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So you've been to Jerusalem before, seen the major sites and have done the "tourist thing" already, perhaps more than once. Now it is time to go a little farther off the beaten path in the Israeli capital and find some nooks on the road less travelled.
Travelujah has some suggestions for several nontraditional sites you can see if you only have two days in Jerusalem, or you can stretch these sites into a three-day visit. The locations are laid out in geographical order, but can be rearranged, skipped or revisited. Please note that opening hours and admission fees are subject to change.
Starting your tour on Nablus Road in East Jerusalem, you can first find yourself at The Prayer House, a relatively new house of prayer run by the Baptist church. The 120-year-old building was once the Swedish consulate but was sold to Christians in 1968. The building has been used for many purposes over the last three decades, but now is dedicated to prayer and quiet reflection. The location, on the seam line between Jewish, Muslim and ancient Christian neighborhoods, is an ideal place to pray, according to Anita Thorne who runs the house along with her husband, Dale. This is not another site to visit, it is an interactive experience, Anita says. Visit only if you plan to pray and spend time in quiet reflection.
Once back on Nablus Road, head toward the Old City. Along Nablus Road is a small turn off to the Garden Tomb, believed by many to be the burial an resurrection site of Jesus. The garden and sepulchre may have been owned by Joseph of Arimathea. The peaceful gardens also provide an overlook to the possible site of Golgotha, the hill of the skull, where Jesus was believed to be crucified.
Before entering the Old City walls, to the east of Damascus Gate, is Zedekiah‘s Cave, or Solomon's Quarries, traditionally thought to be the source of the stones for the Temple. Jewish and Muslim legends claim that tunnels in those caves extended to the Sinai Desert and Jericho. The cave is named after King Zedekiah who is believed to have fled from the Babylonians through these tunnels in 587 B.C., only to be later captured soon after. The caves' paths lead into tunnels under the Old City.
Into the Old City, the Wittenberg House on Haguy Street was frequented by Mark Twain from September 1867. At least one of the 50 letters that became the basis for his book "Innocents Abroad," the most widely read travelogue in American literature, was written there and could be the inspiration for what Twain calls the Mediterranean Hotel in his writings. The Wittenberg House became famous when former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon purchased an apartment in it and lived there several days a week with his wife.
Onto the Via Dolorosa, the guest house of the Ecce Homo Convent, run by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion, provides spectacular views of the Old City and Mount of Olives. The name "Ecce Homo," in Latin "Behold the man" refers to Pontius Pilate's statement recorded in John 19:5: "Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them: ‘Behold the Man.'"
Peer into the Temple Mount area from the rooftop of the guest house and across the expanse of the Old City. But don't forget to head to the underground as well. The building, located at the beginning of the traditional Via Dolorosa, is built above a canal constructed at the time of the Hasmoneans in 2 BC that serviced cisterns in the Temple Mount area. The building also houses a pavement known as the Lithostrotos, large flat stones laid by Adrian that served as a plaza and marketplace to Aelia Capitolina, the name that Adrian gave to his new city, built in 135 AD on the ruins of Jerusalem.
If it is time now for recharging, the perfect place for a cappuccino and slice of delectable homemade carrot cake is Christ Church. Near the entrance of Jaffa Gate, Christ Church is the first Protestant church in the Middle East, built in 1849. The compound houses a church, guest house and a cafe. Besides the food and patio to help facilitate recharging, there is also ancient history to be seen at the Heritage Center. In addition to the restored church is a three-dimensional model of the Old City, historic documents, medieval Bibles and a 2,000-year-old water reservoir that leads to an ancient tunnel.
Now check your watch. Plan to be at the St. James Armenian Church at 3 p.m. This is the only time the oft-bypassed monastery is open to the public. Located within the residential compound, the church built in the 12th century, shows layer upon layer of architectural styles added as it stood through the years. Attesting to its age however is the fact that there is no electricity in the building still. Oil lamps provide the only illumination by night and the sun by day through scant windows. The Armenian service is primarily chanted by priests in ancient Armenian.
For a small overview of the Armenian presence in Jerusalem - the community has had a presence on Mount Zion since 301 AD - visit the Armenian Museum, also located in the convent but accessible through a separate entrance further down Armenian Patriarchate Road.
Heading into the Jewish Quarter a fascinating site with a mysterious historical story is the Burnt House. The home belonged to a Jewish family who lived there before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD It was excavated in 1970, found buried beneath layers of soot and destruction. Within the house, archaeologists found a kitchen, work rooms and a small ritual bath plus stone water jars, inkwells and Roman coins.
Buried under a layer of ash and covered with soot, the house was probably burned down. A spear was also discovered there along with the bones of an arm that apparently belonged to a young Jewish woman who may have been reaching for the weapon to defend herself against the Roman seige. Photos of the bones are on display. As evidenced by some of the remains, the house may have belonged to the Bar Kathros family, a priestly family, which had abused its position in the Temple, as legend has it.
Time for dinner? Head back to the Armenian Quarter for a relaxing meal in the garden at Bulghourji Armenian Restaurant and Garden. The garden is located adjacent to the Old City walls and sits between the police station and the Armenian seminary. Here you can sample some Armenian style appetizers such as stuffed grape leaves, burekas (cheese-stuffed pastries), lahmajoun (Armenian-style pizza) and bulgur wheat salad, the establishment's specialty for which it is named. Western sandwiches, salads and meat dishes are also available.
You can wrap up the day with a light and sound show at the David Citadel Museum. The walls of the museum come to life with a technological walk through the history of the land. This restored citadel was constructed 2,000 years ago by Herod the Great. The panoramic route along the citadel towers provides breathtaking views of the city. The 45-minute state-of-the-art sound and light show, called "The Night Spectacular" is not narrated, but the images serve to paint 1,000 words about the history of the city.
