Few words are as religiously charged as "Zion," two syllables which instantly conjure the longing of a dispossessed people for the imagined idyll of a physical or spiritual homeland. From the wailing Psalms composed in exile in Babylon to the oblique social protest of slave worksongs and African-American spirituals to the dread rhythms and Garveyite exhortations of roots reggae, Zion has represented the hope of a better life in a better land. So it almost seems bizarre, given its spiritual resonance, that Mount Zion is an actual place, one that you can walk on, one whose soil is routinely packed into tubes and sold as a holy tchotchke to Christian pilgrims.
But Israel is a strange place. The mountain, really more of a modest hill, is located directly outside the Old City's aptly-named Zion Gate, and according to Jerusalem lore the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, builder of the Old City's walls, was so furious with his architects for excluding the mountain that he had them beheaded. Historical evidence seems to indicate that the Mount Zion referred to in the Bible was the Temple Mount, and that the current hill received the name around the first century - although nobody is quite sure why. Sites to visit atop Mount Zion once you get done collecting dirt include King David's Tomb, the Last Supper Room, the Dormition Abbey and the ever-popular final resting place of Oskar Schindler - and the views towards the desert ain't bad either.
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