Cordoba, Spain – the capital of old Andalusia

CORDOBA, SPAIN: Cordoba, the unique Andalusian monumental city, has been part of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. It offers one of the more extensive and well-conserved historical quarters of Europe to its visitors. Cordoba’s environment is full of charm that coexists peacefully with its attractive monuments, cultures, landscapes, and legacy, as Roman capital, court of Caliphs, and cradle of three cultures: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish. It contains a mind-blowing mixture of diverse cultures. Situated in the center of Andalusia, this is a matchless city for its monuments, history, natural environment, variety of leisure activities, and gastronomy.

Picturesque Cordoba
Picturesque Cordoba

Cordoba was the capital of Al-Andalus during Muslim rulers, a territory that extended as far as the Duero River. A portion of Guadalquivir River runs thru the city and can be enjoyed within walking distance from the old town.

This is the city I loved the most in this great country of Spain. It has the appeal that I look for when visiting European cities which big cities like Barcelona or Madrid lack. Cordoba’s old town is beyond beautiful with Moorish influence and welcoming environment all over. If you can spare time, try visiting Granada or Seville for more Andalusian treats…each town is unique in its own way. Cordoba is a busy town with lots of tourists and locals, especially many school-going kids who come here in groups for field-trips. But this part of the city gets really quiet right after dark, if you are looking for some awesome night-life, may be you have to get out of this area and go to the newer neighborhoods.

Medieval old town of Cordoba in Spain
Medieval old town of Cordoba in Spain

TIME of TRAVEL: We went back to Spain in February 2014 for the second time to check out Andalusia region of this country. We visited Malaga and Granada before coming to Cordoba. The drive was about 2 hours from Granada to Cordoba. By the way that drive was very scenic, you can see the mountains, lush green fields, and countless olive trees for miles after miles. Weather was excellent, not too cold not too hot. But my little daughter somehow caught ear infection in this journey and had to take her to the hospital nearby where we got free treatment and free medication…yes, Spain is a great country when it comes to health care too.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Las Casas de la Juderia in the Jewish quarter of old town. As usual, my husband’s choice was excellent for this place. This was the best hotel among all the places we stayed in Andalusia. It looked more like a “Riad” in Morocco with cute little courtyards and fountains in the front. Cordoba Mezquita and Roman Bridge were only 10 minutes of walk from the hotel. Breakfast wasn’t included here but had Wi-Fi in the room. We were also very surprised on our first evening here when they brought us some snacks (fruit kebabs on sticks and cakes) to our room…all free of charge, something we never experienced before. This was an excellent hotel and one of the best from all the hotels we ever stayed in so far.

A lovely courtyard of our hotel in Cordoba, Spain
A lovely courtyard of our hotel in Cordoba, Spain

EATING and SHOPPING: Our first lunch in Cordoba was in our hotel, Las Casas de la Juderia. It was by far one of the best places here to eat. Although not typical Spanish dish, we loved every single dish we ordered from fish soup to creamy rice with Cuttlefish, to can’t remember all the other dishes. Next lunch was at a Subway near the Mezquita and dinner was a quick Indian/Middle-Eastern restaurant in the old town. As I mentioned, the town gets really quiet around 8 or 9pm. Some of the restaurants close early but we were lucky to find that Indian restaurant at 10pm when most of the places were closed.

Cordoba’s old town is packed with many shops and boutiques. You will find generic souvenirs to elegant designer stores here. Some souvenirs to buy from here can be Spanish potteries, t-shirts with calligraphy, and Islamic arts. We bought two Flamenco dresses for our girls for about 10 euros each…they loved it for its vibrant colors and unique design.

Flamenco dresses for Barbie in Cordoba, Spain - how cute is that?
Flamenco dresses for Barbie in Cordoba, Spain – how cute is that?

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We had a day and half in Cordoba. Walking is the best way to get around. Old district of Cordoba is a beautiful place to roam around and get lost in small alleys. Most of the interesting places are located here and can be covered on foot. The Mosque Cathedral is the center point of this quarter and the old city surrounds this prominent establishment.  We couldn’t visit the synagogue, it was very close to our hotel in the old town but when we walked there, it was already closed by then. The synagogue is from the early 14th century and one of only three remaining in Spain. May be another interesting place we could have visited was Museum of Al-Andalus Life. All of the following places we visited in Cordoba were in the old town. Best part of being here was that on the 2nd day, we walked some small alleys and different neighborhoods in the old district without a map. It was fantastic passing by beautiful shops, restaurants, and old buildings. You don’t see too many tourists here, may be some…but saw mostly locals. Here are all the places we could cover in a day and half.

Looks like a statue of a Caliphate (?) in Jewish quarter of Cordoba, Spain
Looks like a statue of a Caliphate (?) in Jewish quarter of Cordoba, Spain

1) SAN RAFAEL’S TRIUMPH: After checking-in at our hotel and having a fantastic lunch, it was late afternoon by then. We started walking towards Mezquita, the center point of Cordoba. Passed Mezquita and walked a bit further to reach the Roman Bridge. San Rafael’s Triumph is a pretty nice and tall sculpture in a small square at one end of Roman Bridge (on the Mezquita side) in Plaza del Triumfo. Some old buildings and the cathedral surround the square. We eventually came back here again and sat down for an hour on the next day just enjoying the bridge, river, and people…loved it.

San Rafael's Triumph at one end of Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Spain
San Rafael’s Triumph at one end of Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Spain

2) ROMAN BRIDGE (Puente Romano): This is one of the best spots of Cordoba to enjoy some nature. It is truly beautiful having shallow River Guadalquivir running underneath and looking at historic Mezquita. It is a pedestrian bridge from the Roman time in Cordoba, think from 1st or 2nd century. This has to be perfect place to take some sunrise/sunset photos.

Walking on the Roman Bridge of Cordoba, Spain and looking at Mezquita
Walking on the Roman Bridge of Cordoba, Spain and looking at Mezquita

At one end, on the cathedral side, is the triumphal arch Bridge Gateway, located few steps away from San Rafael Triumph. From the bridge you can see the old Albolafia’s Waterwheel, looked like an old water pump or something. On the other side of the bridge is Calahora Tower which houses a museum. The snapshot is gorgeous from this side of the bridge. You can lay your eyes over the whole old town, can see the bridge and its arches, and the flowing river. It is a picturesque sight that shouldn’t be missed. We walked along the river (keeping it on the right side) and came back to city center via the next bridge, called San Rafael Bridge. It was a long walk, but was worth every step. We leisurely went back to our hotel stopping at some points to take in the beautiful atmosphere…enjoyed it much.

Roman Bridge as we were walking along River Guadalquivir in Cordoba, Spain
Roman Bridge as we were walking along River Guadalquivir in Cordoba, Spain

3) FORTRESS of the KINGS (ALCAZAR de los REYES CRISTIANOS): Next morning, we started our day with a visit to Fortress of the Kings, which we could see from our hotel windows.

Alcazar de los Reye Cristianos in Cordoba, Spain.
Alcazar de los Reye Cristianos in Cordoba, Spain

Originally the fortress was built in the 8th century as a caliphate residence. Later it was used as residence and fortress of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It was expanded by the order of King Alfonso XI in 1328 and was the residence of the Christian Kings when they stayed in Cordoba. The main façade of it is original along with couple towers. Some important undertakings have been planned inside this building such as the discovery of America or the reconquest of Granada. Interesting Gothic tower vaults, patios, and baths were built under the reign of King Alfonso XI. During the Modern Ages, it was the seat of the Inquisition. The Baroque chapel was built in the 17th century which was used as a prison building in the 19th century. In the 20th century when the chapel was bought by the Town Council, it then provided with gardens and decorated with Roman mosaics and other historical items.

The main attraction of the Alcazar is the prettiest fountains and lush gardens with many orange trees all around. We spent more than an hour just in the garden walking and enjoying every corner of it. You can see the Moorish influence here too, especially with the fountains and little courtyards. The weather helped too, otherwise it wouldn’t have been fun walking outside.

Gardens and fountains of Alcazar de los Reye Cristianos in Cordoba, Spain
Gardens and fountains of Alcazar de los Reye Cristianos in Cordoba, Spain

Make sure to climb the towers for a great views and walk along the old walls. There are some small museums and displays here and there where you can see Roman mosaics, sculptures, and some old findings from this place.

From one of the towers of Alcazar de los Reye Cristianos in Cordoba, Spain
From one of the towers of Alcazar de los Reye Cristianos in Cordoba, Spain

It is 4:50 euros per adult to enter the fortress. You need at least 2 hours to see it fully…don’t rush, otherwise you’ll regret later.

4) THE ROYAL STABLE and EQUASTRIAN/FLAMENCO SHOW: Royal Stable is the next building beside the Alcazar and that’s where we headed for our next stop. It is free to enter. You can see some pure breed of Spanish horses in the current stable. In the old stable many elegant and decorative carriages are in display that the royals once used many centuries ago.

An old carriage inside the Royal Stable of Cordoba, in Spain
An old carriage inside the Royal Stable of Cordoba, in Spain

The Royal Stable also hosts daily Equestrian show with Flamenco performance. We were thinking of attending a Flamenco show but this sounded even better. We bought the ticket right away and came back at night for the show. Various types of tricks and plays by different horses are shown here. Two ladies performed Flamenco with the horses. Our daughters loved the show and were very excited about it. They had beautiful arrangements with lights and Flamenco music, a great experience for all of us.

