Passing through the gates and entering Israel’s Old City of Jerusalem feels like stepping onto the set of a Hollywood movie. It’s a timeless labyrinth of passageways and storefronts teeming with characters right out of central casting and has been for thousands of years. It wasn’t originally a show, but many movies have been made about one man who was cheered as he rode into the city on a donkey and less than a week later was cursed as he marched through its narrow, stony streets carrying a heavy piece of wood he would be nailed to, hoisted on and hanged from.
On the silver screen, Mel Gibson directed Jim Caviezel playing the Messiah in 2004’s “The Passion of the Christ. Max von Sydow portrayed the Nazarene in 1967’s “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” and six years later von Sydow played Father Merrin in The Exorcist. Famed Director Martin Scorsese re-imagined a sensational and scandalous Jesus story in 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ with Willem Dafoe as the savior who escaped and survived the crucifixion — or did he? I prefer the 1977 film, Jesus of Nazareth, because to this day I can still hum the somber score in my head. The tunes were catchy, too in the long-running Broadway rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.
“Thousands of people come to Israel during Holy Week to be able to celebrate Easter. Starting on Palm Sunday you can actually walk down the Mount of Olives on the Palm Sunday trail. There is a triumphant celebration and it leads right down into the Old City of Jerusalem,” said Jill Daly, director of the Midwest Region of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. “To see the distance and the proximity of where the Garden of Gethsemane would have been from the Old City and the walls there – it really is very close. To be able to see that geographically is just such an enlightening experience.”
The “Way of the Cross,” or “Via Dolorosa,” is the 2,000-foot walk over which Christ carried part of his cross from the Antonia Fortress west to his Calvary. You can replicate the walk.
“It’s easily laid out through the Old City. You can do it on Good Friday but there is actually a procession throughout the year every Friday at noon during which you can walk with other pilgrims. You can see the different ‘Stations of the Cross’ as they are marked with indicators,” said Daly. “For myself, the very first time I was there, to see the station where Veronica’s veil is and where Veronica wiped the face of Jesus was an amazing experience for me.”
Visitors to Israel and the Holy City of Jerusalem, if they don’t realize, are quickly reminded, that the world’s three major religions Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, co-exist in the place that followers of each of them consider sacred. A 45-minute drive from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, you’ll feel like a part of history as you wander the streets. While you should build in some time to wander through the warren of the Old City, it’s best to hire a guide to lead you through the sometime manic maze.