Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday, August 24th - The End... For Now ;-)

It’s back to where the trip began. I arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece two months ago frantic about the travel plans on which I was beginning and nervous about what was to come. I have since relaxed and enjoyed some of the best days of my life. I’ve had good times of introspection, fun with friends, and met a lot of people as well. I’ve learned an incredible amount along the way and can only hope that I retain as much of it as I can.

Thessaloniki is Greece’s second city and includes an incredibly interesting past. As a part of what was previously known as the region of Macedonia, it has not followed the same exact history as the southern part of Greece (Attica and the Peloponnese). Until the Balkan War (1910’s), the area of Macedonia was owned by the Ottoman empire, before being split between Greece, Serbia, Albania, and Bulgaria. As a main center of Byzantium, the historical monuments here are plentiful with a beautiful church around every corner. But it’s not just about the monuments here. Walking down the streets is a very interesting experience in Thessaloniki, and specifically slow as you move through different parts of town. Where some parts have a labyrinth style plan (unharmed by the fire in the early 20th century) others have a very boulevard and avenue feel of a highly planned city. And these monuments that I was speaking of before are not out in a field or on a mountain top. They are surrounded by multi-story apartment and office buildings that come from any range of styles (International, Modern, Neoclassical, Colonial, Romanesque, etc.). I will have today and tomorrow to discover it further and think this time is required, especially since the Biennale of Contemporary Art ( an event that goes on every two years opening many monuments as art exhibits) is now going on throughout the city.

This will be my last post on the blog for a while. However, I hope to post every once in a while to bring up ideas that I’m thinking about or even new places that I explore within the Twin Cities. I hope to be granted another opportunity next year as well and am currently preparing an application for a Fulbright Grant which would allow me to do a year of research in Cyprus on the Nicosia Master Plan.

As my trip comes to a close I would like to again thank everyone for all their support throughout the process. For those of you I didn’t get to communicate with while I was gone, I hope to see you before I get back to school (or at school) or sometime in the near future. A huge thanks goes to the Metropolitan Design Center and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program at the University of Minnesota for funding me, Netti for getting my flight in and out of Thessaloniki, Rachel and Nikos for housing me for almost an entire month, and also to Easy Travel and their representative Takis for all their help in the coordination of the end of my trip.

Don’t forget to check back periodically to see if I have added anything!

Sunday, August 23rd - Meteora

Meteora is a city in central Greece (region of Thessaly), which luckily was on my way up to Thessaloniki. The names root in Greek is the same as that of the English word “Meteor,” meaning suspended in air. As is evidence from the photos, this is one of the most incredible scenic places I’ve ever been. I stayed in a town called Kalambaka, which is a village at the foothills of the mountains, (in fact the view from my balcony was directly up to the rocks).

I had decided to embark on my journey the way monks and pilgrims of the past would have… up the footpaths all the way to the top where there is now a road. I was out of my hotel by 8am and began searching for the beginning of the path. My motto for this trail was to always take the higher path. Great philosophical advice of course, but not always the case when heading up into unique rock formations like these! Lonely Planet guide wasn’t exactly detailed enough to show me exactly where I needed to go and as a result I began to make my way up unguided. At the time I didn’t appreciate the prickly brush and steep slopes, but the end result was more rewarding than I could have hoped for. At the top of this footpath (which was not an official footpath judging by the laid rock I walked on the way down) were quite possibly the most beautiful vista’s I’ve ever seen. I felt as though everywhere I looked and from any angle there was a beautiful picture, and a moment of peace.

At the top of these hundreds of meter tall rock formations are monasteries dating from as early as the 14th century! There are six complexes that are open to the public, and I visited five of them in the one day before hiking back down. Though I climbed up each via the stairs that have been carved into the rock, all of their physical connection with the outside world occurred through a basket that was brought up by a rope and pulley system! Legend has it that when tourists would ask the monks how often they change the ropes they would reply, “Whenever the good-Lord allows them to break,”!!! Now I haven’t heard of any deaths during visits, but what I have many of the baskets still function as an easy way to hoist large loads of goods up to the monasteries.