Equestrian show on our 2nd night in Cordoba, Spain
Equestrian show on our 2nd night in Cordoba, Spain

It was 15 euros per adult and 10 euros for kids 3-12 years old. The show started at 8pm and was for an hour. It’s better to buy the tickets ahead of time, may be that morning…because it was quite packed in the auditorium.

And some Flamenco performance
And some Flamenco performance

5) BATHS of CALIPHATE in ALCAZAR (Banos del Alcazar Califal): As we were walking towards the old town leaving Royal Stable behind, we saw the sign for Baths of Caliphate on our right…sounded interesting and off we went to explore.

Located opposite of Alcazar and the Royal Stable, these Arabic baths most likely belonged to the now disappeared Umayyad dynasty. The oldest elements and decorative designs are from the times of Caliphate of Cordoba in 10th century. It is inside Umayyad Alcazar, the residence of Amirs and Caliphs and the seat of governors until the conquest of Cordoba by the Catholic monarchs. These baths were discovered in 1903 and finally in 2002, after a long restoration period, the modern building was designed where they are now housed. These consist of several rooms with stone walls. Four of them have vaults with star-shaped skylights supported by horseshoe arches on marble columns.

The baths of the Caliphate Alcazar are a good illustration of the immense archeological heritage dating back to the Umayyad period. It’s a fine example of palace architecture in the service of the Amirs and Caliphs and a model that was to be followed in Spanish-Muslim art for centuries to come. The Andalusian baths, the descendants of the thermal baths of classical times, were for the purification of the body as well as for hygiene and cosmetic treatment. They were also a place for enjoyment and social relations. There were royal, public, and private baths. Royal baths received more attention on the decoration which could be architectural or using luxurious materials. And public baths were designed to cater for more users. These royal baths were to serve the Caliph, who could use them for himself, his family or as a political meeting place. In the baths, there took place a whole ritual for the cosmetic, physical, and therapeutic care of the Caliphs.

In these baths, tourists can see the changing rooms, cold rooms, warm rooms, and hot rooms. The heart of the baths was in the service area, with the furnace and boiler. Here, the heat, water, and steam supply to the inside of the baths were maintained.

Where the furnace used to be inside the Baths of Caliphates in Cordoba, Spain
Where the furnace used to be inside the Baths of Caliphates in Cordoba, Spain

Couple tragic historic events took place in one of the baths here in the early 11th century. The Caliph of Moroccan origin, Ali Ibn Hammud, was slayed by three of his slaves in one of the halls here. Another event, took place few year later, was the capture and execution of the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Rahman V by the people of Córdoba, in the same hall.

Some tragic events took place at this very hall during Umayyad dynasty in Cordoba, Spain
Some tragic events took place at this very hall during Umayyad dynasty in Cordoba, Spain

Although in ruins now, visitors can see the original furnace, hot rooms, cold rooms, original walls from the 10th century, a small museum displaying findings from this site, and few rooms from the 12th and 13th century.

Ticket is 2:50 euros per adult, kids are free. Don’t miss the videos that give brief history on this historical site.

6) OLD CITY WALL and PUERTA de ALMODOVAR: Almodovar Gate was one of the original gates to enter the old town. After our visit to the baths, we started walking along the old city wall and came in front of this old gate of Almodovar. You enter the historic city center upon entering this gate. Cordoba has one of the most beautiful and well-preserved old parts in Spain. We started walking on the cobble-stoned alleys towards the cathedral without any map. Getting lost is half the fun, you get to see old houses, narrow alleys, beautiful stores, and cafes.

Old city wall and Almodovar Gate in the old town of Cordoba, Spain
Old city wall and Almodovar Gate in the old town of Cordoba, Spain

7) CORDOBA CATHEDRAL or MEZQUITA: Also known as the Mosque Cathedral, it is the biggest attraction of Cordoba and a massive building that deserves major attention. It is the live witness of Cordoba’s past days.  It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1984. This building has been a hallowed ground throughout the history of the city.

An old gate and exterior wall of Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain
An old gate and exterior wall of Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain

Historically, Basilica of St. Vincent stood in this very spot around early 4th century AD (Visigoth Period). The floor plan with its heavy columns and the Greco-Roman order of the whole monument date from the Hellenistic tradition of the Mediterranean world. When Andalusia came under Muslim rules, Amir Abd Al-Rahman I built the primitive mosque in 786 AD that would come to be considered the most important sanctuary of Islam in the Western world. This impressive creation was the site of not only religious but also social, cultural, and political manifestations. Later the mosque was successively extended and adorned by Muslim governors over the few centuries until 976 AD. When the city was reconquered by Christians in 1236, it was converted to the Cathedral of the Blessed Mary. In 1523, they tried to change the interior design of this place giving an ingenious integration of the Moorish structures with the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque creation. But despite being a cathedral now, most of the original mosque structure remained remarkably well-preserved.

The highlight of this place is its countless columns that cover the whole interior with signature red and white striped arches designed in Islamic style. These columns are standing for centuries rows after rows almost as far as you can see.

Red and white stripped arches of Mezquita - an original Moorish design from the 8th century
Red and white stripped arches of Mezquita – an original Moorish design from the 8th century

The original “Mihrab” of the mosque is intact ‘til today with its beautiful mosaics and the well-preserved vaulted skylights. It was the focus of the mosque which faces the direction of “Ka’ba” in Mecca and at which every Muslim face at the time of prayers.

The original Mihrab of Mosque Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain
The original Mihrab of Mosque Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain

The main chapel and choir are from the early 17th century. The Royal Chapel hold the remains of King Ferdinand IV and Alfonso XI. The main altar in the middle of this building is an extremely gorgeous focus point.

Gorgeous main altar of Mosque Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain
Gorgeous main altar of Mosque Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain

Minaret in the courtyard that is now embedded in the tower of the cathedral, dates back to the reign of Abd-Ar-Rahman III. Looking over the old town, the top of belfry (from the 16th century) is presently crowned by a sculpture of San Rafael, the archangel guardian of the city. Below the tower is Puerta del Perdon (Door of Forgiveness), the main entrance to the precincts. The Muslim courtyard was remodeled with the construction of the cloisters. In the 15th century, palm trees were replaced with orange trees and gave its name as “The Orange Tree Courtyard” or “Patio de los Naranjos”. A grove of orange trees are planted in nicely organized rows in this courtyard. This part of the complex is free to enter and anyone can enjoy it without going inside the cathedral.

Bell Tower of Mosque Cathedral or Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain
Bell Tower of Mosque Cathedral or Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain

The cathedral’s mission was not the destroy the magnificent interior of the previous mosque, rather it ensured  that the cathedral, old Western Caliphate Mosque, and World Heritage Site are not in a pile of ruins. The authorities tried to safeguard and inspire culture and art. That’s why you can still see lots of Islamic calligraphy and artworks inside the cathedral. This is one of the most magnificent religious building I’ve seen so far.

Entrance fee is 8 euros per adult and kids are free.

8) FLOWER STREET (Calleja de las Flores): The last thing on our itinerary was this cute little street. The name tells your how beautiful this street can be. It’s a cozy passageway in the old town decorated with fresh flowers in colorful pots hanging from both sides of the wall. At the end there is a tiny square/courtyard from where you can see the bell tower of the cathedral. There were few shops selling souvenirs and local trinkets. We were there in February, think in summer this street looks even prettier with more fresh blooms.

Flower Street or Calleja de las Flores in Cordoba, Spain
Flower Street or Calleja de las Flores in Cordoba, Spain

Cairo – City of Thousand Minarets

CAIRO, EGYPT: I don’t think I need to say much about Cairo or Egypt as a whole. This is one of the earliest civilizations of the world and when you visit this country, you will know that some talented group of people lived here once few thousand years ago. Some of world’s very original art, culture, history, language, and science started from this land.  For a traveler, this is a paradise to see, taste, learn, and experience uniqueness. Cairo is Egypt’s biggest city and is also known as the “City of Thousand Minarets” for having hundreds of big and small mosques in every corner. After being in so many places, I must say there are 2 places where I found people to be the friendliest, most helpful, and hospitable. One was in Dublin and another city is Cairo. Egyptian people are always eager to help its guests and very humble. This is a contemporary and thriving city with glorious history from past…a perfect place to feel both of the worlds and eras.

River Nile and Cairo city...what a great combination
River Nile and Cairo city…what a great combination

Some FYIs and tips for the travelers before visiting Cairo: Egypt made it really easy for US citizens to travel their country. We can get entry visa in the airport for 15 USD per person. About transportation, always ride white taxis with meters. Black cabs don’t have meters, therefore better to bargain a price before riding. Always carry tissue or napkins with you. Some public bathrooms don’t have tissues, even if they do they will expect some tips for that.

Streets and traffic jam of Cairo during rush hour, a view from Al-Azhar Park
Streets and traffic jam of Cairo during rush hour, a view from Al-Azhar Park

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Cairo from Belgium during the 2012 Christmas break. While it was freezing in Belgium, the weather in Cairo was just perfect. But carrying a sweater won’t be a bad idea when traveling here this time of the year.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Cairo Moon Hotel in the heart of Cairo, only 10 minutes’ of walk from Cairo Museum and Tahrir square. Honestly speaking this was a below average hotel with tiny (for only 3 people) and scary elevators, big red ants walking all over the floor, too much noise late at night, and few other problems. But the owner of this hotel, Mohamed, is an exceptionally friendly and helpful gentleman. All the staffs here are same way too which overcomes all the other problems of this hotel. Mohamed organized few trip for us here and there including the trip to Giza. It had free basic breakfast and free Wi-Fi. Pick up from or to airport can be arranged if you let them know ahead of time.

