled with the Holy Spirit they began to speak in different languages.
Also inside the Last Supper room itself, on the southern wall it’s a muslim prayer site called Mihbrab, which indicates the location of Mecca.
4.THE WESTERN WALL
Known as the wailing wall, this is the holiest Jewish site where people come to lament for the destruction of what was known in the past as the Temple of Solomon.
They place little notes inside the stone cracks, a kabbalistic teaching that all prayers placed here will ascend to heaven. There are two sections of the wall, one for women and the other for the men and you will have to pass strict controls (similar with the ones in the airport) in order to be allowed inside the premises.
5. The Dome of the rock
Undoubtedly the most disputed land in Jerusalem and claimed by the believers of the three religions altogether. Jewish believe it to be the exact place where the Temple of Solomon once stood and the foundation stone on which the world was created.
Christians seems to back up the Jewish theory, identifing the site as the same temple where baby Jesus was first presented to the world and where He used to preach as an adult.
Muslims believe to be the exact same place where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven and a mosque was built on top to commemorate the event. As today, muslims have full control of the site and they limited the access of tourists or other faith believers to certain days and timings. Moreover if you are keen to visit the mosque you must leave behind your holy books and any other accessories that may identify with a different belief, thing that made me skip the visit. When in Rome, do as the romans but leaving your God at the door while on common holy ground seems a bit far fetched.
Even though it was my first physical visit to the holy city of Jerusalem, it didn’t feel like a first time at all. I was there hundreds of times before, whenever I was reading another page of the Bible, learning a new story about the life of Jesus or saying a prayer before bed time. I was there and I will return every single day from now on.