Clash at Jerusalem sacred site

Police and Palestinian protesters have clashed at the entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque, part of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem’s holy spot for both Jews and Muslims.

Details are unclear. Palestinian sources say the protesters threw rocks at a Jewish prayer group trying to enter the area in defiance to Israeli law, which reserves the top of the Temple Mount for Muslims. Jews are supposed to pray at the Western Wall on the other side. Israeli sources say the Palestinians threw rocks at a group of tourists who were dressed inappropriately.

We may never know what really happened, but the result was that several Palestinians and Israeli police were injured and a holy spot was once again marred by violence.

I’ve been to the Temple Mount several times and despite the palpable tension it’s well worth a visit. The eleventh-century Al-Aqsa mosque has attractive medieval stained glass and an elaborately carved minbar (pulpit). Of greater interest is the Dome of the Rock next door. Its golden dome is a Jerusalem landmark and covers the spot where Mohammad is believed to have ascended to heaven. The building is decorated with beautiful multicolored tiles. Nearby is the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, said to be part of the original Jewish Temple and a place of great spiritual importance for Jews.

Visiting the Temple Mount is a quick lesson in religious politics. Police crowd every entrance and signs warn members of opposing religions from worshiping at each other’s sites. On one visit during the Nineties I went with my girlfriend of the time, who was Muslim. The soldiers eyed us suspiciously and hovered close by as we waited outside for the prayer service to end. She wanted us to go in together but I wasn’t allowed in during services. Once the service was over, we entered and she did her prayers as I admired the building. Nobody objected to the strange sight of an agnostic and a Muslim visiting Islam’s third holiest site together, but we got plenty of curious looks. I wonder if we could have pulled it off today? I’m not sure I’d try. Too bad everyone can’t just chill out and accept that there are different types of people in the world.

No chance. I can’t even blog about Ottoman architecture without getting grumpy comments. Ah well.

Tourist returns ancient piece of Jerusalem

The Israel Antiquities Authority got an interesting package from the U.S. recently, Archaeology News reported. It contained a piece of early medieval stonework and came with a note.

The note said that the sender, who apparently remained anonymous, had been an archaeology student 12 years ago and stole the stone from the excavation he was on so that he would have a memento with which to “pray for Jerusalem.” Instead, it made him feel guilty and so he decided to return it. Sometimes guilt takes a while to work.

At least this idiot had to pay a lot in postage. The stone weighed 21 kilograms (more than 46 pounds) and appears to be a portion of a marble column from the Umayyid Dynasty, a Muslim dynasty that ruled the region from 661 to 750 A.D. The Umayyids had the first major Muslim empire, ruling over a vast territory from their capital in Damascus. They were responsible for building two of the major Muslim sites in the holy city–The Dome of the Rock (pictured here) and Al-Aksa Mosque.

Israeli archaeologists believe the column came from a large palace complex built near the Temple Mount that served as the local seat of government.

As some travelers set off to volunteer at archaeological excavations this summer, this former archaeologist would like to remind them that stealing antiquities is not only immoral, but illegal, and could land you in jail. It will certainly get you an F in your archaeology class.

Photo of the Day (11/14/07)

This shot of Jerusalem by Jordan Chark sums up time in a way. Here’s humanity’s experience in one vista. The skyscrapers and the crane in the distance–all still forging ahead with the new. And, in the center, one of the holiest places in the world resides. Even in the sea of change, there are places that stay firmly in place. The tones of the photo have a certain flatness which heightens the constrast of the gold dome of Dome of the Rock. It looks as if you could reach in the photo and pick it up.

If you’ve caught your own expression of the world, or just anything that has caught your eye, send it our way at Flickr’s Gadling pool. You may find your photo in its own march of time.