The ancient city of Ephesus wasn’t actually civilized in the modern sense of the word until 850 BC when those from Egypt, Hittites, and Assyrians began to migrate here. This city has ties to significant people in the past including the Virgin Mary. I was able to visit Ephesus on a shore excursion when cruising the Eastern Mediterranean. My entire family thoroughly enjoyed this unique excursion in Turkey.
The Start of Civilized Life in Ephesus
Once these people began living civilized lives invention, innovation and scientific reasoning made this into a major trading city, port city and housed the largest collection of scrolls in the ancient world. These scrolls were filled with mathematics, philosophy, religious beliefs and superstitions, engineering, historical facts, geography, astronomy and many of the other sciences that we know today.
Entering Ancient Ephesus:
Entering through the Magnesia gate into the site you will see the State Agora and the Temple of Isis in the center of the Agora, with the Stoa on the North side. The Odeion (Bouletarion or Parliament) this building alone could hold up to 1,400 members of the community could attend the city council meetings. This is also where musical gatherings took place.
The State Agora and Temple of Isis (the Egyptian Goddess) were located in the center of the Agora. If you look on the east side of the Odeon (Council Building), you will find the Baths of Varius (Four Arched entries with Mosaics inside), the Monument of Memmius and the fountain of Sextilius Polio circa 93AD, and 1st century BC.
The Monument of Memmius is one of the few architectural monuments which has survived from the late Hellenistic Period. Built by Memmius (one of the prominent people of Ephesus) to honor the Roman Dictator Sulla.
The State Agora and Temple of Isis (the Egyptian Goddess) were located in the center of the Agora. If you look on the east side of the Odeon (Council Building), you will find the Baths of Varius (Four Arched entries with Mosaics inside), the Monument of Memmius and the fountain of Sextilius Polio circa 93AD, and 1st century BC.
The Monument of Memmius is one of the few architectural monuments which has survived from the late Hellenistic Period. Built by Memmius (one of the prominent people of Ephesus) to honor the Roman Dictator Sulla.
Fountain of Sextilius Polio:
The fountain of Sextilius Polio is hard to miss, a massive arch can be seen throughout different parts of the city. This fountain was covered with marble slabs over a rubble base. Two doorposts on either side merged with a grand niche. There were branching systems of clay baked pipes that provided water to this fountain. A number of statues decorated the facade of the fountain including the head of Zeus. The statues that once decorated this fountain are now exhibited at Ephesus Museum.
The Curetes Street in Ancient Ephesus:
The Curetes Street will start you down a relatively steep incline towards the main thoroughfare. You will notice how wide the street is, and columns sectioning the side portions into perfect partitions for shops. This is where local merchants would set up shop, and sell various items to politicians. After passing through the Curetes Street you will see the fountain of Trajan built in 112 AD, on the right-hand side of the road.
The Scholastica Baths (4th Century AD) are behind the Temple of Hadrian, the houses of all those rich people were built directly in front of it. These terrace houses filled with beautiful mosaics and decorative arts have been restored, protected and are now on display.
Traveler Tip: It is an extra fee and requires special permits to enter the Terrace Houses, to help preserve them so take some extra change with you.
The Corder of Curetes street and Marble Road you will find the House of Love (aka a Brothel). With the famous Celsus Library directly across from it, facing the Terrace houses.
The Celsus Library:
This Library held the remains of Tiberias Julius Celsus Polemaeanus who was the governor of Asia. The scrolls contained within this library were the crowning jewel of this city, with more than 12,000 scrolls contained in cupboards that were protected by double walls behind them to protect from humidity and the extreme temperatures in this area. This was the third wealthiest library in the world (after Alexandra and Pergamum).
If you stand back and look at the columns on the facade, the side columns are shorter columns. This gave it an appearance of being a larger building than it truly was. The statues that occupy the spaces within this facade all symbolize something. Wisdom (sophia), intelligence (ennoia), knowledge (episteme) and virtue (arete); these were all represented as these were the characteristics and virtues many believed Celsus exhibited.
This was by far my favorite part of the entire city, to think of how much knowledge was contained within those walls. How quickly their working knowledge was progressing, innovation, learning etc….. I could have stayed in there all day reading personally. Then I remembered….the limitations of women in that time period to hold rank. It made me grateful to be in the country, time and modern city that I live in today. Despite this line of thinking, it still broke my heart that in 262 AD the library was destroyed by fire during a Gothic invasion.
The Great Theater:
Imagine walking down the marble road, the street packed tightly with your friends and neighbors of the city and strangers from the surrounding area. The roads, lit by oil lamps, putting a warm glow around the city while the sea breeze blew into the city cooling down the marble, granite, and stone within the city.
What was playing at the Great Theater tonight? Was it a gladiator game? A dramatic play about the Emperor again? Was it a love story with a happy ending?
The Great Theater would have had the capacity for 24,000 people, with the port avenue extending out in front of it. Can you imagine trying to project your voice as an actor to that many people without a sound system?
The Story of Paul in Ephesus:
For my Christian friends, this is where Paul was dragged into the theater for sending a letter to the Ephesians (See Acts 18-20). His time in Ephesus was quite fruitful for the Christian religion a significant number of Jews and Greeks were converted, the Christian gospel was spread throughout Asia. There was a significant decrease in the purchasing of the silver Diana statues, which made the silver merchants go into a panic.
The mob gathered there to accuse Paul of hurting the Artemis and her temple. Paul continued to preach to them calmly, despite the peril to his life. Ephesians chapters one through four epistles are commonly known as the Prison Epistles. few hearts in the crowd changed and are the reason Paul survived that onslaught. Funny enough it was the security corps that rescued him from certain death.
Temple of Artemis:
Built in the 8th Century BC was another one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. To put the size of the building into perspective, it is double the size of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. The massive columns reached 180 feet (55 meters) into the air, with the roof reaching 377 feet (115 meters) long. Two marble statues of the God Artemis can be seen in the archaeological museum near this site.
Who was Artemis? She is a lot more important than you would think, as she is the daughter of Zeus (or the CEO of all the Gods). Surprisingly she was the most respected of all the Greek Gods, even more so than her twin brother Apollo. She was considered to be the Goddess of the Hunt, Forests and Hills, protector of children and virginity, goddess of wild animals, the Moon and Archery — sooooo she was pretty busy, to say the least. The Bear is said to be the most sacred animal to her, and it remained so until Orion won her heart.
Artemis remained one of the patron Gods of this flourishing city, with dense forests that surrounded the area – perfect place for legends to be told. The Temple of Artemis was eventually destroyed by a deranged man called Herostratus who wanted to have his name written into history books, and believed destroying this building was the only way to do it.
The House of the Virgin Mary:
When Christianity took over, the House of the Virgin Mary, where it is believed that Mary spent the last years of her life is now worshiped still to this day. This sacred place is variously referred to as Meryem Ana Evi. It is said that she came to Ephesus with John around 37 AD in order to flee the persecutions of Christians in Jerusalem. Many Christian pilgrims believe that Mary died here, or near here and was taken up to heaven rather than experiencing a standard death around 45 CE.
While there are many arguments surrounding where the Virgin Mary died, this site has been declared a Shrine and visited several times by Catholic Popes. While some say it is a highly commercialized area, there is a quiet sense of reverence and peace when you come to this place. Not many Christians know of this Shrine to Mary in Turkey, but of those who do, it is regarded as a place of healing, miracles, and where many can tie kerchiefs with prayers on them to a wall near Mary’s home.
I was moved by the white kerchiefs that were hanging from the Wishing Wall. I thought of the Western Wall (aka the Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem, and a part of me could feel the pleading and grateful words written on those kerchiefs. As you make your way down the wall, and around the area surrounding Mary’s home, there is a small spring. Many pilgrims believe that this spring has healing powers and would splash the water on themselves as if being baptized again, or take a small drink of water and make the sign of the cross over themselves.
I am Christian, but I am not a worshiper of sacred sites – only to the point of, I enjoy the feeling of reverence that surrounds them. No matter what religion it is, there is something inspiring, moving, and triggers a soulful reflection of how I can be better — because of the example of their devotion to what they believe in.
