Modernity and antiquity go hand in hand in Jerusalem, the Israeli capital, whose stones evoke more than 3,000 years of kingdoms, battles, reconstructions, psalms, triumphant entrances and pilgrims of all languages.
By Gustavo Montenegro (Israel)
A modern streetcar, which has been crossing Jerusalem since 2011, carries Israeli, Arab and tourist passengers, indistinctly and in total harmony. It makes a stop in front of the Damascus Gate, one of the entrances to the walled city, whose antiquity dates back more than 3,000 years, was destroyed and rebuilt at least 13 times, and contains three important sacred sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims.
In the year 1,004 BC, King David conquered the place and there he established the capital of Israel. Archaeological excavations have uncovered vestiges of that era, which are outside the current wall, dating to the 15th century. Here there have been conquests, occupations as well as periods of tranquility in which the Hebrew name is better understood: Yerushaláyim, meaning “House of Peace”.
Through seven of its eight gates—the Damascus, New, Jaffa, Dung, Lion’s, David’s, and Herod’s (or Flowers) gates—settlers and visitors come and go in search of the Holy Sepulcher, in the case of the Christians; of the Wailing Wall, in the case of the Jews; and of the Dome of the Rock, in the case of the Muslims. The eighth gate, called the Golden Gate, has been sealed since 1541 because, in this way, the Sultan Suleiman wanted to prevent the entry of the Jewish Messiah.
The historical and religious disputes have placed Jerusalem in permanent controversy due to the fact that Israel proclaims it as capital of the State created in 1948, and where the Embassy of Guatemala will relocate on May 16 to a complex located south of the Old City. The eastern side is predominantly Arab, but its inhabitants are Israeli citizens with full rights and obligations.
Periodic rebellions of extremist groups have led to threats and attacks. In June of 2017, an Israeli police officer was stabbed to death near the Damascus Gate; but on May 1, 2018, when visiting the place, there were birds singing, vendors selling their wares and tourists taking photographs, all under the discreet surveillance of several soldiers.
Our feet are already treading your thresholds, Jerusalem, says the song; the alleys are, indeed, full of dialogues. Motorcycle taxis pass by, loaded with olives, oranges and spices. The prayers of the Stations of the Cross in all the languages ??advance on the stones polished by the centuries.
The tomb of Christ, which is certainly empty, is filled by thousands of worshipers every day. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again from the dead. That happened right here.
Orthodox monks begin their prayers at 5 o’clock; then the mass of the Franciscan monks begins. Tears, photographs, candles. From the dome, the pantocrator, a Byzantine portrait of Christ, observes humanity. A ray of light, a rumor of devotion, a smell of myrrh.
Always under construction
Children leave their school; young people sit down to play a piano set in the municipal square; the outdoor restaurants look boisterous on summer nights.
A million people live in this capital, about 40 thousand of them inside the wall, which began to spread out of it at the end of the 19th century.
Modern highways lead to neighboring cities; there is intense commercial and infrastructure activity. In the area called Gate of Jerusalem there are multiple real estate developments, whose builders, in spite of all the modern architectural developments, still use the same white rock of the legendary walls as a recurrent and symbolic raw material.
Cradle of Christianity
Tradition identifies this as the location where Christ was crucified, buried and then resurrected.
The temple has constructions from different periods, which begin with the discovery of the Holy Cross by Saint Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, in the 6th century.
Despite the crowds, it is still possible to find a haven of mysticism to pray in this sanctuary, under the care of Orthodox monks and Franciscan friars.