The Center of the World

If you look at some very old maps, you will see Jerusalem as the center of the known world with Europe, Africa and Asia coming together with Jerusalem as the joining point. There is even a place in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher known as the “bellybutton” of creation. Begun around springs of the upper Kidron Valley, Jerusalem has always struggled with limited water supplies, even as the village became a town and then a city.  Walls were constructed and were destroyed and rebuilt; multiple gates were built. Jerusalem was destroyed and rebuilt with populations going up and down until the 19th century when a period of tremendous growth started.  The name Yerusaliam derives from Aramaic through Hebrew and means City of Peace.  The current and traditional name in Arabic is All-Quds.

Jerusalem saw the Jebusites conquered by the Israelites, followed by various occupations, as detailed in the Hebrew Bible. The expulsion of the Israelites by the Romans in 70 C.E. happened just after the time of Jesus. Some pilgrims started visiting, but Christians began to view Jerusalem as a Holy City around 336 C.E.. That was when Queen Helena, the mother of Constantine, built the first Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The main expansion of Christian pilgrimage began after 336 and continued until today. The Muslims conquered the city and the Crusaders threw them out in a bloody conflict. This was followed by a long period of a Muslim intellectual and cultural renaissance along with a continuous Christian presence among the Palestinian population.  

The British occupation of the city in the 20th century gave the Christian presence an additional boost. During the British Mandate period, the city was moved toward Jewish domination, although Christians still formed a significant portion of the Palestinian population. For a period of time the kingdom of Jordan controlled East Jerusalem but in 1967 the Israeli army conquered Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem and enlarged the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.  Israel still changes the boundaries. (For instance, Rebecca’s Tomb was considered to be in Bethlehem and then was incorporated into the Jerusalem boundaries in the late 20th century.)

St. George's Church in Jerusalem
St. George's Church in Jerusalem

The whole city of Jerusalem is quite large but the Old City in East Jerusalem is the center of tourism, pilgrimage and of interest to Christian visitors. Today the Old City is divided into four quarters – Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. There are still clashes and tensions between groups but it is safe to walk around the Old City and begin to feel its ancient beginnings. Old City of Jerusalem

The present gates into the Old City are:

Damascus Gate (Sha’ar Shakem in Hebrew; Bab al-Amoud in Arabic)

Herod’s Gate (Shha’ar ha-Prakhim in Hebrew; Bab as-Sahirah in Arabic)

Lion’s Gate or St. Stephen’s Gate (Sha’ar ha-Arrayot in Hebrew; Bab al-Asbat in Arabic)

Golden Gate (Sha’ar ha-Rakhamin in Hebrew; Bab Rahmen in Arabic)

Dung Gate (Sha’ar HaAshpot in Hebrew; Bab al Maghardah in Arabic)

Zion Gate (Sha’ar Tsiyon in Hebrew; Bab an-Nabi Daoud in Arabic)

Jaffa Gate (Sha’ar Yafa in Hebrew; Bab al-Khalil in Arabic)

New Gate (Sha’ar HeKhadash in Hebrew; Bab al-Jadid in Arabic)

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