The slow dusk is about to close another Summer Friday, when the long and serious siren of the Sabbath echoes through Cidade Velha and marks the beginning of the obligatory rest.
Driven by their faith and religious identity, a Jewish crowd descends the labyrinthine and narrow streets of Jerusalem. The movement makes the tzizits (cord fringes) of the hips of the faithful Haredim (the one used to call ultra-Orthodox).
And the same happens to peot, the curly hair that hangs from their temples as if trying to escape the confinement of the kippah and the panoply of hats (borsalinos, fedoras, shtreimels, kolpiks, trilbys etc) that crown their typical clothing, depending on the geographical origin of each sect.
The women accompany the short pilgrimage, step after step, in simple dresses but with all the ends long, as recommended by the conduct. tzniut which requires modesty of appearance and behavior.
We did not take long to confirm the importance of blacks for the ultra-Orthodox, their color of severity that denotes fear for the sky of those who wear them, respect for God and for life and the total rejection of frivolity.
As time passes, it becomes predominant in long outfits (bekish, kapotehs e rekels) that are grouped in the male section of the Wall of Lamentations (Boiler as the Jews prefer to be called).
It does not affect the wave of celebration and generalized commotion that confronts the millenary muteness of its gigantic stones and takes over the place.
The Wailing Wall in Feast
From each of the entrances, more and more Jews flow in sympathy to the adjoining square, ready to renew their religious beliefs or celebrate the triumph of Zionism.
Euphoric groups of young soldiers from the IDF – Israel Defense Forces – in olive green uniforms arrive.
Students join them yeshiva, off from his studies of the log and the talmud.
According to the fourth commandment of the Hebrew scriptures, the Sabbath suggests the veneration of God's commitment to the people of Israel (Exodus 31:13-17), the celebration of the day he rested after completing Creation (Exodus 20:8-11) and the end of the seven weekly days of slavery to which the Israelites were subjected in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) until the rescue led by Moses.
In a multifaceted and even contrasting way, these determinations are strictly adhered to. They impress us as any Gentile who sees himself following these events.
On a first front, some Haredim they swing by the wall, or cling to it and even kiss it in their unconditional effort to invoke the divine.
This line is followed by others in which, installed on chairs, also equipped with prayer books, the Haredim – and occasional tradition (conventional believers) repeat the divine prayers.
The sound they emit merges with that of many parallel conversations. It generates a buzz that serves as a background to the revelry carried out further back by soldiers and students.
Embraced, they form a circle in which they dance and sing in chorus or straying under the victorious wave of the Israeli flag.
The Millennial and Complex Origin of the Wailing Wall
Some 2000 years ago, the builders of the Western Wall could never have foreseen or understood that their modest creation would be promoted to the most important religious sanctuary of the Jewish people.
Part of a project ordered by Herod some twenty years before the birth of Christ, to please Caesar, the wall contributed to the remodeling of the Second Temple – built by Cyrus II of Persia on the same site as the Temple of Solomon.
This remodeling was considered by many Jews a profanation as it disrespected the model revealed by God to David, the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel.
The desecration proved to be just one of the hardships the Jews had to endure under the Roman yoke. When Titus Flavius crushed the first of his revolts against the empire in AD 70, the temple and the three walls that protected it were devastated.
As was much of Jerusalem.
A few years later, Hadrian (the successor of Titus Flavius) named the city Aelia Capitolina. He condemned the Jews once more to exile.
The destruction of the temple and the renewal of the diaspora – substantiated over the centuries by the invasion of successive peoples from what had been their homeland – condemned Jewish religious life to an era of chaos.
For many, this era only ended with the founding of the state of Israel.
In 617 AD, the Persians took the city from the Romans. Faced with an imminent Christian revolt, they allowed the Jews to return to rule for three years.
During this period, returnees avoided the Temple Mount area for fear of stepping on their sanctum sanctorum, accessible only to high priests.
According to the rabbinical texts compiled in the meantime, the sechina, (divine presence) would never have deserted the ruins of the outer wall.
Accordingly, the faithful made them their sanctuary.
They started to pray there.
The Muslim Era that Uprooted the Jews. And the Controversial Dome of the Rock
Two decades later, the city surrendered to the armies of Caliph Omar. For four hundred and sixty-two years, the designs of the city were left to the Muslims. Between 688 and 691, Muslims erected the Dome of the Rock for the purpose of protecting a slab that was sacred to both Islam and Judaism.