EATING and SHOPPING: Kushari is a famous cheap street-food in Egypt. This usually comes in different sizes. It may sound weird, but this combination of pasta, rice, spaghetti, lentils, white beans, and fried onions is very filling and tasty when you mix it with different types of sauces. We had dinner on 2 nights in a very popular restaurant in the heart of Cairo, called “Gad”. From the daily crowds of it, we could tell that this was going to be a great place to eat some local food. They have burgers and fast food menu as well as some traditional dishes, like Egyptian pancakes, spiced salad (the best), and burger with egg. One of the castle-like restaurants in Al-Azhar Park was a very fancy spot where we were taken to for a dinner by someone we knew. Night view of Ali Pasha Mosque in citadel as we were having dinner was gorgeous. I think this is where we had our best food in Cairo. Also try Egyptian pizza, falafel, and shwarma.

Kushari, a yummy street food of Cairo
Kushari, a yummy street food of Cairo

I can give you a whole list of things that you can buy from Cairo. Spices, papyrus, sphinx, pyramids (in different colors and materials), shawls/scarves, traditional clothes are just to name some. Khan-El-Khalili is more of an expensive place for tourists. Most of the tourist attractions have small stores or vendors nearby. When we took our Giza trip, our guide Haisam took us to a big showroom of papyrus, Golden Eagle Papyrus on Sakkara Road. This is a government approved store, and therefore you know you are buying the real thing. It has hundreds of papyrus wall decors to choose from at various price ranges and with different themes. The guy who was showing us around actually took 10 minutes to show us how a piece of papyrus was made from its trees…that was absolutely fascinating and very educational for our little ones. Here is their phone number if you need it – +2037719585.

Some souvenirs in Khan El-Khalili Bazar in Cairo, Egypt
Some souvenirs in Khan El-Khalili Bazar in Cairo, Egypt

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Cairo is overloaded with many touristic places from really ancient wonders to modern and stylish sites. We spent about a week here and was pretty much done seeing most of old part of the city. We could have stayed longer to visit experience more of new areas, its night life, and thriving life of Cairo. Other than the following some other places that tourists can consider visiting (we couldn’t see these places) are Cairo Tower, which can be seen almost from any corner of the city and provides 360-view of Cairo including Giza. Also dropped off your list was Abdeen Palace which was home of the last king of Egypt the exiled King Farouk.

Grand view of Ali Pasha at night from Al-Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt
Grand view of Ali Pasha Mosque at night from Al-Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt

1) KHAN-EL-KHALILI BAZAR: Khan-El-Khalili Bazar is a tourist trap in Cairo for shopping. It’s a like big maze with winding small alleys and many small stores. You will find almost anything here including perfumes, spices, handcrafts, traditional clothes, gold, and many other things. I wouldn’t recommend buying papyrus paper from here as they may not be real Egyptian papyrus. But whatever you buy bargain is a must…not just here, in whole Cairo.

A woman polishing her shoes in Khan El-Khalili Bazar
A woman getting her shoes polished in Khan El-Khalili Bazar

2) NILE RIVER CRUISE: You can’t leave Egypt without experiencing Nile at night and the best way to do is to take a dinner-cruise. Our ship’s name was Lady Diana Nile Cruise Line. This was a unique experience for all of us and the kids loved it the most. Combination of Nile and Cairo looked more than just beautiful at night from the observation deck.

It was a cozy sitting area where we had dinner. Buffet trays were filled with absolutely fantastic food. The show started with karaoke songs during our meal but the real entertainment started after dinner. First it was belly dance, which we saw before…I think I enjoyed the fast Arabic music the most here. The final item was a man doing whirling Sufi performance. Now, that was something we have never seen before and it looked out of this world. The enthusiastic music, Dervish’s costume, his circling…everything about it made that place very mystical.

A Dervish performing Sufi dance during our Nile River cruise
A Dervish performing Sufi dance during our Nile River cruise

Our hotel arranged this trip for us. It was 90 USD for all 4 of us. The dinner started at 7:30 pm and by the time we were done with all the performances, it was about 9:30 pm.

3) TAHRIR SQUARE: Also known as Midan Tahrir (meaning Liberation Square) is located in front of Egyptian Museum and was occupied by the demonstrators’ campsites and banners during our visit. This is where Egyptians gathered around during the uprising of the country before impeaching their President Hosni Mubarak. This large public square is a historic place for Cairo and Egypt and their history.

Demonastration in Tahrir Square, Cairo
Demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Cairo

4) EGYPTIAN MUSEUM: Located in busy Tahrir Square, this is one of the greatest museums in the world and a must-see to acquire knowledge on real history of Egypt. Massive collections of ancient Egyptian antiquities can be found outside and inside of the building. I’ve heard that hundreds of items are added each year to this museum as more excavations and discoveries take place. More than 135,000 items of this museum display artifacts of pre-dynasty, Old-Kingdom, Middle-Kingdom, late periods, and from Greek and Roman periods.

Some of the highlights of this place are the 2 Royal Mummy rooms, pet/animal mummies, early jewelries, hundreds of beautifully carved coffins, stone-carved statues, hieroglyphics granites, and early manuscripts from different dynasties of Pharaonic periods from as early as 3200 BC.  Finally many objects/treasures from Tomb of Tutankhamen, including his famous original mask is at display here. Royal Mummy room has mummies of ancient Egyptian kings, queens, and high priests. Seeing mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II really gave me goose bumps. Evidently, he is the Pharaoh who chased Moses (Prophet Musa AS) across Red Sea and drowned with his army in the ocean. His mummy is the best preserved mummy there… when you look at his teeth and hair, those don’t look like few thousand years old. The museum is a bit un-organized and many of its objects lack labels or information board. Some collections looked like they were just stacked without care. But the good news is that, the location of this museum is supposed to move somewhere in Giza which will have more space to accommodate these object of bygone days.

Front of Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Front of Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Ticket to enter the museum is 60 LE for adults and 30 LE for children. There is a separate fee to enter the section of Royal Mummies which you can purchase from the upper level. It’s 100 LE for adults and 60 for the kids. No camera or backpack is allowed inside the museum. We had to keep them in a locker near the ticket office. The museum has 2 levels and visiting it took us about 2 ½ hours.

5) AL-AZHAR PARK: This is the best landscaped garden and park in Cairo for strolling and enjoying magnificent view of the city. It is known to the locals as the “lung of Cairo”. We went there right before sunset and saw the whole city lighting up as it was getting dark very slowly. Standing in Al-Azhar Park, you will realize why Cairo is known as “City of Thousand Minarets” … you can see many old and new minarets of mosques from here, creating a unique skyline. An uncle, my ex-colleague’s father, took us here and treated all of us to dinner in a restaurant inside the park name “The Citadel”. We had our best traditional Egyptian meal here while looking at lit-up Ali Pasha Mosque on the distance. The park looked ever nicer at night. 5 LE is the entry fee. It is very well maintained and absolutely safe. Park closes around 10pm and no one is allowed in afterwards.

Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt
Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt

6) CITADEL and ALI PASHA MOSQUE: Locals know this place as Salahdin’s Citadel because it was built by the mighty Salahdin (Muslim caliph who defeated the Crusaders) in 1183 AD.

Walking towards Cairo Citadel, also known as Salahdin's Citadel in Cairo, Egypt
Walking towards Cairo Citadel, also known as Salahdin’s Citadel in Cairo, Egypt

There are few old mosques and museums (like Police National Museum, Prison Museum, Al-Gawhara Palace Museum) inside the citadel. You can spend whole day roaming around and visiting them leisurely. The best part of being here is the view you get over Cairo. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Pyramids of Giza. Panoramic view of Sultan Hasan Mosque and Rifaii Mosque side by side looks great along with the other parts of Islamic Cairo.

View of Rifaii Mosque, Sultan Hasan Mosque, and other parts of Islamic Cairo in Cairo, Egypt
View of Rifaii Mosque (right), Sultan Hasan Mosque (left), and other parts of Islamic Cairo in Cairo, Egypt

Ali Pasha Mosque, also known as Mohamed Ali Mosque, is an iconic structure of Egypt that can be spotted from almost anywhere in Cairo day or night. The mosque was built inside the Citadel in the mid-19th century. This old and grand mosque was established by Mohamed Ali Pasha, who is considered to be the founder of modern Egypt, and took about 18 years to build. From outside, the mosque looks more like the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. Courtyard is enormously spacious and beautiful. This big mosque is very beautiful inside with nice dome, vaulted ceiling, big chandelier, and old patterns on wall. Tomb of Mohamed Ali Pasha is also located inside the mosque. One thing that made me sad about this mosque was that it lacked maintenance outside and inside.  A structure this massive and historical is country’s pride and deserves love and attention which was missing from this place.

Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - an iconic landmark of Cairo
Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – an iconic landmark of Cairo

The citadel is located in Islamic Cairo. Entry fee to the citadel is 50 LE for adults and 25 LE for the kids and is open from 8 -5 pm. We didn’t go to any museums or mosques, other than Ali Pasha Mosque, that’s why we were done in few hours.

Inside Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt
Inside Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt

7) HISTORIC MOSQUES of CAIRO: Most of the mosques are located in Islamic Cairo and they are very old, dusty, and lack in maintenance. You will see many homeless and beggars lurking around these places. Please try to maintain right etiquettes of visiting these sacred places during your trip, it shows the local that you respect their culture and belief.

