JERUSALEM-the 50 sites you may overlook

In a historic and religious city like Jerusalem there is so much to see no matter how much you tour. When time is a limiting factor, even the most efficient tour guides have to compromise while deciding what to incorporate in the itinerary. Although it depends on the interest of the individual visitor as well, there is still a huge must-see-list in Jerusalem that cannot be avoided. At every stop so much information is thrown on a visitor that sometimes s/he tends to forget the details after leaving the place.

I remember when I first visited the Church of Holy Sepulcher, it appeared to me more like a small museum than a church. I was virtually clueless inside a dark and dull overcrowded massive complex of more than 25 chapels with several curious artifacts and antiques scattered under some dusky arches and dingy columns. It took me at least three visits with a proper map in hand to understand the Church complex. A normal visitor for instance would be satisfied with Golgotha, the ‘Stone of Unction’ and the ‘Holy Sepulcher’, but the oldest part of the complex, viz. the first century tombs inside the Syrian Orthodox Chapel could be easily missed.

In the upcoming posts I plan to upload 50 such sites from Jerusalem that I believe can be easily overlooked or go unnoticed by an average visitor. I am incorporating the following sites from my previous visits, again with no specific order of importance. I am sure that a serious traveler who loves history, traditions and the Bible has noticed or been to most of them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

10. Mamilla Cemetery (7th Century AD?)

The tomb of Kebekiyeh dia A-Din Aidughdi (d.1289), Governor of Safed.
Inside the tomb of Kebekiyeh dia A-Din Aidughdi
Photos taken on 29 January, 2010.

Mamilla Cemetery is one of the most prominent and ancient Muslim cemeteries in Jerusalem. According to Islamic traditions, the cemetery was active as early as 7th century and claims to be the burial site of the companions (Shahabah) of Prophet Muhammad. The name Mamilla is often ascribed as a contraction of Arabic term “M’amaan Allah” (under the protection of Allah) or “Man Min Allah” (coming from Allah). An alternate view is that Mamilla got its name from a Christian saint named St. Mamilla. There existed a church dedicated to St. Mamiila and a Christian cemetery on the site before Islam reached Jerusalem in 638 AD. The Church of St. Mamilla was active from the 4th to at least the 9th centuries. Historical records support Mamilla as an Islamic cemetery from the 11th century only. However, it is certain that from 11th century, aside from being a Christian cemetery for a brief period during the Crusader era, Mamilla remained without interruption as Muslim burial ground. The cemetery was perhaps the largest Islamic cemetery in Jerusalem until it became defunct in 1927. About 70,000 people are supposed to be buried in Mamilla cemetery through centuries. The total area of the cemetery has been estimated to range from 33 acres to 111 acres by various authorities. Among the buried notables were Islamic scholars, saints, emirs, muftis, Sufi mystics, 12th century soldiers of Saladin and Crusader soldiers.

Under Israeli control, the cemetery ground was used to make a public park (Independence Park, 1955), a parking lot (1964), a public lavatory, streets, squares and various Governmental buildings. The cemetery has become a site of much controversy after California based Simon Wiesenthal Center decided to build the 'Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity' in 2004. The site selected for this purpose was a 3.5 acre plot near the cemetery where the parking lot was built in 1964. During the course of excavations on the site for construction, an estimated 1,000 skeletons were discovered, resulting in an intense public outcry against the museum by the Palestinian Arabs and many Israeli academicians and archaeologists. The work was halted several times only to be resumed after the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the Islamic Movement's petition in October 2008 and gave a final approval in July, 2011. The museum is expected to be completed by 2015 as against the earlier target of 2009. Vandalism to gravestones is being reported frequently from the Mamilla cemetery these days.

Palestinians consider the construction of the ‘Museum of Tolerance’ in Mamilla as an act of desecration, a defilement of Islamic holy site and an illegal acquirement of their ancestral burial ground used since the time of Prophet Muhammad. The Israeli supporters counter-argue that for 50 years, the site served as the municipality's car park where Muslims, Jews and Christians parked their cars there every day since the 1960s without any objection. They also cite incidents from 1929 and 1945 where Muslim leaders and Islamic councils gave permission to use the cemetery land for constructing hotels and business centers, an indication that the area is regarded as 'mundras,' or abandoned and without sanctity even before the modern state of Israel was formed.

More details can be availed in the Wikipedia link here for a general outlook on the subject. The Israeli viewpoints can be best summarized from an article written by Avra Shapiro here. The Palestinian concerns are nicely represented in a three part series of articles written by Rashid Khalidi here 1, 2 and 3. To get a better picture of the area, the following link to the map of the region would be much useful.

Same as Mamilla Pool, see the post below.

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