The history of Jerusalem is so intimately tied to the history of the world that it is often impossible to distinguish one from the other. The definitions of world view, of faith, of values, of societies and politics stem from this place as the headwaters of the Ganges sustain an entire civilization. It's almost impossible to take in.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where standard Christian historiography says that Jesus died, was taken and laid down from the cross, and then entombed, the various Christian sects are so divided that the have been know to beat each other with broomsticks, palm leaves and other implements over who cleans what, when and how. There is ladder on the second floor, outside the entrance to the Church. It is a simple wooden ladder, with nothing unusual or ornate. It's been there, in that spot, for over two hundred years because the monk or cleaning person who put it there TO CLEAN THE WINDOWS, didn't follow protocol in the agreement between the different sects within the Christian hierarchy and go called out. No one can agree to move it, so its there, atop perhaps the most sacred site in Christianity, in plain sight.
Inside the incredible Old City of Jerusalem, which is without question one of the most extraordinary sites I have ever taken in, a long market walkway, with floor stones thousands of years old, leads to a stair. As you walk up the stair you encounter stall after stall of all manner of goods, from frankincense to plastic baby toys. Walk to its lead step and the air goes quiet. There is commerce ALL around you. Five steps from the top an Israeli soldier steps from the shadows and stops you. He waves to put your camera down for a moment. He tells you "not now," but then relents and allows you to the top of the stair. To your left is a man who operates/owns the kiosk closest to the aged door. As you rise to the landing you realize that, through the door, is the Al Aksa Mosque, the third most holy site in all of Islam, the place where Muhammed ascended to heaven. IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES.
My colleague Shannon asks me details and I tell her about the raising of the Temple of Solomon by the Romans in 79AD (the destruction of which paid for the building of the Roman Colesseum), the creation of the Mosque, the sparking of the first Intifada by Ariel Sharon walking that revered landing. A man comes through the door and stops just long enough to look at me and say "it's history my friend. What can you do?" and then disappear down the steps.
The shopkeeper to my left says, "do you know what? My family has owned this place, this kiosk, for 1,600 years?" And you know instinctively he is not kidding.
Descending the stairs, you come down to an intersection, and at that intersection is the man who said "it's history." He invites you to his store and you enter to find it completely filled with every spice history tells you the Middle East is defined by. His colleague takes 20 minutes to share each and everyone one with you, to smell them, explore them and invite you to understand them in the context of an ancient land.
He hands you bread better than you have ever tasted and when that smile reaches your lips he says "its the water. Only Jerusalem has this water." And you believe him.
Day one in Jerusalem. And its not even noon.