No city has ever been so loved as Jerusalem, nor excited such passion, nor caused so much blood to flow even though Yerushalavim in ancient Hebrew means "city of peace. " From the time when animals were sacrificed on the altar of the Jewish temple, to the day of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross and later still, with the many ordinary soldiers who have died manning the ramparts and defending the city, Jerusalem has lived through 4,000 years of pain and suffering. Sacred for half a billion Christians, Jews and Muslims, its stones bear the scars of its holiness and the memory of crimes committed in the name of religion. David and the Pharaoh, Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar, Herod and Ptolemy, Titus, Geoffrey de Bouillon and Tamerlane, the Saracens under Saladin, the Turks, the British under Allenby, the Bedouin warriors of the Arab Legion, Haganah volunteers, Israeli paratroopers and El Fatah guerrillas ... all have fought, pillaged, burned and killed there. And all have been ready to die for Jerusalem.
Yet it survived them, seemingly immortal, ever more beautiful, ever more inspiring, beneath the changing light of its skies. Against the gold and mauve of the tall, desolate hills, it suddenly springs to life: a hive of cubes, capped with domes, minarets and bell towers. Today Jews, Muslims and Christians try to coexist amid its ancient stones and live with a past which still has a vital influence on the present.
Nowhere is the universal mission of the city more striking than when the shuffling crowds of its different creeds mingle together, and then converge on the temples of their particular faith. In the heart of the city, contained within the splendid crenellated ramparts, lie the three holy places that constitute both the city's glory and its misfortune.
Glistening, golden, its base blackened by the foreheads, lips and hands which have rubbed against it down the centuries this is the Wailing Wall, Judaism's most holy place. The single solid wall has, since time immemorial, withstood all the disasters, which have assailed Jerusalem. It is towards this wall, all that remains of Solomon's temple, that the Jewish people has turned for twenty centuries to bewail its dispersal. Several hundred yards further on, two stone domes and a Romanesque bell tower cap the dark, sweet-smelling sanctuary of another of humanity's focal points. This is the most sacred site in Christendom, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and it was built on the supposed site of the agony and death of Christ. To defend it, the faithful in their thousands threw themselves into the Crusades.
At the other end of the city, in the centre of a vast esplanade, a magnificent mosque testifies to the importance Muslims attach to Jerusalem: the Kubbat as Sakhra, the mosque of the Dome of the Rock. Beneath the mosaics of the dome, in which green and gold meld together and set off the graceful inscriptions to the glory of Allah, appears a dark rocky mass. This is the peak of Mount Moriah, an important site in antiquity. Islamic tradition has it that a slight mark on the wall was made by the hand of the angel Gabriel as he held back the rock on the night that the prophet Mahomet ascended to heaven on his white mare, "El Bourak," or flash of lightning.
Ringing out with equal fervor above the rooftops, the pealing church bells, the piercing cries of the muezzin from their minarets and the solemn wailing of shofars in the synagogues mark the rhythm of Jerusalem's life and constantly invite the faithful to prayer. They remind one, too, that over and above political differences, Jerusalem is only a stage on the mystical journey whose final destination is a deep ravine on the edge of the city. There, between the ramparts and the Mount of Olives, is the Biblical valley of Jehosophat to which the trumpets of the Last Judgment will recall all the souls of humanity at the end of the world.
With this event continually in perspective, Jerusalem has always been a city to which people came to die as much as to live. Generations of Christians, Jews and Muslims lie packed together beneath the white stones of this valley, finding in death the one thing they had always been unable to find in life: reconciliation.