Looking at Islamic Cairo and its many minarets from Al-Azhar wonder Cairo is known as the City of Thousand Minarets
Looking at Islamic Cairo and its many minarets from Al-Azhar Park…no wonder Cairo is known as the City of Thousand Minarets

a) SAYYIDINA AL-HUSSEIN MOSQUE: The mosque is located in Midan Hussein and very close to Khan-El-Khalil souk. The original mosque was built-in the early 12th century. This is a very sacred site for Muslims all over the world since head of Ibn Al-Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), was buried here. The decorative rawdah or tomb can be viewed from both men and women side. It’s free to enter (have to pay 1 LE to store your shoes) but unfortunately, this in not accessible to non-Muslims.

Rawdah or tomb of Sayyidina Hussine AS (grandson of Prophet Mohamed SAW) inside Al-Hussein Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
Rawdah or tomb of Sayyidina Hussein AS (grandson of Prophet Muhammad SAW) inside Al-Hussein Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

b) AL-AZHAR MOSQUE: This is another historic site in Midan Hussein. Founded in 970 A.D., Al-Azhar Mosque is one of Cairo’s oldest mosques and nearby Al-Azhar University which is the world’s OLDEST OPERATING UNIVERSITY. Its big and open inner courtyard is very peaceful where you can spend some time appreciating its age and beauty. Inside the mosque is simple but very big. It’s free to enter but have to pay 1 LE to store your shoes in the entrance. Non-Muslims can access this mosque but not during prayer times.

Courtyard of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - standing there since 970 AD
Courtyard of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – standing there since 970 AD

c) IBN-TULUN MOSQUE: Built in 879, this mosque is from early Islamic era. The minaret of Ibn-Tulun Mosque is said to be the oldest minaret in Egypt. The inner courtyard and the interior are huge, but lack care. It was free to enter and took us about 15-20 minutes to walk around the perimeter. The mosque is still active, therefore, they don’t allow any visitors during prayer times.

Ibn-Tulun Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - minaret of this mosque is said to be the oldest in Egypt
Ibn-Tulun Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – minaret of this mosque is said to be the oldest in Egypt

d) SULTANA HASAN MOSQUE: Located in Midan Salah ad-Din (Saladin Square) and lying at the foothill of the hill, this is a really old mosque from 1356 and is a great example of Mamluk dynasty. This is one of the biggest mosques in Egypt. This is actually a both mosque and madrassa (Islamic school) with very early Islamic architectural design. You can still see some of the original old mosaic floors here and there. The courtyard is notable for its elaborate marble flooring, a trademark of Mamluk art. It was under major renovation during our visit, therefore couldn’t visit some of the sections. Entry free to this mosque and Rifaii Mosque is 40 LE for adults and 20 LE for kids.

Inside Sultan Hasan Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - a great example of Mamluk dynasty architecture
Inside Sultan Hasan Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – a great example of Mamluk dynasty architecture

e)RIFAII MOSQUE: This mosque is located right opposite of Sultan Hasan Mosque and the same ticket covers both the mosques. This is probably the last large-scale mosque to be built-in pre-Republican Egypt. Several leading architects of that time took part in designing it. Replacing a smaller mosque, this early 20th century mosque is the final resting place of the last Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi). Many members of the Egyptian royal family were eventually buried in the mosque. Ironically, Egypt’s King Farouk, who was overthrown in 1952 and died in exile, has his tomb inside the mosque too. Both exterior and the interior of the building are elaborately decorated. High ceilings and big old chandelier are some of the highlights of this place.

Prayer hall of Rifaii Mosque in Egypt, final resting place of Egypt's last king, King Farouq
Prayer hall of Rifaii Mosque in Egypt, final resting place of Egypt’s last king, King Farouq

f) AMR IBN AL-AS MOSQUE: Built in 642, this is Cairo’s first mosque and is still an active place for the worshippers. The mosque looked very simple, dull, and not very nurtured by the authority. The mosque is free to enter for everyone, except during prayer times.  Men and women have separate entrances.

The ladies have to wear a cloak and everyone must take off their shoes upon entering any of mosques.

Courtyard of Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque, the oldest mosque in Egypt from 642 AD
Courtyard of Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque, the oldest mosque in Egypt from 642 AD

8) COPTIC CAIRO & ITS CHURCHES: This is part of Old Cairo and has been home of Cairo’s Christian community for centuries. You can actually walk from Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque to the boundary of Coptic Cairo. Old walls and the winding alleys of Coptic Cairo are amazing. Many old churches and monasteries still stand bold and beautiful here. One of the biggest and oldest churches (from the 7th century) of this community is The Hanging Church. It was under major renovation that time, so we couldn’t get an inside view.

Old and narrow alley of Coptic Cairo, Egypt
One of many old and narrow alleys of Coptic Cairo, Egypt

Then we followed an old road of this neighborhood and stopped at in front of another underground ancient church, called Church of St. Sergius. Built in the 4th century, this church has been destroyed and renovated many times over and over again. This old style church is very small but beautiful inside. When we entered there was some kind of recitation going on inside the church and I must say it was a bit surprising listening to these recitation in Arabic, it sounded like I am in a mosque…lolz. Another interesting fact about the Christians here is that they celebrate Christmas on January 7th of each year and not on 25th of December.

9) PHARAONIC VILLAGE: This theme park was built by Dr. Ragab to teach the children of Egypt and the whole world about the 5000 year’s history of this country. This is a living museum and one of the best place for kids as well as adults to get a visual feeling of Egypt’s glorious past. There are four different packages that you can choose to fulfill visitor’s interests. Here they are:

***Village tour + 4 Museums = 95 LE

***Village tour + 8 Museums = 115 LE

***Village tour + 4 Museums + Nefertari Yacht Ride = 145 LE

***Village tour + 4 Museums + Nefertari Yacht Ride + Meal = 195 LE

We took 3rd package but for the lack of their organization and time management, we couldn’t visit all four museums. It’s better to come here in the morning and stay until they close. The “Village Tour” is done by a small engine boat that takes you to the “Mythological Canal” and gives you a ride thru the canal for 30 minutes. This was probably the best part for all of us. You actually see real people enacting ancient scenes of agriculture (like fishing, farming, and etc.) and ancient industries (like papyrus, cotton, wine, pottery, mummification, and a lot more).  As the little boat passes by each station you feel like you are living in that era of ancient time.

Scene of baby Moses being picked up by Pharaoh Queen in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
Scene of baby Moses being picked up by Pharaoh Queen in Pharaonic Village, Egypt

After our boat stopped at the last stop, we met up with a young man who guided us thru the exact replica of Karnak Temple of Luxor. Even though not the real one, this architecture and its decoration are almost look-alike of the real temple. Leaving the temple behind, he showed us around the example of how rich men and peasants used to live thousands of years ago…model of their houses, real people acting out how fire was made, how rich man’s wife would live a lavish life, and how a poor man’s wife would have to work hard all day at home.

A copy of Temple of Abu Simbel in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
A replica of the Temple of Abu Simbel in Pharaonic Village, Egypt

After a 10 minutes break, we headed towards “The Tomb of Tutankhamun”. This is another depiction of the actual tomb of Egypt’s most famous Pharaoh, King Tutankhamun found in Valley of the Kings in Luxor. You can visualize the exact way the tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. The tomb was filled with many treasures, furniture, couple layers of casket layers, mummified body of King Tutankhamun, and finally his musk, an iconic symbol of ancient Egypt. Our last attraction was Nefertari Yacht tour. The yacht took us to River Nile and gave us a chance to get a daytime view of the river for 45 minutes.

Our Neferteri Yacht in Pharaonic Village, waiting to take us to River Nile
Our Nefertari Yacht in Pharaonic Village, waiting to take us to River Nile

The park has few important museums, like Pyramid’s Museum, Cleopatra’s Museum, The Tomb of Tutankhamun, Mummification Museum, Boats Museum, Modern History Museum, Museum of Islamic History and Art, and couple other museums. Each of these museum doesn’t take more than 15-20 minutes but they are very informative. There are also few unique souvenir stores, cafes, and a photo studio.

Jordan 2013 – Day trip to Madaba, Mt. Nebo, Bethany, and Dead Sea

DAY TRIP to MADABA, MT. NEBO, BETHANY, and DEAD SEA: This was a great day-trip to get out from hustling bustling Old Town Amman. We saw all the things that we wanted to see in Amman on our first day. 2nd day was kept for this trip which was booked thru Arab Tower Hotel/Al-Burj Arab in Amman. We rented a private taxi for 54JD for the whole day (entrance fee to the below places weren’t included in this fee). The driver spoke very little English but he was a friendly young man and could explain some histories on these places.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch in a street-side restaurant in Bethany before entering the site. It was mainly bread, Jordanian style rice, hummus, salad, pickles, and kebab. It was nothing fancy but they had good food and clean bathroom. Food here, in these small villages, is very cheap; we ordered food for 2 adults and 2 kids but the bill was only around 14 JD…not bad at all.

Lunch (chicken kebab, hummus, pickles, bread, and rice near Bethany, Jordan
Lunch (chicken kebabs, hummus, pickles, bread, and rice near Bethany, Jordan

For shopping, you must buy some hand-crafted mosaics when in Madaba. That’s what the city is famous for, but don’t just go anywhere…otherwise the only thing you will get is mosaics made in China. Go to the real factories and showroom in Madaba…they are plenty of them here. They not only have wide variety of mosaic artwork, but also you don’t have to worry about buying fake things and pay extra prices. You can tour the factory, then they will take you to their shop. These hand-crafted mosaics are not cheap. The artists work very hard making these items with hand and many of them take months before getting the final products. These showrooms also usually carry Dead Sea products (like salt, mud, lotion, soaps, and etc.) for much cheaper price than the stores in Dead Sea.

