Last week I had the extraordinary luck to take some small groups on tours of the old City. Each group had wished for an overview of the development of monotheism in Jerusalem. Our meeting point was outside the Tourist Information Office, just inside of Jaffa Gate.
We started off with a few “icebreakers”, and headed down David Street, across the plaza of the Kotel towards the City of David. I explained along the way that the Old City is composed of a mosaic of time periods, and since our tour would not necessarily return in the same direction I highlighted the prominent locations along the way and their various time periods – starting from the walls of the city; history of David’s Citadel (which allows a general overview of the time periods); Crusader streets/markets and Mameluke facades; the Kotel plaza and Temple Mount –modern and ancient history.
When we arrived in the City of David, people loved the views from the observation point with the contrasts of topography, culture and architecture, religion and politics. The 3D movie was a great success (though possibly not for charedim, and you have to check when it is screened in English – 10.10 and 14.10), and it encapsulated the development of David’s kingdom very successfully – although it leaves people breathless, and requires extra explanation.
Juicy stories of Amnom and Tamar, and the conflict between David and Absalom, and the accession of Solomon to the throne, bring the biblical story to life – especially when you point out where David was standing and Bathsheba was bathing on the rooftop, and the events that ensued – the bedroom scene probably took place directly underneath us (according to Eilat Mazar, who happens to be on site wiping her grimy overalls). The Bible begins to come to life and jump out of the pages, and one has to control oneself.
I find the excavations under the visitor’s centre - if you enter underneath - more interesting than the terraced hillside for further explanations – but that depends on the size of the group.
The journey down through the tunnels is exciting. Stories of the exploits of Warren, and the discovery of the tunnel add drama to the site, and then entering the dry tunnel or for the more adventurous – the wet tunnel, with the aid of flashlights (which are rentable on site) and rolling up your pants is great fun. People enjoy going through the tunnels – something primordial – perhaps it metaphorically connects them to their birth! Note, the water is at a constant temperature, and the path has been leveled.
Outside the tunnels, a short walk brings one to the Siloam Pool complex and the Herodian pavement. Beware of shady characters who approach your group claiming to be working on site and selling genuine forgeries of Roman coins! Although, the interaction did add color to the tour. An Arab taxi stand is nearby, and for 25 shekels per taxi, they will take you to Lion’s Gate for the next stage of the tour, otherwise, there is transportation to the entrance of the City of David - 5shekels per person, and from there, it is a very pleasant 15-20 minute walk to Lion’s Gate – with all the views of the Kidron Valley, tombs and Mount of Olives.
I will not go into graphic detail of the rest of the day (unless you insist, and send me a photo with your mail), regarding Graeme’s tour of the Via Delarosa and how to find station 9 for the first time on your own, or an in-depth exposition of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Though, what I would like to say, is that progressively one has to build up stories of the sites, and colorful anecdotes, and have fun! Beware, that if one of your customers orders a Wiener Schnitzel at the Austrian Hospice, then you should stand behind them in preparation for the Heimlicher movement, other than that, the rooftop views are amazing .
All the best, Graeme