Jerusalem, the Most Historical City in the World? 23

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Jerusalem history travelJerusalem simultaneously confounds and amazes. In the list of “Cities Unlike Any Place Else,” it has to be right up near the top.

It has been a few months since I was in Israel and I still really don’t know what to think. I spent two weeks there in February and can only feel confident enough at this point to say that if it had been two months or two years, I’m not sure I’d understand it any more completely.

Though I was sick the whole time and didn’t get around as much as I wanted to, especially to the East Jerusalem side of things I was, and am still, intrigued by this place (and the food… the food!)

The obvious reason that Jerusalem is basically impossible to understand for those of us that don’t live there is the layers and layers of history, religion, culture, violence, hatred, reconciliation and more that have built up over literally thousands of years. There are so many unusual and interesting things to do in Jerusalem, it is hard to focus in on just a few of them.

As I sit here and write this, I am wondering just this:

Is Jerusalem the most historical city in the world?

If not here, what is?
Visit Palestine Poster in Jerusalem shop

Here are some free-form thoughts about Jerusalem:

  • According to Wikipedia (so it has to be true), During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. That actually sounds about right.
  • The city was originally settled sometime in the 4th millennium B.C. That is old. Really old. Bronze Age old.
  • It is the holiest city in Judaism, the holiest city in Christianity and the third holiest city in Islam. Those are the three great monotheistic religions in the world — and Jerusalem is full-on, smack dab in the core of each of them.
  • Entire kingdoms thousands of miles away rose and fell, based on the success or failure of conquering this one city.

Take just one of the many historical buildings/sites in Jerusalem for an example, Temple Mount.

temple mount jerusalem blue partly cloudy skies and golden dome

Temple Mount is the single holiest place in Judaism. It was here that God gathered the dust to make Adam, the location of Abraham’s binding of Issac, the site of the first two Jewish temples, and the site where the Third Temple will be built with the coming of the Messiah.

Temple Mount is simultaneously the third holiest place in Islam. Muslims used to pray in this direction instead of towards Mecca. Muhammad rose to heaven from this location.

Combine those vitally important religion traditions with current political realities and the layers that fall over Jerusalem become even more complex. During the 1967 Six Day War, Israel routed the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria and occupied the West Bank, including all of Jerusalem. You would think, this being the holiest site in Judaism and the Jewish state of Israel in firm control over the area, that there would be Jewish control over the site.

You’d be wrong.

A few days after the end of the Six Day War, the Israeli government returned administrative control of Temple Mount back to the Muslim community of Jerusalem and their waqf. Access to the site is limited for all non-Muslims to certain hours on certain days. Also prohibited are all forms of non-Muslim worship in this area: you can’t wear a cross here, carry a Bible, or even pray, unless you are Muslim.

All this on the holiest site in Judaism, in a city that is completely and totally controlled by Israel. In fact, when you go through the security checkpoints to enter the site, the people enforcing these restrictions, in order to keep the site limited to Muslim worship, are Israeli soldiers and security personal — who can’t pray on the site themselves.

Look, I hope the comments on this post really don’t devolve into a back and forth about Israel and Palestine and which side is “right” or “wrong” on the sides of angels or history… all I am saying is…

This is one amazingly odd, interesting and strange place.

I want to go back again and again, just to try to absorb more of it. As a history buff, there might be no better place in the world for me to wander around again and again.

While I was there, I was very graciously hosted for my entire two week stay by the wonderfully helpful and knowledgeable people at Abraham Hostel. Given the fact that I was under the weather for the entire time I was there, the hospitality they showed me was something I will never forget.

In addition to recommending them about as highly as I could — I thought I’d take some of my time lapse and video that I shot in Jerusalem and do up a quick video about the city and the hostel. This is my first rough effort at doing full-blown video and time lapse, so I hope you like it.

Obviously one of the things I get asked about a lot in this region is whether it is safe, and more specifically, whether it is safe to travel as a family with children. I think the answer is absolutely yes. Visiting Jerusalem with kids is not only safe, but it is a great way to teach them about history from the front row.

Jerusalem history travel

Jerusalem history travel

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

23 thoughts on “Jerusalem, the Most Historical City in the World?

  • sharon miro

    Jerulsalem is a magical city. You would have to live under a rock and have no heart not to “feel” that something really important has happened is the same feeling that I get when I go to Rome…I imagine that Cairo, Bejing might feel the same…

    You are correct in not wanting this to deteriorate into a political tennis ball. The situation too complex, and too volitile to be discussed in blog comments. There are no right/wrong answers. There might not even be an answer.