According to the texts of the Koran, the Dome of the Rock would be in the place from which the prophet Mohammed would have departed towards heaven, to take his place beside Allah. Jerusalem is therefore the third holiest city, after Mecca and Medina.
According to Jewish scriptures, the Dome of the Rock was indeed the center of the world, the exact spot where Abraham prepared to sacrifice one of his sons.
The purposes of the work's mentor, Caliph Abd al-Malik, proved to be both pious and strategic. The sacralization of Jerusalem had long since become tripartite.
It worried him, above all, that the growing influence of the Christians and of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, seduced the Arab minds.
The governor thus ordered that his rotunda be used as a model, but not the dreary interiors and austere stone facades.
Instead, he decorated the mosque with glittering mosaics and verses from the Koran, while the dome was covered in solid gold to shine like a beacon for Islam.
In visual terms, the goal was achieved. Centuries later, the golden structure still stands out from the stone houses of the Old Town.
Despite the political-military supremacy of the Jewish state, the Dome of the Rock is, today, one of the great symbols of Jerusalem and one of the most photographed buildings on the face of the Earth.
It stands out like no other building in the city in the panoramic view from Monte das Oliveiras.
The Rise of Christianity and Successive Crusades
About a millennium after the birth of its messiah in Bethlehem, Christianity had expanded. It became a solid religion, headquartered in Rome, branching out into countless believing kingdoms and territories, from the Middle East to the far west of Europe.
At that time, Jerusalem had come to be seen as holy by Christians as well. Accordingly, multinational crusader armies traveled from the four corners of Europe, in multiple waves. They were encouraged by the sacred reconquest of the Muslims.
Its achievements never long withstood the overwhelming responses of Islam. fall of acre, in 1291, the Holy Land went back to “infidel” hands.
This was followed by integration into the Ottoman Empire (1516) which lasted until the end of World War I.
During this long period, the wall – which coexisted on the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock – became a place of pilgrimage that Jews visited to mourn their former loss.
Thus it became popularized as “the Lamentations”.
But the unfolding of the epic was far from stopping there. In the years to come, the peoples and religions that shared and disputed Jerusalem continued to intersect in history.
As we saw it happen, day after day, on your streets.
The Christian Mausoleum of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher
While the Dome of the Rock shines in the company of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall receives countless lamentations, Christianity's holiest site in the Old City, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, has spent centuries withdrawn in the poignant memory of Jesus' last hours.
From very early in the morning (opens to the public at 4.30 am), pilgrims from the four corners of the world enter its complex and dark structure, determined to praise the sacrifice of the messiah there.
We see them cross themselves and their most distinguished objects, leaning over the Stone of Unction, the slab on which the body of Christ was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the Jewish senator who obtained permission from Pilate to remove him from the cross.
Then, go up a small staircase and access Mount Calvary. There they find Golgotha (the supposed site of the crucifixion) and, in a small Greek chapel, the stone that supported the cross.
At the imposing roundabout of the basilica, they line up in a line under the deep gaze of Orthodox priests and wait for their turn to glimpse the Altar of the Crucifixion.
The Historical Depth Complexity of Jerusalem
Like the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher – which is much larger than the façades suggest – Jerusalem also deceives us about its size and wealth.
Five or six days went by without the Cidade Velha being properly explored and before we realized the magnitude of what there is to discover around.
Most visitors access the interior of Suleiman's walls through the Jaffa Gate. It is the same door that General Edmund Allemby crossed when consummating the allied triumph over the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
Shortly before, among many sensible statements and some braggadocio, an arsonist proclaimed: "Today, the Crusades are over." For some reason it went down in history as the Bloody Bull.
From Porta de Jaffa, it's always going down to anywhere in the four districts in the interior: the Jewish, the Armenian (smallest), the Muslim and the Christian. We found that each of these neighborhoods has its own life and dynamics.
And, with the exception of the confused intersection between the Christian and the Muslim, they seem to us to be easy to identify, especially the Jew who constitutes a real world apart.
