Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a history that dates back thousands of years.
Due to its religious significance, Jerusalem has been fought over many times. Today, it serves as a spiritual center and as the political capital of Israel, housing the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and the residence of the president and prime minister.
Where is Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is located in the Middle East, on the Judaean Mountains plateau between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. It is in the central part of Israel, though its exact status has been the subject of international debate due to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To the north, it is bordered by Ramallah, to the south by Bethlehem, and the west by Tel Aviv. Jerusalem’s unique geographic location has made it a crossroads for various cultures and civilizations.
History of Jerusalem
The history of Jerusalem is complex and has been shaped by many different periods and influences.
Inhabited as far back as the Early Bronze Age (around 2400 BCE), Jerusalem was known initially as Jebus and was populated by a Canaanite tribe called the Jebusites. Archaeological findings have unearthed remnants of ancient fortifications and artifacts from this period.
King David captured the city from the Jebusites around 1000 BCE and declared it the capital of the united kingdom of Israel. His son Solomon built the First Temple, dedicating it as the center of Jewish worship. This period marked the establishment of Jerusalem as a spiritual, political, and cultural hub.
In 586 BCE, the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem under King Nebuchadnezzar II and destroyed the First Temple. Many Jews were exiled to Babylon. Nearly fifty years later, the Persians overthrew the Babylonians, and King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return and rebuild the temple, initiating the Second Temple Period in 516 BCE.
Alexander the Great’s conquest in 332 BCE introduced Hellenistic culture to Jerusalem. The city underwent substantial change but also faced conflicts and tensions. During the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BCE), the Jews regained control, leading to the Hasmonean Dynasty, a relative autonomy and growth period.
The Romans took control in 63 BCE, and King Herod the Great undertook massive building projects, including expanding the Second Temple. However, discontent with Roman rule grew, leading to the First Jewish-Roman War (66-73 CE), culminating in the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
During the Roman period in Jerusalem, Jesus Christ emerged as a central figure, preaching and performing miracles in and around the city. His teachings attracted a substantial following and laid the foundation for Christianity.
The final week of Jesus’ life, known as the Passion, took place in Jerusalem and included significant events such as the Last Supper, arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. These events are at the core of Christian belief and have made Jerusalem a focal point for Christian pilgrims.
The crucifixion occurred at Golgotha, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now marks the traditional site of Jesus’ resurrection. These landmarks resonate deeply within the Christian faith and contribute to Jerusalem’s rich religious tapestry.
Christianity’s growth in the 4th century CE influenced Jerusalem’s character with the construction of churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Byzantine Empire ruled Jerusalem for centuries, making it a major Christian center.
The city fell to Muslim forces in 638 CE. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were constructed on the Temple Mount. Various Islamic dynasties, such as the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, and Ayyubids, controlled the city, leaving distinct marks on its cultural landscape.
The First Crusade captured Jerusalem in 1099, establishing a Latin kingdom. This period saw extensive Christian building and cultural influence. Muslim forces, under Saladin, recaptured the city in 1187.
The Ottoman period in Jerusalem began in 1517 when the Ottoman Empire, led by Sultan Selim I, captured the city from the Mamluks. This marked the beginning of four centuries of Ottoman rule until World War I.
Under the Ottomans, Jerusalem enjoyed a degree of autonomy and was governed by a succession of local leaders appointed by the Sultan. The city’s status as a holy place for Muslims, Christians, and Jews was respected, and members of different religious communities could manage their affairs according to their religious laws.
Post-World War I, Jerusalem became part of the British Mandate. The 20th century saw significant growth and increased tensions between Jewish and Arab populations. Israel’s founding in 1948 led to the city’s division, with Jordan controlling the East and Israel the West. Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War unified the city despite its contentious status.
This history only scratches the surface of Jerusalem’s layered and intricate narrative. It is a city where ancient stones speak, and every footstep resonates with echoes of the past. Its story is woven into the fabric of religious texts, historical records, and the collective memory of its people.
Features of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is a multifaceted place of deep historical, religious, and cultural significance. One of the city’s most striking features is its ability to serve as a spiritual hub for three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Jerusalem’s multifarious identity continues to fascinate, inspire, and challenge those who engage with its complex tapestry. Whether a place of pilgrimage, historical exploration, or contemporary culture, Jerusalem’s notable aspects are as diverse and intricate as its long, storied history.
