Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and its largest city in both population and area, with a population of 747,600 residents over an area of 125.1 square kilometres (48.3 sq mi) if disputed East Jerusalem is included. Located in the Judean Mountains, between the Mediterranean Sea and the northern tip of the Dead Sea, modern Jerusalem has grown beyond the boundaries of the Old City.
The city has a history that goes back to the 4th millennium BCE, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Jerusalem has been the holiest city in Judaism and the spiritual center of the Jewish people since the 10th century BCE, contains a number of significant ancient Christian sites, and is considered the third-holiest city in Islam. Despite having an area of only 0.9 square kilometer (0.35 square mile), the Old City is home to sites of key religious importance, among them the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. The old walled city, a World Heritage site, has been traditionally divided into four quarters, although the names used today — the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters — were introduced in the early 19th century. The Old City was nominated for inclusion on the List of World Heritage Sites in danger by Jordan in 1982. In the course of its history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.
Today, the status of Jerusalem remains one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations and related bodies, and Arab Palestinians foresee East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. In the wake of United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 (passed in 1980), most foreign embassies moved out of Jerusalem, although some countries, such as the United States, still own land in the city and pledge to return their embassies once political agreements warrant the move.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest Christian site in Jerusalem, the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection. First constructed in 335 by Emperor Constantine, persistent damage has been inflicted on the structure over the centuries and subsequent repair work has been undertaken by the religious communities that administer it. The Church contains the Chapel of Golgotha and three Stations of the Cross where Jesus was crucified, and the Sepulchre itself marks the place of his burial and resurrection.
Temple Mount - Al-Haram al-Sharif
Temple Mount, known by some as Mount Moriah, is a site of tremendous religious importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. It is one of Jerusalem's most famous landmarks and can be found within the walled section of the Old City. The glinting golden dome of the Dome of the Rock rises impressively from Jerusalem's skyline and has become the city's most distinguishable feature. Temple Mount is of Jewish and Christian historical importance on two accounts: the large rock is believed to be the place where Abraham offered his son Isaac up for sacrifice, and the First Temple is the place where the Ark of the Covenant was housed. Even though off limits to Jews today, it is still the focal point of Jewish life and Jews worldwide face the Temple Mount during prayer. For Muslims the same rock is the place from which Muhammad, in a dream, ascended to heaven. In commemoration the Dome of the Rock was built over the site in the 7th century. It is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary or Al-Haram al-Sharif, and is one of the three most important sites in Islam. Also located on the Temple Mount are the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum, which houses a collection of Korans and Islamic relics.
The Western Wall (HaKotel HaMaaravi)
The Western Wall, known to non-Jews as the Wailing Wall, is the most sacred Jewish site of prayer in the world, the place where thousands of worshippers gather year round to pray and even leave prayers folded into its crevices. The 1,916ft (584m) wall is all that remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, built in 30BC by King Herod. It is made up of enormous stone blocks and serves as a tribute to the scale of workmanship in past eras. Following Orthodox Jewish practise the praying sections have been separated for men and women. Men are required to wear a skullcap (kippah) and women must be modestly dressed. On Fridays, the Jewish Shabbat or Sabbath, the men's section particularly pulsates with the songs and prayers of the faithful, for in principle the whole area is an Orthodox synagogue. The wall is also sacred to Muslims who believe that it is where the prophet Mohammed tied up his winged horse, Al Burak, before ascending into heaven.
The Via Dolorosa
The Via Dolorosa (Road of Sorrow), also known as the Way of the Cross, is the route Jesus is said to have followed as he carried the Cross to his crucifixion. There are 14 stations along the way commemorating different events, starting at Lion's Gate in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, where Jesus was convicted by Pontius Pilate, and ending at his tomb, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre within the Christian Quarter. Every Friday at 3pm priests lead a procession and prayers are said at each station. A steady stream of pilgrims remember and honour Jesus' sacrifice by walking the Way of the Cross each year.
This vital memorial to the Holocaust provides a multifaceted tribute to the millions of Jews who died during World War II. The focus of the museum is to commemorate and document the events of the Holocaust and provide ongoing research and education. The Museum's archive collection is the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of material containing documents, photographs, films and videotaped testimonies of survivors. These can be read and viewed in the allocated rooms and is a sobering experience. An inspiring tribute to the victims is The Hall of Names, which details names of the holocaust victims. Symbolic gravestones are created from the 'Pages of Testimony' that record the biographical details of millions of deceased. Yad Vashem's library contains an impressive collection of material in many languages. The Historical Museum chronicles the history of the holocaust from the implementation of the Nazi's anti-Jewish policies to the mass murder of millions of people. The display includes photographs, artefacts, documents and audio-visual material. An important collection of Holocaust art is displayed in Yad Vashem's Art Museum. The International School for Holocaust Studies and Holocaust Research provide education and ongoing research on the Holocaust at both national and international levels. Other facets of the Yad Vashem experience include the Righteous Among the Nations, honouring the non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews; and the Encyclopaedia of Communities which records the historical-geographical communities of Jews destroyed or damaged during the Nazi regime.
