Being a city that has been at the centre of three major world religions, Jerusalem is a mecca for spiritual and cultural tourists from all around the globe. Much of your time will spent hopping from one Old City attraction to the next, as it contains places that are considered sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
This sort of diversity doesn’t come without some tension, as the city was split between Israel and Jordan before Israeli forces seized it in the six-day war in 1967. Going back all the way to Jerusalem’s origins some 5,000 years ago, different groups have been battling for singular control over its land, as it has attacked on 52 separate occasions, it has been under siege 23 times, with the entire place being razed to the ground twice.
Needless to say, this locale has a great amount of appeal to various groups in the area … make this year the time you start finding out exactly why!
The most visited site of all the Old City attractions, the Western Wall is widely believed to be the remnants of a wall that circled the courtyard of the temple of Jerusalem. Consequently, being the past physical part of this luminous religious institution, it is held up as a highly sacred place by Jews, as they make pilgrimages from around the world to pray at this spot.
The main part where most prayers are held face where the Temple Mount is, but the Western Wall extends for another 1,400 feet away from where most congregate. So if the crowds are getting to you and you wish that there was a place where you could reflect on the important of this area (or pray in serenity if you practice Judaism), there is plenty of room along more isolated stretches away from the main plaza.
The Temple Mount is where over the millennia, the area’s religions have attributed some of the most sacred events in their faiths. Jews believe it is the spot where God began the process of the creation of the world, and where Adam was placed after being created. They also believe that this is where Abraham tied up his only son Issac to sacrifice him as a sign of devotion to the Lord, before a divine intervention occurred to prevent this violent act.
Among Sunni Muslims, the Temple Mount is the place where the Prophet Muhammad completed his final journey, as this was the spot where he ascended into heaven. Since the Crusades, this group has maintained religious control over this area, and to prevent provocations of violence, access to the Temple Mount is highly controlled, and prayer by non-Muslims here is prohibited by the Israeli authorities.
Shortly after the believed divine act that spirited Muhammad into heaven, two highly sacred monuments were built here, with the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock sitting on this hotly contested patch of land since 705 and 691 AD respectively. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is built on the spot where it is believed that Muhammad rose into the heavens, and the Dome of the Rock encapsulates a stone that where the Ark of the Covenant once sat, and it is believed by Jews that a hole in the rock grants access to a cavern known as the Well of Souls, a junction between heaven and Earth.
Muslims believe this rock was the location of a miracle in their faith known as the Night Journey, and Christians venerate this site as the Temple of Jerusalem played a major role in the life of Jesus Christ.
Finally, after the Roman Empire had adopted Christianity as its state religion, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was constructed within the Old City on the site where it was believed that Christ was crucified and buried. A massive amount of relics surrounding the day of Jesus’ death and his revival three days later are contained here, from the spot where he was crucified, to the stone that he was prepared for burial and another stone that blocked the entrance to his tomb.
Those looking for more relics and a more complete back-story on the history of Palestine and the nation of Israel should make some time for the Israel Museum. The major draw here is the portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls that experts have managed to preserve, but it also allows you to view nails used in crucifixions performed during the time of Jesus, as well as general information on the archaeological history of Israel, to artifacts of Judaism from around the world, which are as far-flung as an interior representation of a synagogue from Suriname (a country in South America).
Named by the Byzantines due to their belief that this place once was the home of the famed Jewish monarch King David, the Tower of David is most commonly known as a fort that was constructed to strengthen an identified weak point in the Old City of Jerusalem’s walls. The ruins contained within date back 2,700 years, but the main function that this place serves today is of a museum, containing info on the history of the city headed back to its days as a Canaanite settlement.
Finally, Christians will want to check out one more holy site before heading out to enjoy the other attractions of Israel. The Tomb of the Virgin Mary is where Orthodox Christians maintain that Mary, the mother of God, was buried after her death. Since the 12th century, a church has shielded the cave where her body was laid, with a beautiful altar and murals adorning this space. The tomb where she was laid is accessible, making this a place that any devout Christian should see should they have the time in their schedule.