My journey to Jerusalem was an adventure that millions of people around the world would want to take to have a feeling of emotion.
Like any other visitor, I had formed a picture of Jerusalem in my imagination before the journey began, mostly from history books and media reports about its holiness and the crisis that currently engulfed the land.
It was a weeklong tour for selected Nigerian journalists, organised by the Israeli government through its Embassy in Nigeria, to introduce the pen warlords to some new breakthroughs and advances the country attained in many spheres of development.
However, for me, the most fascinating aspect of the tour was my encounter with new discoveries of relics and artifacts that will soon open a new vista of tourism, connecting Jews, Christians and Muslims to their roots of 2,500 to 3,000 years.
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Shira Alan, a tour guide at City of David (Annabi Daud), revealed to Daily Trust on Sunday that five active excavations – still not made public – are currently ongoing in eastern Jerusalem to produce more solid evidence on ways that most of the prophets of God lived in the holy city of Jerusalem.
Of these discoveries, what kept me spellbound was the palace of Annabi Daud and Suleyman (David and Solomon) and the 3,000-year-old road leading to the historic pool of Siloam, where Jesus (Prophet Isa) healed the blind and lame.
For me, no matter which of the three faiths you practise, you can’t be indifferent to these two new discoveries, especially if the end result of these excavations uncovered the original relics that are acceptable to all.
Pilgrims/tourists like Jennet Michaels believe that these discoveries would provide an opportunity for millions of faithful across the world to march on the three millennia-old road, and to get practical experiences of what the scriptures taught them.
“Within a square mile you are able to see and touch something we have heard for generations but not seen, especially now that people want proof and science,” she said.
Earlier, our guide said that on average, Israel received over 1million visitors annually, and with these new discoveries, there would be a surge in the number of people to visit the holy sites.
However, since I set foot in the Old City of Jerusalem, every building has its unique story, and my clouds of ambiguity began to vanish soon after I started visualising what I read in some religion and history books.
As a Muslim, my gaze was focused on the Masjid Al-aqsa, recalling how Prophet Suleyman, who was bestowed with the ability to speak to jinn and animals, commended the jinn to restore the masjid, and the spiritual journey of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to heaven through the same holy site.
However, my curiosity on Prophet Suleyman became more when Alan revealed that the palace of David was discovered, saying that archaeologists started excavating it in 2004 and were about to unveil it, but prior to that, nobody knew where the palace of David was.
According to history, it was where Prophet Suleyman (Solomon) ruled for 30 years following the death of his father, Prophet Daud (David).
According to the bible, Prophet Daud (David) said to the entire people that, “My son Suleyman (Solomon), the one whom God has chosen, is just an inexperienced young man, and the task is great, for this palace is not for man, but for the Lord God.
“So I have made every effort to provide what is needed for the temple of my God, including the gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, as well as a large amount of onyx, settings of antimony and other stones, all kinds of precious stones, and alabaster (1 Chronicles 29:1-2) – emphasis mine.
Although the discovery was still not made public, I, along with my colleagues, was taken round to see the level of excavation work and how the palace looks like.
Alan said that several layers of the building erected centuries after centuries were excavated by archaeologists until they reached the bedrock of the original palace.
She said, after the demise of Prophet Daud and his son Sulayman, some empires came to the city and waged wars, destroyed the city and kicked everyone out before building on top of the old city.
Alan explained that at that time, people didn’t have bulldozers and tractors to remove the rubbles, “So they build right on top of the city’s remnants.
“They would live on top for many years until another empire came, waged war, destroyed the city and kicked them out. Once again, they would plat it up and build another city on top. This continued to happen until it ended up in many huge layers, each one a different era, empire and time period.
“When archaeologists dug the layers, they found the base of the mounting, so they could not go deeper any longer, that’s the high and most significant point, and the most protected part of the city.
“They reached the last layer of all the layers, looked around and found a massive building with 9 bedrooms; that is a huge house. 2,000 years back, there was only one person who had 9 bedrooms in his house, the king,” she said.
Inside the palace, our correspondent observed a huge wall that surrounded the rectangular building with an inner face of the wall that has about four layers and a pillar to the eastern wall, which has a royal design.
Alan explained that archaeological investigations revealed that the design on the pillar was not popular in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, suspecting that the particular design was from the neighbouring empires.
I looked all around the rooms to see if I could find the great throne of Bilqis bint Sharahil (the queen of Saba) said to be adorned with gold and different kinds of jewels and pearls. But alas, not a single artifact was on display so far within the palace, but Alan displayed 2 seals that were found during the excavation, and both bear names that were mentioned in the bible.
