Down below is the Valley of Cedron dotted with ancient olive trees, higher up the sea of graves reaching as far as the ramparts of the Temple and on the level ground the Dome of the Rock, shining in the sun. A little further to the right, for those looking from the Garden of Olives, the bluish dome of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, reconstructed after the terrible fire of 1808. Instead to the left stands the al-Aqsa Mosque, that ‘Last Temple with its sacred precincts’ mentioned in the dazzling opening of Sura XVII. This is postcard Jerusalem, the devout icon from which to mentally cancel the skyscrapers of the new city, the light railway slowly being built and Calatrava’s bridge which with its famous Venetian brother shares a troubled history. And from which above all to cancel the barbed wire, the Wall and the thousands of contradictions of a land that is too cramped for all its history.
In the Holy Land the value of testimony can be felt everywhere: without a continuous, gigantic word-of-mouth, carved in the marks left by the pilgrims of all faiths and recorded in their travel accounts, today we would not be able to point out with any degree of certainty almost any of the places that have made this strip of land, which rises and falls between Jordan and the sea, famous all over the world. And it is this centuries old current of witnesses that Benedict XVI has chosen for his extraordinary visit.
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