U.S. News & World Report

"No people blessed as thine, no city like Jerusalem." - CHRISTIAN HYMN

"One prayer in Jerusalem is worth 40,000 elsewhere." - ISLAMIC SAYING

It was a procession of joy, a pageant of history and faith gladful enough to have pleased the Shepherd King himself. Marching through the hills of Judea almost to within the shadow of the hand-carved stone walls of the ancient Holy City, 80,000 dancers, musicians and performers from Israel and around the world recently launched the 3,000th-anniversary celebrations of King David's establishment of Jerusalem.

Though central to the Jewish soul as Israel's "eternal capital," Jerusalem is vitally holy to all three of the world's great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And it is all the more celebrated during the Hanuka and Christmas seasons. The city is hailed as a gathering spot of civilizations, saints and prophets and is seen as a sacred place for pilgrims and their prayers. To believers, it is God's own city, a place infused with signs and symbols of the holy. And that in no small measure explains why its history is one of nearly ceaseless strife. Each event that takes place, each piece of ground that is disturbed, each artifact that is dug up can stir ancient hopes and resentments. With Israelis and Palestinians still inching toward peace, some critics deem Israel's yearlong celebration of the trimillennium a provocation as much as a statement of history.

Across its hilltops have marched Canaanites, Israelites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Seleucids, Romans, Arabs, Seljuks, crusaders, Saracens, Mamelukes, Ottomans, Britons, Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis. In its history, blood-drenched stones and archaeological treasures are keys to understanding the essence of the human spirit.


Jerusalem's Chalcolithic roots predate David by almost 2,500 years. First mentioned in Egyptian hieroglyphics as the Canaanite Urushamem and Urusalim, it was visited by Abraham, says Genesis. But it was David who established its historic and holy standing.

The son of Jesse ruled Israelites from the southern city of Hebron when he first set his sights on the Jebusite fortress of Zion in about 1004 B.C. A political and military genius, the young king wanted a strategically located capital to unite fully the loosely linked tribes of Israel. And Jerusalem's natural citadel loomed over the Jordan Valley, standing about halfway between the northern and southern halves of the Holy Land.

Moving swiftly, recounts the second book of Samuel, David took Zion in a bloodless raid, renaming it Ir David, the City of David. A later account in 1 Chronicles implies that Joab, David's nephew and general, surprised the Jebusites by entering the town through a water shaft. The passageway Joab may have climbed in the Israelite assault can still be explored today. Almost 40 feet long, it connects by a subterranean tunnel to the gurgling Gihon Spring beneath the City of David, for centuries Jerusalem's only steady source of water. Discovered by Sir Charles Warren, a British surveyor who explored Jerusalem in 1867 and gave the shaft his name, it was cleared in 1979 with the help of South African mining engineers by archaeologist Yigal Shiloh.

The triangular 12-acre city David built lay some 350 feet to the south of the walled Jerusalem of today, on and beyond the eastern ridge called the Ophel. Archaeologists, who have uncovered 21 strata there ranging from the fourth millennium B.C. to the A.D. 15th century, estimate that the Davidic city's population never exceeded 4,000--largely members of the court. Until recently, the biblical references to David and the city's structures were not corroborated archaeologically. But two years ago, a team digging in northern Israel uncovered a ninth-century B.C. stone tablet bearing a clear reference to the "House of David" and "King of Israel," says former Jerusalem District Archaeologist Dan Bahat.

Archaeologists now believe that a 13th-century B.C. stepped stone tower first uncovered in the 1920s and later explored by Britain's Kathleen Kenyon may be part of the mysterious "Millo" around which the Bible says David built his city. Further evidence of the Davidic dynasty was found in 1986 by archaeologist Eilat Mazar. Digging on the southeast Ophel slope, she discovered an eighth-century B.C. gate that may well have led to the First Temple area. Beyond it: an area that appears to have been a royal administrative center.

Eventually David's kingdom stretched from Egypt to the Euphrates River. With great flourish, relates the Bible, the poet king had the Ark of the Covenant moved to Jerusalem. The city had become Israel's political, military and religious center. It would fall to David's son and heir, Solomon, to build the Temple atop the windswept Moriah plateau that David purchased as a threshing field. And the Hebrew name became Yerushalayim, or City of Peace.