Their position has proved very effective throughout the history of the region because of their ultimate location in the landscape. During the Ottoman empires control of the area we know as Greece, the monasteries were spared by attack. The same can be said during the world wars and Balkan War as well, which in the end has saved an incredible amount of the early complexes in tact (with renovations of course) and their important documents and icons spared from looting.

As I walked to each monastery and back down again to Kalambaka (which I’ve estimated to be 10+ miles), I watched the tour buses drive by me. I wonder if they feel the same way about this site as I do. Do they understand what it would have been like for monks or even opposing armed forces to climb these slopes? Do they realize that everywhere you look and from every position on the mountain, there a beautiful vista that is unlike the one you just saw? I could have spent days walking around this place snapping photos and drawing, but unfortunately in this case I didn’t have the time. I’m starting to wonder, however, what influence the mode of transportation in which you are experiencing things can have on your perception of a place. The lens of a pedestrian is through a slow, fine, microscope in which all of their senses are picking up on the things around them and in places that all others can’t access. The lens of a personal vehicle is one with far more capabilities because of its speed and versatility but blurs the vision because of these attributes. A tour bus is a selective view point that sets up an image for you but tends to bring them to the viewer in an incredibly easy way. I am not saying that any of these area wrong. I am blessed to have athletic capabilities at the moment which I may not have in the not so distant future, but its something that I have been dealing with myself. I feel that I am more in tune with a site when I am able to set up my own views and explore new things. I hope one day to follow up on the biking tour that I spoke about in an earlier post, or at the very least rent a car rather than take a bus from point to point, allowing me to stop and explore things that I may not have set out to do originally. This part of the journey is what teaches me most.

For those of you that were wondering, I narrowly escaped the fire that’s currently ravaging the forests north of Athens! I didn’t even realize there was an issue until I got to Thessaloniki, but am safe and sound here. Hopefully, they get the fires under control so no further damage is done.

Friday, August 21st - Athens

After spending two and a half weeks or so in Athens last summer through the study abroad trip, I navigated myself easily through the metro system to Omonia Sqr. and up to the same hotel we stayed in the year before. One key thing that happened in this area over the past year (December) was the shooting of a 15 year old boy by a policemen, which occurred near the park across from my hotel. Riots erupted throughout Athens and the rest of Greece as anarchists believed this was the straw that broke the camels back in their belief that the government and police force were becoming too big/overbearing (right). The violence eventually subsided and the city today is as I remember it a year ago, allowing me to immediately revert to the familiar taste of a Savvas pita, and Crepe Mad crepe (Both of which I want to create on campus because they would be major hits for their price and quality, especially in the early morning hours of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday!).

After breakfast in the morning, I made my way over to the one site that I needed to see in my limited time in Athens, New Acropolis Museum. The acropolis proper is something that I had seen just a year ago, and would take almost a whole day to discover which wasn’t possible on this trip. When we came to the Acropolis Museum last year, it was only open as an exhibition of the building with not much to see within as far as ruins are concerned. Now it is absolutely packed with remains from the hill, which can be seen out of the glass façade to the north of the building (note the reflection in the photo), that span from the old temple period (prior to Persian Invasion) to the marbles of the acropolis structures as we know them (the Parthenon and its sculptures were completed in 432 BC)! The beauty of the marbles of these great public buildings are of absolutely incredible size and detail, but after many alterations and periods of destruction of the land known as the acropolis most of the marbles were bought by Sir Elgin of Britain in the early 1800’s from the Ottoman Turks. The majority of the marbles he took from that excavation can now be found in the British Historical Museum in London (which I also attended last year). The construction of the New Acropolis Museum is a statement from Athens to Britain for the return of the Acropolis marbles, which has been a long debated issue. There are many stories of improper care of the marbles at the BHM, such as the bleaching of them by a janitor who thought they looked dirty, but the main issue is the implementations this case has on rights to cultural property around the world. If Britain is forced to give back these marbles, what will happen to all of its exhibits from other places in the world? This issue has international implications, spanning continents in the ownership rights to many of the most important monuments in a museum (or for a country).

