By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises
We arrived in Israel, fulfilling plans, hopes, and dreams; for much of the summer it seemed we would have had to go somewhere else…if there is a place worthy of substitution. But a tense cessation of hostilities is in place in Gaza and Jerusalem, with hope–if not promise–of peace.
Ashdod is Israel’s largest cargo port, bringing in about 60 percent of the nation’s imported goods. Ashdod is in the southern district of Israel, about 40 kilometers or 25 miles south of Tel Aviv and 53 kilometers or 33 miles west of Jerusalem. And to the south: about 40 kilometers or 25 miles to Gaza.
I’ll write more about Ashdod later in this blog.
The port of Ashdod. Photo by Corey Sandler
Jerusalem is a truly inspiring city—for Jews, Christians, Moslems, and anyone who appreciates history and culture.
The Old City is the walled core of Jerusalem. About a third of a square mile, or one square kilometer in size, it is home some of the most important sites of the three Abrahamic Religions:
The Temple Mount and its Western Wall, for Jews
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians. And, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Corey Sandler
The Church of the Dormition in Jerusalem. Photo by Corey Sandler
Traditionally, the Old City has been divided into four uneven sections: the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian quarters.
Eleven Gates to the City
During the era of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, there were four gates to the Old City, one on each side. The current walls, built by Suleiman the Magnificent, have a total of eleven gates, but only seven are open. Until 1887, each gate was closed before sunset and opened at sunrise.
The Damascus, Lions’, Dung, Zion, and Jaffa gates were each built about 1540. The New Gate is from 1887. Herod’s Gate may be from about the same time.
The phrase “Twelve gates to the city” from the Book of Revelation and in the gospel-like song refers to Biblical Jerusalem, but the gates of present-day Jerusalem are much younger.
The Via Dolorosa, and an ecumenical gift shop in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem. Photos by Corey Sandler
Within the Armenian Church. Photo by Corey Sandler
One of the most important Jewish holy sites is the Western, or Wailing Wall.
Solomon’s Temple was said to have been built atop the Temple Mount in the 10th century BC, and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
The Second Temple was completed and dedicated in 516 BC.
The exposed section is about 187 feet or 57 meters. Other portions are concealed behind structures running along its length; there is also a small section in the Muslim Quarter.
It has been a site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage from at least the 4th century.
At the Western Wall. Photo by Corey Sandler
As if we needed any further demonstration of the complexities of the Middle East, all you need do is look up above the Wailing Wall to the Temple Mount, home of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest site for Sunni Muslims. Al-Aqsa means the Farthest Mosque, believed by Muslims to have been built in the seventh century.
Muslims believe Muhammad was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to al-Aqsa during what they call Night Journey.
The Dome of the Rock is a separate shrine on the Temple Mount. It was first built in 691, a few decades after the death of Mohammed, and renovated many times.
Somewhere on the Temple Mount, perhaps within the Dome of the Rock, is the Foundation Stone, believed by some to have been the location of the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple.
Tradition views it as the spiritual junction of heaven and Earth, the holiest site in Judaism. And it may exist inside Islam’s third holiest mosque, after Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and Al Masjid an Nawabi in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
Nothing shows more clearly the interlinking and complexity of religion, and by extension politics, in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel and the Middle East.
We zipped up to Tel Aviv for the day, wandering the market and the Yemeni Quarter and on to the sea front before turning inland to the heart of the city.
Tel Aviv seems to us a place where no one walks; every is at a near full trot. We absorbed a bit of that energy, and a lunch of lamb schwarma with hummus and tahini.
Tel Aviv, old and new. Photos by Corey Sandler
Ashdod is built on the site of an ancient city, but today exists mostly because of its port–the largest in Israel or anywhere else in the Middle East.
We set off in search of a monument–not an ancient one, but one of great importance to modern Israel: the Ad Halom Bridge.
Ad Halom. which means “up to here”. was the northernmost point reached by the Egyptian army in Operation Pleshet in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The Egyptians were headed for Tel Aviv, but were stopped here.
In today’s Israel, Ad Halom has come to mean the last line of defense that must not be breached.
As part of the Camp David Accords in 1978, Egypt was given permission to erect a memorial obelisk to their fallen soldiers. It stands today, an almost forgotten memorial in a place of great importance to the State of Israel.
A piece of Egypt in modern Israel.
All photos by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.
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