By the time Jesus first passed through the Golden Gate, Jerusalem had been the holy center of the Jews for more than 10 centuries. The Bible chronicles its glories and the steady beat of its conquest by outsiders: the destruction of Solomon's Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, the painful exile of the Jews to Babylonia. The Holy City now stretched well beyond David's hilltop fortress. Yet even by the standards of Roman times, the city was small, its population less than 80,000.

The Temple was still incomplete when Jesus came to pray and preach there. Before then, Herod the Despot, eager to outdo the great Solomon, had begun to expand the modest Second Temple built after Jews returned from Babylonia in 539 B.C. The surface of Mount Moriah was enlarged by Herod, who built vast platforms--remnants of which have recently been uncovered. As many as 18,000 workers hauled material to the site: mammoth stone blocks for the walls, cedar limbs for the roof and great columns of marble for structural support.

Beyond the teeming, rectangular Court of the Gentiles lay a series of 13 gates through which only Jews could pass on their way to the Temple proper. Each was deemed more beautiful than the last. The most famous, the bronze Nicanor Gate, was so heavy that it needed 20 men to open it, an event that signaled each new day. This area is also close to where Jesus is believed to have overturned the tables of the money-changers at a time when the Temple was still under construction and today is part of the open court of Islam's Dome of the Rock.

In A.D. 70, about 40 years after the accepted date of the crucifixion on Golgotha, Rome destroyed Jerusalem as punishment for a revolt by Jewish freedom fighters. Temple treasures were carted off, Jews enslaved and exiled, Jerusalem's land salted to keep it fallow. All that remained of the Temple compound were its four outer retaining walls. One of them--the Western Wall--would come to be known as the "Wailing Wall" and be sanctified by centuries of Jewish tears and prayers for the redemption of Zion and a return to Jerusalem.

It remains an irony of history, notes Shanks, "that Judaism's holiest shrine was built, not by Solomon .... but [largely] by Herod, one of the most hated kings ever to rule the Jews." A descendant of converts, Herod observed Judaism's rituals in public but eschewed its morality in his rule. "I'd rather be Herod's pig than his son," Emperor Augustus reportedly quipped. The reason: Herod murdered three of his sons but refrained from eating pork.

Many of the holy places where Jesus is said to have walked are pinpointed more by tradition than by archaeology. And there are new theories about their true locations. Archaeologists now theorize that Gethsemane was not a garden but a nearby cave where olive oil was pressed--the meaning of gat shemenim. Archaeologists like Bahat are convinced that much more of the Jerusalem of Jesus's time lies buried around the Temple Mount. Digging a tunnel along the northern end of the Western Wall, Bahat has discovered a Herodian gate leading to the Temple area. To the south, in the site explored by Benyamin Mazar (Eilat's grandfather) in 1967, workers uncovered a set of massive steps and a stone with an inscription that mentions the zakenim--the elders.

Wonders Bahat:



Roman Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity in the early fourth century ensured the future of the new church and gave it Jerusalem. But 314 years later, the followers of the powerful new desert faith of Prophet Muhammad seized the city, building great Islamic shrines and centers of study of their own.

For almost 400 years, church leaders seethed as Christianity's holiest sites remained "in the hands of heretics." Finally, in 1095, Pope Urban II called for the "deliverance" of Jerusalem through Holy Crusade. Tens of thousands of Europeans--soldiers, peasants and mobs of the unemployed--marched and sailed to the Holy Land.

Their assault was the most fearsome Jerusalem had ever witnessed. And on July 15, 1099, after 41 days of deadly siege, the armies of the Holy Crusade raised the banner of Christ atop the Temple Mount. Two days later, when the crusader princes came to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditional site of Christ's tomb, they marched through a deserted city. Jerusalem's Christians had fled before the battle. Its Muslims and Jews had all been sold as slaves or slaughtered by the rampaging victors. Mutilated corpses were piled knee high. Blood still literally ran in the streets, down to the Valley of Kidron. It was a sight, wrote the crusaders' historian William of Tyre,

The crusaders' Jerusalem kingdom would last 87 years--transforming Jerusalem into a capital city for the first time since Jews ruled there. The knights wasted no time re-creating a European feudal society. Dividing Jerusalem's stone houses among themselves, they banned Jews, limited the number of Muslims and imported Christian settlers from Syria and Jordan. With the enthusiastic blessing of Rome, they feverishly built new churches and monasteries. Some, like the elegant Church of St. Anne, built over the traditional site of the Virgin Mary's birth, have survived. The Byzantine Holy Sepulcher, consecrated anew, was greatly expanded and took the Romanesque crosslike shape it still bears. A recent renovation at the Old City police station, says Bahat, has revealed the foundations of the crusader royal palace.