The Final Verdict on Ephesus:
When I first came to visit Ephesus, I thought ‘oh brother, not another broken down ruined Romanesque overcharged place’. I was with my family, so it wasn’t really an option to NOT choose to visit. After getting an audio guide so I wouldn’t be completely bored, learning about the history of the place, seeing the Shrine to Mary, learning of the Goddess of the Hunt, and being able to walk up the Great Stadium Steps and going down Curates Street – I have to say I was quite impressed with this place. The Celsus Library was heartbreaking to hear of all that knowledge that was lost to the world at that time. Walking down Curates Street with all the other tourists, was one of the few times I was glad there were crowds because it helped me imagine what it would have been like in ancient times with hoards of people headed to the stadium.
So is it worth it to see and explore Ephesus? I will give a resounding YES, I am not that into ruins strewn about on the ground haphazardly – this is not that kind of place. I would say the awe that it inspired was close to the awe and wonder I felt the first time I stepped in the Coliseum. For my religious friends, witnessing the wall of kerchiefs, the feeling at Mary’s Shrine is well worth it. It is not just the shrine that will inspire you but imagining Paul in the Great Stadium. Go stand in the middle of the Great Stadium floor and imagine people jeering and calling for your death for writing a letter – it will send chills down your spine.
Ephesus certainly has a right to be on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. With how well preserved the town is (compared to so many others), it will give you one of the best examples to imagine yourself in the time of the Ancient Greek/Roman life in one of the greatest cities of that time. If you happen to be on a cruise in this area, or in Turkey and can visit Ephesus – I would highly recommend you do so. Especially if you are an ancient civilization history lover like me, you will fall in love with this place.
I have always associated the Acropolis with Athena…the Greek goddess, but did you know that even before the Greeks built her this temple— it was utilized to house a King? There was so much I didn’t know before visiting the Acropolis on a shore excursion from our Eastern Mediterranean Cruise.
Know the History Before Visiting the Acropolis:
It was a massive structure built in the Bronze age with walls that were 15 feet thick, and 20 feet high! This was the ideal place for fortifications and protection due to the high walls of limestone that make up the Acropolis.
It wasn’t until the 6th Century (BC) that the Athenians built a temple they called the Bluebeard Temple but was dedicated to the Goddess Athena. Confused? Yeah, I thought so ….. the reason they called it the blue beard temple, was because of a man serpents face with 3 beards adorning the outside of the temple. It seemed strange to me that they would name the temple as such, the Native Americans in the States have a similar practice when naming their children. The first animal they see becomes their name and the action the animal is doing as well such as, ‘running bull’, or ‘flying eagle’.
Fast forward a few hundred years and we arrive at the Golden Age of the Acropolis when Pericles built it into a grand pavilion fit for the Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Crafts. This project lasted nearly 50 years! I would kill my builder if my house had taken 50 years to build, although it truly felt that long (even though it was 9 months to build). In fact, it took so long, the builder (Pericles) died before it was finished.
When it was finished though, it represented the most iconic piece of Ancient Greece. A massive Parthenon with the Doric-style temple with an ornate entrance that once had plastered colorful walls dedicated to the Goddess. As the worshiper made their way into the Parthenon, a small shrine to Athena was located on the right. The worshiper would put there offering in this place, and then approach the imposing 30-foot statue of Athena, and pray for events related to Wisdom, War, or Crafts. If your offering was good enough she would offer wisdom on your plea, and then give you the courage to follow through with the advice. Pretty swell deal if you ask me!
Except for the offerings which most basic sacrifices were that of an animal For those who are squeamish (or vegan), skip to the next section heading,if not please continue. Animal Sacrifices typically consisted of a steer, pig, or goat. They would then pour a cold bucket of water over the animals head, to get its consent in the form of a head nod. The animal’s throat would then be sliced, collecting the blood in a sacred vessel for the God.
The priest would then cut the animal open after it’s death, and find readings on the entrails and liver to determine if the God or Goddess accepted the offering. If the offering was acceptable, the bones were burned at the feet of the God/Goddess so that it could rise to the heavens. Then the meat was cooked at the shrine, or at the feat of the God/Goddess. It was considered a family time, a community time for those in that time period. It was also the only time that the Greeks would eat meat. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘Dining with the Gods’ now when I hear it in movies.
The smaller temple that adorns the Limestone hill to the North of the Pantheon is the Erechtheion. Six beautifully sculpted maiden statues support an outcropping of the temple once dedicated to Athena, the local hero Boutes, Hephaistos and other gods and heroes. This smaller temple was considered the most sacred area on the Acropolis. Legendary Kings of Athens are said to be buried around this site.
The Christian Takeover:
The climb up the Acropolis takes your breath away, in every sense of the phrase. The climb up will give you a glimpse of Mars Hill. A very popular site to Christians, as this is the place that the Biblical Apostle Paul gave The Areopagus sermon that addressed the ignorance of the Greeks that practiced Pagan worship, encouragement of worship towards the God of creation as the only God to worship.
The sermon also addressed the loving relationship God had with humanity, how idols of gold and silver and stone are not proper things to worship. This was in 49 AD that he preached to the Greeks on the day of the yearly festival for the Goddess Athena, right below the temple for her. The sixth century came around and Rome converted to Christianity, many of the Temples were converted to Christian churches. The Parthenon was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the Erectheion became the chapel.
The Turks and Venetians in Greece:
The one thing that surprised me the most was the story of the Venetians attacking the Acropolis. It was September 26, 1687, when they decimated the Parthenon as it held the cities powder munitions at the time when they attacked. Items were looted, taken, and then a British Earl came and rescued the remaining artifacts and took them to the British Museum for preservation (at the discontentment of the Greek Government those items remain in a British Museum).
Nazi Occupation of Greece:
The Nazi resistance in Athens was unlike any story I have heard of before. After the Nazi’s began their occupation in Greece nearly 11% of citizens died; with 40,000 of those being in Athens from Starvation. The Greeks have always been fighters though, small guerrilla resistances were popping up all over the country with the National Liberation group, guerrilla force ELAS, and other axis groups throughout Greece.
On April 27, 1941, the Acropolis added one more story into its history of surviving in the face of hardship and centuries of change. On April 27, 1941, two nationalists were forced to take down the Greek flag and raise the Nazi flag. Manolis Glezos, instead of raising the Nazi Flag, wrapped himself in the Greek flag and jumped from the Acropolis rather than have to raise a flag that was causing such oppression and death in his country.
Yet despite the long fall, he survived and climbed back up the Acropolis on May 30, 1941, and tore down the Nazi flag again. Over the years experienced imprisonment, torture, exile, re-imprisonment, and accused of espionage during the Cold War. In total, he had 11 years and 4 months of imprisonment, and 4 years 6 months of exile. As of 2018, he is now a 96-year-old with a resume to rival any ancient Greek God.
Still Inspiring Generations:
It was so hot the day that I went to the Acropolis, standing on that Limestone hill in the humid summers that often plague Athens. The hike didn’t help that fact, but it did help with giving me a much better perspective and appreciation for the high walls, steep hills, and what it would have been like to be a worshiper in ancient times. The most moving part about visiting the Acropolis was the soul inspiring story of Manolis Glezos. His courage in the face of the tyrannical Nazi’s left a deep impression on me as I walked back down the hill of the Acropolis.
Important Information to know Before Visiting the Acropolis
The Acropolis is open year-round. Lines can be long, even if you do have a ticket to get in, but tickets can be bought at the entrance as well. I would suggest arriving 20 minutes before opening to avoid the crowds, bring cash, and you will have some shade in the morning until around 11 am from the grand entrance to the Parthenon. Please check out the Acropolis Opening times, as they are subject to change depending on the season and holidays. Most importantly, bring comfortable shoes and water because exploring the Acropolis requires a lot of walking. Keep in mind that some buildings may be inaccessible due to renovations.
Activities Near the Acropolis:
Corinth Cave of Lakes, Meteora Day Trip, National Garden of Athens, Acropolis Museum, Plakas Neighborhood, Pisirri Neighborhood, Temple of Hephaestus, Panathenaic Stadium (where Olympic flame originates during the Olympics), Central Market (for a more local experience), Thermal Spas are another great place to meet locals, Kayaking on the Aegean Sea, Museum of Illusions. Eco Tours: Base Outdoor Activities and Trails beyond.
There are a few times of year that there is a free entry and coincides with National Holidays. Yes, it will be busy, but you may get fireworks as a backdrop or some incredibly unique lighting of the Parthenon (every photographer’s dream). Here are a few of the days and associated holidays that come with free entry to the Acropolis: 6 March (In Memory of Melina Mercouri), 25 March (Greek National Holiday), 18 May (International Museum Day), 28 October (Greek National Holiday).