Hand-made souvenirs in the showroom of Madaba Handcrafts Center, Jordan
Hand-made souvenirs in the showroom of Madaba Handcrafts Center, Jordan

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We left our hotel around 10 in the morning and headed straight towards Madaba. By the time we were done with Dead Sea, it was almost 5pm. The drive was very scenic thru the rugged mountains, stony deserts, some green valleys, and dramatic vast landscape. Look out for Bedouin settlements also, you will know they are Bedouins when you see tents in the middle of nowhere.

1) MADABA: This is a small city about 40 minutes south of Amman. The city itself dates from the Middle Bronze Age. Madaba is known as the “City of Mosaics” for its century’s old history of mosaic arts and designs.

Map of Holy Land from the 6th century inside Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, Jordan
Map of Holy Land from the 6th century inside Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, Jordan

a) GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH of ST. GEORGE: This was our first stop of the day in Madaba. It is the chief attraction of the city which preserved the original piece of Byzantine-era mosaic map of “Holy Land” from 6th century on its floor. This 25×5 sq. m. map in front of the altar depicts some important details of that time, like hills and valleys, villages and towns of Jerusalem and other holy sites. The church itself is small but a wonderfully vivid and colorful place with many other mosaic wall-hangings and religious paintings. It’s 1 JD to enter the church.

Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Madaba which houses the mosaic map of Holy Land from the 6th century.
Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Madaba which houses the mosaic map of Holy Land from the 6th century

b) MADABA HAND-CRAFTS CENTER: As I have mentioned above that if you want to buy Madaba’s traditional hand-crafted mosaics then it’s better to go to a factory other than buying cheap, fake stuff from small shops on the streets. There are plenty of these government approved places here who will gladly show you around their factories and then bring you to their showrooms. Our driver/guide took us to one such place, called Madaba Hand-Crafts Center. All of the mosaic stones come mainly from the deserts of Madaba, Jarash, or Wadi Rum and they only use natural stone color to design each of their masterpieces. The man inside first showed us how they cut the stones into small square pieces, then how the artists first sketch a design on a piece of white cloth where later they glue the stone pieces one by one. Then it takes few days to dry the glue, after that it’s grouted on a frame upside down and finally, take the white cloth off the stones. It was quite educational for us and the kids. There were ladies who also paint on ceramics and clay pot and later give the mosaic-look on them. After that we walked over to the showroom. This was an incredible place and shoppers’ paradise for those who like collecting authentic and traditional artworks. They not only have furniture or wall-hangings with mosaics, but also very rich quality rugs, Bedouin jewelries, scarves, Dead Sea products, and many more attractive home décor souvenirs. And the good deal is that they can ship any big items to your city’s airport free of charge…all you have to do is just pick it up when it arrives at the airport. There were also some unframed mosaic works which you can take and grout them yourself on floors or kitchen walls.

An artist working on a mosaic decor in Madaba Handcrafts Center, Jordan
An artist cutting stones to make designs on a mosaic decor in Madaba Handcrafts Center, Jordan

2) MT. NEBO: After driving for about 20 more minutes from Madaba Handcrafts Center, we reached Mt. Nebo. This is a holy site for both Muslims and Christians. This is where Prophet Moses climbed at the end of his life to see the “Promised Land” which he never could enter. He also died and was buried here, although no one knows the exact place of his burial to this date.

View of "Promised Land" - Jericho, Jerusalem, and Dead Sea from Mt. Nebo, Jordan
View of “Promised Land” – Jericho, Jerusalem, and Dead Sea from Mt. Nebo, Jordan

From the summit of the mountain visitors can see, as Moses did, the vast panorama of Jordan River Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho (about 27 km), and Jerusalem (46 km). This place has been a place of pilgrimage for Christians for hundreds of years. The Serpentine Cross on the mountain is one of the most photographed sculptures of this place that represents serpent taken by Moses into the desert and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. A big stone-statue marks the visit of Pope John Paul II in 2000 AD near the main entrance.

The Serpentine Cross sculpture on Mt. Nebo, Jordan
The Serpentine Cross sculpture on Mt. Nebo, Jordan

There was a massive renovation going on in the sanctuary for Moses when we went to visit Mt. Nebo. We only could see the original mosaic floors of Mt. Nebo’ first church from the 4th century along with some other old mosaic pieces and artifacts. Mt. Nebo is open from 8 – 4 pm and the entry fee is 1 JD per adult (kids free). You can easily spend an hour or more walking on top of Mt. Nebo looking at the near and far distance pretty sights.

3) BETHANY: After about another half an hour drive from Mt. Nebo, we reached the visitor center of Bethany. Bethany has been identified as a biblical site where Jesus was baptized. The exact point of baptism is known as “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” and this is the place where John was living when he baptized Jesus.

"Bethany Beyond the Jordan" - The holy site where Jesus was Baptized by John the Baptist in Bethany, Jordan
“Bethany Beyond the Jordan” – The holy site where Jesus was Baptized by John the Baptist in Bethany, Jordan

Three chapels were built on the eastern side of the river during the Byzantine period (5th – 6th century AD) with colored mosaic and marble flooring. These excavated remains still can be seen by the visitors in their original states. There are many beautiful churches in this area from almost each sect of Christianity. This is supposed to be a holy site for all 3 monotheistic religions. For Christians it is obvious…Jesus was baptized by John at this very spot and the doors to heaven believed to open here during Christ’s baptism. For Muslims, Mohamed (SAW) said to have crossed this place before going to Jerusalem before his Night Journey (Mir’aj) to the heaven. Finally, one of the hills here is believed to be the place from where Jewish Prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire. Some portion of “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” is actually in West Bank. Therefore, we had to go in a gov’t shuttle bus and an escort to access the area. This whole trip is for 12 JD per person which also includes audio guide. The service is open from 8:30 – 5 pm and bus runs every half an hour. It takes about 10 minutes from the visitor’s center to go to the Baptism site and the whole tour is for about an hour. First we walked to the Jordan River, then walked another 5 minutes to see the baptism site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”, and then another site of Jordan River where you can see the Palestinian border only few feet away.

4) DEAD SEA: Dead Sea is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west, giving it an almost other-worldly beauty. This is also believed to have been home to some Biblical cities, like Sodom and Gomorrah. Either for religious reasons or to enjoy the calm surroundings of the place Dead Sea is a must-see and must-experience place in Jordan. Look on the other side of Dead Sea and you will see Jericho in West Bank.

Dead Sea, Jordan...looking at West Bank on the other side
Dead Sea, Jordan…looking at West Bank on the other side

Dead Sea is not the place where people come to “swim”, you can only float on your back in this thick salty body of water. Amman Beach is the place where our guide was saying people pay to go inside for swimming, dining, spa treatment, and lot for things. Since we weren’t going to go for swimming and had little time left before sunset, we just went to a shore of Dead Sea which was free of charge and without any nice amenities. You can rent camels or horses for few minutes here to ride by the water. I saw people floating on their back in this beach too, but there is no shower to clean the heavy salt off your body. Please also visit my page on Dead Sea on the right-hand side under Israel/Palestine for more background information on this unique lake.

Looking at “Promised Land” from Mt. Nebo, Jordan

We are in Jordan this week. Last few days have been full of fun and very exciting days for all of us, as well as very exhausting. Today we reached Petra just couple hours ago. Here is a picture that I took from Mt. Nebo in Jordan. This is a very sacred place for Muslims, Christians, and Jews. This is the mountain where Moses (Prophet Musa AS) brought his disciples and showed them their “Promised Land” in Jerusalem. But Moses never made it to the Promise Land. Mt. Nebo is where he died and was buried.

Enjoy this beautiful view of Dead Sea and Jordan River Valley from Mt. Nebo while I enjoy our stay in Jordan.

View of "Promised Land" - Jericho, Jerusalem, and Dead Sea from Mt. Nebo, Jordan

View of “Promised Land” from Mt. Nebo, Jordan

Jerusalem is in my mind

JERUSALEM, PALESTINE: Visiting Jerusalem was definitely one of my best trips that we’ve taken so far, if not THE best. I never thought of going there in my life mainly for safety purposes and also because I didn’t what to see or do there other than just going inside the Dome of the Rock, pardon my ignorance. I don’t know much about the places outside Old City of Jerusalem since we mostly stayed inside the old walls. Even then I could spend days just being within the boundaries and seeing something new every day. You won’t be able to picture the hustling-bustling life of the locals or its uniquely designed mazes of streets and small neighborhoods from outside the Old City Wall. So many historical events took place within this small boundary…religiously, politically, and emotionally. Sometimes you don’t even know or notice that you are walking by something important to some religions from many centuries ago. Every corner of Old Jerusalem has something to offer to its guests…sometimes it does get overwhelming, but that’s the beauty of this place; it can make you happy, sad, angry or just leave you feeling confused with too many facts and figures. It’s a thrill to walk on some of the ancient and original streets from the Roman time, go pass the crowded markets, looking at small chapels that commemorate different phases of Passion of Jesus, and finally getting a glimpse of shininess from the Dome of the Rock every now and then.

View of Old Jerusalem and the dazzling Dome of the Rock from Mt. Olives

Outside the wall we managed to explore Mt. Zion and Mt. Olives, which are within a short walking distance from Old Jerusalem. These can be very emotional places for some visitors as well as mind-boggling. Even if you are not a believer, it’s ok…if you look at it from a historical point of view, these will still touch your heart just knowing some of the important people from the past left their legacies here.

