Trying to live in Jerusalem has always been a bit of a gamble. The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and Persians all cast lusty eyes on Jerusalem’s wealth. In the seventh century, Moslems invaded the “Holy Land” along with its city sacred to three faiths.
During the Crusades, Jerusalem changed hands often. After the knights of the First Crusade succeeded in breaking through Jerusalem’s walls, they massacred nearly everyone within them, regardless of religion, wiping out as many as 40,000.
Today, the Israeli and Palestinian states lay claim to parts of the city and Jerusalem’s bloody, violent history continues.
Since 1980, Jerusalem has been the base of the Israeli government, although all foreign diplomatic missions are based in Tel Aviv in accordance with a UN mandate.
Three major religions coexist in Jerusalem, which naturally leads to a multiplicity of opinions. Each religious group is split and subdivided into factions and sects. There are as many as a dozen different Christian splinter groups, the largest of which is the Greek Orthodox group. This diversity of belief should contribute to Jerusalem’s attraction, but, in reality, it too often leads to strife and violence. The incredible concentration of sacred sites draw visitors, religious or not, from all over the world.
For Jews and Christians, Jerusalem is the Holy City and the home of their faiths. For Moslems, Jerusalem is the third holiest city after Mecca and Medina. It was the destination of Mohammed’s miraculous trip to and from Mecca in a single night. Its Temple Mount is the place from which Mohammed ascended to, and returned from, heaven.
Three architectural styles
The Old City of Jerusalem was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It is divided into four districts. The Armenian Quarter occupies the south-west, the Christian Quarter, the north-west, the Jewish Quarter, the south-east and the Moslem Quarter, the north-east.
The wall around the Old City was built on the order of the Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in the sixteenth century.
Jerusalem’s treasures are so many that only a handful can be mentioned here. The most visited site is probably the Wailing Wall, a 400-metre-long section of the retaining wall of the terrace on top of the Temple Mount where Herod the Great built his great Jewish temple.
This temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE. Important pilgrimage sites for Christians include the Via Dolorosa, the name of the path Christ walked on his way to the crucifixion, and the fourth-century Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
One of the most grand Islamic monuments is the Dome of the Rock. Erected on the Temple Mount over the place from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven, the Dome of the Rock is not a mosque. The remarkable Al-Aqsa Congregational Mosque, one of the largest and oldest in the world, is located nearby, also on top of the terrace of the destroyed Jewish temple.
More than a lookout
The Mount of Olives (Hebrew: Har Ha-Zetim) is a famous hill on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem. The ridge of hills is within sight of the Old City. The Temple Mount is actually higher than the Mount of Olives, which is just 809 metres above sea level. The Mount of Olives has great significance for all three major religions.
According to the Jewish faith, the Messiah will cross the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem before the Last Judgment takes place in the Kidron Valley. Moslems also believe the Final Judgment will take place there. For Christians, the Mount of Olives is inextricably linked to the life and death of Jesus. Today it plays a more practical role for many visitors, because its observation deck affords an incredible view of Old Jerusalem.