Israel Travel Blog

Jerusalem’s New Urban Wildlife Reserve

In March of this year (2015) Jerusalem’s first urban wildlife park of its kind was opened. The establishment of the Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park comes after 15 years of intensive efforts and legal battles by local activists to prevent construction of buildings on this land.The land between the Katamon neighborhood, Gazelle ValleyGivat Mordechai area and the Holyland neighborhood (by Begin Highway) had once been an area where fruit trees grew and wild animals roamed. This patch of natural countryside in the heart of the city became known as Gazelle Valley because of the herd of gazelles which grazed there. Slowly urban development encroached more and more on this island of green until real estate giants put their sights on Gazelle Valley with plans of constructing a new neighborhood of high-rise blocks. Local activists voiced their objections and together with environmental organizations like the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel they fought for the establishment of a nature reserve.It took 22 million shekels to transform the area into the natural paradise that it is today and a further 70 million is earmarked for future plans for the park. The park was financed by the municipality in conjunction with donations by the Jerusalem Foundation. The urban wildlife park covers more than 60 acres (about the size of the Old City) and has been designed with care to maintain the natural, wild habitat. The park is an oasis within the concrete jungle and is easily accessible on foot from places like the Malka Mall and Bayit V’Gan.Gazelle ValleyUnlike conventional parks Gazelle Valley has large areas where the natural grass and bush have been left untouched creating a natural environment for the herd of gazelles which now call it home. The gazelles which now live in the park are the few that survived from the original much larger herd plus others which have been brought here to repopulate the area. Already two fawns have been born in the park. The park is divided into three areas – for the gazelles, the visitors and an open buffer zone between them. The park has bike paths, two streams, five ponds, picturesque bridges leading to a man-made island, bird watching areas, picnic spots, open lawns and many birds and small animals who have made this home like porcupines, moles and hedgehogs. Visitors can join guided nature tours of the park and borrow deck chairs and binoculars to watch the gazelles.
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Knights of the Night Festival in the Jerusalem Old City 2013

Once a year the Old City of Jerusalem reverts to the Middle Ages and visitors can wander the narrow cobbled lanes and encounter scenes with knights doing gallant and valiant acts! The theme of this year’s Knights of the Night Festival is “Knights and Dragons” and entrance to the fun family event is free!As you stroll through the streets of the Old City you may see musicians performing medieval music; dancers in medieval costume; magicians who look remarkably like Merlin and Jesters offering comic relief. Knights and dragons also feature prominently, with re-enacted jousting, sword fights and duels. Town criers ring their bells to beckon pedestrians to the various stages set up for performers and above the streets flags fly. In previous years there have even been performances by costumed “knights” battling as they hang from wires and fly through the air with the ancient city walls as their background.You may see medieval blacksmiths or the local executioner with his big axe waiting in the shadows! In previous years performers from other countries have joined Israelis in the many street shows and in 2013 artists from the Venice Festival will be participating in the event. Peddlers in medieval costume and fire eaters perform as the medieval music permeates the air. You may even see a performance from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet performed from a real balcony or a knight in shining armor rescuing a princess. Get your fortune told by a soothsayer and cheer for the troubadours!For the 2013 Knights Festival some of the stations planned include a knight’s banquet at the Jaffa Gate; a victory parade; a battle between knights and dragons where the audience will be invited to join in; a treasure hunt with audience participation and a half-man-half-dragon chasing after a maiden in distress along St. Peter Street. Adults can purchase a wooden goblet and enter the Knights Bar to quench their thirst.To experience this slice of living history enter the Old City of Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate and follow the circular route to the Muristan Square and back again to the Jaffa Gate. The fun and games will occur from 6pm to 11pm in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and will be held on the 31st October and 7th, 14th and 21st of November 2013 (consecutive Thursdays). Entrance is free and the event is suitable for the whole family.
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Special Events in Jerusalem on Good Friday

Good Friday is commemorated on the Friday before Easter Sunday each year and marks the day that Christ was crucified. The Crucifixion of Jesus took place in Jerusalem (on a site now within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City) so if you are lucky enough to be in Jerusalem on Good Friday you will have the unique experience of being exactly where these Biblical events took place. Good Friday is marked in Jerusalem by religious services in the many churches and by other unique events. Thousands of Christians come to Jerusalem for Good Friday to take part in the moving events of that day.Via Dolorosa ProcessionThe most major event in Jerusalem on Good Friday is a procession by Roman Catholics and Protestants which retraces the route Jesus took from his sentencing in front of Pontius Pilot to Golgotha where he was crucified. He carried his heavy cross along this route, known as the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering or Way of Sorrows)) and paused at 14 points along the way. The places where Jesus stopped along the Via Dolorosa are called the Stations of the Cross. Each year thousands of pilgrims carrying crosses, chanting, praying and singing hymns proceed through the streets of the Old City along the Via Dolorosa led by Christian religious leaders of Jerusalem. At each of the Stations of the Cross they stop to pray. The brown robed Franciscan friars pause at each of the stations to explain their religious significance and chant prayers in Latin. Some years there is someone dressed as Jesus bearing a heavy wooden cross that walks just behind the priests leading the procession. The person taking the role of Jesus wears a crown of thorns and has fake blood dripping from his wounds. “Jesus” is flanked by people dressed as Roman soldiers. The procession ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, laid to rest in a tomb and later resurrected on Easter Sunday. Once the procession reaches the Holy Sepulchre where the final four Stations of the Cross are located the pilgrims pause to pray and later that day there are more special ceremonies within the church.Practical InformationEaster is celebrated on different days by the Orthodox denominations which follow the Julian calendar and by the Catholics and Protestants who follow the Gregorian calendar. Throughout the entire week of Easter there are special events in Jerusalem so if you cannot make it for Good Friday then try to be in the Holy City at some other time during the Holy Week.Special events on Good Friday in Jerusalem:7:15am – Passion of Christ on Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.11:30am – Procession of the Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa) led by Franciscan monks from the Lion’s Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.4pm – Liturgy of the Hours in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.8:10am – “Funeral Procession” in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.At the Garden Tomb there is an English Good Friday meditative service for Protestants.Roman Catholic and Protestant Good Friday Dates: 2017 – April 14; 2018 – March 30; 2019 – April 19 and 2020 – April 10.Orthodox Good Friday Dates: 2017 – April 14; 2018 – April 6; 2019 – April 26 and 2020 – April 17. In 2017 Good Friday dates for Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestants will coincide, this means that the Good Friday events in Jerusalem in 2017 will be even more memorable than other years. This happened in 2010, 2011 and 2014 but after 2017 it will not happen again until 2034.
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