Geography and Climate
A series of valleys and hills characterize Jerusalem’s topography. The city’s elevation, around 800 meters (2,600 feet) above sea level, provides it with a distinct climate compared to the coastal cities of Israel.
Jerusalem experiences a Mediterranean climate, but its higher altitude gives it a slightly cooler variation. Winters are cool and wet, with occasional snowfall. Temperatures can drop to the single digits Celsius (30s Fahrenheit) but mostly hover between 6-15 °C (42-59 °F).
Conversely, Summers are warm and dry, with daytime temperatures ranging between 25-30 °C (77-86 °F) but cooler evenings. Rainfall is mainly concentrated in winter, while summers remain almost entirely dry.
Jerusalem has a population of over 900,000 residents. The city is a tapestry of various religious, ethnic, and cultural groups, which is a testament to its historical and spiritual significance. The Jewish population comprises the majority, followed by Palestinians, Muslims, and Christians. There are also smaller Armenian and other communities. The Old City is exceptionally diverse, divided into Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian quarters.
The rich cultural and religious diversity makes Jerusalem a hotspot for religious festivals and traditions celebrated by its various communities. However, given its role in the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s also a place of contrasts and tensions.
Jerusalem’s economy differs from other major Israeli cities. While cities like Tel Aviv are hubs for technology and finance, Jerusalem’s economy leans heavily on its educational institutions, tourism, and public and health services.
- Tourism: Given its religious and historical significance, tourism is a cornerstone of Jerusalem’s economy. The city attracts millions of pilgrims and tourists annually, visiting sacred sites such as the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock.
- Education and Research: Jerusalem is home to several institutions of higher learning, most notably the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of Israel’s leading research universities.
- Health Services: The city boasts several major hospitals and is a focal point for health services in the region.
- Crafts and Trade: Traditional arts, particularly those related to religious artifacts and ceremonies, play a role in the local economy. The bustling markets, especially in the Old City, offer a variety of goods, from spices and textiles to antiques and jewelry.
However, Jerusalem faces economic challenges. The city has a higher poverty rate than other Israeli cities, partly attributed to the large ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Palestinian populations, which tend to have higher unemployment and larger family sizes. Efforts have been made to boost economic development and job creation, but challenges persist.
Things to Do and Places to See in Jerusalem
Jerusalem boasts a diverse array of experiences and sights waiting to be explored. Let’s explore some of the city’s most renowned landmarks and attractions.
1. Western Wall (Kotel)
The Western Wall, known as the Kotel, is one of the most profound symbols of Jewish faith and heritage. Located in the Old City, it’s a place of prayer, pilgrimage, and reflection, attracting visitors from around the world. The wall is part of the remains of the Second Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, comprising massive limestone blocks, some weighing several tons.
Visitors can join locals in prayer, place a note in the wall’s cracks, or absorb the spiritual atmosphere. It’s an experience that transcends religious boundaries, offering a glimpse into the soul of a nation. Guided tours of the tunnels beneath the wall reveal archaeological treasures and provide historical context to the site.
2. Armenian Quarter
The Armenian Quarter is one of the four quarters of the Old City. It is a living testament to the vibrant and ancient Armenian community. The quarter offers visitors a unique blend of religious heritage, art, and tradition. The narrow, winding streets are filled with charming old buildings, workshops, and galleries.
Visiting the Armenian Quarter allows one to explore an often-overlooked aspect of Jerusalem’s rich tapestry. The beautiful St. James Cathedral’s ornate decorations and incredible acoustics are a must-see. Visitors can experience the distinct culture through traditional Armenian pottery workshops and enjoy the culinary delights in local eateries.
3. Hurva Synagogue
The Hurva Synagogue, also known as “The Ruin Synagogue,” is an emblematic landmark in the Jewish Quarter, Old City. Its name, intriguing history, and remarkable architecture make it a captivating destination for tourists and scholars alike.
The Hurva Synagogue has a turbulent history, having been destroyed and rebuilt several times since its initial construction in the 18th century. The current structure, completed in 2010, replicates the design of the 19th-century synagogue
Visitors can explore the Synagogue itself or join guided tours with access to the upper levels, providing breathtaking views of the Old City. The story of the Hurva Synagogue is intertwined with the story of Jerusalem’s Jewish community, making it an essential stop for those interested in the city’s complex history
4. Zion Gate & City Walls
Zion Gate and the surrounding City Walls, built in 1540 during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, offer a unique opportunity to explore this timeless city’s historical and architectural legacy as one of the eight gates of the Old City, Zion Gate stands as a witness to Jerusalem’s tumultuous past, while the City Walls embrace the rich tapestry of cultures and traditions within.
