Jerusalem may be one of the most fought over cities on earth, but it’s also one of the most beautiful. Thousands of years of sieges and power struggles have left deep wounds, but they have also created a unique amalgam of tradition, religion and history.
Pilgrims flood into the Old City, sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, to worship at places intrinsically tied to their faith. For visitors this can be something of an assault on the senses, with the pealing of church bells, Islamic calls to prayer and the Jewish shofar (ram’s horn) creating a bewitching cacophony of sounds, whilst the scent of incense, coffee and burning candles fills the air.
Although the sheer number of attractions can be baffling for the first-time visitor, most landmarks are located within this area. One of the holiest sanctuaries on earth, Temple Mount is a compound standing on what is believed to be the site of the ancient Jewish temple built by Herod the Great. To Muslims, the very same location is known as the Haram al-Sharif (or Noble Sanctuary), home of the glittering Dome of the Rock from where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have begun his journey to heaven.
Strangely enough, this city that can trace its roots back to the fourth millennium BC also enjoys a thriving contemporary cultural scene. The Jerusalem Season of Culture is a summer-long arts programme where you can expect to see everything from Tibetan monks and Lebanese rockers to Byzantine choirs, all performing in some of the Holy City’s most spectacular venues.
Don’t worry if you can’t explore every facet of this city. With over 1500 public gardens and parks, 2000 archaeological sites and 60 museums, it would take a lifetime to experience everything that Jerusalem has to offer.
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