View of Jerusalem outside the wall as seen from Temple Mount

I must say that Jerusalem is hard to get around if you are traveling with kids and stroller, like us. As much as it sounds amazing, it’s not easy to push or pull a stroller thru jam-packed markets or paths with 15/20 steps. Additionally, there are no ramps for strollers, wheel-chairs or cycles. Some of the streets are hilly and steep and really made my 6 years old very tired and exhausted, although she said she enjoyed every bit of it. Other than that, people are very helpful and friendly all around. You do have to pass thru some security points upon entering some of the places in the Old City. Try to respect the locals regardless of their faiths and culture and they will make your trip to Jerusalem very memorable with love and hospitality.

Night view of the Old city of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock

TIME of TRAVELING: Visiting any places in Europe in January is not really enjoyable with kids and a stroller…At least for me. We went to Barcelona and Madrid during our Christmas break in 2011. After coming back from Spain, rested for couple of days, and headed out again to Jerusalem before my daughter’s school started on the 2nd week of January, 2012. It is fantastic to visit Jerusalem around this time of the year; you don’t have to deal with crazy desert weather. We did carry and use light sweaters once in a while, but the pleasant weather really helped us and the kids to make this trip more enjoyable.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Hotel Addar in East Jerusalem and it’s about 10 minutes’ walk from Damascus Gate of Old City Wall. If you are looking for a luxurious linens and spacious room, then this is not your place. But if you want a friendly place to stay in East Jerusalem with smiling staff and great customer service…this is just fine. Other than the free breakfast and free Wi-Fi, the receptionist hooked us up with a friendly private taxi driver who gave us a day-trip to Hebron, Bethlehem, Dead Sea, and Jericho for 1200 NIS.

EATING & SHOPPING in JERUSALEM: Eating in restaurants here is very cheap. You get good food with great quantity for a very reasonable price. We had traditional dishes for almost all our meals, like hummus, falafel, salads, and shredded meat with pocket breads. We also tried liver with bread :0, but if you haven’t had liver before DO NOT try it. You would be blown away by their falafels, doesn’t matter which size they come in…the best I tried so far. Same with baklavas…try them and you won’t forget the sweet taste of it as long as you live. Restaurants in Old City are simple yet offer tasty food. Some of them are carry-out while some have few chairs to sit down. Each quarter maintain their own ethnicity when it comes to food, meaning in Muslim quarter you will find traditional halal Arab foods, kosher dishes in Jewish Quarter, and so on.

Traditional sweets in a store in Muslim Quarter, Old Jerusalem

For shopping, Jerusalem has lots and lots of religious souvenirs and gifts that you can buy from almost any store in Old City. From cheap to most expensive wall-hangings, decorations, small furniture, and statues are very unique here. Spices, Arabian tea or coffee, dry fruits, and nuts are very cheap in these markets as well. We bought a very sophisticated looking wall-décor, hand-made in Bethlehem with mother of pearl for about 400 NIS. Whatever you buy, don’t forget to bargain. Best bet is to start with half of the price that the sales-person asks and then come to a middle point. But if you find something you really like and the sales-rep is not giving you that for the price you are asking for, I think it’s a good idea to just buy it; otherwise you may not find the same item anywhere else or even the same store once you go too far from here, because every street starts to look the same after a while.

One of the souvenir stores selling items hand-made with mother of pearls in Old Jerusalem

Tel-Aviv International Airport or Ben Gurion Airport, is probably another best place to shop. Not only this is one of the most modern and outstanding looking airports I’ve seen so far but it is also a great place for your last minute shopping. And this is the only airport with stores open 24 hours, may be not all the stores but you will see many stores are open even if you reach the airport at 2 a.m.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We spent about 4 whole days in Palestine/Israel out of which we spent 1 day to visit cities of West Bank and other 3 days were reserved solely for Old City of Jerusalem. 3 days in Jerusalem are nearly not enough time to explore the city. Seriously, there are hundreds of places to go and spend time in if you are into history or religion or just sight-seeing. Also, because Old City and its outer radius can be very crowded, walking can be tiresome at times, and in some of the places, you may feel emotionally so attached that you’d feel like spending little more time absorbing the atmosphere. Some of the places we didn’t/couldn’t visit but may be worth going are Western Wall Tunnel Tour, Oscar Schindler’s (who saved about 1200 Jews from the Nazi death camps) Tomb, Ramparts walk – Old City Wall is wide enough for visitors to actually take a walk along two sections of the ramp, and Jerusalem Free Tour, which is a free walking tour with a guide to go to the main sites of all four quarters.

Let’s all “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” – in Garden Tomb

1) OLD JERUSALEM (within the walls): There are 8 gates to enter the Old City and you can use 7 of these gates (Golden Gate is sealed off, see below) depending on which part of the city you want to access to. These gates are (in clockwise order): New Gate – the last cut gate of the wall in 1887, Damascus Gate – most monumental, Herod’s Gate – faces East Jerusalem, St. Stephen’s Gate – also known as Lion’s Gate to go to Mt. Olives, Golden Gate – believed Messiah will enter the Temple via this gate and therefore sealed off by the Muslims in 1541, Dung Gate – provides direct access to Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, Zion Gate – gives direct access to Armenian Quarter from Mt. Zion and Jaffa Gate – in between Christian and Armenian quarters. There is no strict boundaries between these 4 quarters (Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian quarters) and you may not notice when you are entering a quarter, but eventually you can figure out by looking at the sign boards, type of things the stores are selling, street decorations, and the dress-up of the locals. For safety purpose, there is no rule that Muslims shouldn’t go to Jewish Quarter or vice versa, but I did read in couple places that may be people should take some pre-cautions at night when Old City becomes very quiet. But honestly, I found people within Old City wall (doesn’t matter which religion) very friendly, helpful, and nice. They see hundreds of tourists everyday and most of them don’t really judge people by their faiths or dress-ups or anything. It’s amazing to see how three religions can live their normal lives within these boundaries without any trouble or hatred within a country which otherwise is so troubled by that.…I wish it was like that all over the world.

2 Israeli polices guarding in front of Damascus Gate in Old Jerusalem

You can cover all the sites in Old Jerusalem on foot, may be it’s little bit too much for some, but it is doable. Most of the Old City is only for pedestrians due to its small width of streets and steps. You can get a map of the Old City from your hotel or any souvenir store but walking around the narrow, winding street from one quarter to another and getting lost are half the fun here. You can’t get too lost though because of its size. But it does get hard sometimes to keep track of all the small alleys and twisty paths since they all look somewhat alike. Don’t depend on your maps all the time, sometimes tiny streets are not mentioned there; better is to look around and check street names. But overall I found that old city is simply amazing and very uniquely structured. It can get a bit hard if you are traveling with kids, especially if you have a stroller…not good at all.

One of the streets of Muslim Quarter in Old Jerusalem

a) MUSLIM QUARTER: Muslim Quarter is the largest quarter of the Old City and the most fascinating place to explore. It is also the most crowded place of Old Jerusalem. Damascus Gate, Herod’s Gate, and Lion’s Gate give easy access to the Muslim Quarter. This is an awesome place to buy Hijabs (headscarves) and abaya (ladies cloak), traditional Muslim clothes for men, decorations, wall hangings, and many other Islamic gifts items. Make sure to drink freshly squeezed orange or pomegranate juice from the street.

Little girls on Temple Mount, just got out of the Dome of the Rock after the prayer

The key attraction of Muslim Quarter is the Haram-al-Sharif or the most common name, Temple Mount; it is a Noble Sanctuary for Muslims all over the world. This is the traditional site of Solomon’s Temple and many other important historic events. Temple Mount is a vast place which houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. If you keep walking towards Herod’s gate you will find a large picnic area with lots of olive trees and there is also a small house which contains the throne of King Solomon. This part of Temple Mount is very calm and quiet, nice place to look at the nearby valleys and cities from up above.

Old ruins on Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem

Temple Mount is free to enter but it is permanently off-limit to non-Muslim visitors. There is Israeli Police at each entrance of Temple Mount who prohibits any non-Muslims from entering the place. They not only ask questions about where you are from and what you do but they will actually make you recite some verses from the Qur’an to prove that you are a Muslim. They did that to my husband to check that if he can read few lines of Sura Fatiha (the first chapter of the Holy Qur’an). You may wonder why Israeli army guards the Dome of the Rock and the simple reason is that they don’t want any Jewish or even Christians to go there and cause trouble inside. Another reason is that a very popular Jewish belief prohibited Jews to enter Temple Mount for many years and Rabbis don’t encourage Jewish to go there anyways. Dress very modestly when entering Temple Mount; there are some Muslim men who sit near the entrance to check if females have head-scarves and men are not in their shorts or sleeveless t-shirts. Wearing tight jeans is a big NO, NO for females; long top or loose abaya or long skirt is ideal for ladies.

A portion of Temple Mount, right in front of the Dome of the Rock

i) THE DOME of the ROCK: It is a remarkable Islamic architecture and the most prominent building of Old Jerusalem. According to Muslims, this marks the spot from where Prophet Muhamed (pbuh) ascended to heaven on the day of Mi’raj (Night Journey). The rock right underneath the dome is the site Muslims believe that Muhamed (pbuh) took off from on his Night Journey accompanied by Angel Gabriel. This is built in 691 and is the 3rd holiest site in Islam after Mekkah and Madina. Inside the Dome is absolutely gorgeous and very impressive. The layers of colorful mosaic, marble columns, artistic calligraphy, lavish ceramic decors, hanging-lamps, designs on the walls and ornate celling are beautiful beyond my words. There are verses from the Qur’an as well, including Sura Ya-sin and some part of Sura Maryam.