Walking through Zion Gate is like stepping back in time. Its weathered appearance tells tales of historical events, such as the Six-Day War in 1967. The City Walls offer a walking path where tourists can enjoy panoramic views of the Old City and modern Jerusalem. These ancient fortifications encapsulate different eras and architectural styles, appealing to history buffs and casual visitors alike.
5. City of David
The City of David is an ancient site with profound historical and archaeological significance. It is believed to be the original site of Biblical Jerusalem, established over 3,000 years ago by King David. Today, it’s an archaeological park that reveals the city’s complex history through excavated ruins, ancient tunnels, and remnants of various historical periods.
The City of David offers a journey into the roots of one of the world’s oldest cities. Its significance in the history of Jerusalem, the richness of its discoveries, and the hands-on experiences it offers make it a must-visit destination. Whether exploring the ancient water systems, gazing at the remnants of grand palaces, or reflecting on the spiritual heritage, the City of David captivates and educates visitors of all ages.
6. Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem, located on the western slope of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, is a solemn tribute to the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Established in 1953, it is a museum and a complex dedicated to research, education, and commemoration. It serves as a bridge between the past and future generations, preserving the memory of a tragedy that should never be forgotten.
Yad Vashem is a place of profound significance that transcends traditional museum experiences. It offers a profoundly moving insight into one of the darkest chapters in human history, presenting it with dignity and respect. Visitors gain historical knowledge and an emotional connection to the individuals and communities affected by the Holocaust.
7. Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is the most significant cultural institution in the State of Israel. Established in 1965, it represents a treasure trove of art and history, showcasing Jewish heritage and universal human culture. With a collection spanning over 500,000 objects, it offers a rich exploration of diverse topics, making it a must-see attraction for art enthusiasts and curious minds alike.
Visitors to the Israel Museum are treated to a multifaceted journey through art, history, and culture. From ancient artifacts to avant-garde art installations, the museum caters to various interests and tastes. Highlights such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, a model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, and world-class exhibitions from artists like Picasso and Van Gogh provide enriching experiences.
Gethsemane, a small garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives, holds immense spiritual significance in Christianity. Known as the place where Jesus prayed on the night before His crucifixion, Gethsemane remains a symbol of anguish, devotion, and faith. Its name, derived from an Aramaic word meaning “oil press,” alludes to the ancient olive trees that still grace the garden today.
Gethsemane is a must-visit for those interested in Jerusalem’s religious and historical aspects. Its ancient olive trees and the associated Biblical account make it a place of contemplation for believers and non-believers alike. The Church of All Nations provides an opportunity to witness beautiful artistry with its richly decorated interior and colorful stained glass windows.
9. Via Dolorosa
Via Dolorosa, also known as the “Way of Sorrow” or “Way of the Cross,” is a sacred path in the Old City, traditionally believed to be the route Jesus took on his way to crucifixion. Fourteen Stations of the Cross mark this winding street, each representing a significant event from Jesus’s condemnation to his burial. It’s a place of deep spiritual reflection and an essential part of the Christian experience in Jerusalem.
For Christian pilgrims, walking Via Dolorosa offers an opportunity to retrace the steps of Jesus, reflecting on his suffering and sacrifice. Visitors often join guided tours, participate in processions, or follow the path independently with the help of guidebooks. Even for those who do not adhere to the Christian faith, Via Dolorosa provides a unique cultural and historical perspective.
10. Mahane Yehuda Market
Mahane Yehuda Market, often referred to simply as “The Shuk,” is a vibrant marketplace in the heart of Jerusalem. Known for its lively atmosphere, colorful displays, and diverse offerings, it’s where locals and tourists come to shop, dine, and soak in the local culture.
Visiting Mahane Yehuda Market is an experience that engages all the senses. The rich aroma of spices, the colorful array of fresh produce, and the lively calls of vendors create an authentic Middle Eastern market experience. Guided tours are available to provide insights into the market’s history and the secrets behind its culinary offerings.
11. Garden Tomb
The Garden Tomb, located near Damascus Gate, is considered by some to be the site of Jesus Christ’s burial and resurrection. While the authenticity of the location is debated, it remains a place of spiritual reflection and worship for many Christians. Unlike other religious sites in Jerusalem, the Garden Tomb provides a serene, garden-like setting that invites contemplation and prayer.
