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The important sacred sites in Israel

As a country that is sacred to the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Bahai religions, Israel is full of fascinating sacred sites. We have chosen for you a few of the most important and interesting of them
by: Israel Traveler   |   16.01.2012
The Western Wall (HaKotel HaMa'aravi) or Wailing Wall is the most visited place in Israel and this is due to its great religious importance. In the Late Second Temple Period, in the year of 20 BCE, Herod the Great started to renovate the complex of the Temple. Herod the Great decided to expand the Temple Mount courtyard so that it could contain the hundreds of thousands pilgrims that came to visit it. In order to do that, he built four huge retaining walls around the Foundation Stone of Mount Moriah in order to support the extensive renovations and between them he built a system of domes and underground spaces which will serve as the infrastructure for the Temple Mount courtyard. The Western Wall (HaKotel HaMa'aravi) is the western retaining support wall of the Temple Mount and also a part of the wall which surrounded the sacred complex. At the time of the destruction of the Temple during the Roman rule many of the Western Wall’s upper layers were torn down as well and it turned into a center of pilgrimage which commemorates the sacred connection that exists between a People and their religion. During the last forty years the Western Wall Plaza was expanded and renovated for the convenience of the thousands of visitors and worshipers who come here. The archeological excavations on site were renewed and today the Western Wall Plaza serves as a kind of a huge open synagogue, to which visitors arrive in order to worship and put small pieces of paper, on which they write their requests of God, in between the Western Wall’s stones.

The Dome of the Rock, known also as the Golden Dome, is the oldest original Islamic structure in the world. It is considered an architectural and artistic exemplar, one of the most beautiful in the world, and a foundation stone in the history of Islamic art and architecture. The Dome of the Rock is important in Islamic tradition as it is considered to be the place from which Muhammad ascended to Heaven, the foundation of the world and its strength of existence. The structure of the Dome of the Rock is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the Middle East, and the gold of the dome shines to a distance. The outer walls of the structure are decorated with marble slabs and their upper part is covered with light blue Armenian ceramics created by local artists. The Dome itself is covered with about 150 kilograms of pure gold.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the most sacred of all places to all Catholic and Orthodox Christians around the world. This is because according to Christian tradition, the hill, which is contained within the structure of the church, is considered to be the place in which Jesus was buried and from which he has risen on a Sunday, two days after his crucifixion. Inside this church are the most important sites which are connected with Jesus, among them are his place of crucifixion and his burial cave. According to Christian tradition, this is the place to which Jesus has arrived at the end of the Via Dolorosa, and thus five out of the Via Dolorosa fourteen stations are represented in this church. According to some traditions, the first Man was buried here as well. Around the church are monasteries which serve as an integral part of the church. In the church are many prayer chapels, passages, caves and monuments and it includes the Golgotha (the Hill of Calvary), where Jesus was crucified, the stone of Unction or of Anointing, where the body of Jesus was anointed and prepared for burial, and of course the tomb which is at the center of a large hall now reinforced by iron girders.

Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that on top of the sacred Mount Zion is found the grave of the Jewish King David. This is only one example for the importance of Mount Zion in the local history. Mount Zion, which is located to the south-west of the Old City of Jerusalem, includes a few important sites that are sacred to the three major religions, as well as battle heritage sites and museums. Already in the days of the first Jewish Temple, Mount Zion has become an integral part of the city of Jerusalem, also due to the fact that it continues it directly topographically. During the Israeli War of Independence Mount Zion was conquered in only one night by the Palmach forces, which entered the Jewish Quarter and liberated it from its siege. Beside the site of King David's Tomb, Mount Zion includes also sites such as the Chamber of the Holocaust Museum, the Church of Dormition and several cemeteries.

Jerusalem is surrounded by many mountains and the Mount of Olives is one of the most famous of them. The Mount of Olives, which is located to the east of the Old City of Jerusalem, got its name due to the many olive trees which covered great parts of it in the past. The Mount of Olives is sacred to the three major religions and many legends, traditions and stories are connected with it. From the Mount of Olives there is a beautiful lookout toward the west, over the old and new parts of Jerusalem and over the Kidron Stream which runs between the Mount of Olives and the city of Jerusalem. This is perhaps the reason that the top of the Mount of Olives- which rises to the height of 815 meters above sea level- served as a well sought after platform for the painters, illustrators and map drawers of the city of Jerusalem throughout its history. On top of the Mount of Olives one can find many graves, as well as monasteries and famous churches, such as Gethsemane, Mary Magdalene and others.

The Via Dolorosa (Latin for Way of Suffering) is a route that passes within the Old City of Jerusalem and includes the 14 Stations of the Cross that Jesus walked through on his path from where he was trialed and until Calvary or Golgotha where he was crucified. Many Christians make this route as a means for identifying with Jesus’ suffering, from the Lion's Gate in the Muslim Quarter to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter (the five last stations are found inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher itself). It is worth mentioning that some of the stations have changed throughout the years and some of them have more to do with tradition than with historic facts. As such, the Via Dolorosa serves more as a symbolic journey. Naturally most of the stations are located on Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa Street. Among the Stations of the Cross are: the site of the Umariya School (the Pretorium), the Church of the Flagellation, the Church of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross, the Church of Ecce Homo and others. The various stations are well marked.

A magnificent complex of structures and gardens of the world center of the Bahai Faith located on the slopes of Mount Carmel. This structure is the most prominent and famous architectural monument in the city of Haifa and it has quickly become one of the city’s characteristic symbols. From the golden domed Bahai Shrine there is a magnificent panoramic view of the city, the Galilee mountains and the Mediterranean Sea and to both sides of the Shrine are the Bahai Gardens built out of 19 terraces of gardens, which are sculptures into Mount Carmel and are hanging from the top of the mountain and down to its base, featuring fountains and graveled paths. The hanging gardens create a pattern of colors and flowers which suits the natural beauty of the Carmel and the sound of the flowing water covers the noise of the city. At the center of the Gardens is the Shrine of the Bahai, the resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahai Faith. Beside the Gardens, the complex includes also four structures arranged in the shape of an ark which include, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the Seat of the International Teaching Center, the Center for the Study of the Sacred Texts and the International Bahai Archives.
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