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A Walk on the Via Dolorosa
The Old City's main Jewish and Muslim sites can be visited individually, but the primary Christian shrines—the Via Dolorosa (or Way of the Cross) and the Holy Sepulcher—are best experienced in sequence. This walk will keep you oriented in the confusing marketplace through which the Via Dolorosa picks its way. (Beware of slick pickpockets.) The route takes under an hour; plan additional time if you want to linger. About 300 yards up the road from St. Anne's Church (near Lions' Gate), look for a ramp on your left leading to the dark metal door of a school. This is the site of the ancient Antonia fortress. On Friday afternoons at 4 (April to September; at 3 from October to March), the brown-robed Franciscans begin their procession of the Via Dolorosa outside the metal door. This is Station I; Station II is across the street. Just beyond it, on the right, is the entrance to the Ecce Homo Convent of the Sisters of Zion, with a Roman arch in the chapel (only open during worship). The continuation of the arch crosses the street outside, and, just beyond it, a few steps on the right take you into a small vestibule with a view of the chapel's interior.
The Via Dolorosa runs down into El-Wad Road, one of the Old City's most important thoroughfares. To the right, the street climbs toward the Damascus Gate; to the left, it passes through the heart of the Muslim Quarter and reaches the Western Wall. Arab matrons sail by; black-hatted Hasidic Jews hurry on divine missions; nimble local Muslim kids in T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers play in the street; and Christian pilgrims pace out ancient footsteps.
As you turn left onto El-Wad Road, Station III is on your left. Right next to it is Station IV and, on the next corner, 50 yards farther, Station V. There the Via Dolorosa turns right and begins its ascent toward Calvary. Halfway up the street, a brown wooden door on your left marks Station VI.
Facing you at the top of the stepped street, on the busy Suq Khan e-Zeit, is Station VII. The little chapel preserves one of the columns of the Byzantine Cardo (street). Step to the left, and walk 30 yards up the street facing you to Station VIII, marked by nothing more than an inscribed stone in the wall on the left. Return to the main street and turn right. (If you skip Station VIII, turn left as you reach Station VII from the stepped street.) One hundred yards along Suq Khan e-Zeit from Station VII, turn onto the ramp on your right that ascends parallel to the street. At the end of the lane is a column that represents Station IX.
Step through the open door to the left of the column into the courtyard of the Ethiopian Monastery known as Deir es-Sultan. From the monastery's upper chapel, descend through a lower one and out a small wooden door to the court of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Most Christians venerate this site as that of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus—you'll find Stations X, XI, XII, XIII, and XIV within the church. A good time to be here is in the late afternoon, after 4 pm, when the different denominations in turn chant their way between Calvary and the tomb.
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