    I am glad you wrote this. I learned somehitng new about a city I thought I knew a lot about.

  • Theodora

    I’d really recommend picking up and reading Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s Jerusalem, A Biography before your next visit. The city has a phenomenal history.

  • Rochelle

    America controls Israel sure as snow flies in Buffalo. If Israel were to go against Obama’s supposed directions and strike Iran, it would be a blow to Obama’s reelection in November.

  • Mina mahrous

    Again and again I’d say it, I wish I was able to visit Jerusalem, and Palestine in general! this country has so much history and diversity that I really want to see for myself!

    The video is really good too, would work great as an ad for the hostel!

    but I think you should do anotehr one with more outdoors and decrease the parts inside the hostel. Just as a visit Palestine video or so…

  • Jeremy Branham

    Yes I would say it is probably the most important and historical city in the world. I think Jerusalem is intriguing, confusing, and just a mess from a political and religious perspective. However, all these things make it incredibly fascinating. I would love to visit one day yet I am not sure how I would feel after visiting as well.

    Jerusalem will always be at the heart of the Middle East because the tension in this region rises and falls based on what is going on with Israel. Sure, other countries rise up and we deal with conflicts with Iran and Iraq. However, even those places are not immune to the Israel effect.

    This isn’t to say Israel (or Jerusalem) is bad or good. However, I think it illustrates just how important this city still is and what the global impact it has had on world history.

  • Kazsandra

    Jerusalem looks like a nice place and i hope I can have a great tour there someday.. I agree that it is the most historical city in the whole world..

  • Kathryn

    Jerusalem is definitely a historical place and I am sure a lot of people will agree with me.. Thanks for the photos!

  • Ali

    I’d really love to visit Israel someday. I love traveling to places that are full of history, and Israel definitely has lots of it!

  • Adam

    I lived in Jerusalem for a month and you could definitely feel the intensity of the city. Such an amazing place!

  • Arianwen Morris

    Love the video! I wish I had the knowhow. Be honest though – do you ever get a bit restless waiting for them to shoot? I’m going to pass on the link to this post to my flat mate who’s going there in July. Perhaps I can even convince her to stay in Abraham Hostel 🙂

  • Jane

    Visiting Jerusalem is definitely on my “must-do” list, precisely for the reasons you outlined.

  • The Runaway Guide

    Even if you don’t know anything about the history of Jerusalem, when you’re there, you can just feel it. There is a certain inexplicable energy that seems to emanate from all the stones, monuments and hills. This is especially true in the old city and near the wailing wall. When I was there a few months ago, I prayed at the wailing wall and when I touched it, I felt like I was connected to all who had prayed there before me. Maybe it was just mental, but it felt like there was something spiritually tangible there. In any case, great pictures of the city and a much needed history lesson for me. Thanks.

  • Roxanne

    Every so often, I experience a pang of Jerusalem nostalgia. I do not know if it is the most historical city in the world, but I certainly know that it is the most nostalgia-inducing one in which I have lived. Thank you for bringing me back to it…

  • Shalu Sharma

    Jerusalem is one place that I will not forget. Although I do not follow any of the religion that it is famous for but I can see why people go there. The historical and religious pull is magnetic.

  • Erica from

    Jerusalem is a fascinating place, we visited there twice when we were recently in Israel and I still can’t get my head around the place. The history, the religions and for the most part the harmony. Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but it’s amazing that the Temple Mount is controlled by muslims, yet the security is provided by the Israeli army. In addition the holiest place for Christians, The Church of Sepulchre, where they claim Jesus was crucified is open in the morning and locked up at night by a muslim family. I’ll say it again, the place is fascinating! Thanks for sharing your views in this post.

  • Simon

    This place is number 1 on my to visit list for 2014, unfortunately my 2013 calendar is full. Can’t wait to visit though, and thanks for the post for wetting my appetite.

  • Nicole

    I got back from a 5-day trip to Jersualem last week and I’m still processing the experience. It’s an amaing place. My only regret is that they closed the entrance to the Dome of the Rock so I didn’t get to see it up close.

    Great post!

  • Megan Claire

    Absolutely cannot wait to get to this side of the world – would love to visit Jerusalem especially during Easter I imagine it would be amazing! It’s sad though that from everyone I’ve spoken to it seems to be on their list of places not to go because of bad media coverage and safety issues. I think people let fear get in the way of experiencing the world far too often.

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