The grand and gorgeous Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem

Many people have a misconception that the Dome of the Rock is a mosque, but it is not. People can pray and recite Qur’an inside the dome but there is no regular congregational prayer whatsoever. This is where women gather for Jumu’ah (Friday congregational prayer). Do go downstairs in the natural cave under the rock to look around or to offer “nafl” or additional prayers.

Natural cave right underneath the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem

The spectacular, dazzling golden dome (with actual gold, donated by King Hussein of Jordan in 1993) is visible from far away and almost anywhere in Jerusalem. The exterior detail of the Dome of the Rock with tiles is intriguingly marvelous as well.

Lavish interior of the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem

There is no admission fee to enter the Dome of the Rock but only Muslims have access here. No visitors are allowed on Saturdays unless for prayers. Dress very modestly to enter and pray inside the Dome.

Entrance (right) and front-yard of the Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem

ii) AL-AQSA MOSQUE: Masjid-al-Aqsa on Temple Mount was built about 20 years after the completion of Dome of the Rock. This was once the head-quarter of the Templars when Jerusalem was captured by the Crusaders in the 11th century. According to Islamic tradition, this was the original site where Muslims used to face when praying before changing direction to Ka’ba in Mekkah.

It may not be as beautiful and grand as the Dome of the Rock but the inside of Al-Aqsa is spacious and nicely decorated with traditional early Islamic designs. Unfortunately it is permanently off-limits to non-Muslim visitors as it is inside the Temple Mount. During Jumu’ah (Friday prayer for Muslims) this is where men sit for the prayer. Masjid-ul Omar is located underneath Al-Aqsa.

Inside Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem

b) JEWISH QUARTER: Jewish Quarter in Old Jerusalem looks rather “newer” than rest of the Old City. It does have few somewhat-new buildings, especially near Western Wall Plaza. There are some old ruins/columns that you will see walking around in some part of Old Jerusalem. This is probably the best place to buy religious souvenirs and clothes for reasonable price for yourself or your Jewish friends and families. Dung Gate gives direct access to Jewish Quarter.

i) THE WESTERN WALL or WAILING WALL: The Western Wall is the only fragment of the Great Temple of Solomon (Prophet Sulaiman pbuh) to survive Roman destruction and the center of Jewish yearning and memory for more than 2000 years. It is the western edge of the Temple Mount and the most sacred structure for Jewish people. You can’t see the whole 488 meters/1600 ft. long Western Wall, to visit other portion of this historic wall you can take Western Wall Tunnels Tour. To go inside the fence and near Western Wall all females have to cover their heads and men have to have kippahs (provided at the entry). No shorts or sleeveless tops are allowed there and phones should be turned off to respect worshippers.

Western Wall or Wailing Wall in Jewish Quarter, Old Jerusalem – the most sacred place for all Jewish all over the world

Everyone has to pass a security gate to enter the perimeter of Western Wall, just like an airport. A tunnel that we passed after the security gate, coming from Old City, is there probably from before 8th century. This paved street is from the Roman-Byzantine period (2nd – 6th century).

The open area in front of the part of the Western Wall is known as the Western Wall Plaza. Many national events, like candle-lighting on Hanukah, Jerusalem Day ceremonies, the Priests’ Blessing, and others events, take place in this big square. There is a metal fence that separates Western Wall and its praying area from Western Wall Plaza; this is where non-Jewish visitors usually stand to visit this holy place.

Western Wall Plaza and its surrounding buildings in Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem

ii) THE CARDO: Cardo once was the main street of Jerusalem, connecting the north and south side of the Old City, from the Byzantine period in the 6th century. This is located in the heart of Jewish Quarter. There is no entrance fee. The only thing that is remaining of the old street is some original columns and a small area of paved street. Other than that Cardo is more like a covered shopping arcade at the present time.

A small of portion of Cardo, which once used to be the main street of Jerusalem in the 6th century

c) CHRISTIAN QUARTER: This is home of many churches and chapels which includes the most famous one “Church of the Holy Sepulcher” where Jesus was crucified, buried, and Resurrected. Please read the section below on “Via Dolorosa” for detailed information. Church of Holy Sepulcher is not just one church, rather a big collection of churches where each sect of Christianity has its own altar and chapel. Different parts of Holy Sepulcher are controlled and maintained by different branches of the Christian Church. You can easily spend hours exploring old religious arts and artifacts from different sects of Christianity. There is no admission fee to enter Holy Sepulcher but there are some strict dress codes that everyone needs to follow, otherwise they will turn you back. Women cannot wear anything that shows shoulders or cleavage or dresses that are too short. Head scarves are preferable; for men no shorts or sleeveless t-shirts. Dress modestly to avoid any risk. New Gate, Jaffa Gate, and Damascus Gate are the closest to enter Christian Quarter.

Church of Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter, Old Jerusalem. According to the popular belief, this is where Jesus was crucified, buried, and Resurrected.

d) ARMENIAN QUARTER: This is the smallest quarter out of the four. Armenian Quarter is also a Christian community but with distinct feel and different look. We really didn’t go inside in any landmarks here but Tower of David and St. James Cathedral are something grand and worth visiting. This quarter can easily be accessed by Jaffa or Zion gate.

e) VIA DOLOROSA: Via Dolorosa or “Way of Sorrow” is the traditional route that Jesus followed bearing his cross from Pilate’s Judgment Hall, to Calvary Hill or Golgotha, the site of crucifixion. These are winding, narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City that lead from the Ecce Homo Convent to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. The entire route is inside the Old City Wall of Jerusalem. There is no historical basis for the route since it has changed so much over the centuries. Pilgrims traditionally walk the route, identifying Jesus’ suffering. There are “Fourteen Stations of the Cross” and each station marks an event of sacred memory, with chapels for reflection, convents and monasteries of devotion, and the sacred basilica for commemoration – along Christendom’s most hallowed road.

A group of believers walking the “Way of Sorrow” or Via Dolorosa with a cross to comemorate the sufferings of Jesus near 1st station in Old Jerusalem

I’ve listed all the 14 stations and their descriptions for those who are interested:

1st station: Jesus is condemned to death. Presently it’s a college for muslim women and the left minaret “Antonia Tower” recalls the site of the Roman fortress where Jesus was condemned.

2nd station: Jesus takes up the cross. First part of this station is now Chapels of the Condemnation and Flagellation where you can see the ORIGINAL ROMAN FLOOR. Second part, the Lithostrotos, located under the Ecce Homo Convent, is a large stone pavement built by Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. Passion of Jesus begins at this spot with his condemnation and crowning with thorns. The 3rd part was originally portion of a triumphal gate (from 2nd century AD), where Pilate produced the tortured Jesus to the crowd saying, “Behold the man!”

3rd station: Jesus falls under the Cross for the first time. Here now stands a Polish chapel.

4th station: Jesus meets his mother. Tradition says that Mary stood by the roadside in order to see her son. Here, in this little Armenian Catholic chapel, her grief and sadness are remembered.

4th station – Jesus meets his mother. Now an Armenian Chapel in Old Jerusalem

5th station: Simon the Cyrenian is forced to carry the cross. The Fifth Station of the cross is marked by a Franciscan oratory at the site where the Via Dolorosa ascends steeply to Golgotha.

6th station: Veronica wipes the sweat from Jesus’ face. This site was traditionally Veronica’s house. Currently, a chapel of the convent of the Little Sisters of Jesus can be seen here.

7th station: Jesus falls for the second time. A great Roman column, housed in a Franciscan chapel, marks Jesus’ second fall, just as he was leaving the city through a gate.

8th station: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem. The Eighth Station is marked by a Latin cross on the wall of the Greek monastery.

9th station: Jesus falls for the 3rd time. A Roman column marks the Ninth Station. Close by are the apse and roof of the Holy Sepulcher Basilica, a reminder that Jesus collapsed within sight of the place of his crucifixion.

The next five stations of the Cross are within the Basilica of Holy Sepulcher.

10th station: Jesus is stripped of his garments.

11th station: Jesus is nailed to the cross. This is the main Latin shrine, wonderfully redecorated with mosaics in 1938, marks the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross within sight of his mother.

11th Station of Via Dolorosa, where Jesus was nailed to the cross. Presently, the main Latine shrine of Holy Sepulcher in Old Jerusalem

12th station: Jesus dies on the cross. This Greek altar, ornamented in Eastern style, stands over the Rock of Calvary. It is over the place where the crosses of Jesus and the two thieves were erected. In the bed-rock, beneath is a large crack caused by an earthquake on the day Jesus died. The little altar between the main ones on Calvary is adorned with a statue in wood, fashioned in the 16th Century and sent from Lisbon in 1778. It recalls the grief of Mary and symbolizes the eternal grief of mothers at the death of their children.

12th Station of Via Dolorosa. It is here where the crosses of Jesus and the two thieves were erected. Now is the Greek altar inside Holy Sepulcher, Old Jerusalem

13th station: Jesus is taken down from the cross. Stone of the Anointment is still there for visitor to see where Jesus was put after his death.

13th Station of Via Dolorosa – Stone of the Anointment, where Jesus was put after he was taken down from the cross, Holy Sepulcher, Old Jerusalem

14th station: Jesus is laid in the tomb. This is Christendom’s most sacred place. The site of Jesus’ burial and Resurrection, housed in its own chapel. This is the focal point of the entire Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, erected by the Crusaders on Byzantine foundations, dating to the time of Constantine the Great.