The Israel Museum
The Israel Museum has achieved world-class status with its remarkable collections spanning prehistoric archaeology to contemporary art. These include displays of archaeology from the Holy Land, a comprehensive compilation of Judaica and ethnology of Jewish people, and a fine art collection encompassing the Old Masters to renowned contemporary works. Perhaps the most famous exhibit are the Dead Sea Scrolls, they date from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD, and were unearthed in 1947. Numerous temporary exhibitions, publications and educational activities form part of the museum's cultural programme and over 950,000 visitors are drawn to this vast complex each year. Another great attraction of the Museum is its Art Garden that was designed by the Japanese-American sculptor, Isamu Noguchi. It is a fusion of Zen landscaping incorporating the natural vegetation of the area such as rosemary bushes, olive and fig trees. Displayed within this picturesque setting are the famous sculptures of Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol, David Smith, Henry Moore, Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt and James Turrell.
The Citadel or Tower of David
The Citadel was constructed in the 1st century BC as a fortress for King Herod and has since served as a strategic defence position to the Old City. The tallest tower of the Citadel, the Phasael, is the place to appreciate the magnificent view as well as the orientation of the Old City. The Citadel contains the excellent Museum of the History of Jerusalem, featuring fascinating displays of 4,000 years of the city's past.
Situated in the Judean Desert and overlooking the Dead Sea is one of Israel's most popular tourist attractions, the mountaintop fortress of Masada (sometimes spelled Massada). This enduring symbol of Jewish history is the site of the heroic defiance by 967 Jewish Zealots who rose against the Roman Empire in 66 AD and took their own lives when defeat seemed inevitable. A cable car ride or hike up the Snake Path takes one to the top where breathtaking views can be enjoyed over the Dead Sea and the surrounding desert. The Masada Sound and Light Show recounts this dramatic history with special pyrotechnic effects, and takes place in a natural amphitheatre on the west side of the mountain reachable only from Arad.
Bethlehem is just six miles (10km) south of Jerusalem and a major tourist attraction for pilgrims and visitors alike. The birthplace of Jesus, this is a charming town despite its tourist-centred commercialism. The Church of the Nativity is the focal point for a visit to the town, erected over the site of Jesus' birthplace. Bethlehem is also a wonderful place to experience the variety of Christian monastics that represent every permutation of Christianity. Christmas is celebrated on three separate dates in accordance with the Catholic and Western Churches calendars, the Eastern calendar followed by the Armenians and the Julian calendar followed by the Greek Orthodox and Eastern churches. For further exploration of the town's cultural diversity, visit the Bethlehem Museum, established by the Arab Women's Union to celebrate the Palestinian cultural heritage. The exhibits include displays from traditional households to clothing, jewellery and old photographs. (Open Monday to Wednesday and Friday and Saturday between 8am and 5pm, Thursdays between 8am and 12pm).
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea and its immediate environment is a landscape abundant with natural wonders. Most notable of these is the high salt and mineral concentration found in the waters that enable visitors to float effortlessly on its salty surface. The therapeutic properties of the black mud found in the region are formed by a mixture of sea minerals and organic elements. For a completely rejuvenating experience several Dead Sea spa resorts offer a range of health and beauty treatments, and the opportunity to float in the saltiest body of water in the world, and the lowest place on earth. The Ein Gedi Spa is on the western shore. Equally fascinating are the archaeological sites of the Dead Sea region with traces remaining of Persian, Greek, Roman and other civilisations. Notable historical locations include the notorious biblical city of Sodom that was destroyed along with Gomorra. Salt pillars emerge from this eight-mile (12km) geological ridge in the southern part of the Dead Sea.
The Israel Festival
The Israel Festival is a celebration of performing arts from around the world, the major international cultural event in the country that brings together some of the best theatre, dance, opera and classical music performances, including the best of Israel's own talent. Programmes vary to exhibit a wide range of cultures, from ethnic music to opera, traditional and experimental theatre, and classical and contemporary dance. Throughout the festival there are also numerous free performances, including street shows, children's programmes and a nightly jazz club.
The airport nearest to Jerusalem is Atarot Airport, which was used for domestic flights until its closure in 2001. Since then it has been under the control of the Israel Defense Forces due to disturbances in Ramallah and the West Bank. All air traffic from Atarot was rerouted to Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel's largest and busiest airport, which serves nine million passengers annually.
Egged Bus Cooperative, the second-largest bus company in the world, handles most of the local and intercity bus service out of the city's Central Bus Station on Jaffa Road near the western entrance to Jerusalem from highway 1. As of 2008, Egged buses, taxicabs and private cars are the only transportation options in Jerusalem. This is expected to change with the completion of the Jerusalem Light Rail, a new rail-based transit system currently under construction According to plans, the first rail line will be capable of transporting an estimated 200,000 people daily, and will have 24 stops. It is scheduled for completion in 2010.
Another work in progress is a new high-speed rail line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is scheduled to be completed in 2011. Its terminus will be an underground station (80 m deep) serving the International Convention Center and the Central Bus Station, and is planned to be extended eventually to Malha station. Israel Railways operates train services to Malha train station from Tel Aviv via Beit Shemesh.Begin Expressway is one of Jerusalem's major north-south thoroughfares; it runs on the western side of the city, merging in the north with Route 443 runs through the center of the city near the , which continues toward Tel Aviv. Route 60Green Line between East and West Jerusalem. Construction is progressing on parts of a 35-kilometer (22-mile) ring road around the city, fostering faster connection between the suburbs. eastern half of the project was conceptualized decades ago, but reaction to the proposed highway is still mixed.