After long delays because of the excavation of ruins on the site (not uncommon in Greece), the building was finally completed by raising it off the ground (not the class walking area that looks down into the ruins).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thursday, August 20th - Hydra

The ferry should be done far differently than I did it… It seemed like most people who had seats like me were able to fall asleep. I was less fortunate and envious of those who had realized the discomfort of a deck seat and supplied themselves with a sleeping mat and bag. I didn’t sleep more than 4 hours on a lightly carpeted floor. I woke up feeling achier than I ever have before, and as my joints cracked and a headache lodged itself behind my eyes I gathered my things and entered the port of Piraeus (Athens). I stored my luggage at the metro terminal that I would take later that day and made my way to the high-speed ferry departing for the island of Hydra in a few hours.

We had made a short stop at Hydra last year as part of my study abroad program, but only stayed for a short time. Hydra is famous for its “vehicle-less” streets and untarnished Mediterranean Island vernacular style. The island has long been known as a great military power despite its small size and therefore has avoided the majority of foreign invaders throughout its history. Walking the streets of this old city is a wonderfully peaceful with the absence of motorized vehicles (there are a few sanitation vehicles but all other transportation is done on foot or by donkey). The quintessential Greek island feel can be found here with the narrow passages between houses, small tavernas along the port, hill top monastic complexes, and bell towers.

As I walked around the town, taking the path less traveled by other tourists, to the highest points along the old town I found myself thinking as a future designer/planner… “What is it about an old town that I am fascinated with?” Furthermore, what are the requirements of an “Old Town” that make it such and how can I create something that invokes similar feelings in a wider range of settings? The obvious answer to this problem is to copy every element in actual old towns and translate them into any new construction. However, with changes in technology, needs of contemporary life, and wide variation in climatic conditions around the world the construction of a new-“old town” would be highly inefficient and could be designed with more care to the client/place… Can it be done by the pedestrianization of spaces (narrowing of streets blocked off to vehicle traffic), implementation of more public space and a promenade, or is it the repetition of architectural elements that give the old town its life? Does an old town require water, age, history, monuments, etc? Just a few things I will be contemplating as I move into the upcoming semester.

Wednesday, August 19th - Chania

I woke up early the next morning to go for a swim in the Mediterranean. It would have been a crime not to take advantage of the location of my hotel! After breakfast, I caught the bus to Chania and spent the day walking around its old town. The fortification was less pronounced in this town, and the labyrinth-style streets extended outside their boundaries. The waterfront is lined with beautiful Venetian townhouses.

As the day came to an end, I went to the adjacent port of Soudas to board my ferry to Piraeus (Athens). The trip is overnight (9-5:30) and I am in an airplane style seat. We’ll see how this goes, but after not getting very much sleep the last few nights I have high hopes.

Tuesday, August 18th - Knossos/Rethymno

In the morning, I made my way by bus to the archaeological site of Knossos. Never in my life have I been more disappointed in a site as I was today. Knossos is a site of the Ancient Minoan civilization, who’s sculpture, building, and frescoes have been said to be well ahead of their time (1900-1450 BC). The remains on this site were of a Palatial town in that the center was composed of a the kings palace, while other dwellings were created adjacent to it. In the late 1800’s Sir Arthur Evans among others founded the site, and began excavations. As laws of archaeological sites changed in the 1920’s so did the teams mission on the site. With little funding, Evans funded a project that made many assumptions about the site by “rebuilding” what was there previously in an irreversible way. What I mean by this is that Evan’s team used “educated” assumptions about the site and began concrete construction on top of the existing ruins in order to allow visitors to “imagine” what the palace would have been like. He has painted columns and, laid concrete painted as though they have wood grain or geological properties similar to those on the site… The bottom line is, as it exists today there is very little anyone can do to return the site to the way it was before (as actual ruins) and study what it was rather than what it might have been. Also, it acts like a theme park at this point. I found myself laughing all the way through the site, less interested in the ruins, and more intrigued what a 20th century take on Minoan civilization looks like while tourists climb on the rocks to snap photos while being yelled at by the lifeguard-style officials stationed throughout the site. Knossos is an absolute tragedy and most tourists (because their guides blind them to the “liberties” Evans took on the site).