The crusaders also took their turn reshaping the Temple Mount. Romans had replaced Herod's Temple with a pagan shrine. The Byzantine Christians destroyed that in 629, then heaped the mount with trash and dung to show disdain for Judaism. Arab conquerors cleansed the site in 638 and built two great shrines to Muhammad: the golden Dome of the Rock and the great Al-Aqsa Mosque. Now it was the crusaders' turn. They made Al-Aqsa headquarters for the Knights Templar and transformed the Dome, one of the world's most beautiful examples of Islamic art, into a church. The knights also erroneously dubbed an underground labyrinth of vaulted storage chambers "Solomon's Stables" and used it accordingly.

Such sacrilege by "infidels" stuck in the throats of Islamic believers. Though never mentioned by name in the Koran, Jerusalem was revered by Muslims as a city whose holiness was outshone only by Mecca and Medina. The Temple Mount, called Haram esh-Sharif--the Noble Sanctuary--was treasured as the place from which Muhammad made a mystic flight to heaven, and Muslims later came to revere it as the rock where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isaac to Christians and Jews).

In 1187, the Saracen warrior Salahal-Din defeated the crusader forces near the Sea of Galilee and then marched south to wrest Jerusalem from the Christians. The crusaders surrendered without battle. Christian pilgrims could still visit Jerusalem's holy places, but only upon payment of tribute and with eyes blindfolded as they passed through Muslim areas. It was not until Britain took Jerusalem during World War I that the city of Jesus would truly see another Christian ruler.



Between 1538 and 1541, slaves of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent built the graceful limestone walls that still surround the Holy City. Islam would rule supreme in Jerusalem for more than 700 years. But by the mid-19th century, American and European churches began staking out their own claims, opening missions to convert the Jews and building hostels for the thousands of pilgrims who made the arduous, dangerous sea and land trek to the site of Christ's passion.

Devotion ran deep. When the 6-ton bell for a new czarist-built cathedral arrived at Jaffa port in 1885, a small army of Russian Orthodox pilgrims, mostly women, helped haul it up the mountains to Jerusalem's Mount of Olives.

The 19th century also saw Jerusalem's first archaeological explorers. Some were adventurers and not a few used science as a cover for military espionage. The best made major discoveries. France's FÀelicien de Saulcy found great tombs just north of the Old City. In 1870, Britain's Charles Warren, who explored the biblical water shaft, completed the first--and till now the last--scientific survey of the Temple Mount itself.

But under increasingly corrupt Ottoman rule, 19th-century Jerusalem itself was reduced to the status of what the Turks called a sanjak, a provincial backwater whose streets were filled with sewage and whose tight quarters bred disease. Its religious communities, says the city's 20th-century biographer Amos Elon, were "islands unto themselves." But they were not immune to communal warfare. Muslims pelted Christians with garbage during Easter. Both barred Jews from each other's shrines and took great pleasure in driving cattle through the crowds swaying in prayer at the Western Wall. Nowhere was the religious battle fiercer than in the Holy Sepulcher, where monks from myriad Christian sects fought pitched battles over which order had the right to clean its sacrosanct floor.

For the Jews, Jerusalem was their capital of memory. Like Christian pilgrims, they were inexorably drawn by religious fervor. By 1870, Jerusalem's population had grown to 25,000 and Jews had become the majority. Most Old City Jews devoted their days to study, prayer and "rebuilding the Jerusalem of spirit brick by brick." Many lived off chalukah--charity collected in the ghettos of Eastern Europe and among the thriving Sephardic communities of the East.