The history of the wars, changing hands, religious changes, celebrations, brutality has been ongoing up until the present day. As Archaeological digs continue, more facts about those who lived in this ancient city are becoming more clear and ever-present. The argument of who has the official rights to the city is beside the point, the point is, is that with such a tumultuous past in the name of control and religion; it is very hard to visit this city and not be keenly aware of the fragile peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
To give you a better idea of just how passionate not just it’s residents and citizens are here are my Top 25 Things to See in Jerusalem; and how to be culturally sensitive to both groups when visiting.
1- Visit the Temple on the Mount
This is the place where you will find the most tension, yet the most spirituality between the two current clashing religions.
Separate entrances for men and women guard the way into the Temple on the Mount. You can go to the left and visit the wailing wall, where prayers are poured in by the 1,000’s weekly.
The wall is the remnant of the outer wall of the second temple of Jerusalem – which was not originally part of the Temple only surrounded it. The Second Temple of Jerusalem was originally built by King David around 70 CE. The wall measures 160 feet (50 m) long by 60 feet (20m) high and extends well below the part that is visible to us today. For nearly 1,000 years, the area was used as a garbage dump to humiliate the Jews, but after The Jewish people believe that the presence of the divine has never left this place.
Prayers are offered up in mourning for the temple that was destroyed and pray for its restoration. To the Jewish people, it is called Kotel ha-Ma’aravi, this place is so well visited you can see that the granite flooring is polished from so many feet walking on it. Prayers are stuffed into every crack that can reasonably be reached. Male children are taught the word by their Father’s and Grandfathers.
The women are not allowed to hold prayer meetings at the wall, nor can they wear prayer shawls here. There have been demonstrations with Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who believe that prayer circles can only be held and led by men.
Some reports of prayer meetings being broken up by chairs being thrown, women being arrested for bringing prayer scrolls to the wall etc… However in 2016, space was created for women and men to worship together at the southern end of the wall known as Robinson’s Arch; and the first co-ed prayer was held there on February 25, 2016.
If you head back towards the entrance, you will see a wooden walkway guarded by two armed guards. This is the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the seven pillars of the Islamic faith. It is the third most holy site for them behind Mecca and Medina. This is where Mohammad made his ‘night journey’ to the throne of God. The square on top of the mount, also known as Temple on the Mount, can accommodate up to 5000 worshipers.
It was originally built around 710 AD, but collapsed into ruin about 5 different times from Earthquakes, having to be rebuilt each time. Crusaders took over the area and used the temple as a headquarters until Saladin re-conquered the city. The crusader’s embellishments were torn down except for the Southern portion that is used as an Islamic Museum and Women’s Mosque now.
Visitors were previously able to peer inside the Mosque during visiting hours, but after a crazed Christian man (allegedly) set a fire inside and destroyed the 12th-century table of Saladin’s….all non-Muslim visitors were banned from entering. Now you can only visit the Temple on the Mount during certain hours, it can close without warning for protecting it, it is closed on Friday and Saturday as well. If you visit, women need to have their hair covered (out of respect) have modest clothing, you cannot wear anything Jewish or bring anything Jewish related with you onto the Mount.
Despite the perceptions of these two religions, as visitors, we should be respectful of their beliefs and abide by their rules. If you keep an open mind, and an open heart – you will see just how spiritually uplifting those so incredibly dedicated to their different causes can be just in observing them. The tensions between these two predominant religions within the city go back centuries. The most current disputes are the same as they have always been, but are still seen frequently between believers. While we were there learning about the history of the Mosque, it was the Jewish Independence day, and Jewish people are not allowed on or near the Al Aqsa Mosque. This day, however, about 20 men dressed in traditional Jewish garb formed a line and started to walk towards Al Aqsa Mosque. Those who were praying in fervent prayer, arose from their places of worship and slowly started walking towards these Jewish men crying out ‘Allah Aq Bar’, meaning God is Great. You could feel that the tension was there, and the Palestinian men in arms formed a barrier between the Jewish men and those walking towards them. Our guide hurriedly asked us to follow him, education on the Mount hastily halted and we were ushered down a side exit where our guide had a key.
I left that place with both peace and sadness for the two parties that have been warring for so long. I can see both sides of the argument, each side wants justice for injustices they feel have been inflicted upon them. There is a fragile peace between Israel and Palestine, that is not easily explained, is incredibly complicated and may not have a solution for thousands of years to come.
2- King David’s Tomb & Tower
I didn’t really understand what this tomb meant to the Jewish people when I visited, or why the different areas needed to be separated. Why was King David so important to the people?
This is one of the holiest sites for the Jewish people, he is celebrated as the warrior King of Israel. He is revered not just for his warrior spirit, but also for writing many of the Psalms in the Old Testament. For Christians, the room above King David’s Tomb is the room where the Last Supper is Traditionally said to have been held.
While archaeological digs have yet to reveal the actual resting place of the warrior King, Jewish people will traditionally worship him here. It is a tiny cramped room, only allowing a few people in at a time. The room is further split into two sections, one for the men and one for the women to worship. The entrance hall to the tomb is traditionally where Jesus is said to have washed his Apostles feet as well. The walls surrounding the tomb of David is also said to be known as the church of the Apostles because of the dating of the walls surrounding it as well.
The Jordanian rule of the Temple on the Mount and all surrounding areas did not allow Jewish believers to visit the Western Wall; they ended up worshiping here instead.
3- Visit the Church of the Nativity a UNESCO Heritage Site
While not exactly in Jerusalem, I still wanted to put this one on the list as it is in Bethlehem which is 6.2 miles (10 km) south of Jerusalem….the Church of the Nativity. This is the traditional site (since 2 A.D.) of where it is believed that Jesus was born. As religion morphed and grew, a Basilica was placed over the site in 339 A.D. The current church overlaying that basilica is from the mid 6th century.
Before visiting Jerusalem, I hadn’t really done my research on what to expect when visiting these holy places. I would caution you to not go expecting to see a humble stable or peaceful place of worship. There are three different religions who occupy the same space, with such tensions arising over the control of the religious edifice that a treaty had to be signed that joint custody of the building is shared among the groups. It can get quite crowded, and people are extremely passionate about not having you in front of them to see the sacred areas. I would humbly suggest, just wandering the building and seeing all the adornments of the building, as they are just as impressive.
If you head under the chapels and kingly adornments, there are some small and simple stone chapels underneath the church – just as it would have been during the time of Jesus. Here you can quietly sit and contemplate the life of a man that means so much to nearly every religion in the world. If you are near the Church during Christmas time, the Pilgrimage Route is walked, led by three of the religious leaders along the path that Mary and Joseph (Jesus’ parents) walked on their way to Bethlehem. The road connects the traditional entrance of Bethlehem, with the Church of the Nativity, and extends along Star Street through the Damascus Gate (the historical gate of the town) towards the Manger Square.
4- Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem
This site is very important to Christians the world over, as it has been held as the traditional site of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ since the first Crusade. While the site itself was originally a Temple to Venus; the Temple of Venus was torn down by Constantine and a stone grave was found here. This grave was assumed to be the Tomb of Jesus, a Holy Relic of a remnant of the cross he was crucified on was said to have been found here.
While tradition holds this to be the site where Jesus was crucified throughout the centuries, archaeological scholars argue that it may have been elsewhere in the city. Mixing science and religious traditions is always a dangerous venture so I won’t go too heavy into this, but just know that throughout Israel – holy Christian sites are constantly being argued and trying to be proved or disproved.
To me, this place was an absolute madhouse, in the best and worst ways (at least for me). There were women crying with shawls on their heads, rubbing clothes and scarves over the stone on the ground (believed to be the stone where Jesus was laid after his crucifixion). While I don’t understand the intricacies of interpretation in each religion, this particular practice took me off guard. In my own practices, I traditionally am quiet, reserved, and quietly contemplate religious ideals and offer a private prayer within my heart to that which I believe – as I feel this is the most reverent way to honor that which has gone. I do know there are some religions that the more you weep and wail, the more you show you miss the person. Maybe this was part of that ceremony of death that is associated with certain religions, maybe it was just these individuals….I don’t really know. It taught me something seeing it this way though, these women were worshiping in the best way they knew how and what was true for them. I decided I couldn’t fault them for that— and politely let them worship as I moved through the crowd trying desperately to find a break in the mayhem of tourists.