From the bus station at Rethymno, I hiked across town to my hotel, which was on the beachfront boulevard! I went out to the sites that I had intended to see, which weren’t all that many. My last stop was the Fortress on the coast. I spent a few hours there exploring and drawing the acropolis-style development, which had many different buildings to offer, including a mosque, a few churches, and some other military buildings. I stayed until sunset and snapped some photos of the posts located at the corners of the walls. At this point I was starving and decided to go to a restaurant that my guide book recommended (which is often how I do it) called Taverna Kyria Maria.

As I was ordering, a few kids (Marios and Nikolas) walked by noticing that I was touching up some of the drawings I was working on previously. The combination of their limited English and my limited to non-existent Greek didn’t help the situation, but I invited them to sit down as they looked through my sketchbook and got them lemonade. The waitress brought Marios a piece of paper and a pencil. He drew while I ate and then told me to draw the nearby fountain (it took all dinner for him to explain what he wanted). The waitress and the taverna owner had also come over to see my sketchbook and asked me to draw on back of one of their menus. I obliged and drew the fountain Marios wanted as both the kids sat by me and shooed people away from my view. The restaurant owner was very happy with my work and asked me to sign it. So, if you are ever in Rethymno (Crete), Greece, make sure to stop by this taverna and ask for my menu!

Monday, August 17th - Arrival in Crete

After a seven and a half hour layover in Larnaca, Cyprus, I finally made it to another island in the Mediterranean. During the bus ride from the airport and walk to the hotel, my senses began to pick up on some things that felt very familiar: The taste of great bougatsa, Venetian fortification and municipal buildings, British colonial neoclassical neighborhoods, wooden shutters, pastel colors, commercial and fishing port, and an appreciation of public space and people watching that could come from nothing less than a Greek Island. The biggest one at that! As the second largest city, Heraklion has had its fair share of overdevelopment with seaside hotels and the replacement of merchant shops to high end retailers, but the guide book had overstated this fact so I was pleased upon my arrival to see it as it is. Nonetheless my short time here was very nice. Just as elsewhere in Greece it never seems like people are working, as the coffee shops are packed what seems to be every hour of the day. There was not much of a choice for me… I had to succumb to the Greek way of doing things. After visiting a few sites such as the port fortress, loggia, churches, I watched the sunset along the porch and sat down for a long while at a café for some bougatsa (a cream filled bakery) and a Mythos. I called it a night early to prepare for my visit of Knossos (archaeological site from the second MILLENIA B.C.) the following day and continued travels on to Rethymno (the third largest city)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sunday, August 16th - To Tel Aviv

Because I was in the Holy Land on the Sabbath, I don’t really think there was much of a question what my final morning in Jersualem would include. I attended a morning mass in Latin at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (I didn’t see any information on English services but was told they can be done upon group request). What I assumed would be in the major basilica part of the structure, actually was a quaint gathering directly outside of the Holy Sepulcher itself! Temporary pews were set up to the left and right of its entrance, while priests lined a pew that faced the church directly. Not more than 20 people attended (probably because it was at 6:30 AM) and it was a great experience.

Today was a day of transit to Tel Aviv, a growing coastal metropolis where the airport is. Since I have an early flight to Crete I will have to be at the airport by around 4ish AM and I felt more comfortable being in the city first. But since I’m here, I obviously had to explore this completely opposite example of Israeli life (juxtaposed against Jerusalem). Tel Aviv is known for its beach and IT development (known as the second most tech savvy city outside of California), therefore from the beach, there is a direct view to an up-and-coming skyline over the now dilapidated Old “Jaffa” part of the city. There used to be a fortification at its port and many monuments of powerful navy empires, but those seem to have been pushed to the wayside in exchange for tourism.

