Monday, April 20, 2020

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.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


Here comes my new blog on Holocaust. It's only at the preliminary stage so do keep checking the link here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

45) The Holy Prisons of Jesus Christ.

Based on traditions of different Christian sects, there are at least 5 sites in Jerusalem believed to be 'the Prison of Christ' where He was held before trial! Greek Orthodox (2); Armenian Orthodox (2) and Roman Catholics (1). Details soon....

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

44) The three hidden pearls of Armenian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem that are extremely difficult to access for tourists. 1-Chapel of St. Vartan (Church of Holy Sepulcher); 2- Burial places of 'St. James the Great' & 'St. James the Less' (St. James Cathedral); 3- House of Caiaphas or Armenian Church of St. Saviour (Mount Zion).

1) Chapel of St. Vartan (Church of Holy Sepulcher)
Inside this iron door lies a quarry from the First Temple Period (8th-7th Century BC). The Chapel of Vartan is part of this ancient quarry and has remains from Hadrian's Temple of Aphrodite/Venus (2nd Century AD) and Constantine's Church of Holy Sepulcher (4th Century AD) in the form of their original walls (if you remember, Hadrian Caesar built the Temple of Aphrodite over Christ's empty tomb and Emperor Constantine replaced it with the Church of Holy Sepulcher).

However, the most important relic in the chapel is an inscription and a drawing of a merchant boat on a stone (25 x 12 inches) by a Christian pilgrim made either before Constantine built the Church (ca. 330 AD) or when it was under construction. Excavated in 1971, this stone carving is perhaps the earliest known Christian art discovered from the Holy Land (some even propose a 2nd century AD date to the drawing). The inscription in Latin is generally read as ' DOMINE IVIMUS' or 'Lord, we will go', believed to be a version of Psalms 122:1. An alternate version is 'DD M NOMINUS' or 'the gift of Marcus Nominus'. I couldn't access the Chapel and hence photos are only from the closed entrance. You can read this interesting link and learn how difficult it is to access the chapel.

The closed ornate wrought iron door to the 'Chapel of Vartan'. The 'Chapel of Vartan' is located on the north side near the altar of the 'Chapel of St. Helena' (Greek) or 'Chapel of St. Gregory' (Armenian)- part of the Church of Holy Sepulcher complex.

2) Burial Sites of 'St. James the Great' & 'St. James the Less' (St. James Cathedral)
If Armenian traditions are to be accepted, the Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem has the privilege of possessing the relics of two apostles of Jesus: St. James the Greater and St. James the Lesser. St. James the Greater, the brother of St. John and son Zebedee was the first apostle of Jesus to be martyred. He was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD, the only disciple whose martyrdom is recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:2). According to Armenian tradition, the head of St. James the Greater is buried in the altar of  'the Chapel of James' inside the cathedral. Interestingly, rest of his body is believed to be buried in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

St. James the Less on the other hand is identified as either the apostle James, the son of Alphaeus (Mark 15:40) or the 'brother of the Lord, (Acts 9:27; Gal 1:19), the first bishop of Jerusalem. He is also known as 'St. James the Just'.

Although the present Cathedral is from 12th-13th century, it was built over an earlier 6th century Byzantine Church. Despite being one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Jerusalem, St. James is not generally  open to tourists outside the Armenian community.  You can visit the cathedral only when the prayers are held and during the service it is advised to behave more like a worshiper than a tourist. Photography is also not promoted and many of the interesting sites are not accessible. Most of the photographs below were taken immediately after the service finished and before the cathedral was closed to public. I had to really rush and click these photos before the cathedral was closed after the prayers.

Interior of St. James Cathedral, Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Both the burial places are located inside the St. James Cathedral.

The yellow arrow marks the entrance to the Chapel of 'St. James the Great'. The chapel is one among the four to the left of the main entrance to the cathedral [the other three are, 1) Chapel of St. Macarius, 2) Chapel of St. Stephen and 3) Chapel of St. Menas].

Inside the Chapel of 'St. James the Great'. The red marble in front of the altar marks the place where his head is buried according to Armenian traditions.

Main altar of St. James cathedral. 1) The throne dedicated to 'St. James the Less'; 2) The throne/seat of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem; 3) In front of the throne of 'St. James the Less' is an iron grille that marks the saint’s reputed burial place (not visible in this photo).

 3) House of Caiaphas or Armenian Church/Convent of St. Saviour (Mount Zion)
According to Armenian traditions here was the house of the High Priest Caiaphas (18-36 AD) where Jesus  Christ was arrested and delivered to trial (John 18:24). Although there are no evidence to prove that the site was indeed the house of Caiaphas, archaeological excavations conducted in 1971 have recovered artifacts from the time of Jesus from the area. The present Armenian convent is only from the 14th century, however a Byzantine Christian (6th Century) church had existed on the same site. Today, if you can access the site, you can look for the grand tombs of Armenian Patriarchs and some very beautiful Armenian blue mosaics from the early 20th century. I had these photographs taken while walking the Ramparts walk through Jerusalem Walls near the Zion Gate section. Here is an interesting link with some nice photographs of the beautiful blue mosaics from the church.