The buildings were so large, the spaces were so crowded, I couldn’t even feel peace and my brain was not allowed a time to ponder. It was very disconcerting and a part of me was frustrated that I was not able to find a place to think. There was incense being burned in a chapel I passed which triggered my Asthma and then my anxiety set it. I immediately told my guide I needed to leave just so I could breathe easier – and quickly found the exit. I think that the most spiritual part for me, was when I left the building. Seeing people from all walks of life flood into this place to worship, take photos, rub their scarves on the stone, shed a few tears of grateful joy is what impressed me the most.
In a time of social media, popularity contests, and bragging rights……with all the efforts people impart to ‘be remembered’ – a man born into a stable has survived the test of time. How would it be to have wars fought for you and in your name? How would you feel to have people weeping at your coffin thousands of years after you died? It deeply impressed me that so many people, after all this time, still felt so much for a humble carpenter. It was very moving to see how it brought us all to the same space to worship the same thing. Now if we could just remember to do the same thing in our day to day lives, would we still have wars? If we truly sat down and focused on what was important. In Israel, however, clashes over the Holy Sepulcher still continue to this day and may continue throughout all of time, unfortunately.
5- Visit The Israel Museum
Here you will find the replica of the Holy Land and how it looked in the day of Christ. It is quite impressive in its detail, scale, and replication. Be sure you get an audio guide, or have a Biblical Historian with you, to give you an idea of each of the areas within this Ancient Holy Land replica and what stories they correlate within the Bible.
It was startling how much it helped my understanding of where things were and how the land was laid out. It is much like an ancient Google Maps, where you can get a better idea of and trace the steps of Jesus Christ. Even how the land behaved during rainstorms, how they collected water to bathe, where the different bathing pools were for each social class. Then you see where they dumped their storage, where the Second Temple of the Jewish people was located – so when visiting the Temple Mount you can imagine what it may have looked like.
I can’t wait until they have an interactive movie on the Bible stories, where you can enter a 3D version of it – and watch it all happen as if you were a member of the crowd or a religious follower. (Ahem….can someone please give this to the appropriate powers at be, and try to make this happen, lol).
The most important collection in this museum, are the Dead Sea Scrolls. These are scriptural texts that were found near the Dead Sea (in Wadi Qumran) around 1947, yet the age of the scrolls themselves date back nearly 2,000 years.
When a young Bedouin sheepherder was climbing through the cliffs and found a crevice to which he threw in a rock to see how deep it went. He was surprised to hear something break inside. After a series of events, the scrolls were sold to a few different antiquities dealers and eventually led to the Israel Museum acquiring them for preservation and ability for all faith’s to witness the greatest find of the 19th century. The earliest translation of these scrolls led to three being published: The War Scroll, the Thanksgiving Scroll (Hodayot), and a second copy of Isaiah.
Since this that time, thousands of Scroll fragments in 10 additional caves—in total the remains of over 900 manuscripts have been found. These scrolls are being preserved and revered by thousands in the Shrine of the Book, located within this Museum.
6- Visit the Shepard’s Field
This is a quaint place to visit, and our guide gave us some incredible insight into the lambs that were kept in these fields. It was incredibly important to have sacrificial animals for the Temple in Jerusalem (the Second Temple, which was still being utilized prior to the death of Jesus Christ). The lambs kept in this field were the best of the best, and even the Shepard’s were specifically chosen for the task of caring for the animals for the Temple.
I find it very fitting that these were also the same Shepard’s that were asked to visit the babe in a manager. The symbolism of this is remarkable if you sit and ponder on this for a while.
Traveler Tip: There is an incredibly good Restaurant right near here (I don’t remember the name), but it has the best Mint Tea and Hummus in Jerusalem (of what I was able to try – and I ate A LOT of hummus).
7- Witness a Bar Mitzvah
While visiting the Temple on the Mount, if you go on a Friday – you can see a Bar Mitzvah! This is where a thirteen-year-old Jewish lad is celebrated for his reaching an age where he is spiritually, emotionally, and physically ready to observe the commandments of the Torah.
If you directly translate this, it means son/daughter of the Commandments. Celebrating a Bar Mitzvah is not a commandment, but more of a tradition of the Jewish people. A Bar Mitzvah is for a boy, and a Bat Mitzvah is for a girl. Head to the Western Wall on a Saturday morning and you may see several of these celebrations.
They are hard to miss, as they are typically accompanied by drums, horns, music and large canopy over them, or raised upon the shoulders of his family members. It is really quite a party, and cheering as the boy passes by with his family, or clapping to the music is encouraged 😉
8- Visit the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
Don’t skip over this one! While it is a church dedicated to Peter’s denial of Christ three times, and then reconciliation – there is something even more interesting. This is the traditional spot where Jesus Christ was believed to be held before his trial and subsequent crucifixion.
There is an argument among archaeologists on this point, but if you descend into the stony pit and look up at the hole where prisoners were lowered; you can see a crusaders cross painted on the edge of it. The painted cross has been dated, and the slots in the surrounding stone where prisoners were tied are consistent with the time period of Christ.
This is not a well-known site to visit, but is a unique center where you can see how Olive use to be pressed – and is (at times) still utilized for educational purposes. Walk among the beautiful garden with incredible views of Jerusalem.
Here you can also learn about how education about the dynamics of the different religious factions within the city are functioning, their belief systems, and you will be able to learn of the intricacies of their beliefs. If you are looking for relaxing things to do in Jerusalem, you may want to plan your visit for a concert here. If you would like more information on their concert series, email: email@example.com
10- Visit the Bible Lands Museum
Although it is rated as the number ten, in Museums to visit on multiple travel sites I still think it is worth a visit. Every single room, artifact, and a display is geared towards educating those from every religion about what biblical life was like. The artifacts and displays are correlated to the different books and time periods, the oldest artifacts dating back to 1550 B.C.E. For me, it was the perfect ending to my two week trip on the Holy Land.
I had learned so much throughout the week, and the museum itself was not as crowded as the cathedrals, basilicas and other museums I have been in. Having this be my last stop on my tour really brought the whole Biblical picture together for me. I am a visual learner, so being able to envision what they utilized when working the fields, the type of adornments they used etc…. really brings the stories alive (at least for me).
11- Visit the Yad Vashem: Holocaust Memorial Museum
This was the most moving museum I have ever been into in my entire life. I felt hopeful walking in, refreshed I could do this Museum alone and not in a large group. Take my time reading the descriptions, and really soak in the atrocities that happened to the people who occupied this land now.
Traveling through the Museum itself is like walking through an interactive art piece. You start by seeing all the fun commercials that were shown during that time period. What Jewish life in Germany was like before the war. Then you notice that the newspaper articles start to make racist jokes, commercials begin to portray Jewish people in offensive ways and the subtle rhetoric used. It made me realize how powerful marketing is, the subtle jokes or messages can influence a way an entire country thinks. If I had never met a Jewish person in my life, then I would have wondered if this is how they truly were. Making your way through the Museum, the messages get darker, the Jewish stars come out, and you crisscross over bridges to the very end. Each bridge you cross brings you to a different level of oppression and eventually you witness the heartache caused by this genocide. Memorials to those who were taken from this world by monsters that were totally convinced what they did was for the good of their country.
I personally had to skip through some of the videos, and memoirs….by the end I was totally sick to my stomach and had to take breaks on the bridges to continue. With my background working in a Trauma 2 hospital on the night shift, I have seen my share of gore and had to notify families that loved ones have passed. Those nights in the hospital didn’t have the kind of effect that this museum did on me. I couldn’t finish going through the museum, it was too much for me personally. I did go to the memorial portions of the Museum, and when I finally reached the Memorial to the Jewish children that were murdered during the war…..I stood in this dark room full of candles and cried.
Cried for the war then, cried for the ongoing war in the Holy Land – and something in me changed that day. I won’t go into the deeply personal changes that happened within me, but I knew that I wanted to show more love, inclusive, and stand up for those who are oppressed no matter their race, creed, religion, or orientation. There are basic human rights that EVERYONE should have love, safety, and peace. Life isn’t always fair, but each individual can contribute what they can to helping establish safe zones. If you want a real-life example of one of my favorite heroes of this time period, check out Corrie Ten Boom, this is the woman I want to be should I ever be faced with a situation like the people during this time were.
12- Visit the Via Dolorosa
The Via Dolorosa is said to be the road that Jesus walked on his way to the Cross. The alleyways are quite small, and the apartments lining them are getting taller and taller; this adds to the sense of stifling chaos on the streets. Making our way up the alleyway, there are small churches that signify important points on that final journey to the cross.