I spent my couple of hours at the beach (which included a shard of glass from a bottle to the toe which I allowed the Mediterranean to heal) before going to what the person at the front desk of the hostel circled as the “City Center.” Judging by what I had seen of the city driving it, I had assumed it would be similar to the downtown or Minneapolis, in that it is a pedestrian center (which she mentioned) surrounded by high rise buildings. To my surprise, it was dozens of adjacent blocks of market! Over various forms of honey sweets/Baklava, I began to question what the true identity of Jerusalem really is…

I went back to my hostel and attempted to go to bed around 10 for my 2:30 wake up time and taxi to the airport with some other backpackers from France. After getting to bed well after 11, I was awaken by a butch looking Brit who was drunk and confused about whether or not the beds were for him and his son or if someone else was also in the room (the son couldn’t have been older than 12, wasn’t drunk, and seemed to be making fun of his dad a bit). After the man calmed down and I told him my next stop was Crete, he began telling me about his life as a guide both there and in Tel Aviv 20 years ago. He brought his son back to show him what the area was like (probably the reason for the drunkenness) and therefore began explaining to me through half coherent sentences of strings of swear words how terrible the development of each place has become (obviously paraphrased). After he explained a few sites that I should see that aren’t overdone (which included sleeping on the beach, I got to thinking again: There seems to a trend in many cities (Tel Aviv, Paphos and Heraklion on this trip) that have found themselves attractive to tourists, Subsequently allowing that fact to dictate their development (or in this situation overdevelopment). This is a scary thing for an area with so much to loose if left unappreciated (cultural heritage). There are responsible ways in which to attract tourists to a town, hence my interest in Heritage Preservation. As with the Nicosia Master Plan, the hope is that the revitalization of the OLD city (note the capital letters for emphasis on the fact that there is a past that must be dealt with) will lead to the celebration of culture and therefore draw people into the city, rather than building over the top of it. In my opinion, the character of a place is not defined by glitz and glamour, but the years of functionality and vernacular style.

Saturday, August 15th - Masada

Today I went on another day trip. The following are the sites I visited and some basic information about them:

Masada – Mountaintop fortress developed by King Herod (who is responsible for much of the foundational building in Jerusalem as well) in the 2nd century BC. Then was the site of Zealot Jews who fought off the Roman army in a dramatic siege until they finally broke through. Upon their return to overtake the city the following day, they found hundreds of dead bodies as the residents chose death over slavery. The Romans in turn felt slightly defeated and left the city to ruin. Only a brief period of Byzantine monastic occupation had added to the site since. The site has a very good display of ruins from this early. NOTE: My dad somehow has a book on the story of Masada and if you’re ever interested I’m sure he would lend it to you haha.

Qumran – This is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were located in the mid-20th Century in a series of caves that was inhabited by an early tribe of Judaism. Their writings (scrolls) were found on their complex and the surrounding caves

Dead Sea – Its shores are the lowest place on earth, and the salinity is so high that you can’t not float… I had seen pictures in the past, but you truly feel like a bobber on a fishing line. There is also very fine clay at the bottom that is supposed to be good for the skin if applied.
Jericho – Known as the oldest continuously inhabited city, and contains the remains of the oldest wall (8000ish BC). The city is also known as the lowest city on earth.

Towards the end of the tour, I found myself mentally exhausted and feeling saturated with knowledge for the time being. Much of this feeling came from the way in which the trips were run; with five minutes for a picture here or an hour to explore a site there it’s really hard to get anything out of it. This is why I tend not to join tours when they are optional, but realized the difficulties of getting to all these sites if I hadn’t had the driver. I can feel my trip coming to a close, yet I’ve decided yet again to pack as much as I can into a short amount of time. I like this strategy because of my current financial status and ability to find energy even after I feel exhausted… But it definitely begins to get to me towards the end. Eventually, I hope to spend an extended time really getting in touch with many of my places throughout the world… For now, I will do what a woman from Barcelona on the day trip told me is the “American Way” of travel (two, three, four days in a place and then moving on). She is right in that it would take months or years to truly understand the old city of Jerusalem, as is the case for many places that I’ve stayed. One thing is for sure though… Next time I will not bring the extra bag I did this time!