From Theodor Herzl's Zionist Appeal to Israel's Declaration of Independence
At the turn of the 20.000th century, the Zionist movement inspired by the Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl boosted the return of the Diaspora to Palestine as never before. The population installed there amounted to almost XNUMX people. The Jewish Quarter was never entirely Jewish.
On the contrary, a significant part of the homes and stores were rented by their occupants to waqfs, Muslim properties for religious and charitable purposes.
On May 14, 1948, the day before the end of the British Mandate of Palestine, Israel declared independence.
It was immediately attacked by various Muslim nations in what became known as the Arab-Israeli War or War of Independence.
The nearly 2000 Jews who resisted the escalation of the conflict in the Jewish quarter were surrounded. They were forced to leave, expelled by Jordanian troops.
The Six-Day War that Returned Jerusalem to the Jews
At that time, Cidade Velha was on the other side of the demarcation line. The neighborhood remained under Jordanian jurisdiction until the 1967 Six Day War, when a determined and heavily armed Israeli army conquered the entire Old City and destroyed the Mughrabi (Moroccan) neighborhood adjacent to the Western Wall.
In the hangover, they would also be expropriated, and about 6.000 Muslim inhabitants evicted. In 1969, Zionist authorities established the Jewish Quarter Development Company, with the aim of rebuilding the former Jewish quarter.
As a result, unlike its neighbors to the north, the Jewish Quarter is, in its own way, modern and, above all, residential, built in new stone, equipped with playgrounds for children, infrastructure for wheelchairs and a or another security technology well-disguised by the seemingly historic look.
Another difference that we detected in three periods is that it is lived and visited almost only by the Hebrew community and foreign visitors.
We explore it in order to absorb the most genuine Jewish mysticism in its streets and synagogues (especially the Hurva and the Ramban).
Also determined to devour the delicious snacks of the resident bars: the shoarmas pitas, humus and falafel, just to mention the most popular.
The New Mt Zion Sacred Miscellany
We left the Jewish Quarter. We cross the Armenian, cross the Zion Gate and arrive at Mount Zion. There lies a new confluence of the sacred which, not to vary, involves the three great Abrahamic religions.
Mount Zion concentrates an eclectic mix of monuments and stories: in a purely biblical field, it is the place of David's tomb, it hosted the Last Supper (there is the Upper Room) and the eternal sleep of the Virgin Mary.
Less old than the previous characters but eternally heroic for Jews and for the world, Oskar Schindler also rests there.
From the top of Zion, we make our way to the Kidron Valley (of which the Jehoshaphat Valley is part) is the oldest section of Jerusalem with archaeological remains dating back more than four millennia.
At the end of a lonely walk through the parched and deep outskirts of Jerusalem where the legendary City of David was founded, we come across the tombs attributed to Absalom (third son of David) and the prophet Zechariah.
And the Mount of Olives. Biblical and Panoramic like No Other
At the base of its slope, the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Getsemane stand out. Right next door, in a grievous grotto, there is the tomb of the Virgin Mary, another place given over to Christian believers who renew their faith and emotion in it.
The Mount of Olives is also prolific in biblical places and monuments. At the base of its slope, the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Getsemane stand out. Right next to it, in a grievous grotto, there is the tomb of the Virgin Mary,
In the middle of the slope, we glimpse the glow of the three golden domes of the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene, built in 1888 by Alexandre III, in memory of his mother.
The Jewish cemetery occupies a good part of the Mount of Olives.
Augmented from biblical times by the Jews' desire to be in Jerusalem on Judgment Day, its endless lego of cut rock burials forms a self-contained mortuary landscape, comparable only – if far more striking – to the Muslim cemetery adjacent to Suleiman's east wall .
Night falls when we admire the yellowish and irregular houses of the Holy City from a viewpoint at the top of Monte das Oliveiras. With each passing minute, sunset turns Jerusalem more golden.
At the same time, a group of Jews Haredim, all dressed to the nines, proceeds with an encounter between the homogenized tombs of their ancestors. The vision serves us as a visual preamble to the city.
It gives it some additional mysticism that we enjoy with strong awe until night falls and Jerusalem is left to the God that all its residents and pilgrims worship.
The return to Jerusalem was and is, for many Jews, the best possible compensation for the diaspora.
Even so, a past with about three thousand years has proven and has proved again that, in the Holy City, history is always controversial.
It never finishes being written.