Station Three: Jesus falls from the weight of the cross for the first time
Station Four: Jesus meets his mother Mary
Station Five: Simon helps Jesus carry his cross
Station Six: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Station Seven: Jesus falls the second time
Station Eight: Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem
Station Nine: Jesus falls the third time
Station Ten: Jesus is Stripped of his garments
Station Eleven: Jesus is nailed to the cross
Station Twelve: Jesus dies on the cross
Station Thirteen: Jesus is taken down from the cross
Station Fourteen: Jesus is laid in the tomb
While we weren’t able to stop at each station due to time constraints, it is a path I would like to go back and visit— taking the time to stop at each station and contemplate what he went through. There is a lot that can be learned from what he went through.
If you decide you would like to take a tour of the Via Dolorosa, then I would suggest taking an official tour of the path. This will get you access to guides that have more than 2 years of education on these sites and will be able to get you access into the chapels that mark each of these moments. A very popular way of experiencing this is to carry a medium wooden cross with your friends in the heat, up the alleyways and to each stop. If you see wooden crosses being carried by such people, be respectful and allow them to worship in the way they feel is best.
I am not much for large displays of devotion, but seeing the example of their devotion to the experience really truly humbled me. In a way, it felt that I wasn’t doing enough in my daily life to be grateful for what I personally feel to be true.
13- Visit the Garden of Gethsemane
For this visit, I highly recommend you go first thing in the morning – rain or shine. It will give you time to enjoy the beautiful garden in peace. Take your scriptures with you, sit and contemplate what happened here. Read the passages that are pertinent to this place and let the weight of it sink into your soul.
I went with a tour group and we sat in a moment of silence, letting the moment really sink in as to where we were standing. We read a few scriptures and then sang a few songs reverently. Being surrounded by Olive Trees that are more than 2,000 years old, is an experience in and of itself — but to have a spiritual component to it made the time there even more impactful for me personally.
We arrived 15-minutes before the opening time and were able to sit in the space for at least 20-minutes nearly alone before other travelers started to trickle into the garden. Visiting hours for the garden are: Daily from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm and 2:30 to 5:00 pm Sunday and Thursday the Garden of Gethsemane closes at 4:00 pm
14- Visit The Jerusalem Archaeological Park – Davidson Center
This place is fascinating solely because of the history behind it. The views are not the prettiest in this section of the Temple Mount, but the archaeological finds are the best part. The large rubble that you see is that from the first and second temple periods after it was destroyed by the Romans and has lain ever since.
You will see the intact ancient city wall, and the Temple’s staircase, a preserved ancient street, some ritual immersion baths, and storerooms. This was the main thoroughfare, where pilgrims would visit, pay for their sacrificial coin to give to the temple sages and Rabbis. They would stop at the stalls before entering the temple; bring either grain, birds, animals etc… then are given a coin imprinted with what they exchanged. The coin would then be stowed away while they completed their ritual baths before entering the temple. They would then walk up this staircase (see photo below) and enter the Temple Mount to receive religious blessings and spiritual insights from the Rabbis for their daily lives.
If you look closely at the rest of the grounds, you will see Robinson’s Arch, the Herodian Street, the Dung Gate, and the Western Wall. If you enter the Robinson’s Center you can explore interactive Maps and 3D images of what the area would have looked like then vs now. The Center follows events that spanned more than 5000 years of activity all in one location. You will become a witness to what the Canaanite (Bronze) Age looked like, up until the Israelite monarchy in the First Temple period.
Visitors to the Park follow events spanning some 5000 years, beginning with the Canaanite (Bronze) Age and continuing through the days of the Israelite monarchy in the First Temple period. This place does get quite crowded with visitors, so be sure to visit the Robinson Center earlier in the day, or maybe on a day when the Western Wall and Temple Mount are closed.
15- Visit the Pool of Siloam
There are two areas that are called the Pool of Siloam, one is the traditional spot, and one is the archaeological spot.
The true pool was built around 400 AD by the Empress Eudocia. The archaeological pool was found when two stone steps were excavated and revealed a pool from the Second Temple period, from the time of Jesus Christ. The pool that was discovered was 225 feet long, thought to be in a trapezoidal shape. The waters that feed this pool is from a spring from the Gihon Spring flowing from the Kidron Valley. It is considered a naturally flowing spring and would have been used as a ritual bathing pool. How did engineering feat happen so long ago?
After further archaeological investigation, it appears that Hezekiah (the King of Judah during the 8th Century BC) built this to protect the cities water supply during a siege. A 1,750-foot tunnel under the City was built to bring water in from the Gihon Spring. You can take tours of this tunnel by reserving your tour beforehand. In many Christian faith’s, this pool has profound significance, as it is considered to be the pool where Jesus Christ healed the blind man.
16- Eat Kebab and Falafel
These are classic dishes for everyone to try when visiting this ancient city. The spices within this city are incredibly flavorful, with a savory nutty undertone. These are not spicy but would recommend you get some water. For the Kebab it is a mix of minced lamb with salt, pepper, parsley, and onions. It is then grilled and stuffed into a pita with a Salad. The Salad is a mix of greens, cucumber, tomato, and raw tahini sauce…..are you drooling yet? I am…. These are often served with a dish of freshly made seasoned Hummus.
For the Falafel, it is chickpeas ground up and filled with spices like coriander and a generous dose of cumin. Then you press these into patties, or roll them into small balls of goodness and fry them up. They are typically served in a wrap or a pita with tomatoes and lettuce. Sometimes you will get Turkish-inspired fried eggplant, tabouli salad, Balela Salad, and Roasted Garlic Hummus.
The Best Kebab is from Shaheen Kebab located at Shuk Hakatsavim 76, Jerusalem, Israel The Best Falafel is from Moshiko Falafel located at Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem, Israel
17- Visit the Church of St Anne
This is one of the best-preserved Crusader churches in Jerusalem, and also happens to be the site of Jesus’ maternal grandparents. Why is this important? It also means it is the birthplace of the Virgin Mary, a figure worshiped by many religions the world over.
This quaint church is surrounded by trees, shrubs and beautiful flowers eliciting a sensation of peace and tranquility due to the foliage blocking out much of the business within the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. As you head into the church, you may see a large excavation area on the left, believed to be the Pool of Bethesda, where Christ healed the sick man.
The church itself, dates back to around 450 AD, as a site dedicated to where the Virgin Mary was born. The church is quaint, but still has the fortress-like appearance characteristic of many Crusader churches. As you enter the large gray building, you will notice a quiet reverence within. Then a group will stand in the front and sing hymnals in a strategically measured way to present the incredible acoustics that is naturally produced within these walls.
Music always has a way of bringing up spiritual feelings for me, even more than any sermon that could be given. I honestly could have stayed here for an hour or two, letting the voices of the earthly angels drive the feeling of peace into my soul.
18- Visit the Church of Mary Magdalene
You can’t exactly enter this church as it is cared for by 30 Russian Orthodox nuns, from several different countries. Some say that if you are very nice, and ring the front bell, they may show you around (worth a shot if you have the time). They are known for their liturgical singing, and also paint icons, embroider vestments liturgical use, and decorate Russian eggs. The church was built by Czar Alexander III of Russian in 1888 in memory of his mother, whose patron saint was Mary Magdalene. The Onion tops look like the architecture of the 16th-17th century, and the facade is not marble, it is in fact….white sandstone! If you do not know, any rain on sandstone repeatedly will quickly wear it down and disintegrate the facade quite quickly if not properly cared for. It is quite stunning to witness such a fragile masterpiece though.
I would recommend this as your last stop though, particularly at night as the iconic onion-shaped golden domes break through the surrounding skyline of trees and are flooded with light. It is truly a photographers dream to see such a play of light and dark. If you go just outside of the Mount of Olives, you may be able to get a good view; or visit the Tomb of the Virgin and get both photos as a keepsake about the mother of Jesus.
