First Sight of Jerusalem

Jerusalem presented a desolate appearance to Western travelers. A visitor in 1848 described it as "the chief town of a poor Turkish province." Others noted the extensive areas that were deserted and strewn with rubbish.

 Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives / Frith
Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, Francis Frith (English, 1822–1898), 1858. Albumen silver print, 15 1/16 x 19 1/4 in. (38.3 x 48.9 cm). The J. Paul Getty Museum, 84.XO.434.3

Where the Saviour of the World Lived and Taught and Died

Excerpts from Edward Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petrae. A journal of travels in the year 1838 (Boston, 1841)

The feelings of a Christian traveller on approaching Jerusalem, can be better conceived than described. Mine were strongly excited. Before us as we drew near, lay Zion, the Mount of Olives, the Vales of Hinnom and Jehosaphat, and other objects of our deepest interest; while crowning the summits of the same ancient hills, was spread out the city where God of old had dwelt, and where the Saviour of the world had lived and taught and died. From the earliest childhood I had read of studied the localities of this sacred spot; now I beheld them with my own eyes; and they all seemed familiar to me, as if the realization of a former dream. I seemed to be again among cherished scenes of childhood, long unvisited, indeed, but distinctly recollected; and it was almost a painful interruption, when my companion (who had been here before) began to point out and name the various objects of view.

At length "our feet stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem!—Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces!" We entered the Jaffa Gate, passed the small open place within, and descended the steep and narrow way along the head of the ancient Tyropoeon, or Valley of the Cheesemakers, until we came to the first street leading North below the Pool of Hezekiah. In this street, nearly against the middle of the Pool, was the residence of the Rev. Mr. Whiting, where we stopped for a few moments, while our camels were unloaded and dismissed. (p. 327)

Heavenly Visions Meet Reality

Excerpts from Rev. Andrew Thomson, In the Holy Land (T. Nelson & Sons, Edinburgh and New York, 1882). Thomson traveled in 1869.

Our eagerness had now grown into impatience. Surely when we get up to that eminence we shall see Jerusalem! We ascend, and are disappointed; and so it is a second time and a third. Can we really be on the right way? At length we pass on to a rocky plateau, and our range of view is widened. Does that line of bright green in the far distance mark the course of the Jordan? It does; and that shining strip of water must be the mysterious Dead Sea, and that lofty wall of green beyond must be the mountains of Moab. We proceed a few paces onward, and Jerusalem is almost at our feet. First, green Olivet appears, with a half-ruined monastery on its summit, and dotted all over with olive-trees. Those are the old walls of the holy city. Behold, rising high above them, is the domed Mosque of Omar, and that old black structure nearer is the Tower of David. See what a glory the western sun is shedding upon the venerable city and down into that deep valley of Hinnom! he dream of a life was realized. We reined in our horse, and gazed mutely. We confess to have felt so solemn that we refused to speak or to be spoken to by others; just as we have sometimes felt when entering a death-chamber where a spirit had just passed away to heaven, and nothing but the cold beloved dust remained.

Then, as we descended slowly on the bright green-sward, a succession of visions passed rapidly before our mind.

In imagination we saw the city in its palmy days, when Solomon was its king. The Temple was built and finished and stood on Mount Moriah "very magnifical," the work of a united religious people—a very poem in stone. The glory of the Lord had descended and taken visible possession of it, and the king, with his white-robed priests and crowding multitudes, had sung high praise and holy welcome to the heavenly King, the Divine Inhabitant. Ages passed, and then we imagined proud Sennacherib's army of Assyrians compassing the city round about, demanding submission and entrance, or assuring the people of speedy bondage and destruction in the event of refusal. Hezekiah's prayer conquers when the besieged people are at their wit's end; and one of God's soldiers, an angel from heaven, on one night seals in a fatal death-sleep 185,000 of the beleaguering army which had defied the living God. Next, we thought of Nehemiah in later ages walking by moonlight amidst its ruined walls and broken gates, hastening to arouse and unite the dispirited and divided people; and then, under his patriotic, earnest leadership, transfusing his soul, as it were, into the whole nation, the wall rising from day to day like a thing of life, its gates set up, and national existence and national hope restored. Then centuries elapsed again, and we beheld the Son of God walking and teaching in its streets and places of public concourse, and working miracles at its Temple-gates, his earthly life closed by the great events of his crucifixion on Calvary, his resurrection and ascension. And, last of all, the vision passed before us of the armies of the Roman Titus surrounding the guilty city, the protracted siege, the terrible scenes of carnage, the burning Temple, the ploughshare carried through its foundations, and the remnant of the people that had escaped the sword and the fire scattered to all the winds of heaven, to become the mocking, and the proverb, and the by-work of all the nations of the earth. The thought, however, which stood present and prominent in our mind as we looked down from the heights of the Jaffa road was, that somewhere within the range of our vision at that moment, those great events had occurred which had brought redemption to our world! Calvary was near, and the rocky grave where angels watched, and the green spot from which Jesus had ascended through that sky to heaven!

But it is remarkable what rude shocks one's meditations experience when traveling in Palestine. No sooner had we reached the Jaffa gate by which we were to enter this wondrous city, which had occupied the waking dreams of a lifetime, than we were stopped by the jabbering of custom-house officers eager for bribes, and kept waiting long under a broiling sun until their voracity was satisfied. We then descended through steep, narrow streets, on loose flinty stones, on which it was next to impossible for our horse to find solid footing; and after passing under some gloomy arcades, into which the sunlight never penetrates, landed at the door of a little inn with scarcely a window on its outside wall, and which had very much the look of a prison. It was enough. We were in Jerusalem.