Visiting the Garden Tomb offers a unique spiritual experience, whether or not one subscribes to the belief that it is the actual site of Christ’s burial. Guided tours are available to provide insights into the history and significance of the site, along with the reasons why some believe it to be an authentic location.
12. Hezekiah’s Tunnel
Hezekiah’s Tunnel, also known as the Siloam Tunnel, was named after King Hezekiah of Judah, who ordered its construction in the 8th century BCE; the tunnel was designed to secure the water supply during a siege. This impressive subterranean passage is a testament to the engineering skills of the time and a fascinating site for those interested in history, archaeology, and adventure.
Exploring Hezekiah’s Tunnel offers a unique experience that combines adventure and history. Visitors can physically connect with a critical moment in Jerusalem’s past by walking through the dimly lit, water-filled passage. It’s an exciting exploration for families, history enthusiasts, and those seeking an unconventional experience.
13. The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens
The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens is a beautifully designed zoological park that offers a unique blend of wildlife conservation, education, and family entertainment. Set against the scenic backdrop of the Jerusalem hills, the zoo is home to an extensive collection of animals mentioned in the Bible and other endangered species from around the world.
Spread over 62 acres, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo features a variety of natural habitats designed to mimic the native environments of the animals. From African savannah to Australian outback, the zoo offers many ecosystems. Visitors can see lions, elephants, kangaroos, bears, and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Jerusalem safe for tourists?
Generally, Jerusalem is safe for tourists, especially in popular tourist areas. However, it’s always wise to be updated on the current political situation and avoid areas of tension, especially during times of heightened unrest.
What are some of the must-try traditional dishes in Jerusalem?
Here are some of the most popular dishes that offer an authentic taste of Jerusalem’s rich culinary heritage, reflecting the city’s blend of cultures and traditions:
• Hummus: This creamy blend of chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic is more than a dip in Jerusalem.
• Falafel: These deep-fried chickpea balls are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and infused with herbs and spices.
• Shawarma: Thinly sliced marinated meat (often lamb or chicken) is cooked on a vertical rotisserie and served in a pita or laffa bread with various accompaniments.
• Jerusalem Mixed Grill: A local specialty, this dish consists of grilled chicken hearts, spleens, and liver, mixed with bits of lamb and seasoned with onion, garlic, and an array of spices.
• Sabich: A delicious assembly of fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, salad, and tahini, all stuffed into pita bread.
Which currency is used in Jerusalem?
The official currency of Israel is the Israeli New Shekel (NIS or ILS).
What languages are spoken in Jerusalem?
Hebrew is the official language of Israel, but the Palestinian population widely speaks Arabic. English is commonly spoken in tourist areas; many signs are in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.
What’s the best time to visit Jerusalem?
Spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) are ideal as the weather is moderate. However, religious holidays in these periods can make the city very crowded.
Can I visit both Israel and Arab countries on the same trip?
It’s possible, but some Arab countries might deny entry if your passport has an Israeli stamp. Israel now provides a separate entry card instead of stamping passports to alleviate this issue for travelers.
How should I dress in Jerusalem?
While Jerusalem is fairly cosmopolitan, it’s advisable to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. Covering the shoulders and knees is usually expected.
Is the tap water safe to drink?
Yes, tap water in Jerusalem is safe to drink, but some visitors prefer bottled water due to taste preferences.
How do I get to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv’s airport?
Regular buses, trains, shared taxis (sherut), and private taxis connect Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Can I visit the Temple Mount?
Yes, non-Muslim visitors can visit the Temple Mount, but there are specific visiting hours and modest dress is required. Non-Muslims cannot enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
Are there Sabbath (Shabbat) restrictions I should be aware of?
Yes, many services like public transportation don’t operate from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and many businesses and restaurants close in observance of the Jewish Sabbath.
Jerusalem is a city transcending time, weaving together a rich tapestry of history, spirituality, culture, and tradition. From ancient walls and sacred sites to bustling markets and modern museums, it offers a journey that speaks to the soul. Whether seeking spiritual enlightenment, historical understanding, or culinary delights, Jerusalem opens its arms to visitors with a unique blend of experiences that are hard to find elsewhere.
The city’s diverse attractions reflect its multifaceted character, making Jerusalem a destination and an experience worth cherishing. A visit to Jerusalem is not just a trip; it explores humanity’s shared heritage and a profound connection to the roots of various faiths and civilizations. Undoubtedly, Jerusalem stands as a must-see destination for any world traveler.