19- Go to the local Markets
You cannot come to such an ancient city, fraught with contrasting division and unity and not support the locals. The interactions you have with the locals at these shops might be some of the only exposure they get to foreigners visiting their country, so why not put forward your best face 🙂
Take a day and commit to a buying one or two items from someone that you can sit and have a candid conversation about them, their life, how it is living in Jerusalem, what are their daily struggles, ask about their families, how the family units are run etc…. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you learn. Just keep in mind, that just because a people, culture, religion, or economic structure is different than what you may be used to, does NOT mean that it is inherently wrong. In short: Be open-minded, be kind, have the courage to ask the hard questions in a way that is respectful to them and their beliefs. These are the conversations that I hold the dearest to my heart. It connects you to the culture, fosters good impressions and will help change opinions one person at a time. Like with any business, word of mouth is a powerful tool, so don’t think for an instant your efforts are wasted.
Here are some of the best markets to visit in Jerusalem:
Mahane Yehuda Market (The Shuk or Machne in local terms)
Anthony Bourdain visited here during one of his visits, there are craft beers and barrels of spices for the choosing. It is quite popular with the tourists, so come early!
Location: Ha-Shazif Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Hours: Typically open 8am-7pm Sunday through Thursday. Limited hours on Friday. (double check on opening times as they are subject to change)
Bezalel Arts Fair
This is an arts and crafts fair with a more relaxed ambiance. There are crafty pieces made by locals, cosmetics, jewelry for every price range, and is far less frantic than other markets.
Location: Rehov Bezalel, Jerusalem, Israel
Hours: Typically open Fridays 10am-4pm (double check on opening times as they are subject to change)
The Farmers’ and Artistic’ Market in the Germany Colony
This is one of the more beautiful areas of Jerusalem and holds a large variety of cheese, hand puppets, crafts, and a variety of other treasures. The items you find in this market are going to largely be handmade by those who live in Jerusalem – so authenticity and quality are the norms not the exception in this market (the perfect place for that unique gift).
Location: Emek Refa’im Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Hours: Typically open Friday 9am-3pm (double check on opening times as they are subject to change)
The Old City Souk
This is known for its textiles and trinket souvenirs. This is also a very crowded area as it is so close to all those areas within the old city, which means many of the tourists come here for the convenience of the location. So it just depends on if you are ok braving the narrow streets and hoards of tourists.
Location: Shuk ha-Tsaba’im Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Hours: Mon-Sun 9am-6pm (double check on opening times as they are subject to change)
20 – Visit the Cardo of Jerusalem
This was a very captivating part of the old city for me. Imagine you are walking through the bustling streets of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, in a very modern part of the city, with perfectly manicured garden balconies in Granite appearing apartments. Then you take a right turn and descend into a massive pit with Roman columns and an alleyway that is hidden in the shadows underneath the bustling modern streets above.
This is the Cardo, a spectacular stone column-lined street that was just like those of the ancient Roman times. The Cardo in Jerusalem starts at the Damascus Gate and runs south underneath the Old City and ends at the Zion Gate. The Northern side is more Roman, the Southern side is from more of the Byzantine empire.
As you make your way into the shadows, there is a fantastic mural depicting what life would be like back in the time of Jesus along a Cardo like the one you are standing in. Be sure to pick out the modern male child being given a gift by an anciently garbed young girl. This mural could not be more perfect in the depiction of this area where old meets new and melds together to sustain the memories of the past.
Take a stroll into the Cardo, walk along it like any ancient Jerusalemite in the 6th century. As you make your way past the shops, you will enter an area that used to be the Crusader’s Bazaar, built around the 12th century, and then renovated to let stores sell their more modern trinkets. THIS is the place to go on a hot day honestly. There is a nice breeze down the Cardo, and the sun is not grating you, nor is the reflective heat off of the stones and pavement reflecting back up off the surfaces as it is on the streets above.
SUN-THURS: 9 AM – 7 PM (SUMMER); 9 AM – 5 PM (WINTER); FRI: 9 AM – 1 PM (Please double check on opening times, as they are subject to change depending on the climate, and political situations)
21- Visit the Basilica of Our Lord in Agony
This is one of the most beautiful churches I have had the privilege of entering in my entire life. I couldn’t quite hear what my guide was saying about this church, as it is required to be as quiet as you can within this building. This is the traditional site of where they believe Jesus left his disciples and went to pray to the Lord, suffering the agony of the world while he did it.
The windows are made from a purplish-blue alabaster, that creates a dimmed-lighting effect to the inside of the church. Six monolithic columns support 12 cupolas, the insides of which are decorated with mosaic tiles depicting the national emblems of the communities that donated to make this church possible (this is also the reason it is nicknamed the ‘church of all nations’).
As you look up at the ceiling in the dimmed lighting, small gold stars surrounding the mosaic of Jesus will greet you. Giving an impression of what it was like the night that Jesus came here to suffer for the sins of all nations. Gesthemene is actually a Greek word meaning ‘Olive Press’, which is essentially what many Christians believed he endured; the weight of the world’s sins pressed the blood from every pore.
Just be warned that this church is also crowded during the day with tourists, even when we arrived early in the morning. Be sure to arrive either right at opening time (maybe a little before), or give yourself an hour before closing time to allow those quiet moments of contemplation. It is worth the effort to feel slightly uncomfortable in the crowds honestly, and I detest tourist traps with a passion…..but this was worth the effort to me.
22- Visit the Museum of Islamic Art
Islam forbids the worship of images, and especially those depicting the Prophet Mohammad. This is why when you see an Islamic Mosque or Art, many times it is the artistry in the words and the way they are spoken that they express their form of worship. After centuries of perfecting their craft, many collections have been gathered into this museum. There is a collection of not just Islamic Art, but also artifacts and archaeological finds that have been discovered throughout the Holy Land.
What is even more fascinating is that the Museum was founded and opened by a member of the Jewish community. Vera Salomons herself was the epitome of religious tolerance and was interested in building bridges of understanding between Palestinians and Jews in Jerusalem. I am completely inspired by her dedication to truly making an enormous effort in trying to make changes in a region fraught with misunderstanding and distrust. Here you will gain a better understanding of what you are seeing when you look at the writings, the colorful images, and what they mean to the Islamic religion and culture. If you would like to understand a conflict in its entirety, first you must understand the point of view from both eyes.
23- Walk the Inner and Outer walls of the city
I know this sounds like a bit much, but a gentleman in our group took a run around part of these walls every day. If you don’t want to run, just take a short walk in the mornings so you can get the layout of the city. See what local people do in the mornings and the evenings, and really feel the beat of this city before the chaos of tourists ensues.
He went on a run twice a day and said that in the evenings the walls are all lit up around the city – giving it a fantastic view of the ancient structures. In the mornings, he reported that a mist would come in on parts of the city and give it a heavenly feel as locals rushed about getting errands done. Traffic is also significantly lower in the mornings as well, which is much kinder to your lungs.
I was personally traveling solo, and get lost VERY easy, so I get too nervous to do this type of thing alone in a large city. Smaller cities I like to take a morning walk, or if I have my GPS and a full phone battery then I love to explore.
24- Visit the Chapel of the Ascension
This is a Crusader Chapel, that is said to be built over the footprint of Jesus before he ascended to Heaven after his resurrection. It is a simple octagon structure over a stone said to hold the imprint of Jesus Christ. Many Christians visit this Chapel, light candles, sing songs, read passages in their scriptures, and cherish the last spot that Jesus Christ was said to have been before leaving the Earth.
It is located on the East side of the main road leading up to the Mount of Olives. There is a Russian Orthodox Church nearby also called the Chapel of Ascension that is another traditionally held site where worshipers believe Christ ascended to Heaven.
25 – Visit the Gates of Jerusalem (Jaffa, Damascus, Dung, Zion, New Gate, Golden Gate)
All of these gates had significance in not only the ancient world but some even in the more modern history. With the city constantly under attack, entrenched in war or conflict between religious factions City walls, fortifications, and gates were essential to daily life and keeping the city safe. Here is some history of each of these gates, and why they are an important part of your visit to Jerusalem.
This gate is on the Western side of the city and it was used as the main entrance from the old city into the Temple Mount. It also faced towards the ancient city of Jaffa.
The gate was first constructed in the Hasmonean period when this portion of the city had no natural defenses. Then in 37 BC, Herod the Great built three large towers, one of which still stands and is known as David’s Tower.
In 1948 the War of Independence ensued and the Israeli forces attempted to enter the city through this gate. If you look around the edges of the entrance you can still see large, deep bullet holes around the gate. Looking at these bullet holes gave me chills. I always hear about wars on the television, but seeing the scars on this gate that were bigger than my head made me realize just how intense the fighting here must have been. It made me grateful to live in the country I do.