 The grand tombs of Armenian Patriarchs.

 Part of an Armenian blue mosaic.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

43) Remains of the Broad Wall or Hezekiah's Wall (8th Century BC), Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem. It was built by King Hezekiah of Judah (715-686 BC) to defend Jerusalem against the Assyrian King Sennacherib's (705-681) invasion in 701 BC. 'Broad Wall' is one of the few remnants of Jerusalem left from the First Temple Period. The wall appears in the Scripture in Nehemiah 3:8 and Isaiah 22:9-10. The width of the base of the wall is about 23 feet!

The  blue striped panel on the wall of this modern building in Jewish Quarter gives the dimension of the Broad Wall at the time of 8th century BC. Each blue stripe measures 1 meter and you can imagine the height of the wall came up to 8 meters (the top of the panel)! The base of the scale gives the street level of Jerusalem at the First Temple Period (1000-586 BC)!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

42) Greek Orthodox 'Monastery of the Cross', Nayot, Jerusalem. Legend has it the burial site of Adam's head from which grew the triplet tree (pine-cypress-cedar) that later supplied the wood to Christ's cross! The monastery has foundations from Byzantine era (5th century AD). See the legend explained in the first photograph.

Monastery of the Cross

Room of the Holy Tree

Bronze plate marking the spot where once the triplet tree stood.

Ancient mosiacs in the Church

Frescoes and paintings inside the Church (Originals from 13th Century)

The current monastery complex was built by the Georgian Orthodox community in 11th century and it remained a major center for the Georgians until 17th century. Since 1685, the monastery is controlled by the Greek Orthodox Church. The Crusaders also controlled the site in 13th century for a short period. The monastery however has a much earlier foundation. We know it was active at least from the Byzantine era (5th century). Traditions even attribute its establishment to Emperor Constantine or Queen Helena (4th Century). Of course the legend of the 'Holy Tree' was the reason why the place was revered so much among the Orthodox community. You can read the whole legend from the first photograph. The concept of the triplet tree in making the cross of Christ perhaps got evolved from Isaiah 60:13. The monastery was destroyed and the monks were murdered by the Persians (614) and Arabs (796). In the 13th century it was converted to a Mosque by the Mameluks, but was returned to the Christians in 1305.

Monday, May 26, 2014

41) The sacred olive tree in the 'Monastery of Holy Archangels' or the 'Convent of the Olive Tree', Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem. This olive tree according to Armenian tradition (15th century) is where Jesus was tied during his trial under Annas, the High Priest.

The venue marks the House of Annas where Jesus was judged. The tree is believed to be which Christ was fastened during his trial under Annas. The convent area containing the olive tree is not easy to access and require special permission from the Armenian Patriarchate.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

40) Northern Gate of Aelia Capitolina, the Roman Jerusalem built by Hadrian Caesar in 2nd Century AD. Present Damascus Gate is from 16th century AD and is built by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman over this ancient gate.

The original Roman gate complex had 3 arched entrances, 2 massive guard towers and a large open plaza with a high column topped by a statue of Emperor Hadrian. The columned plaza was connected to the main highway, cardo of Jerusalem. Today, the full eastern arched entrance and its guard tower, parts of open plaza and cardo remain. The Roman gate and plaza can be reached by descending a small bridge in the side of the modern Damascus Gate. One can use original stairs inside the plaza to climb to Old City walls and do the Rampart's walk.

Eastern Arched entrance of the Northern Roman Gate of Hadrian's Jerusalem.

Remains of the Guard Tower in Roman Plaza.

Remains of Cardo from the Roman Plaza.

Guard rooms and other remains from the Northern Gate of 2nd century Jerusalem

39) Remains of ancient streets inside the old city of Jerusalem from 1) Second Jerusalem Temple period (100 BC-100 AD) and 2) Late Roman period (3rd-4th century AD).

Second Temple Period (100 BC-100 AD)-located near Damascus Gate, Muslim Quarter.

Roman Period (3rd-4th Century AD)-located in Christian Quarter

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

38) Remains of Herodian era Shops, Stones and Street from the Second Jerusalem Temple (1st Century BC).

Overall view of the area

Shops: this building with 4 shops served as the base for a large staircase (Robinson's Arch) that lead people into the Temple in first century.

Street: this paved Herodian street parallel to the 'Western Wall' was much active at the time of Jesus. Notice the crushed portions on the street is a result of the impact of the massive stones pushed over by the Roman soldiers from the Temple in 70 AD.

Stones: these massive stones were thrown by the Roman soldiers into the paved Herodian street from the Temple after Jerusalem was captured and destroyed in 70 AD.  

37) Remains of the monumental Herodian (1st century BC) staircases to the Temple Mount from south through Huldah Gates. It is certain that Jesus and His disciples used these steps to enter the temple precinct.

Today, most of the fine steps you see are reconstructed.