Jericho, Palestine

We take in Jericho soon after crossing the Allenby (King Hussein) Bridge from Jordan into the West Bank and Palestine. It's believed to be the world's oldest continually inhabited city and it dates back 11,000 years.  None of the many archaeological sites in the area is riveting, and there's little sign of the walls demolished by Joshua when they 'fit the battle', but the antiquity of the remains is astonishing.

Qumran

A side trip from Jericho to Qumran, home of the Essenes, believed to have been the authors of the 2,000 year old Dead Sea scrolls. Nine hundred of these  priceless documents were found amongst eleven rocky hillside caves in 1947.

Bethlehem

Into Jerusalem (claimed by both Palestine and Israel as their capital) and then we venture south into Palestine again, to Bethlehem. Rocks are hurled at the bus. Fortunately, they only dent the paintwork. The nativity church is decorated with glittery lights, surrounded by tacky souvenir shops and surmounted by an illuminated electric star.

Masada, Palestine

Onto the isolated hilltop fortress city of Masada. Here we are persuaded that this is one of those views that is best experienced at sunrise. So we are  forced to arise at 3 a.m. to trek up countless steps and slippery paths and  appreciate the sunrise over the Dead Sea. To be fair, it’s a rewarding, if starkly brown vista and the story of the Zealots last stand against the Romans, here in AD70, is a sad one. We are rewarded  an hour to recuperate by bobbing  in the Dead Sea - it’s so saline it's almost impossible to swim properly.  (I think there’s a cable car at Masada now.)

The story of the remainder of this journey is to be found under Jordan.

Over the Allenby Bridge through the West Bank and into Israel. The wait at immigration isn’t too bad – though the bus is comprehensively vetted. The Arabs taking through their trucks and buses are having a much harder time. Our entry visas are stamped on pieces of paper, to be collected when we return to Jordan. The Jordanians won’t object. They don’t recognise the State of Israel at this time. So we aren’t deemed to have strayed over the border.

Nazareth and Galilee, Israel

North to Nazareth, huge and bustling. I'm thinking it's very different to the scenes in the Bible where it is described as the home of Mary and Joseph. Next, Lake Galilee (very little fishing going on today) the scene of miracles, such as the Wedding at Cana and the Feeding of the Five Thousand with the loaves and the fishes and the place where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Capernaum, another home of Jesus, has neat Roman ruins and some fascinating mosaics (the loaves and fishes feature here again).

Jerusalem

Back, to Jerusalem, via the Mount of Olives. The city is hugely important to Moslems, Jews and Christians, but it’s a big disappointment, as it’s exceptionally quiet. Most of the stall holders are on strike, so the souks are empty, the shops all shuttered. The Dome of the Rock stands proudly above the city, a symbol to both Muslims and Jews and the site of Mohammed's ascension to heaven. The Temple Mount, alongside  is more vibrant than the rest of the city. The Wailing Wall is believed by Jews to be the last remnant of the second Temple and, so is the most revered of all Jewsih site. It  is lined with people leaving prayers in the crevices and reciting their scriptures.

Close by are the renowned Christian sites designated as the Garden of Gethsemane and the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, traditionally believed to be the route taken by Christ on the day of his execution. This leads to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed place of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sadly, the close and convenient juxtaposition of these important sites in one building is hard to swallow, as is the tourist paraphernalia surrounding it and for me it’s a far from spiritual experience. I can only sympathise when some of my fellow tourists are ejected from the queue for the Holy Sepulchre by irate priests because they are giggling.

Next,  Bethlehem....

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