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East Jerusalem May 23
Our first locale for the day was the Rockefeller Museum on the outskirts of East Jerusalem. It contained artifacts from Israel, beginning with the earliest periods in pre-human history and moving on to Holy Land relics from Israelite, Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic civilizations. I was surprisingly impressed by the variety of exquisitely crafted pottery, but I also enjoyed looking at the mosaics, statues, sarcophagi, and commemorative plaques. One of these plaques applauded a Roman legion that had helped crush the second (Bar Kochbar) Jewish revolt against the Empire.
The next venue was Zedekiah’s Cave, a few steps from the Damascus Gate of the Old City. The cave, once used as a quarry, is the largest artificial one in Israel. It extends under some of the paths in the Muslim Quarter. One of the areas in the cave is a mammoth hall filled today with tables and chairs for some sort of a gala affair. Occasionally, majestic limestone columns—some slender, some stout—bolster parts of the cave’s ceiling.
Just by accident, we came across the stately Notre Dame Jerusalem Center administered by the Vatican. This magnificent building is one of the most prominent sites in Jerusalem. The chapel on the second floor has an understated elegance, with a glowingly alabaster sculpture of the Virgin Mary as the centerpiece.