Continuing on with our tour from the Church of All Nations, we entered Old Jerusalem through the Dung Gate. Entering the area of the Western Wall there was a security gate. The security gate has an entrance for men and a separate entrance for women. The men and I went through the men’s side, Kris, Kim and Robbie went through the women’s side. This took us into a large plaza. The Western Wall is on the far side of the plaza. The wall was built all the way around a hill known as the Temple Mount by King Herod. He built the second Jewish temple on the top of the mount in the place where God stood. In the Jewish faith, it’s known as the Holy of Holies. To this day, the Jewish people believe that in this spot you are in the presence of God. This is why the Western Wall and the Temple Mount are so important in the Jewish faith. The Western Wall is the largest remaining section of the wall. After the destruction of the third Jewish temple, the Dome of the Rock mosque was built on top of the Temple Mount. Muslims believe that the Temple Mount is the place where God created Adam. The scull of Adam was said to be found at the base of the cross of Jesus. The rock at the top of the Temple Mount is also the place where the Prophet Muhammad began his journey to heaven making the Temple Mount a most holy place for Muslims. The Western Wall is part of the border between Jewish and Muslim Jerusalem. This is why today the Western Wall is the closest that the Jewish people can get to the Holy of Holies. The wall is also known by some non-Jews as the Wailing Wall. The Jewish people would go to the wall to mourn the destruction of the temple and could be seen weeping. I don’t think the Jewish people like that name. When I was a kid, that’s how most people referred to it.
When visiting the wall there are a few things that you need to know. Like the security gate, there is a men’s side and a women’s side. Robbie was quite fascinated/disgusted with the gender separation thing. Men need to cover their heads with a hat or a yarmulke skull cap. This is to remind you that God is always above you. If you don’t have one, no worries, they have them there for you. I had my trusty fedora, so I was covered. Women need to cover their shoulders and their knees. It is customary to wash your hands before praying. There are several places to wash beforehand. I didn’t know about this at the time, but you should not turn your back on the Holy of Holies. So the devout back away from the wall. People write prayers and wishes on paper and place them in the cracks of the wall. You may only photograph the wall from the plaza, no photography at the wall. On the Sabbath or Jewish holidays there is no writing and no photography, even from the plaza. Visiting the wall was quite an experience. It’s one of those places that I heard about most of my life. I wasn’t sure that I would ever actually get to see it. There I was in front of it, touching it.
After visiting the wall we were all sort of standing around. It turned out our tour group was supposed to be using the restroom. A few of the people, including myself, didn’t realize that. By the time I was done in the restroom, the group had started to exit the plaza through security. I was able to catch up, since the line was moving slowly. I started to take a few photos. I could still see the last person in our group, but I was about ten or so people behind. Just as I was going through the security gate, they stopped letting people through. Apparently a group of VIPs needed to get to the wall before sundown to pray. I needed to wait for them to go through. Our group was behind schedule, so our guide was in high gear, walking really fast. When I finally got through the security gate, there was a “T” in the path. I could go left or right. There was no sign of our group in either direction. After starting to go left, I chose to turn right. That was the correct choice. I caught up to the group down the street a bit. Unfortunately one woman from our group was not so lucky, she was lost. Our guide went back to look for her, but no luck. We continued on our way without her. We were walking through narrow walkways, going up ancient stone steps. There was a bazaar, with lots of shops selling all sorts of things, very colorful and full of people.
When I do any tour, I usually try to get as much photography in as possible. As a result, I tend to miss out on some of what the guide is talking about. Things like it’s time to use the restroom. The fact that we were on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would have been good info, so when I got lost I would know what direction to go. Oh, and most importantly, what we should see when we get there. Aside from walking really fast, our guide, I found out later, was not quite a fountain of information. I thought it was me not paying close enough attention. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a fairly complicated building. It contains the locations of events before, during, and after the crucifixion of Jesus. It pays to know what and where the events are inside of the church. Some of the key events are, the Latin Chapel, where Jesus was nailed to the cross. Calvary Rock, where the cross was erected. The rock is exposed for viewing. Adams Chapel, under Calvary, where the skull of Adam had been found under the cross. The Stone of Anointing, just inside of the entrance, where Jesus was wrapped in the shroud. And finally, the Tomb of Jesus, the Holy Sepulcher, in the main rotunda. I was always under the impression that these places were a little farther apart, guess I was wrong. The whole area was an abandoned quarry that had been turned into tombs before the time of Jesus.
When we arrived at the church, our guide told us what time to meetup back in the courtyard. Guides are not permitted to talk inside of churches. That’s pretty universal all over. While we were supposedly touring the church, he set off to search for our lost woman. Remember her?! The courtyard was filled with people. The doors of the church seemed to be only open a tiny bit. Nobody was able to enter. We were all waiting and waiting, still no movement. A group of pilgrims carrying a cross entered the courtyard. We pretty much had resigned to the fact that we were not going to get inside of the church, so we relaxed for a while. I noticed the doors had opened and a few people were going inside. I guessed there was some sort of service going on, not sure though. We were running out of time. I went inside for a quick look around. Robbie, Kris and Kim stayed outside. I was able to see the Stone of Anointing and the Chapel of Adam. In the photo of the chapel, behind the alter is what looks like a picture frame. That is a window to view part of the Stone of Calvary in the area where Adam’s skull was found. In the photo of the Stone of Anointing, people are rubbing clothing on the marble slab to get the essence of Jesus. This slab of marble is on top of the actual Stone of Anointing to protect it. If I would have had more information, I could have seen the tomb as well. I was running out of time and I didn’t know exactly where it was. Our group had reassembled in the courtyard waiting for the guide to return. A short time later, he did return, with the lost woman, yeah! I’m not sure how he found her in the sea of people, but he did. We headed toward the bus at a pretty fast pace. Some people started asking the guide to slow down! As we exited the walls of Old Jerusalem we could see the Tower of David in the far corner of the wall. It was a long day and we had a two hour drive back to the ship. Despite a few issues, it was really great getting to see Old Jerusalem.
Our cruise made a stop on the island of Crete, in the port of Heraklion, the capital of Crete. Heraklion is a nice city with lots of things to see. The port is fairly close to the city, but it’s not quite walking distance. Just outside of town is the archaeological sight for the palace of Knossos from the Minoan civilization. There was a city bus that would take you to Knossos and the city. Robbie and I thought it would be nice to see a little more of Crete. So instead of seeing the city, we booked a shore excursion from the cruise line called, the Villages of Crete. This was a bus tour that visited several villages. Disembarking the ship today was a breeze. We met up in the big showroom and our group was one of the first ones to leave the ship. The first village that we visited was Krista. It was a beautiful little Greek village surrounded by olive trees. There were narrow cobblestone streets. It was on a hillside with nice view of the valley below.
The next stop on the tour was a Byzantine church, the Church of Panagia Kera (Church of the Virgin Mary). The walls and ceilings are painted with beautiful 13th century frescoes depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. I didn’t think this little church was going to be very interesting. I was wrong about that. This was a very interesting little church, and I was glad we got to see it.
The tour continued to the village of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas). Here is our old friend St. Nick again. I’m not sure if he spent time here, but Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and Greece. Agios Nikolaos was an important port with lots of sailors. Located in the center of town is lake Voulismeni. It’s said to be bottomless, but it’s probably just really, really deep. There is a beautiful stone walkway around the edge of the lake lined with shops, restaurants, and a small whitewashed church. There are lots of old wooden boats tied up along the way. We had a nice Greek lunch at one of the restaurants. After lunch we walked, well almost ran to the bus, to get back to the ship on time.