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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem







Jerusalem at sunset from Mount of Olives (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Jerusalem is revered as a holy city by half the human race.

For Jews it is the city King David made the capital of his kingdom, and where the Temple stood, containing the Ark of the Covenant. For Christians, it is where Christ died, was buried and rose again, and the birthplace of the Church. The Jewish and Christian Bibles mention Jerusalem several hundred times.

For Muslims it is al-Quds (“the Holy”) because they believe Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount during his Night Journey.

Set on the Judaean mountains of central Israel, the Old City of Jerusalem is surrounded on three sides by steep valleys: The Hinnom on the south and west, the Kidron on the east. Its history lies in layers metres deep.

Its iconic symbol, the golden-roofed Dome of the Rock, stands on the Temple Mount, also identified as Mount Moriah, where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.

For modern pilgrims, this city of three faiths exerts a powerful pull, resonating with the Jewish Passover aspiration: “Next year in Jerusalem.”


Heritage of three faiths


Market in the Old City (Seetheholyland.net)

The bustling modern city of Jerusalem, also faced with cream-toned limestone, has spread to the west and north of the Old City.

Modern Jerusalem is not a large city by international standards (its population in 2007 was 747,000, of whom 35,400 lived in the Old City). In the time of Christ its population was between 20,000 and 50,000.

It is a city with an intriguing blend of sights, sounds and smells, especially in the Arab markets of the Old City. The past and present continually rub shoulders. Church bells peal, muezzins call Muslims to prayer, and friars, rabbis and imams hasten by.

Reminders of the heritage of three faiths are never far away — Jerusalem has 1200 synagogues, more than 150 churches (representing 17 denominations) and more than 70 mosques.

The Israel Museum presents collections of arts and archaeology, including the Shrine of the Book containing Dead Sea Scrolls and an outdoor scale model of Jerusalem in AD 66. Exhibits in the Tower of David Museum depict 4000 years of history. The Yad Vashem complex documents the story of the victims of the Holocaust.

Old City has four quarters

At Jerusalem’s heart is the Old City, girded by a wall and divided into four “quarters” — named after the dominant ethnic or religious identity of its residents.

Its area is less than a square kilometre, about two-thirds the city’s size in the time of Christ. “Perched on its eternal hills, white and domed and solid, massed together and hooped with high gray walls, the venerable city gleamed in the sun. So small!” wrote Mark Twain in 1869, when settlements outside the walls had just begun to displace shepherds from the Judaean hills.

The Muslim Quarter, largest and most populous of the four, includes the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Other sites in the quarter include the Pools of Bethesda and part of the Via Dolorosa.


Church of the Holy Sepulchre above roofs of the Old City (Seetheholyland.net)

The Christian Quarter contains the rest of the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which enshrines the sites of Christ’s death, burial and Resurrection. Headquarters of several Christian denominations are among the 40 religious buildings in the quarter.

The Jewish Quarter adjoins the Western Wall, the sole remnant of the Second Temple plaza, which is Judaism’s holiest place. This quarter is more modern, with sophisticated shopping plazas. Archaeological remains are on display in museums and parks.

The Armenian Quarter provides a reminder that Armenia was the first country to make Christianity the state religion (in 301). It contains the Armenian Orthodox Cathedral of St James and a museum in memory of the 1915-23 Armenian Holocaust.


Mount of Olives and Mount Zion

Outside the Old City, to the east is the Mount of Olives, where venerable olive trees still grow in the garden of Gethsemane, the scene of Jesus’ agony the night before he died.


Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue (Arielhorowitz / he.wikipedia)

The teardrop Church of Dominus Flevit commemorates the Gospel incident in which Jesus wept over Jerusalem’s future fate.

The Church of Pater Noster recalls his teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. The Dome of the Ascension, now a mosque, marks the place where he is believed to have ascended to heaven.

Southwest of the Old City is Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem.

Here is found the Cenacle, believed to be on the site of the Upper Room of the Last Supper. This is also regarded as the site of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the Council of Jerusalem, where early Church leaders met around AD 50.

The Church of St Peter in Gallicantu marks Jesus’ appearance before the high priest Caiaphas, and the Church of the Dormition commemorates the “falling asleep” of the Virgin Mary.


Conquered many times


Dining out in modern Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

The earliest reference to Jerusalem suggests that its name means “the foundation of [the Syrian god] Shalem”. A more common interpretation is “city of peace”, but peace has remained an elusive goal for most of the city’s history.

Down through the centuries, Jerusalem has been besieged, conquered and destroyed many times. Early settlers called Jebusites lived there around the Gihon Spring when David conquered it around 1000 BC and made it the capital of his kingdom.

During Old Testament times the conquerors included Babylonians (who destroyed the First Temple and exiled Jews to Babylon), Persians, Greeks, Syrians and Romans (who in AD 70 destroyed the Second Temple).

