prays and Jerusalem plays'
Very few other cities have the ability to inspire quite as much
passion as the Old City of Jerusalem (Yerushalayim in Hebrew, Al-Quds
in Arabic). Revered by 3 of the major world religions, it is no
wonder that the history of the city is marked by political and religious
turmoil. For Christians, the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre is believed to contain the tomb where
Jesus was laid to rest after the Crucifixion, having carried the
cross through the city along the Via Dolorosa.
The Dome of the
Rock on Temple Mount is Islam’s 3rd most
important religious site (after Mecca and Medina), and it is from
here that Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven. The Wailing
Wall at the foot of Temple Mount is all that remains
of Jerusalem’s 2nd temple and is Judaism’s most important
place of prayer. With its pleasant, temperate climate, Jerusalem
provides a unique opportunity to experience at close hand the contrasting
opposites of modern and ancient, oriental and western, heavenly
Every visitor to Jerusalem soon realises that the city is necessarily
divided and has seen many periods of conflict that continues to
this day. Israel declared Jerusalem its capital in 1950 but this
is not internationally recognised.
Jerusalem is divided in 2 parts, West Jerusalem,
which has been part for the state of Israel since the country’s
establishment in 1948, and East Jerusalem, which belonged to Jordan
from 1948 to 1967, when it was formally seized by Israel.
West Jerusalem is the extensive
Jewish part of the city, which includes the modern centre of the
city, and it is in several ways a tribute to the economic growth
and prosperity Israel has enjoyed since its foundation and is characterised
by leafy suburbs, smart cafes and outgoing nightlife.
Jerusalem, by contrast, offers very dissimilar
charms. Mainly Arab, it has its own more relaxed pace of life, and
street markets instead of shopping malls. However, the bullet holes
that scar many of the houses in the neighbourhoods are a reminder
of the political conflict that reverberates in the Middle East and
a comment on East Jerusalem’s relative economic neglect. East
Jerusalem is heavily policed, chiefly in the current tense situation.
It is in the midst of these 2 contrasting halves that the Old
City is to be found, with the exception of the
museums on the western edge of town, most of Jerusalem’s main
sights are found here. Into this small area of land, less than 1
square kilometre (which is 200 acres), is crammed a labyrinth of
streets enclosed within walls of limestone dating back to the 16
th century and the reign of the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent.
This, the focus of all Jerusalem’s religious and historical
divisions, is where the majority of visitors to the city will spend
most of their time.
The Old City is divided into quarters, named after
the 4 communities that inhabited it during the Middle Ages, Arab,
Jewish, Christian and Armenian. Its network of winding streets offers
the chance to step back almost in time to savour the feel of cheek
by jowl Middle Eastern life. Within yards, you may wander from the
hustle and bustle of an Arab souk into the quiet calm of an Armenian
garden before ending up before the magnificence of a medieval citadel.
There is no other city that demands and offers quite so much.
Since the start of the 2nd Intifada (Palestinian
uprising) in 2000, there have been frequent attacks by suicide bombers,
with a high proportion of these in Jerusalem. These attacks have
taken place in a diversity of locations around the city and in areas
frequented by tourists, so visitors should maintain a high level
of vigilance when travelling anywhere in Jerusalem, and to follow