After writing most of this post, I realized that we saw a lot today, I amazed that we could fit all this into a single day. This might be the difference between traveling with college students rather than older adults, but I will say I saw some tired people on the bus ride back to the hotel! In fact, there is so much here I will split this post into two, just to make it a more manageable read.
We started the day at the top of the Mount of Olives. As always, the drop off for the walk down was crowded, lots of guides trying to jockey for position along the wall so their group can get that “perfect picture.” Since we have already walked throughout the Old City, the group asked really good questions, pointing out the places they have seen and trying to get their minds around the geography of the city. I had the impression that there were less vendors this year, I was not approached once. Maybe I just looked surely.
From the top of the Mount of Olives we walked down to Dominus Flevit, a small church at the traditional site of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. We read from Luke 19 and talked about what the crowds, especially the disciples, thought Jesus was going to do when he went up to the temple. One of the highlights of this church is the cave near the entrance with a collection of ossuaries. This indicates that the Jewish tradition of burying the dead on the Mount of Olives goes back to the first century.
The garden of Gethsemane was packed with tourists, as usual. we arrived at the same moment a Russian Orthodox group was leaving the Church of Mary Magdalene, so we were somehow lost in the crowd. My first visit in 2005 you could still walk between the trees, but there are far too many people for that now. Inside the Church of All Nations there are some renovations going, the center arches are being refurbished so there is a large scaffold in the center of the church. They did a nice job disguising the work, but it was not as solemn as usual.
After waking down the Mount of Olives, we were near the bottom of the Kidron Valley, so I marched across the street to walk down into the valley and see Absalom’s Tomb and the other monuments. I have only done this once before (in 2007) and did not think too much of it at the time. The walk then was not conducive to tourists, and it was full of broken bottles and trash. The Parks Authority has done a wonderful job cleaning the area and building excellent stairs down past the graves to the monuments. I should explain that these are all Hasmonean tombs and have nothing to do with Absalom or Pharaoh’s daughter, those are the traditional names.
Another new feature is a stairway up the other side of the valley that end a short distance from the City of David. It would be possible to have the bus drop a group across the street from the Church of All Nations and hike down the Kidron, up the other side to the City of David, then down the Canaanite tunnels to the pool of Siloam, the up the Herodian steps and sewer tunnels to the Davidson Museum to tour the excavations there at the Ophel. That might make for a long day, but quite exciting to me. Maybe on the 2015 tour?
I will be posting a bit more from this long day a bit later. Stay tuned!