The Via Dolorosa is one of the popular holy sites in the city of Jerusalem, itself one of the most popular places to visit in Israel. After Jesus met his passion and resurrection in Jerusalem, it is said that the Virgin Mary walked, many times, in her son's footsteps in remembrance of his suffering. This was the beginning of a tradition that is, today, carried out all over the world in memory of Jesus’ passion. There are twelve stations along the path of the Via Dolorosa, which is a Latin phrase, meaning the Way of Suffering or the Way of Sorrow; it is most commonly called the Way of the Cross.
Many people walk the path of Jesus stopping at each of the fourteen actual Stations of the Cross in Israel, including the final sites in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The traditional route of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem starts just inside the Lions Gate, also known as St Stephen's Gate, and makes its way westward through the city, toward the church. Some people even carry a cross during the stations that Jesus carried his cross, though, of course, it is not quite as heavy. It is said that Jesus was condemned by Pontius Pilate near what is now Lions Gate and carried the cross from the second station through the streets of Jerusalem, now busy with tourist shops and small restaurants.
Some of the stations of the cross in Israel commemorate Jesus' encounters with others during the walk to his crucifixion. At station four, venerated by the Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm, it's said Mary watched with tears in her eyes as her son struggled under the weight of the cross. Simon of Cyrene is then forced to help Jesus with the cross at station five, and at station six, yet another miracle is said to have occurred when an imprint of Jesus' face is transferred to the cloth with which Veronica wipes it. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is home to the final five Stations of the Cross in Israel; here, Jesus was stripped, nailed to the cross, died, was taken down, and finally laid to rest.
Historians have concluded that this is in fact the place where of Jesus' death and burial, and from the time of the resurrection, celebrations were held at Christ’s tomb until about thirty years later, when the Romans annexed the city and leveled the area to make way for the Temple of Aphrodite. In 312 AD, Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and contracted several churches to be built throughout Israel, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher being the principal one. The Roman temple, foundation, and even the hillside were excavated to make room for the church to encompass the tomb of Jesus, and in the process, the Rock of Golgotha, the site of crucifixion, was discovered, along what is now the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.
Today, many people make the long trek of the Way of the Cross in Israel. Reenactments take place on the route regularly, from amateur to professional, making the Via Dolorosa a wonderful and entertaining sight as well as a solemn experience for tourists and visitors from any walk of life. An official prayer procession follows the path every Friday, and visitors are welcome to join in, or to walk the path on their own. Tours of the city, especially those that revolve around history and sacred sites, often include stops along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, in addition to holy sites such as the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock.