FACTBOX: Jerusalem, focus of faith, conflict

Tue May 12, 2009 5:00am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

(Reuters) - Pope Benedict arrived on Monday in Jerusalem, a city revered by all three great monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Here are some facts about religion and the city:


Sitting on a rocky promontory, watered by springs, some 760 meters (2,500 feet) up in the hills between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, Jerusalem has been settled for 5,000 years.

Much of its religious significance stems from a Jewish belief that a spot now covered by the landmark golden Dome of the Rock is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, before God stayed his hand. Later Christians and Muslims wove that and other beliefs about Jerusalem into their own faiths.

The city, within boundaries defined by Israel but not recognized internationally, is now home to 750,000 people, two in three of them Jews and the rest mostly Muslim Palestinians.


Jews, from biblical kings such as Solomon to present day Israelis, see Jerusalem as both the center of their religion and as a national capital. Solomon is believed to have built a great temple on the rock about 960 BC that became a focus of religious sacrifice and commerce. Destroyed by Babylonians four centuries later, it was replaced by the Second Temple. That was in turn destroyed by Roman forces in 70 AD, part of events that left Jews largely in exile across Europe and the Middle East. It is a part of the ruined retaining wall of that Roman-era Temple Mount complex, the Western Wall, that is now the main focus of prayer.

After Israeli forces captured Arab East Jerusalem, including the Old City with its sacred sites, in 1967, Israel annexed it and declared all of the city its "eternal capital" -- a move not recognized internationally. In the 1940s, the United Nations had proposed international control of the city. Palestinians want a capital of their future state in at least East Jerusalem.   Continued...