Friday, August 14th - Bethlehem

The Hashimi Hostel, where I am currently staying, became “overbooked” last night… Nonetheless, they graciously set up a place for me to sleep on the roof . Despite that small setback, I decided to attend a trip to Bethlehem (the birthplace of Jesus!), which is on the West Bank. Though most of you probably associate this with suicide bombers and Hamas, it was not this way at all. After passing through a security checkpoint, we made it over to the center of the city where the Church of the Nativity, Milk Grotto, main market are.

Church of the Nativity – Oldest Christian Building (also founded by Constantine’s Mother), which contains a chapel with both the place Jesus was born and the manger in which he stayed. Notice how you can see the church was altered multiple times by the different entry sizes?
Milk Grotto – This is a relatively new monastery that is said to be built on the place in which Mary used breastfeed Jesus.
Market – Unfortunately on this day most of the shops were closed because of it being a Friday (the Muslim Holy Day).

Though I have been fortunate to come to Israel at a time of calm (minus their issues with Irans nuclear power…), it seems hard for me to believe that the only news here in the Middle East is the bad, which we seem to hear about on a weekly basis… Many people around the world have probably written off this place as a destination because of its seemingly inherent political problems, but I can’t imagine never having seen what I have simply because of a distant fear of a people that I had never met. There are no bombs dropping next door to me or sirens going off in warning… At this time I’m proud to say I can only sense a tense coexistence among race and religion that contains little threat because those that live here in Jerusalem have far to much to lose. It seems to me that the outliers are those that cause danger, and therefore the reason security is stiff.

I also took a walk along the “Ramparts Walk” which is a walking route along the top of the old city walls. It doesn’t make a complete loop because of the Dome of the Rock area being off limits to walk into (without security checks that is). It gave a great opportunity to look in upon the city from above and also out to see how the defense system worked. On part of the wall there is a citadel area that is also known as David’s tower, named after King David. Following my walk around the walls, I stopped at the Church of the Dormition (supposed place where Mary fell into her eternal rest), Room of the Last Supper (happens to be above King David’s tomb and was converted into a mosque during Ottoman rule), and a Holocaust memorial. The museum had a collection of over 2000 stones that communities from around the world donated to represent the persecution of Jews in their cities which are positioned throughout the museum. This was a very heavy moment in my trip. Obviously we learn about what happened during WWII and specifically the genocide that was taking place around Europe, but to see photographic evidence of these terrible acts and to be in a building that was designed like gas chambers and ovens was terribly difficult walk through.

Thursday, August 13th - Exploring the Holy Land


I’m beginning to realize this city would take weeks if not months to comprehend… The Old City alone could consume my life, and just by walking around over the last few days, I can see multiple topics that would make for an interesting study.

First stop today was Dome of the Rock which is on the Temple Mount, as well as the foundations of the two previous temples that were destroyed at different points in the last 3000 years. Here, the Dome of the Rock (what my Lonely Planet Guide Book calls one of the most photographed buildings of all time) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque along with many other buildings from various stages of history lie on a site that is incredibly important in Judaism and Islam. Under the Dome of the Rock (which is inaccessible to visitors who aren’t Muslim) is the supposed place where Mohammed transcended to pray with Allah, where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son before being stopped during the 11th hour, and where caliph Abd al-Malik wanted to trump the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as it was convincing many in the area to convert to Christianity (hence the brilliant color).

Below the Temple Mount to the west is the famous “Western Wall” which you can see in the photo is the Jewish place of pilgrimage. Some of the massive stones that make up the wall have remained since the first and second temple periods. The wall is divided between men and women prayer areas, and it’s said that placing a note in the cracks between walls gives the wish/prayer a better chance of becoming true.