Since the Christian era began, Jerusalem has been ruled by the Roman Empire (first from Rome, then from Byzantium, now Istanbul), Persians, Arab Muslims, Crusaders, Muslims again, Egyptian Mamelukes, Ottoman Turks and, from 1917 to 1948, the British.

After the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Jerusalem was partitioned between Jordan and the new state of Israel. The Israelis gained control of the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem and Old City during the 1967 Six Day War, but the status of Jerusalem remains a key issue in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


In Scripture:

Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac: Genesis 22:1-18

David makes Jerusalem his capital: 2 Samuel 5:4-10

Song of praise and prayer for Jerusalem: Psalm 122

Solomon builds the Temple: 1 Kings 5-6

Jesus enters Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus is crucified, buried and rises again: Matthew 27:66—28:10; Mark 15:47—16:8; Luke 23:26—24:12; John 19:16—20:10

The coming of the Holy Spirit: Acts 2:1-4

The first Church Council at Jerusalem: Acts 15:1-29

The new Jerusalem: Revelation 21:1-4


Bowker, John: The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998)
Brisco, Thomas: Holman Bible Atlas (Broadman and Holman, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Martin, James: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Westminster Press, 1978)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Metzger, Bruce M., and Coogan, Michael D.: The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)


External links

Old City Walking Tour (Hike-Israel.com)
The Jerusalem Insider’s Guide

Dome of the Rock


Dome of the Rock

Temple Mount visitors at Dome of the Rock (Seetheholyland.net)

Jerusalem’s iconic symbol is the gleaming Dome of the Rock, whose golden roof has dominated the Temple Mount for centuries. This Islamic holy place stands on a site that is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

• To Jews, this is where Abraham, in a supreme act of faith, prepared to offer his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. It is also the place where the Temple once stood.

• To Christians it is where the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple; where he was found among the teachers as a 12-year-old; where he later prayed and taught — and drove the money-changers out of the Temple precincts. For most of the 12th century, when the Crusaders controlled Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock was actually a Christian church.

• To Muslims the Dome covers the sacred rock where Muhammad prayed and went to paradise during his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back to Mecca on the winged steed called Al-Burak.

The Dome of the Rock was the first major sanctuary built by Islam. Although it is sometimes erroneously called the Mosque of Omar (a companion of Muhammad) it is actually not a mosque but an adjunct to the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque.


Ornamentation by Christian artists

A building of extraordinarily harmonious proportions, the Dome of the Rock is 20 metres across and more than 35 metres high. It was commissioned by Caliph Abd al-Malik and completed in AD 691. Its rich ornamentation was the work of Syrian Christian artists.

Dome of the Rock

Close-up of Dome of the Rock (Seetheholyland.net)

The roof is covered with gold-plated anodised aluminium. Inside, the sacred rock is protected by a 12th-century cedar wood screen. Crosses on some of the columns show that they were taken from churches. A high reliquary beside the rock is believed to contain a hair of Muhammad’s beard.

On the southern side of the rock, steps lead down to an ancient cave, known as the Well of Souls, to which many Jewish and Islamic legends are attached. The Crusaders used the cave as a confessional.

Current Arab tradition suggests that Caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome to commemorate Muhammad’s Night Journey and ascension to paradise.

Older sources indicate that the caliph’s purpose was two-fold: 1) to emphasise the superior truth of Islam over both Judaism and Christianity; 2) to outshine the splendour of Christian churches.

A 10th-century account says he was concerned that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre might “dazzle the minds of Muslims”. The dimensions of the iconic golden dome match those of the Holy Sepulchre’s dome.


Challenge to Christians

The Dome’s “founding inscription” runs for 240 metres in a single line of Kufic script (the oldest Arabic writing in existence) along the top of both sides of the inner octagonal arcade.

The sacred rock inside the dome (© Marie-Armelle Beaulieu)

The sacred rock inside the dome (© Marie-Armelle Beaulieu)

In a clear challenge to the Christian belief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, it says:

“O you People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion, and of God speak only the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God . . . . Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not ‘Three’. It will be better for you. God is only one God. Far be it from his glory that he should have a son.”

By building the Dome of the Rock, Caliph Abd al-Malik symbolised the transformation of Jerusalem — once a Jewish city, then a Christian city — into a Muslim city. Today, of course, the city is both culturally and religiously diverse.


Related site:

Al-Aqsa Mosque


Administered by: Islamic Waqf Foundation

Tel.: 972-2-6226250

Open: Non-Muslims are permitted to enter the Temple Mount through the Bab Al-Maghariba (Moors’ Gate), reached through a covered walkway from the Western Wall plaza, during restricted hours. These are usually 7.30-11am and 1.30-2.30pm (closed Fridays and on religious holidays), but can change. Modest dress is required. Non-Muslims are not normally allowed into the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount is not permitted.




Hope, Leslie: “The Dome of the Rock”, Holy Land, summer 1999
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External link

Noble Sanctuary
Dome of the Rock
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