Life for most within the walls was squalid. But with bandits holding sway over the hills, few ventured beyond the Old City gates after dark. All that changed after 1860 when Sir Moses Montefiore, the Jewish philanthropist and sheriff of London, built a row of workshops cum homes on a hill facing the western ramparts. Other Jews began to construct neighborhoods beyond the walls. Christians and Muslims moved to the north and south, and Jerusalem was soon surrounded by growing suburbs.

As the century turned, Jerusalem received a new influx of Jewish immigrants who called themselves "Lovers of Zion"--Zionists. They were determined not just to pray for salvation but to rebuild a desolate land.


"Without Jerusalem, we are a body without a soul."--DAVID BEN-GURION

Jerusalem thrived under the British Mandate of Palestine that began when Lord Allenby captured the Holy City from the Turks during World War I. Building boomed. The Hebrew University, with its own archaeological institute, opened atop Mount Scopus, followed by the Rockefeller Museum near Herod's Gate. Both promoted new excavations. But the crosswinds of Arab and Jewish nationalism would soon overwhelm all other pursuits. A 1947 United Nations Partition Plan dividing Palestine between Jews and Arabs internationalized Jerusalem. The Jews, eager for a state at all costs, accepted the plan. The Arabs, convinced they could win all of Palestine by force, vehemently rejected it.

Even before Britain withdrew, Jerusalem fell under siege. The city's Arabs received supplies and armed reinforcement from neighboring Arab states. By the beginning of 1948, the highway to Jerusalem was all but impassable. The city's Jews, cut off from the coastal plain, were reduced to eating weeds.

Hours after David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's independence on May 14, six Arab armies invaded. "Our `heavy' artillery consisted of two 2-pounder cannons," recalls Teddy Kollek, the man who would become mayor of Jerusalem. Later the arsenal was rounded out by three homemade 6-inch mortars affectionately dubbed "Davidkes."

The Arabs fled from the city's southern suburbs but held the walled Old City and the Eastern hills. The Jews stood firm in the Western New City. The Old City's Jewish Quarter with its mostly elderly population of 2,000 was the weakest link. The 80 Jewish commandos who managed to sneak into the quarter were no match for the Arab armies that advanced house to house in the narrow stone-walled alleys and in their path destroyed 27 of the Old City's historic synagogues.

On May 28, two weeks after Israel's birth, the Old City's Jews surrendered. As its last survivors left through the Zion Gate, an aged rabbi among them thrust a package into the hands of a Christian Arab for "safekeeping." It was a 700-year-old Torah scroll. Moments later the Zion Gate closed. For the first time in its multimillennial history, Jerusalem was truly divided.


The ugly barricades bisecting Jerusalem were torn down when Israeli forces captured the Old City during the 1967 Six-Day War. Unlike conquerors past, Israel left the Temple Mount in the hands of its latest occupants: Islam. But the dingy alley before the Western Wall was broadened to a great plaza to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of Jews now free to worship there. And Kollek, the tireless Israeli mayor of "united Jerusalem," launched an ambitious restoration of Old City glories.

Israel's determination that Jerusalem remain open to all faiths brought the nation almost universal praise. But its encirclement of the city with new Jewish neighborhoods and the decision to declare all of it Israel's "eternal capital" sparked angry protests in the Arab world, especially among Palestinians.

The Holy City's final political disposition remains one of the sorest points of Mideast peace negotiations. But debate also rages over how best to preserve its place as a uniquely historic place, a sacred monument and a modern city. One key: the continued ban on facing new buildings with anything but the classic local stone. "The history of Jerusalem is writ in stone," says Jerusalem town planner David Kroyanker.

Its stones also remain the key to revealing its still-hidden secrets. Yet the quest is not without controversy. A recent Israeli attempt to reconstruct part of a seventh-century Omayyad palace adjoining the Temple Mount sparked protests from Jews and Muslims alike. Orthodox rabbis argue that the palace was built with Temple stones tossed from the mount when the Romans destroyed it and that their use to rebuild is a double sacrilege. Muslim leaders say the excavations disturb ancient graves and fear it is all the precursor to an archaeological invasion of the Temple Mount. It has become known irreverently as the "war of the stones and bones." And it is one more reason, as David the Psalmist once urged, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.