|Jerusalem is a city rich in history. King
David ruled it 3,000 years ago, Jesus walked in its streets 2,000 years
ago and 52 years ago it became the capital of modern Israel. Jerusalem's
history has been a tumultuous and bloody one. Over the centuries, the
Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines,
Arabs, Crusaders, Mamaluks, Ottomans and British all fought for her, ruled
over her and eventually lost her.
One of the best ways to get a grip on the dizzying change of rulers in Jerusalem is to visit the Time Elevator, a simulated ride through the city's history, narrated by Fiddler on the Roof star, Chaim Topol. This is a fun introduction for children and those wanting a framework for further understanding Jerusalem's past.
But history is all around you in the layers of Jerusalem, which go deep, with ruins from different time periods lodged on top of each other. Excavations in the City of David ' the oldest part of the city, which dates back to 1,800 BCE ' have revealed 25 strata of settlement.
Of course, Jerusalem is an archaeologist's paradise. Relics discovered before 1948 are housed in the Rockerfeller Museum and those excavated post-1948 are housed in the Israel Museum's Samuel Bronfman Archaeology Wing ' which has rooms dealing with prehistory, the Canaanites, Israelites, the Second Temple period, the Romans and Byzantines.
The story of Jerusalem as a capital begins in 1,000 BCE when King David proclaimed it capital of the Kingdom of Israel and his son, Solomon, built the first Temple. In 701 BCE, when the city came under siege from the Assyrians, King Hezekiah built an underground tunnel so that the city's water supply would not be cut off. Visitors can still walk through this dark tunnel, which is knee-deep in water and runs between Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam.
In 586 BCE the Babylonians conquered the city, destroyed the Temple and drove its population into exile. Some 47 years later, the Persians captured the city, allowed the exiles to return and a Second Temple was built. In 322 BCE, the Greeks took the city, until a Jewish rebellion in 164 BCE put the Hasmoneans in charge. Then in 63 BCE came the Romans and the rule of King Herod. It was at this time that Jesus was born. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, marks the site of Jesus' burial and resurrection place and this is the world's most holy Christian shrine.
In the year 70, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple. Only one of its outer walls remained intact and this is the Western (or wailing) Wall, the most sacred Jewish site in the world.
The Roman period lasted until 326 when the Byzantines came. The Cardo, the main thoroughfare of Roman Jerusalem (called Aelia Capitolina), still remains today and tourists can enjoy a mock-Roman meal in the Culinarium, where all diners don togas.
The Byzantine period came to an end with an Arab takeover in 638. The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque were built, and this complex became the third most holy Muslim site after Mecca and Medina. According to Islamic tradition, Al-Aqsa is the spot where Muhammed tied his winged horse before ascending to heaven.
In 1099, the Crusades began and a Christian kingdom was established. Jews were burnt alive and Muslims were either slaughtered or expelled. In 1187, Saladin took the city allowing the exiles to return and Christians to stay. This saw the beginning of the Old City's division into four distinct quarters.
In 1254, the Turks came and slaughtered most of the Christians, then in 1260 came the Mamaluks. Much of the architecture in today's Muslim Quarter stems back to the Mamaluk Period.
In 1517, the city was taken by the Ottomans who built the city walls in their current form. Because Jerusalem was an outpost of the Turkish Empire, it got neglected and by the mid-1800s the great powers of Europe were rediscovering the Holy Land and establishing their presence.
During this period, foreigners started to build outside the city walls, creating neighbourhoods such as the Russian Compound, the German Colony, Mea Shearim and Yemin Moshe.
When in 1917, the British captured Jerusalem they made it the capital of the British Mandate in Palestine. In May 1948, Britain pulled out and a war erupted between the Jews and the Arabs. This resulted in West Jerusalem being under siege. Jews were forced out of the Old City and lost their rights to pray there. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City was destroyed. The city became divided with Israel having sovereignty over West Jerusalem (its capital), while Jordan was in control of the Old City and East Jerusalem.
The situation changed during the Six-Day War in 1967, when in response to attacks from King Hussein of Jordan on Jewish Jerusalem, the Israelis advanced and took the Old City and East Jerusalem. The destroyed Jewish Quarter was rebuilt post-1967.
Today the debate and conflict over Jerusalem still continues. But as history has shown us, this is nothing new. The players may be different, but the theme is the same - the quest for control over this beautiful and sacred city.