Afterwards, I went in search of the Museum of the Seam which is located on the former UN-controlled buffer zone that divided Israel from East Jerusalem (until 1967) in a formerly beautiful building turned military post (with long narrow windows and bullet holes in the masonry). The museum has a great exhibit of contemporary art, photography, and films that I felt related very closely to my research in Cyprus as well as my interest in sustainability. It seemed as though its main message was to force its viewers to think about the war that humankind is having with itself (civil war and political unrest) as well as humankind’s war with the natural world.

From there I continued on to the Mount of Olives, stopping at the sites of Gethsemane, Mary’s tomb, International Hotel, as well as Chapel of the Ascension, Dominus Flevit, Pater Noster and Agony (at Gethsemane). The Mount of Olives is a hillside just to the east of the old city where many parts of the Bible and Torah take place. The following is brief explanation of each:
Gethsemane - is said to have been the site at which Jesus is said to have been arrested. What I found most interesting about this place was not the 20th century church, which is also known as All Nations church, but rather the supposedly 2000+ year old olive trees that still sit in the courtyard outside the church that are known as silent witnesses to all these biblical events.
International Hotel – Built During the Jordanian Occupation of East Jerusalem directly above the mass cemetery where Jews pay large sums of money to be buried on because they are believed to have a front row seat to be saved upon the return of the Messiah.
Dominus Flevit – Fransiscan Chapel from the mid 20th century on the supposed spot where Jesus looked down upon Jerusalem and wept
Pater Noster – The site where Jesus is said to have taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, hence the reason they have the Prayer posted around the courtyard of the monastery in over 100 different languages, including multiple languages in brail.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wednesday, August 12th - Holy Land

Jerusalem (a.k.a. the Holy Land) is the most overwhelming places I’ve ever been… But don’t let this scare you! I knew this before I came. I decided to come to a city that is one of the most fought over in history and even in the present day. Why? Because it is the religious center of both Christianity and Judaism, and the arguably the third most sacred spot of Islam (Mecca, Medina). Everyone wants a piece of this place, and now that I’m here… I completely understand why! I have a lot of stuff to say so bear with my over the next few days as I try to explain all the things running through my head!

First from a religious and historical point of vew:
When I wake up in the morning, walk out the front door of the hostel, and take 10 paces to my left, I am taking steps that almost 2000 years ago were the same ones that Jesus was taking. The Via Dolorosa is the main street on which the Stations of the Cross occur, which culminates at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (which could use a blog of its own to explain all of its building history). I spent the majority of the day trudging through continuous market that is the labyrinthic streets of this ancient city, rising above the smells of spice and perfume shops, the wood carvings of crosses, and the calls from each and every day to come into a trinket shop focusing on the task at hand: Follow Jesus from his being striped of clothes, flagellation, and receiving the cross to his not so final resting place. Walking past churches and chapels that represent every last bit of his journey, I can see him fall once, twice… look towards his mother Mary, have his face wiped by Veronica; each spot identifiable by a roman numeral.

At last I arrive at the most holy place in Christianity… The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The original building was founded around 330 AD (only 300 years after Christ’s death) by the mother of Emperor Constantine (who began what is known as the Byzantine period). The church has been continuously added onto or altered throughout its history and today is divided between the main denominations (so much so that a ladder has existed on the ledge below an upper story window since the church was divided centuries ago). Inside there are a series of spaces that have been added to the building over time, commemorating pieces of the biblical story. Inside the church are the final stations of the cross; where Jesus was nailed to the cross, raised on the cross (at a place known as Golgotha because of the skull below it that you can see in many frescoes and icons) where he dies, and where he was placed after death on the cross (sepulcher). What could be more powerful than this?

I have prayed while touching the place where Jesus, our Savior, was laid to rest…

Nothing has been as moving as these times in all of my travels. I have seen absolutely magnificent things, but nothing can compare to this experience.