When I first moved to the East Talpiot neighbourhood, shortly after making aliyah thirty-eight years ago, what is today the Armon Hanatziv promenade was nothing but a stony ridge overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, where I used to go to be alone and meditate. In the decades since then, it has been developed, landscaped and touted as a prime tourist attraction – with, I must say, every reason. The views from the Promenade are spectacular. So it’s rather ironic that I, as a resident of the neighbourhood, have only now, with retirement looming at the end of the year, finally found the time to take a walk up there with my camera.
It’s a brisk twenty minute uphill walk from my apartment to the Promenade, which starts just below the former British High Commissioner’s Mansion. These days, the building houses the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization. Is it mere coincidence that the U.N. chooses to reside on a hillock which Christians believe to be the Hill of Evil Counsel?
I was fortunate to enjoy a sunny sky and temperatures round about 22 degrees Celsius – in December. In fact, the very next day, the temperatures dropped sharply and it started to rain. However, following a day of heavy downpours, today was once again bright and sunny.
I know many of my readers are now being buffeted by rain, snow and thunderstorms, so I would like to invite you to escape all that and take a walk with me along the Promenade to enjoy the view of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Judaean Wilderness, as captured by my camera.
Viewed from the south, the Old City skyline is dominated by the golden Dome of the Rock, one of the two great mosques on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram-e-Sharif. Within the mosque is the great rocky mass jutting from the bedrock from which Muslims claim that Muhammed rose to Heaven on his steed, Al-Buraq. Of course, a millenium and a half before Muhammed, Solomon’s Temple was already standing here, on the traditional site of the Binding of Isaac, Mount Moriah (Genesis 22). In Jewish belief, this great stone is the Cornerstone of the Universe, (אבן השתייה – Even Hashtiya). The Temple Mount is the Jewish People’s most sacred spot – not the Western Wall, which is no more than a remnant of the external supporting wall of the Temple Mount complex. It is therefore no wonder that the Muslims built their mosque on that selfsame spot, given their history of adopting (some would say “usurping”) the holy sites of other religions (such as the Kaaba in Mecca, for example, a pre-Islamic shrine which is now Islam’s holiest site – whereas Jerusalem is only the third-holiest city for Muslims).
From our vantage-point on the Promenade, as we let our gaze move to the left, the next building of note to catch our eye must surely be the Hurva Synagogue.
I have written about the Hurva Synagogue before. In the pre-State days, this was the largest and most beautiful synagogue in Jerusalem, but after Jerusalem was conquered and illegally occupied by the Jordanians, who invaded the nascent Jewish state in defiance of the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution (though you’ll look hard to find a single General Assembly resolution condemning them for that action, before realising that there is no such condemnation), the occupiers blew up the synagogue – along with every other synagogue in the Old City. In 2010, forty-three years after the Old City of Jerusalem was liberated in the Six-Day War, the synagogue was finally rebuilt and re-dedicated, to a chorus of protest from the Arab and Islamic world, who mendaciously claimed that the building was endangering the foundations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. As anyone can see from the picture, it is no-where near enough to the Temple Mount to endanger the foundations of the mosque. Of course, had Israel heeded the demands of Europe and the United States not to build in “the Occupied Territories”, this beautiful house of worship would never have been rebuilt.
From the end of the Promenade nearest to the U.N. building, I took this photo, of the conical Basilica of the Assumption and the bell-tower of the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, the site, according to Christian tradition, of the death of the Virgin Mary. Nearby is also the Coenaculum, the traditional site of the Last Supper, housed on the second floor of a building whose lower floor is revered by Jews as the site of the tomb of King David. On top of that, unsurprisingly, the Muslims built a muezzin’s tower.
I wasn’t the only one admiring the view that day. This beautiful feline specimen was also out taking the air:
Kitty decided, however, that human company was not to its liking, so it simply turned its back on me:
The U.N. building is surrounded by wooded gardens, where I found this intriguingly shaped rock:
Seen from a distance, it seems like a statue of a crouching frog or toad, but from close-up, one can see that it is a natural phenomenon:
Following the wooded path behind the U.N. building led me to some magnificent views of the Judaean Wilderness. On a clear day, you can see all the way down to the Dead Sea:
On my way back, I encountered some typical autumn flora:
I don’t know where the smoke came from, it might even have been just dust in the wind. In truth, I noticed it only after I had taken the photo and transferred it to my computer.
Finally, I want to show you the Tolerance Monument:
Situated on the Promenade just outside the United Nations Headquarters and funded by Polish businessman Aleksander Gudzowaty, it was designed by Polish sculptors Czeslaw Dzwigaj and Michal Kubiak as the two halves of a broken column, executed in bronze, from the midst of which grows an olive tree whose golden-leaved branches appear to be attempting to unite the two halves.
Any further explanation would be superfluous.
I hope you have enjoyed this all-too-brief brief glimpse of “our” Promenade (I speak for the residents of East Talpiot) and that, one day, you will have the good fortune to come and visit and see it for yourselves.
Shabbat Shalom and a pleasant weekend to you all.