Israel Part 5: Masada, Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus
Dead Sea at Sunrise
On my fifth, full day in Israel, we left the Dead Sea after sunrise to visit Masada.
Masada is a natural, mountain fortress built by King Herod the Great in 30 B.C. Herod, who reigned between 37 B.C. and 4 A.D., erected this palace in the remote southern end of the Judean Desert.
To reach Masada, we took a cable car ride, though you can also choose to hike up the mountain via the "snake path," if you like. We boarded the cable car at 843 feet below sea level and ...
... disembarked at 108 feet above sea level. If you are wondering why my pictures don't show the ascent more closely, it is because I am terrified of heights. (For more details, see my post on my trip down the world's largest zip line in Alaska.) Though I spent the entire cable ride, both up and down, managing my fear instead of capturing the view, it was better than letting my fear prevent me from this experience. To see what the ascent was like, watch this video that I found.
Once you arrive on the cable car landing, you'll walk up a bit farther to the fortress. Seemingly built precariously on the edge of a cliff, Masada gives you dramatic views of the Dead Sea, the Moab Mountains and the Judean Desert.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is so remote, that I was genuinely surprised to see these birds, known as Tristram's Grackle or Tristram's Starling, at the fortress. Apparently, they are regular visitors and the only wildlife I saw at Masada.
Herod's palace was particularly sophisticated, with an advanced water system that could collect a single day's rainwater in cisterns such as the one pictured above. That amount of water would sustain about 1,000 people for approximately two to three years.
The palace also had luxuries like a Roman-style bathhouse with this elaborate, mosaic floor.
After Herod died, the Romans overtook Masada, meaning “strong foundation or support.” In 66 A.D., the Great Revolt of the Jews broke out against the Romans. Thereafter, Masada became a fortress for a group of Jewish zealots called the Sicarii. In 70 A.D., after the fall of Jerusalem, hundreds more Jews came to join the Sicarii at Masada.
In 72 A.D., the Romans besieged Masada. On April 15, 73 A.D., it became clear that the end was near. In an act of martyrdom, the 960 Jews occupying Masada committed suicide, rather than being captured alive by the Romans.
We left Masada to drive through the Judean Hills and into Jerusalem. Along the way, we saw a ...
... Nubian Ibex, ...
An ibex is a wild goat that seems to defy gravity, as they can scale vertical rock faces with agility, as seen here.
In addition, these animals can leap 6 feet, straight up from a stationary position, and male ibex can grow horns up to five feet long, weighing 30 pounds.
... and Date Palms
This grove of palm trees produces the famous Medjool dates that are exported from Israel and considered to be the best in the world. The Medjool dates I tasted while in Israel, had a deep, caramel-like sweetness and velvety texture, and are the best dates I have ever tasted.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem, we stopped for lunch at City View, an Arabic restaurant.
We started lunch with hummus and a few different, fresh salads, ...
... and finished with a grilled-chicken pita.
Old Jerusalem and The Dome of the Rock
City View restaurant is suitably named because it has amazing city views. From the outside balcony, you get sweeping views of Jerusalem's Old City and the Dome of the Rock.
The Dome of the Rock was built between 685-691 A.D. on the Temple Mount, which is the site of both the First Temple or Solomon's Temple (built in the 10th century and destroyed in 587 B.C.) and the Second Temple (built in 517 B.C. and destroyed in 70 A.D.)
The Dome of the Rock is often erroneously thought to be a mosque. It is not. It is actually a Muslim shrine with a gold-plated dome, and is the oldest, surviving Islamic monument. The monument is named as such because it is built on top of a grey, course and pitted rock that is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Muslims believe the rock (which they refer to as "The Noble Rock") is the location where the prophet Muhammed ascended into heaven. Jews and Christians believe that the rock (which they call "The Foundation Stone") is the location where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, where the Ark of the Covenant was held and the site of the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s presence appeared. Lastly, the Bible prophesies that the Third Temple will be erected in this location.
Just outside of the restaurant was a camel, sitting on a carpet. (Now there's a sentence I didn't think I'd ever compose.) Camels do not roam through Jerusalem by any means, however some Bedouins do have domesticated camels, like this one.
Mount of Olives
View of The Church of Saint Mary from the Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge east of Jerusalem's Old City, named for the olive trees that once covered the slopes. This area is mentioned many times in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
In the Old Testament, it is the location where David flees when his son Absalom rebels (2 Samuel 15:30), where Solomon builds pagan temples (1 Kings 11:7-8), and the place that Zechariah prophesies will be split in two when Christ returns after the Tribulation period (Zechariah 14:3-4).
View of Al-Aqsa from the Mount of Olives.
The Mount of Olives sits at an elevation of more than 2,600 feet and offers spectacular views of the city. From here we could see the Al-Aqsa Mosque (black dome in the picture above). Al-Aqsa Mosque means "the farthest mosque" or "extreme mosque" and it is built in the location believed to be where Muhammed arrived on his night journey riding "Al-Burak," his magical horse. It is one of only five masjids mentioned by name in the Quran and is considered the third holiest site in Islam (after Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, in Medina).
