Jerusalem is a holy city for three of the world’s major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is the largest city in Israel, and stands on a cluster of hilltops and valleys between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. Jerusalem is claimed by Israel as its capital city, but this status is not recognized by the United Nations. About 701,512 people live in Jerusalem. The population of Jerusalem is divided between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs.
Jerusalem is sacred to Jews as it was the capital of the first Jewish kingdom. The city is important to Christians as it is where Jesus Christ spent his last days on Earth. Muslims believe that Jerusalem is a holy city because it is where the Prophet Muhammad ascended into Heaven.
Many religious and historical sites can be found in the Old City, which is surrounded by a wall that was built in 1538 during the reign of the Ottoman ruler Suleiman I. The Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands on the site that is the traditional tomb of Christ. The Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the great Temple built by Herod the Great, King of Judaea. The Muslim mosque called the Dome of the Rock was built in the 7th century on the site where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to Heaven. The Mosque of Al Aqsa is one of Islam’s most sacred shrines. The Citadel was built in the 14th century on the site of Herod’s fortress.
Jerusalem has had an unsettled history and has been seized and occupied at different times by many different empires and religious groups. The early written history of Jerusalem is recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible. King David captured Jerusalem and made it capital of Israel. David’s son Solomon continued the development of Jerusalem. He built the Temple and a new royal palace, encircled by a wall. For many centuries the city grew and prospered as the holy city of the Jews. It later came under the control of the Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine empires.
During the Middle Ages Christians and Muslims fought over the control of the city. In 1099 Jerusalem was seized by the Christian armies of the First Crusade. During the capture of the city the Crusaders massacred its Muslim defenders and inhabitants. The city was made the centre of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. This was the most powerful of four Crusader states that were set up to defend the Christian conquests in the Holy Land.
From 1948 until 1967, Jerusalem was divided. Israel controlled West (or New) Jerusalem, and Jordan controlled East Jerusalem, including the Old City. In 1967 Israel captured East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. Since then, all of Jerusalem has been controlled by the Israelis. However, the city’s status is still disputed by Israelis and Arabs. Violence often breaks out between the Israelis and Palestinians who live there.
In recent times much effort has been made to try to resolve the conflict. The aim is to make Jerusalem a peaceful city and to unite the warring peoples. Pope John Paul II visited Jerusalem in March 2000 as part of a tour of the Middle East. He visited important Christian landmarks as well as a mosque and the Western Wall.