Big in Israel: Why Jerusalem is holier than thou

This week, Big in Japan is on vacation in the Middle East, and will be bringing you travel news and happenings from around this often misunderstood region.

Few places in the world can rest on their laurels quite like Jerusalem, the Holy City of the Promised Land that is home to some of the most sacred sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Not unlike that really, really hot girl you bump into at the club, everyone seems to be fighting for a piece.

So how holy is Jerusalem you say? Well, let me assure you that it’s certainly holier than thou. While it’s difficult to fully appreciate the historical and religious significance of Jerusalem without ever actually setting foot there, today’s posting will hopefully shed some light on some of the old city’s most storied buildings and monuments.

Disclaimer: This is a travel blog, not political commentary. I certainly don’t have a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though I can certainly understand, on all sides, why Jerusalem is worth fighting for.

The Western or Wailing Wall – The western retaining wall of the Temple Mount is regarded as the most sacred site in Judaism, especially since it once surrounded the ‘Holiest of Holies,’ namely Herod’s Temple. However, following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, Jewish worshippers have mourned their insufferable loss by wailing in front of the wall. A more modern practice involves slipping prayer slips into the cracks of the wall.

Dome of the Rock – Here is where things start to get a bit more complicated. In the centre of the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock, the oldest Islamic building that just happens to be resting on the former site of the Second Temple. Due to the sacred nature of this site, Jews are forbidden by rabbinical law to ascend to the top of the Temple Mount. However, Muslims regard the mosque together with adjacent Al-Aqsa (see below) as the third holiest site in Islam, primarily because the rock at the centre is from where Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Al-Aqsa Mosque – Here is where things start to get even more complicated. Also on the Temple Mount and adjacent to the Dome of the Rock is Al-Aqsa, a mosque from where prayers are 500 times stronger than at any other mosque outside of Mecca and Medina. Prior to his ascension to heaven, Muhammad rode on a winged horse from Mecca to the ‘farthest mosque’ or Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.

At this point, the answer to your question is yes – the third holiest site in Islam literally sits on top of the holiest site in Judaism.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre – As if all of this wasn’t complicated enough, just around the corner is one of the most important churches in Christianity, especially since it is built on top of Golgotha or Calvary. From atop this hill, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, and later buried at its base. Since the 4th century, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has existed as one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Christian religion.

Needless to say, there is no quick and easy fix for the problems in Israel and the Palestinian territories short of more peace, understanding and dialog on all sides of the debate…

Intrigued by the Middle East? Want to know more about this often misunderstood region? Check out previous posts on the top sights in Dubai, as well as a how-to-guide for would-be travelers in the Palestinian West Bank.