By the end of day one, you've seen sites in all four quarters of the Old City.
Now it is time to step out of the Old City and get a different perspective of Jerusalem. Beginning just outside the walls near the Temple Mount and Western Wall plaza, head to what was once Jerusalem's center, the City of David, established by David as his headquarters and palace when he left Hebron and became king of Israel some 3,000 years ago. David's conquest of this Jebusite city is described in 2 Samuel.
On the surface, the City of David looks like a modern neighborhood of Jewish and Arab residents bordering the Arab town of Silwan, the Kidron Valley and opposite from the Mount of Olives. But underground, this site reveals archaeological finds of yore including excavated fortresses, passageways and water systems. The tour ends at the Gihon Spring, Jerusalem's major water source for some 1,000 years. You can actually walk through the spring in the Hezekiah Tunnel, underground in water - the depth depends on rainfall and time of year, but is at least ankle and knee high at some points.
The Gihon Spring was stopped by Hezekiah when he saw Assyrian King Sennacherib approaching the city. Had the king found water in abundance, Hezekiah feared he would have certainly conquered the city (2 Chronicles 32:2-4).
Overlooking David's city is the Hill of Evil Counsel. A Byzantine tradition identifies this hill as the place where Caiphas and his colleagues conspired to arrest Jesus (John 11:47-50). Today this hill provides a scenic vantage point to view the Old City from the South. Called, the Tayelet (or Haas Promenade), the scope of Jerusalem is laid out before you. You may rent segways (motorized standing carts) to cover the breadth of the hill, where the United Nations' headquarters are located today. Mosaics on various portions of the promenade show the direction of an aqueduct built by Herod the Great to bring water from well past Bethlehem, through his summer palace and to the Second Temple.
Nearby, the German Colony, now a yuppie neighborhood replete with cafes and trendy boutiques, was developed by the German Templars in the 1870s. There are two cemeteries in the neighborhood, a Templer cemetery on Emek Refaim Street, and next to it an eclectic Christian cemetery where lie Ulysses S. Grant's Jerusalem tour guide Rolla Floyd and Dola Ben-Yehuda daughter of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew. She was married to a gentile and is buried at his side. Another notable Christian, globally renowned and beloved Bible teacher and Christian author Derek Prince, was buried there as well in 2003 after spending much of his life in and devoted to Israel.
In town is another exciting Christian attraction: The Bible Society on Jaffa Street, has an exhibit called the Bible Experience, which walks visitors through the development of Biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), materials used in recording the Bible through the generations and modern translations of the Bible. The exhibit contains the oldest known Book of Esther on papyrus in Greek, a full-size replica of the Gutenberg press and first edition Bibles printed in more than 50 languages.
If you want to stick with the water theme, you can hop in a car to Sataf, a serene park with ancient aqueducts and caves, just west of Jerusalem. Here on Mount Eitan, ancient mountainous agriculture is practiced as it was by the Israelites thousands of years ago. Today the work is still done by hand or with the help of farm animals, with no machinery or pesticides. Two springs, Ein Sataf and Ein Bikura, flow into the Sorek riverbed. At Ein Sataf you can walk through a cave following the tunnel to the other side. Be sure to bring a flashlight. On site is also the remains of a 4,000 BC Chalcolithic village with some of the oldest agricultural traces in the region as well as the remains of a pre-1948 Arab village.
There's no better night cap than that provided at the Bible Lands Museum. The museum holds concerts every Saturday evening during the summer serving wine and cheese while showcasing a variety of ethnic musics. The price of admission includes entry to the museum, which is a must. The collection of archeological artifacts transports you to ancient Middle Eastern cultures arranged chronologically and featuring objects, inscriptions, jewelry, seals and scarabs from Ancient Egypt, Syria, Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Persia. The museum seeks to illustrate the connection between the various peoples of the region. Also on site is a garden with trees and plants mentioned in the Bible.
Where to Stay?
The Prayer House
35 Nablus Road. Hours flexible, but call in advance of visit: 02.626.1439. Free.
Conrad Schick Street, off Nablus Road. Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 5:30 p.m. Closed Sundays. Free, but donations accepted.
Near the Damascus Gate. Daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission: 10 shekels.
41 Via Dolorosa. Daily 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: 7 shekels. Contact: 02.627.7292
Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Across from David Citadel entrance near Jaffa Gate.
Monday to Saturday, 9 am. to 5 p.m. Admission: 5 shekels.
2 Hakara'im Street. Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday and Jewish holiday eves 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission: 8 shekels. Contact: 02.628.7211
Bulghourji Armenian Restaurant and Garden
Daily from noon to 11 p.m.
July - August: Sunday to Thursday, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; September - June: Sunday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday: closed; Saturday, holiday eves, holidays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission: Museum 30 shekels; Night Spectacular 50 shekels; Both for 65 shekels. Contact: 02.626.5333
City of David
The City of David has different hours and prices depending on what you are interested in, from a site tour for 12 shekels to a motorized "Segway" tour for 160 shekels to 4x4s for 300 shekels and up. Consult the website for hours and prices: www.cityofdavid.org.il/info_eng2.asp
The Bible Society
17 Jaffa Road. Contact: 02.625.1849
There are a number of ways to reach the Sataf. Sataf Junction is located at the intersection of Routes #395 and #3965
Bible Lands Museum
Museum Row, 25 Granot Street. Open Sunday to Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and holiday eves 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission: 32 shekels; Saturday Night Concerts (Tickets include museum admission): 75 shekels. Contact: 02.561.1066.
Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering valuable planning resources, travel and tour services, user and expert blogs for people interested in learning about connecting to the land.