A STROLL THROUGH THE OLD CITY

I visit visited Israel in March 2002. in this scene from Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides take my first stroll through Jerusalem.

It was market day on Saleh el Din Street. Peddlers Market—the area outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City in Jerusalem—was full of vendors selling everything from nightgowns and underwear to tennis shoes, scarves and plastic slippers. The steps leading down from the street were so congested I dared not look around unless I stopped in my tracks, and then I risked being pushed from behind by the throngs of people descending toward the Gate.

From the moment I walked into the Muslim Quarter through the Damascus Gate—one of the eight gates leading into the Old City—I felt as though I was stepping back into antiquity. The walls surrounding the Old City dated back more than 2,000 years. In a place which in ancient times must have smelled of cedar, musk, incense, and myrrh, it was easy to conjure up the image of women draped in bright reds and blues sitting along the cobblestone walkway hawking their pottery to Hebrews and Canaanites. The original water-delivery system to the Old City was still in use—an open gutter along either side of the narrow walkway called Al Wad Road. The Crusaders, who claimed Jerusalem as their capital for most of the 12th Century, built the massive stone walls lining both sides of the walkway.

Shops, crammed into every conceivable space along either side of Al Wad Road, were full of colorful local wares: exquisitely embroidered cloth in Palestinian motifs; unique Armenian artisan dinner dishes painted in browns, turquoise and blues; shelves of hand-painted pottery and glass jars, replicas of ancient Phoenician vases used to store precious oils and perfumes. For the leisurely stroller who wanted to treat himself to the mouth-watering taste of hot flat bread dusted with thyme and olive oil, or spicy grilled meat kabobs and spit-roasted chickens, he had to spend only a few shekels. And he only needed sit back at any of the numerous cafes along Al Wad Road , order a Turkish coffee, smoke a nargillas and marvel at the 15th Century Mamuluk architecture surrounding him.

Continuing through the Muslim Quarter, across the Via del Rosa, I came to a junction approximately twelve feet wide. If I turned left, I would have found myself not far from a door leading to the Dome of the Rock. If I continued straight, I could enter the Jewish Quarter and to my right were the Christian and Armenian Quarters. I turned left and walked into the Suq al-Qattanin (cotton market), a bustling covered bazaar with an arched tile roof at least a thousand years old. I strolled to the end of the bazaar, where I caught a close-up glimpse through an open door of the glittering, gold eight-sided Haram-al-Sharif (Dome of the Rock) on the Temple Mount. The Dome was centered over a sacred rock believed to be the place where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, and from which Muhammad ascended into heaven. This magnificent piece of Islamic architecture—laced with intricate mosaics and bordered with tiles that bore quotations from the Quran—was built by Abd el-Malek in 691 CE. Abraham, David, Solomon and Jesus are said to have prayed at the Well of Souls in the downstairs level. The Al-Aqsa mosque, next to the Dome of the Rock, is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. It was built between 710 and 715 CE.

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