A road was eventually built here on the south side of the gate and is still used today as the major entry point for vehicles into the old city
On the North Western Side of the city walls. This was the main entrance into the city in the time of Agrippa (ruler during the 1st century BCE). As time passed and the city grew with the Roman Rule, the gate was significantly enlarged with three arched openings. These gates led into a Roman-like courtyard (according to excavations) and a large statue of Emperor Hadrian was said to greet (and intimidate) travelers into the city. Two streets started from this courtyard, leading southward during that time; but still, function as the main thoroughfare today. The statue of Hadrian is now gone, but the surviving streets are now known as Khan A- Zeit (to the right) or Beit Habad street (to the left) and lead into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
The Damascus Gate is also the gate that is nearest to the two most important Biblical sites in Jerusalem: Golgotha, just across the street, and Jesus’ Tomb, which is 90 meters away.
Travel Tip: Prices here are cheaper than other parts of the city, many people will tell you not to venture over here just for the lower prices, but tourists still go and are just fine. You will see Israeli soldiers stationed here, and in the past, some have been stabbed and shot in recent years so be aware of your surroundings, wear appropriate clothing, be respectful and you should be fine.
On the South West Side and is also known as the Gate of the Prophet of Davide, because of David’s tomb on Mt Zion. This is near the Jewish and Armenian Quarters of the Old City.
Also on the Western Side of the City, this gate was once a wall built by the Ottoman Empire in 1540. It was 350 years later that this ‘New Gate’ was built into the wall to allow for easier access into the Christian Quarter from the outlying monasteries.
This is a sealed gate on the eastern side of the city and was built around 640 A.D. by the last of the Byzantine rulers. It is also known as the Gate of Mercy because according to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this gate. The gate is now sealed, as the Muslim people during the time of Suleiman wanted to prevent this.
On the North Side of the city, and was the gate that led to Herod’s Palace – because why wouldn’t a man named Herod the Great have his own entrance. It is also known as the Flower Gate because of the flowers that adorn the stone surrounding the entrance. This gate leads into the Muslim quarter on the Northern Wall.
This gate is located on near the Western wall. There are different theories for the naming of this gate, one which when trash was cleared out of the city through this gate. It is also known to some as the Gate of the Moors due to North African immigrants living near the gate in the 16th century.
No matter what street you take, what building you enter in this ancient city — you will find some historical or religious facts that will strike you at the very core. You can visit this city if you are Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish, an archeologist, or historical fan and leave feeling moved. The best advice I could give anyone in visiting this city, keep an open mind and especially an open heart. Have conversations with the locals, ask about their lives, discover the modern and ancient history melding together in a beautiful story that continues to be told and created even today.
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See YOU on the Flip Side 😉
I was with a tour group while there and felt completely safe in Israel. This was about 2 months before a skirmish broke out between Gaza and Israel. There is a lot of sensationalism in the media about this country, but just keep your ears and eyes open. Avoid the Old City on Fridays as this is typically when the two religions are there praying at the same time and there are clashes between the two on occasion. Safety in the Old City Trip Advisor Forum on Safety in the Old City US Consulate in Israel
Hello Matt! I almost feel wrong saying Matt, I have always known you from your Superstar Blogging Course as Nomadic Matt. I have learned a lot from your courses, and have read a lot about you and your work, but my readers may or may not know you. Would you mind giving a brief background for them on how you got started in blogging, and how long you have been doing it?
Matt: Thanks for having me, Janiel! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Nomadic Matt. For the past decade, I’ve been traveling the world and blogging about budget travel at nomadicmatt.com. My goal is to help make travel accessible by showing people how to travel cheaper, better, and longer. I started blogging back in 2008 as a way to showcase my writing. I wanted to be a travel writer, and I figured creating my own website would be a good way to highlight my abilities.
While that didn’t exactly work out, my website became popular in its own right, and I actually write my own budget travel guides these days. So, while things didn’t work out as I planned, they definitely still worked out! In addition to running a blog, I also manage a media school, a charity, an online community of 20,000 travelers from around the world, and the world’s biggest travel conference. Oh, and I somehow still find time to travel too!
Let’s get into the meat of what I wanted to ask you about, how to find meaning behind the destination. In one of your articles, you suggested Viz eats, where you can go and eat with locals. How else do you connect with locals in a country or city that you may or may not speak the language? What would you suggest for those who are introverted vs extroverted?
Matt: We’re living in the golden age of budget travel, with cheap flights and the sharing economy giving us an infinite amount of choice when it comes to travel experiences. If you don’t speak the language in the destination you’re visiting, there are still plenty of websites and apps you can use to have unique, local experiences. Some of my favorites are:
Couchsurfing.com: where you can meet with or stay with locals.
Meetup.com: a great platform for finding people who share similar interests.
Vayable.com: a website that offers unique tours and travel experiences.
Blablacar.com: a rideshare program where you can share a ride with locals.
By embracing these non-traditional platforms you’ll be able to have an experience that is unique and centered around local interactions. The best thing about these platforms is that you can enjoy them even if you’re an introvert. You’ll need to push your limits a little bit, but both introverts and extroverts will be able to take advantage of the sharing economy. You’ve just got to be willing to take the plunge!
When you make the effort to connect with the locals, do you find that you remember these trips more than others, or are these the trips that hold more meaning for you?
Matt: Not only does connecting with locals make the trips more memorable, but it adds depth to your travels as well. You’ll find out new tidbits about the culture, discover hidden restaurants or attractions, and see the destination from a more nuanced perspective. At the end of the day, it’s the people you meet that really make your travels the incredible experiences that they are. But it doesn’t always have to be locals — meeting other travelers can be just as insightful and rewarding. So always be willing to meet new people when you’re traveling. You never know just what opportunities will come your way because of it!
Do you have any volunteering groups, organizations that you know of that could make travel more meaningful? I’m thinking of those who want to give back, have skills, but in some areas may not be as welcome as others. For example, I work in the medical field and when I asked a friend in Jordan if they needed medical aid for the refugee camps. The response was, ‘We can help ourselves, these are people not some animals in a barn that you can come take photos with to feel better about yourself’. So I would ask you, in your professional opinion, what is the best way to volunteer for a few days, weeks or years? Do you have any organizations you would recommend?
Matt: Volunteering abroad can be tricky, as you want to make sure you’re working with a group or agency that is helping make real change as opposed to just offering tourists a chance for a photo op. There are plenty of travel scams out there that offer shady “volunteer” experiences to tourists that actually do more harm than good. So when it comes to volunteering, research is vital. I would also encourage people to look for opportunities that last weeks (or more) instead of days. Volunteering anywhere for just a couple of days, I would say, isn’t really going to make a huge difference; that’s the kind of experience that is there to just make travelers feel better. If you want to make a lasting difference somewhere, spend a few weeks volunteering. That will give you time to fully learn your role and make a lasting contribution.
I know you have your own non-profit you have started. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what made you want to pursue establishing FLYTE?
Matt: The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) is a non-profit that helps high school students in underserved communities travel abroad with their classmates. Every year, we send a group of students abroad to a country of their choosing. So far, we’ve sent students to Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, and Guatemala. Many of these students have never left the USA, so these trips open the world to them and show them just how transformative travel can be. As travelers ourselves, we’re all aware of the amazing and eye-opening experiences that travel can offer. These experiences are a privilege not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy, so I wanted to create a project that enables everyone to see the world with their own eyes with the hope that these experiences will encourage them to travel more in their personal life. The more we travel, the more cultural bridges we build and the more understanding we create. And I think the world needs a lot more of those two things these days!
Being a person who has traveled so extensively, having books, websites, non-profit program, and now Travel Conferences. Do you ever find yourself feeling isolated or lonely? If so, who is the go-to person that helps you out of that feeling? If not, what do you do to combat this loneliness or are you just too busy to think about it?
Matt: I’ve always been more introverted than extroverted, so I actually enjoy those rare moments when I’m alone. It gives me time to catch up on things like reading and writing and gives me more mental space and freedom to relax. While I love meeting new people, both at home and abroad, I also value my personal time so whenever I feel the need to connect I’ll make sure to reach out to my friends and make plans. Whether it’s dinner, drinks, or going to see some music, I think having a community is what helps keeps me sane when I need a break from work.
As an entrepreneur, there is always more work to be done so I could easily spend my days and nights hunched over my laptop. Having friends I can escape to not only gives me a reason to take a break from work but it gives me time to refresh and recover, and it gives my brain a chance to digest everything that I’m working on. So, while I am always comfortable being alone, I think it’s important to have people you can turn to whenever you feel the need to connect.