The focal point of Holy Sepulcher and Christendom’s most sacred place – the site of Jesus’ burial and Resurrection, Old Jerusalem

Route of Via Dolorosa is about 0.25 km/.16 miles long. You can take guided tour for this, but I personally think buying a “Via Dolorosa Guide” for 5 NIS and doing it on your own is the best way to feel the history. This route goes thru many crowded and winding small aisles, sometimes through busy markets and neighborhoods. It was a bit hard for us to push stroller through these narrow streets, some of which had stairs without any ramps. But it is definitely worth walking this route; I am not a Christian myself, but if I could I would do it again.

2) GARDEN TOMB: While some people believe that Jesus was crucified, died, and Resurrected at the site of Church of the Holy Sepulcher, another group of believers strongly think that Garden Tomb is the actual site where Jesus died and Resurrected. It is a small garden and takes about 30 minutes or so to look around and may be more if you want to take some time to pray. Despite of its authenticity, it is a lovely place very close to Damascus Gate of Old Jerusalem and worth visiting. There is a bus station at one end of this garden and it is believed that Jesus was crucified somewhere there and his body was brought back to this garden which was owned by Joseph of Arimathea during that time. The climax of the garden, a rock-cut tomb, is said to be the burial place of Jesus and the spot of his Resurrection. An ancient winepress and an old rainwater cistern can also be seen in one section of the garden. Presently, the garden is maintained by an independent British charitable trust and they don’t charge for admission to the garden but voluntary contributions are accepted.

A natural cave in Garden Tomb where, according to one group of Christians, Jesus was buried and Resurrected in Jerusalem

3) MT. ZION: Mt. Zion is within walking distance from Zion Gate which is in the Armenian Quarter. You can still see some bullet holes on the walls of the gate from a fight in 1948 between the Israelis and the Jordanians. Arabic name of this gate is Bab el-Nabi Daud (Gate of Prophet David). We used Zion Gate to visit Mt. Zion and the 3 most important sites on this small hill. Then came down, followed the Old City Wall to go back to our hotel, about 30 minutes of walk.

View of Jerusalem from Mt. Zion

a) KING DAVID’S TOMB: After passing Church of Dormition, follow the hilly street to go a gated section. On the lower floor of a Crusader building is a small chamber housing King David’s (Prophet Daud pbuh) Tomb. There is no admission to visit the tomb, but the chamber is divided for separate viewing by men and women. The tomb is covered by a pretty drape. The women room was very small and few people can stand at a time.

Tomb of King David/Prophet Daud (AS) on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem

b) ROOM of LAST SUPPER: On the side of the same building as King David’s Tomb there are stairs to take you to the historic room of Jesus’ Last Supper. According to Christian tradition, this is the upper room in which Jesus and his disciples conducted the Passover meal – The Last Supper. There is no entrance fee to visit the chamber. The room is empty with few columns and some information boards. You can climb the stairs again to go all the way on top of the roof for a great view of the whole town and the adjacent Church of Dormition.

The room where Jesus and his disciples conducted the Passover meal – The Last Supper on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem

c) CHURCH of DORMITION: This beautiful church is believed to be the traditional site of Virgin Mary’s death. The church is very pretty inside and outside. The main prayer hall, upstairs, is spacious with mosaic floor and a nice altar. The main part of the church is downstairs where a statue of Mary rests in a crypt surrounded by images of different women from the Old Testament. This is believed to be the site where Mary lived and died after Jesus’ Resurrection. Luckily, it wasn’t crowded when we visited; therefore we could enjoy the utmost serene atmosphere of this place. There is no admission fee to enter the church.

Church of Domition on Mt. Zion where Virgin Mary lived and died after Jesus’ Resurrection in Jerusalem

4) VIRGIN MARY’S BIRTHPLACE & TOMB: Church of St. Anne stands where traditionally it is believed to be the birthplace of Virgin Mary. This is also the birthplace of Mary’s mother, Anne and the spot where Anne and Joachim, the parents of Mary, lived. This Crusader-era church was built in 1138 to replace a Byzantine church from around 450 AD. It is located very close to Lion’s Gate, right before leaving Old City walls. There is no entrance fee but donation is appreciated. The spot where Mary was born is inside a small room and is decorated very simply. You can take the stairs to go down to see more of Jesus’ traditional maternal sites.

Birth place of Virgin Mary in Church of St. Anne, Old Jerusalem

After exiting thru Lion’s Gate and walking towards Mt. Olives, Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary or Tomb of the Virgin Mary can be seen at the foot of Mt. Olives. This dimly-lit church houses the sarcophagus of Mary, mother of Jesus (Prophet Isa pbuh). Inside of Tomb of Mary is decorated with lots of hanging candle-holders and many old ornaments. The building itself is very old with a 12th century façade which is one of the best preserved buildings in Jerusalem. Make sure to check your walking map for this site as we couldn’t see the name of the church anywhere outside.

Tomb of Mary – the small door (in the middle of the picture) to go inside to view the tomb

5) MT. OLIVES: Mt. Olives can be accessed thru Old City’s Lion’s Gate. After crossing Virgin Mary’s birthplace (Church of St. Anne) and Tomb of Mary, cross the street to the foothill of Mt. of Olives. We visited the following places as we were climbing the hill. Oh, and don’t forget to look back for a great view of the old city and the golden dome. You can easily spend a full day just exploring all the sites on Mt. of Olives. Some of the places we didn’t/couldn’t go which may interest some visitors are: (1) Church of the Pater Noster, built over old ruins where Christ is believed to have taught Paternoster or Lord’s Prayer. Inside, it has tiled panels inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer in more than 130 languages. (2) Church of Mary Magdalene, which is a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church. You can see its golden shrine from far away. One thing to remember while climbing Mt. Olives is that it’s not very easy to climb the hill, especially with kids and strollers. You can take a taxi or ask locals if there is any alternate way to start from top of the hill and coming down.

Steep path to climb Mt. Olives, when you turn around you get a view of the Old City inside the wall and its dazzling dome from here

a) GETHSEMANE BASILICA of AGONY & GARDEN of GETHSEMANE: The entire area at the foot of Mt. of Olives near Tomb of Mary is known as Gethsemane. Jesus often visited this grotto and this is where he was betrayed and arrested. Gethsemane Basilica of Agony is also known as the Church of All Nations, since the present look of it is the result of contributions from 12 nations. The church has 12 domes adorned with the coat of arms of each of these countries. This is the 3rd church built on this location. This is where Jesus agonized about his death and his people; later a church was built here on these rocks in the 4th century.

Inside Gethsemane Basilica of Agony at the foothill of Mt. Olives in Jerusalem

Remember the first scene from the movie “Passion of the Christ” where Jesus was praying in a garden surrounded by hundreds of olive trees the night before he was crucified? It is that historic place, Garden of Gethsemane, where the Savior prayed before the passion. That night Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas and was arrested by the Roman soldiers. The garden is located in one side of the church right after entering thru the main entrance. This is the only surviving part of the garden that still remains from the time of Jesus. The olive trees here are more than, at least, 2000 years old, if not more. But a local was saying that they still give plenty of olives each year.

2000 years old olive trees in Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed right before he was captured by the Romans

b) DOMINUS FLEVIT: This is a very well-known biblical site in Jerusalem. Dominus Flevit means “The Lord Wept”; this is where Jesus wept over the fate of Jerusalem. There is a chapel which was closed at the time of our visit. But we did go inside the gated door to check out this small hilltop. View of Kidron Valley and Old City of Jerusalem is marvelous from here. You can also see the beautiful gilded dome of a Russian Orthodox Church, Church of Mary Magdalene closely from here. There is a small collection of stone artifacts from nearby excavations and are on display in one side of Dominus Flevit.

View of the shrines of Church of Mary Magdalene from Dominus Flevit, a place where Jesus wept over the fate of Jerusalem

c) TOMB of PROPHETS: As we were walking up towards the top of Mt. of Olives, we saw a gated section, called Tombs of Prophets on our right-hand side after crossing an old Jewish cemetery. It was almost closing time, but the gentleman was nice enough to let us and another tourist in for a short visit. This is a hand-cut cave which houses tombs of 3 prophets of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism (Prophet Haggai pbuh, Malachi pbuh, and Zechariah pbuh) and their disciples (total 50 tombs) from the 5th century BC. The caretaker gave us some candles to walk around the cave since there is no electricity inside the cave and gave us brief history on those who are buried and where.

View from inside the hand-cut cave that houses tombs of Prophet Malachi, Haggai, and Zakariah in Old Jerusalem

d) MOSQUE of ASCENSION: It is located all the way on top of Mt. of Olives. It is a sacred place for both Muslims and Christians. The original medieval chapel was built around 380 AD and became part of a mosque after Saladin’s conquest in 1187. This is believed to be the site of Christ’s ascension to heaven. The mosque is usually open for daily prayers but the door of the chapel, where footprint of Jesus’ right feet is stored, was not open when we went. We tried ringing the door-bell and also calling on the phone number posted there. But the person could only open it in the morning next day during tourist hours.

Mosque Ascension on Mt.Olives in Old Jerusalem from where Jesus ascended to heaven according to Muslims

Please check out the pages on the right side-bar under Palestine/Israel. Click on Hebron, Bethlehem, Dead Sea, and Jericho to decide if you can spare a day to visit these unforgettable cities of West Bank.

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