Mount of Olives Cemetery
Dotting the side of the Mount of Olives are rectangular tombs in the oldest, Jewish cemetery in the world. In Jewish and Christian tradition, this area is believed to be where the Messiah will appear and the prophet Ezekiel will blow the trumpet of resurrection.
All the Jewish graves we saw had stones resting upon them; some had a few and others had many. I learned that in Jewish custom, stones are placed on graves, in lieu of flowers, when visiting. There are many explanations as to the origins of this, but one theme comes through; while flowers represent the brevity of life (Isaiah 40:8), stones represent permanence, in this case, of lasting memories and impact.
Garden of Gethsemane
Garden of Gethsemane
We continued to walk until we reached the Garden of Gethsemane which is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The word Gethsemane is the combination of the two Hebrew words, “Gat Shemanei,” which translate to "Olive Press." During biblical times, and until today, olive oil is pressed from the fruit of these trees.
The four Gospels in the Bible state that the Garden of Gethsemane is the location where Jesus went after the Last Supper and where He spent His final hours in prayer before He was arrested. Somewhere among these ancient olive trees, Jesus prayed to His Father regarding the impending crucifixion that was awaiting Him the next day. So great was His agony, that He experienced hematohidrosis, a medical condition in which a person literally sweats blood. (Luke 22:39–44)
The Church of All Nations
The Basilica of Agony
The Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of Agony, located near the Garden, was completed in 1924.
The church commemorates the events that took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and pays respect to Christ's suffering.
The trees in the church garden have been verified as some of the oldest olive trees in the world. Testing revealed that three of the eight oldest, gnarled trees are 800 to 900 years old and may be the direct descendants of the trees among which Jesus prayed on his fateful night.
Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
Next, we visited the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, located five minutes from the Basilica of Agony. The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu pays homage to the events that took place on the night prior to Christ's crucifixion and is also the site of the High Priest, Caiphus' house.
“In Gallicantu” means “Cock Crow,” a reference to Jesus prophesying that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed, on the night before His crucifixion (Matthew 26:31-35). Representing the fulfillment of that prophesy, the statue includes a rooster and Peter, as well as the maid and two men -- the three people that Peter indeed denied knowing Jesus to (Luke 22:54-62). Inscribed on the black pedestal at the bottom of the bronze statue are the Latin words, "Non Novi Illum" or "I do not know him;" the words that Peter used in one encounter when he denied knowing Christ.
Servus Domini Sculpture in Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
This sculpture, depicting the agony of Jesus on the night before his crucifixion, is also found in the church.
Pit Where Jesus was Held
Lastly, the church is built over a dungeon. This small pit is the location where Christ was held, tried and condemned by Caiaphas before his crucifixion.
Palm Sunday Road
Ironically, it was less than one week prior to that night that Jesus rode a donkey down this nearby road, making His way into Jerusalem and fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. Throngs of people surrounded Him waving palm branches and shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9)
For dinner, I visited Chakra, the creation of Chef Eran Peretz. His Mediterranean, fusion menu is as varied as his cooking techniques. This restaurant has been a staple of the Jerusalem, fine-dining scene since it opened in 2000.
The tables are all arranged around this gorgeous semi-circular bar. There is also a lovely, outdoor patio that overlooks Independence Garden.
Cauliflower Crème Agnolotti in Garlic, Butter, and Lemon
This appetizer is a must-try. I am a sucker for agnolotti and this is the best I have had thus far. I finished every last bite.
The linguine was delicious. Eager to share, I took almost all of it back to the hotel for my roommate.
Homemade Pistachio Ice Cream
This first dessert was the one I ordered. The creaminess of the ice cream was incredible. Two bites in, a surprise arrived on my table.
This second dessert was sent, compliments of the chef. He generously insisted that my visit would be incomplete without trying it. I cannot remember what he called it, but I do remember flavors of crème brûlée with a cheesecake-like texture and crust. I didn't come close to finishing either dessert, but the few bites I had, I savored.
After dinner, I grabbed a taxi, intending to go straight back to my hotel. The friendly driver and I struck up a conversation and he resolutely stated that I must see the lights of Jerusalem from the top of Mount Scopus, a mountain in northeast Jerusalem.
View from Mount Scopus
I am glad I took him up on the offer to drive me to the site, because the view was as lovely and peaceful as he described.
Eager to experience just a little more of Jerusalem, I exited the taxi a few miles from my hotel and strolled through neighborhoods, taking in as much as I could, before arriving back at my hotel and promptly falling asleep. It was another amazing day in Israel.
*As I mentioned previously, not imagining what was to come, I started posting this series about my trip to Israel six days before the Hamas cross-border attack and Israel's declaration of war. Since, I have received requests from Israeli friends of different faiths, living in and near Israel and abroad, to carry on posting in order to share and embrace the beauty of this country. My prayers continue to go out to them, and all those suffering, as a result of this unspeakable tragedy.