For the well designed pillar, Alan said when King David (Prophet Daud) was ruling Jerusalem, he created political ties with the neighbouring empires and created peace in the region.
“And, when you became friends with your neighbours, what do you do? You send them gifts.
“It is in Samuel 5 that the king of Panisha sent messengers to David, carpenters, stone smiths and they built a house for David ‘’ she said.
Road to the Pool of Siloam
The Pool of Siloam is one aspect of history that every Christian would want to explore because of its religious significance. “It’s where Jesus healed the blind and lame” our tour guide said.
She said the pool, which was first constructed some 2,700 years ago would be fully excavated and opened to the public for the first time in modern history.
Walking down a sloppy road in the southern part of Jerusalem’s City of David, we descended into a large tunnel where the excavation was going on, in a strict location.
Alan said the pool originally functioned as part of Jerusalem’s ancient water system, but later become a site of religious significance for ancient Jewish people.
“Religious pilgrims used it as a “mikveh” or ritual bath to cleanse themselves before visiting the holy temple,
She said the pool later took on a religious significance for Christians too. “According to the Gospel of John, the fourth of the four New Testament narratives, a blind man gained sight after Jesus told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam,” she added.
She said that in the coming months the excavation would completely expose the ancient pool, allowing pilgrims and other visitors to view it as part of a tourist route.
On the length of the pilgrimage route, she explained that it is one and a half a mile that would take pilgrims back to 3,000 and 2,000 years of original heritage.
“This is the original heritage we talk about, feel connected with and learnt in the bible, other scriptures and things like that so that we can actually see it, touch it and hear it. It will come about only in the matter of faith, but a matter of fact you can see and become physical.
“You will experience it so that you can stand on the actual road and the preservation of the heritage when it is not just a speech but a physical connection. It is a kind of preservation we haven’t had in much of our history, but it will be uncovered and preserved for generations to come.
Inside the Old City of Jerusalem
When I walked into the Old City of Jerusalem I realised that the city is a land of many prophets, where different religions co-exist despite differences.
However, it was traditionally divided into four uneven quarters: the Muslim Quarters, Christian Quarters, Armenian Quarters and the Jewish Quarters.
Surprisingly, the sheer diversity within the walls, all the three religions considered the city as the holiest sacred ground, where the only God they all worship answered their prayers.
First, we walked to the Western Wall, also known as the “Wailing Wall” or the “Kotel,” which is the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people.
There, we saw Jews of different ages and gender in their hundreds, observing prayers. Some were reciting it and many others placed their written prayers in the cracks of the last remaining outer wall of the ancient Jewish temple,
The wall was split into two sections – males occupied the left area and the female congregation took over the right side.
What I will never forget about the Jews is their unity in approach and love for each other wherever and whenever I saw them.
However, at a walking instance from the Wailing Wall lies the Christian Quarters, which contains about 40 Christian holy places. Among them were the places we visited, including where Jesus was crucified and his tomb.
Our guide also said the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the first among the Christians’ holiest place, and thousands of tourists and pilgrims go there every year for fun and to perform religious rites.
The Muslim Quarters
Visiting the Al-aqsa mosque was one of the desires that pushed me to embark on the journey. Sadly, it wasn’t part of the visitations list handed to us by the Israeli officials, and personal efforts to visit the holy site wasn’t possible due to the back-to-back programmes that always began very early and ended late at night.
However, from a distance, I saw the Dome of the Rock, which is Islam’s third holiest site, sitting on the Temple Mount. This shrine hosted the foundation stone that marks the spot where Prophet Muhammad began his spiritual Night Journey to heaven.
It is believed that the foundation stone was the first thing God created when forming the world. The building is decorated with beautiful mosaics, and its sparkling golden dome has become an iconic part of Jerusalem’s skyline.
Apart from Jerusalem, there is possibly no other city in the world where you can hear three languages being spoken by the inhabitants to a soundtrack of Church bells, the voice of Mu’azzin that call Muslims for prayers and the chatter of tourists from every corner of the globe.
Also, the streets that visitors take to different quarters of the city often intertwine and overlap, making it difficult for one to delineate his exact direction, unless by the help of a tour guide or vendors seated outside their shop fronts.
If you are lost in Jerusalem, simply ask these vendors for direction and they will tell you where to go and how long it will take you to get there.