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Jerusalem - The City of God

“Ten portions of beauty, God gave to the world; nine to Jerusalem and one to the remainder.”

Situated high in the Judean Mountains, Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel, is one of the most extraordinary cities in the world, presenting a unique combination of history, spiritual sanctity and intriguing cultures. Jerusalem is one of the most famous cities in the world, being a holy site of all three major religions. Built by King David three thousand years ago, it has played a major part in the history of the world. Both Jewish temples were built in Jerusalem, and it was the location of Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as the place where Mohammed made his ascent to heaven. Modern Jerusalem reflects the intensity of its history in the myriad of cultures juxtaposed one upon the other in this special city.


Jerusalem's history stretches back about 5,000 years, and the city has been sought after by many. About 2500 BC, the Canaanites inhabited the city. Then King David captured the city (c.1000 BC), he made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom. Later, King Solomon built the first Temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, led his army into Jerusalem and captured the city in 597 B.C.E. He deported thousands of Jews and razed the city to the ground. Fifty years later (537 BC), CYRUS THE GREAT of Persia conquered Babylonia and permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple. Persia held the city until 333 BC, when Alexander the Great added Palestine to his empire. Alexander the Great introduced Greek culture and ideals – Hellenism which was forced on the Jewish population... The Jews rose up in 167 B.C.E. behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation. Three years later, Jerusalem was recaptured from the Greeks by the Maccabees and the Temple purified, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Chanukah. The Roman Empire invaded Jerusalem in 63 BC. The Romans set up a local dynasty, the house of Herod, to rule most of Palestine. During the reign of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Jesus Christ was tried and executed in Jerusalem. A major Jewish revolt against the Romans led to the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. Again, Jews were banished from Jerusalem. The city grew under Roman and Byzantine rule and developed as a center of Christian pilgrimage. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher and many other Christian shrines were erected during this period. Later the city was captured by the Muslims and apart for a short period during the Christian crusades stayed under Muslim rule until the rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1517. The British took control of Jerusalem in 1917 and it became part of the British mandate imposed on Palestine. In 1948 during Israel’s war of independence, Jerusalem was besieged by the Arab legions and when the fighting ended the city was divided between Israel (the western city) and Jordan (the eastern city and the old city). During the Six Day War in 1967 the Jordanians were pushed eastward past the Jordan River and the city was untied under Israeli rule.

Sanctified by religion and tradition, by history and theology, by holy places and houses of worship, Jerusalem is a city revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It reflects the fervor and piety of the three major monotheistic faiths, each of which is bound to Jerusalem by veneration and love.

The Jewish bond to Jerusalem was never broken. For three millennia, Jerusalem has been the center of the Jewish faith, retaining its symbolic value throughout the generations. The many Jews who had been exiled after the Roman conquest and scattered throughout the world never forgot Jerusalem. Year after year they repeated "Next year in Jerusalem." Jerusalem became the symbol off the desire of Jews everywhere to return to their land. It was invoked bv the prophets, enshrined in daily prayer, and sung bv Hebrew poets in far-flung lands.

Mount Moriah, where the Temple once stood; the Western Wall, the only remnant of the Temple, which has been the focus of prayer and longing of Jews for nineteen centuries; the Tomb of David on Mount Zion; and the ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives where Jews have been buried for centuries - all these are indelibly etched on Jewish consciousness.

Hundreds of synagogues identified with various trends in Judaism as well as with ethnic and geographic groupings from Tunisia to Afghanistan and from Warsaw to New York, serve Jerusalem's Jewish population.

For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus lived, preached, died, and was resurrected. While it is the heavenly rather than the earthly Jerusalem which is emphasized by the Church, places mentioned in the New Testament as the sites of his ministry and passion have drawn pilgrims and devoted worshipers for centuries. Among these sites are the the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Site of the Last Supper, and the Via Dolorosa with the fourteen stations of the Cross.


The rights of the various Christian churches to custody of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem were defined in the course of the nineteenth century, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire. Known as the 'status quo arrangement for the Christian holy places in Jerusalem.' these rights remained in force during the period of the British Mandate and are still upheld today in Israel.

The Christian community of Jerusalem is divided into Eastern Orthodox, Monophysite, Roman Catholic, Uniate and Protestant denominations. Apart from the Armenian community, most of whom are descendants of refugees who arrived from Turkey in the 1920's, the overwhelming majority of Christians in Jerusalem are descendants of the ancient Christian communities of the Byzantine period.

According to Islam, the prophet Mohammed was miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem, and it was from there that he made his ascent to heaven. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa ("the remote") Mosque, both built in the seventh century, made definitive the identification of Jerusalem as the "Remote Place" that is mentioned in the Koran, and thus a holy place after Mecca and Medina. Literature praising the virtues of Jerusalem - the fadhall al kuds - flourished in the Muslim world.

Jerusalem's first encounter with Islam - in the seventh century - was also its first encounter with the Arabs who were Islam's apostles, and who, under its banner, acquired a vast empire. Most of the Muslims living in Jerusalem today are Sunnis.

Freedom of religion and the safeguarding of all holy places are anchored in Israel's Declaration of Independence. The holy places are administered by their respective religious communities, and free access to them is guaranteed by law.