I always feel like laughter is the best medicine, there is nothing like endorphins coursing through the veins. So my last question is this…what is the funniest travel story you have?
Matt: I think the best stories are always funny in hindsight, though at the time they might not seem so funny. The best example of this from my travels happened when I was backpacking around Spain. I awoke to the noise of one of my dorm roommates banging on the door as he had locked himself out.
I reluctantly rolled out of bed to let him in before plopping back down into my bunk. But then I noticed something: a terrible smell. The smell, it turns out, was coming from my hand. It was shit. I immediately got up and rushed to the bathroom to find shit all over my hands, as well as the doorknob and trailing back to the bed of the backpacker who I just let in. He had shit himself. I confronted him about it, but he tried to say it wasn’t him…even though the evidence clearly proved otherwise. Later that day I checked out and went to a hotel. I figured some privacy was worth the extra cost — especially if it meant no one shitting in my room!
Well Mr. Nomadic Matt, it has been a real pleasure getting to know you on a more human level. I appreciate you taking your time out of your schedule to do this. I wanted to also say thank you, from the bottom of my heart for always being upfront, open and honest about all of your work, courses, and conferences; and thank you for being open and honest about your answers today. If anyone had questions, where can they reach you or your team?
Greek Isle Paradise…..feeling fancy, free, and a little like Athena reincarnate. The cruise ship had poured her passengers out onto the docks of Mykonos, letting her contents explore the whitewashed streets of Mykonos. Hours or research on what to do in Mykonos lead me to this day. Bumming on the beach…..that is where I was headed. If you do nothing else during your one day in Mykonos, please experience their beaches, they are world renown for parties, relaxing, and pure bliss.
Cruise excursions for me are largely done independent of the ship, as I can find activities just as good (if not better) than what the ship offers. Mykonos is not for the budget-friendly folks however……in the summer it is bursting at the seams with tanned, beautiful, thin millennial’s who like to party. Don’t get me wrong, if you enjoy the nightlife and clubbing scene – definitely visit in the summer.
If you visit in the offseason, the ocean is cool (nothing a wetsuit couldn’t handle), the sun is warm, and the drinks are just as good. You will be able to experience Mykonos at it’s most serene and authentic. If that isn’t enough to convince you, the cost of the flights, ferries, drinks, hotels and so much more are half the cost.
One Day in Mykonos and What to See:
1- Visit the Beaches
The beaches here are built for leisure if there isn’t a chair and palm clad umbrella to snooze under – just jump on the bus to the next beach over. I wasn’t able to visit each beach while I was there, but here is the ultimate guide to the best beaches in Mykonos (from a reputable source). I listed the two beaches I found the most appealing during my stay there.
This is typically known as the party beach, but there were only about 10 people when I went there in the offseason. The soda was a bit expensive but well worth the feeling of pampering myself a bit. I really dislike lounging around on a beach, as I often think of all the other fun things I could be doing…..this was very different for me though. I fell asleep, was relaxed, struck up a conversation with the couple next to me about how they found out about Mykonos & when I got too warm, lazily meandered into the ocean.
It’s located 5 km south of Mykonos town. Go there if you want to see celebrities but I want to warn you that you will not find a sunbed and you will pay 7 euros for a cappuccino.
Agios Sostis Beach:
This is where the locals are….it is a virtually deserted beach with soft red sands, and very few tourists. Located along the hiking route below, it is a welcome stop to dip into the cool waters and get your Greek on 😉
2- Explore the Alleyways and Streets
These dotted streets are much cleaner (in my opinion) than those in Santorini. The whitewashed walls are pristine, with an occasional tree winding it’s way up the side of a building. If I could decorate my room in a theme, this would be it.
The best thing to do is to just get lost, winding through the streets, stopping at each shop and cafe to collect your bits and bobs while sipping a cold drink. You will get lost, the streets were designed for you to get lost— well they were more designed for invaders of the Mykonos to get lost. This way the raiding party would be separated, and easier to defeat by the local militia’s. There is your historical tidbit as always 😉
3- Go Shopping
Ladies……they have some of the highest quality dresses, swimming suit covers, bags, glasses etc…. Just remember that you will pay in Euros and it will be expensive. Set a budget beforehand, take cash and put only a small amount in your coin purse at a time. This is a bartering tip, where if you show them you are taking out all your bills in your coin purse, they assume that’s all you have. Then when you leave the shop, take the rest out of your hidden purse pocket and restock your shopping funding supply.
4- Eat Local Cuisine
There is nothing fresher, more nourishing, nor delicious as Mediterranean food! The food is locally grown, caught, and cooked with recipes that have been handed down for generations. You will truly be missing out on an integral part of this culture if you do not participate in the gastronomic touring of this tiny island.
5- Go Fishing
If you like fishing, why not catch your meal for the evening on a fishing boat tour! Step on a local boat and witness the bounty of the sea in your watery voyage. Behind the Mykonian party scene, there is a well preserved traditional way of life. Get on a boat with the local fishermen and let them show you the secrets of traditional fishing. This is a huge industry for the island and provides a much needed financial relief for those that reside here. Fishing isn’t just a job, it is their way of life in Mykonos
Traveler Tip: Mykonos is very windy in August during the ‘meltemi’ so try to avoid this month if you are set on a fishing tour.
6- Spot Local Wildlife for Good Luck
If you are lucky, you can spot the Pink Pelican. The people of Mykonos believe that if it visits, it means that good luck will follow you and that will be a day full of good fortune. Just don’t try to get too close, they like their space, and getting skewered by their beak isn’t the most pleasant feeling in the world (not that I would know…..ahem….). You can walk along the water and see straight down into the bottom of the blue waters, fish will be swimming around in schools. It is the most surreal thing I have seen in quite some time. No matter what beach you are lounging on your sure to cross paths with some sort of wildlife. The islands off the coast of the mainland have become a refuge from the smog and busy city.
7- Take a Tour of Delos, a UNESCO world heritage site
Visit the island of Apollo, and walk where some of the fiercest warriors of Greece once stood and trained. Be sure to wander the path to the former Temple of Apollo. Here you will see the famous lion statues, dated back to 600 BC. Strategically placed to both incite fear and awe prior to visiting the Temple of Apollo. Be sure to check out my post, 12 Things to know before visiting the Island of Delos, it will have ferry times, ticket prices, what to bring, and what to do before leaving on your tour from Mykonos.
8- Go Swimming/Snorkeling
The crystal clear waters make it a breeze for even the most novice snorkeler to find fish. I would recommend wearing water shoes due to the pebble-like nature of the beaches, and the close proximity of the coral reefs. Getting a laceration from coral reef can be not just painful, but has a high likelihood of becoming infected. As they say, it is better to be safe rather than sorry. The best snorkeling spot is Psarou Beach if you wanted to do a self-guided snorkel tour. I would always recommend going with a guide though. They will keep you safe, know where the fish are swimming, can show you areas that are difficult to reach on foot, and provide gear for you during your tour as well. The Aegean Sea is beautiful, and honestly…..when will you be able to go back to Mykonos? Might as well invest in a grand experience, to help give you memories to last your lifetime.
Capture, amphora’s from old shipwrecks and pelagic species including huge schools of Mediterranean Barracuda. There are a plethora of diving activities available from the local dive shops such as Wall diving, cavern diving, the coveted shipwreck diving.
While certified divers can buddy up and go diving together, I would still recommend getting a few tips from the local dive shops on the best places to go. Currents can be unpredictable, and it is just better to be safe (maybe it is the Physician Assistant in me talking, but it is true—- no one wants a funeral or a massive hospital bill in a foreign country).
Traveler Tip: It is always a good idea to have travel insurance. While most insurance companies in the USA have coverage overseas, even the best do not cover repatriation.
10- Go Hiking
For the more adventurist tours, try the seven-mile hike to the famous Armenistis Lighthouse, or hike to the Vioma Organic Winery. Here you will be able to sip on your (what I call) crazy juice, and converse with the locals on what daily life is like on the island when all the tourists have gone to bed or gone home. If you have limited time on the island, but would still like to experience the best hiking trails of Mykonos, here is a hiking tour of Mykonos I recommend. As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Mykonos. It is a paradise for the young and old to wander, explore, and infuse those relaxing vibes we all need. ………
As Always…..Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See YOU on the Flip Side.
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Where to Stay in Mykonos if Staying More Than One Day