Jerusalem History

The walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, with the Mount of Olives in the background (Lori Erickson photo)

With 5,000 years of habitation, Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. Over the centuries it has been conquered, destroyed and rebuilt time and again. In Jerusalem, the sacred and secular are as intertwined as anywhere on earth.

Situated on a plateau about 2500 feet above sea level, Jerusalem has been a coveted site since ancient times. In 1000 B.C. it was captured by King David, who made it his royal city. He constructed a temple in the city and placed the Ark of the Covenant inside, though it was left to his son Solomon to create a truly grand edifice. Jerusalem became a great pilgrimage center, the center of Jewish worship and sacrifice.

When King Solomon died, the kingdom of Israel began to weaken. In 586 B.C. the Babylonians captured the city and burned it down, taking many of its residents into exile. Fifty years later, the Jews were allowed to return and rebuild their Temple.

In 20 B.C. Herod the Great doubled the size of the Temple Mount, building great stone vaults over which an extended platform was built. On top was constructed a far larger and grander temple than had existed before, with a Holy of Holies that could only be entered on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement, by the High Priest. Before it stood a great altar where animals were sacrificed in accordance with ritual laws. This was the Temple and the Jerusalem that Jesus knew, the site of his trial and crucifixion and the birthplace of the movement that would grow into Christianity.

A street cafe in the Old City of Jerusalem (Lori Erickson photo)

In 70 A.D. the city was destroyed by the Romans in retaliation for the Jewish revolt. Emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a Roman city and renamed it Aelia Capitolina.

Later it came under  Christian Byzantine rule for three centuries, until the Muslims took the city in 638. The Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent re-built walls around the Old City, which today stretch for nearly three miles.

The city changed allegiance yet again in 1097 when the Crusaders took the city and massacred its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants. The city was retaken by Saladin in 1187 and remained under Muslim control until 1917 when the British Mandate came into control of the region. In 1948, it passed into Jordanian hands, until in 1967 it came under the sovereignty of the state of Israel.

Today Jerusalem is a city which blends ancient and modern, a place where monumental tombs stand next to six lane highways and minarets and church steeples pierce the sky.


Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.



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