Jerusalem History Facts and Timeline

(Jerusalem, Israel)

Jerusalem's status as a holy city for three of the world's largest religions has caused much strife and conflict throughout the long history of this ancient city.

Modern skyscrapers and office towers now surround the Old City where most of Jerusalem's holy sites have stood since before the era of Jesus Christ. The Old City itself is subdivided into Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish quarters, each with its own ancient landmarks and distinct charms.

Biblical Times

When Jerusalem was first founded as a small town named Jebus almost three thousand years ago, few would have predicted that the community would have such an important part in religion and history. The town eventually became an Israelite kingdom whose second king, David, made this community the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem grew even bigger during the reign of David's son, Solomon, who built the city's first temple, which attracted three major pilgrim events per year.

Israel was fractured into two smaller kingdoms after Solomon's death, but Jerusalem remained the capital of the smaller kingdom of Judea. The Assyrians eventually conquered both parts of the former Kingdom of Israel, but only managed to lay siege to this city.

After the Babylonians turned Jerusalem into their own protectorate-kingdom, they destroyed its temple and deported most of its Jewish population to Babylon. Although the Jews returned here and rebuilt their temple after the Persians conquered the Babylonian Empire, the city remained a shadow of its former self.

Greek and Roman Rule

After Alexander the Great conquered Jerusalem and made it part of the ancient Greek empire by constructing numerous theatres, temples and other landmarks, the Jews successfully ousted the Greeks during the Maccabean Rebellion. Jerusalem then became the Hasmonean Kingdom capital, but after some royal family members asked the Romans to help settle their frequent disputes, the Romans occupied the city under King Herod.

Jerusalem once again became an independent city following a 66 AD rebellion, but after the Romans reconquered the city, they burned down the second temple, which had been even larger and more impressive than the first.

The city eventually fell under Byzantine rule after the Roman Empire was divided into western and eastern sections. During this period in the history of Jerusalem, the Christian Byzantines built new churches on the locations of former Roman temples and banned Jews from entering the city, except for one day per year when the Jews could sob at the sight of the ruined Temple Mount. Thus the Wailing Wall tradition was founded.

The Crusades

Islam first entered Jerusalem about 700 years after Christianity, and Muslim invaders constructed their holy Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount, allowing the Jews to return to the city. This is now considered the third-most important city in Islam, because it is believed that Mohammad ascended to heaven from the Dome of Rock location, although this is not mentioned in the Koran. Interestingly though, Muslim daily prayers originally used to bow towards Jerusalem, until it was reset to Mecca in the earliest years of the faith.

Both Jews and Muslims lost their lives during the Crusades and the Crusaders conquered the city in 1099. What followed was a seesaw of several centuries of sieges, invasions and sackings between the Crusaders and various Sultan armies. Eventually the Crusaders stopped short in their final attempt to rout the dominant Islamists of the Middle Ages during the late 13th century. The rising Ottoman Empire then ruled the city for nearly four centuries during the history of Jerusalem. This once again returned Islam to the city as the dominant religion of its rulers.

European Rule

As the Ottoman Empire grew progressively weaker, the Europeans gradually took over the city and the British conquered Jerusalem outright during WWI. It was after this period that the diaspora of Jews, mainly in Europe, began returning to Jerusalem and Zion in significant numbers to establish a Jewish State. They helped the British subjugate the Palestinians, and soon after their sovereign state was recognised by the League of Nations. The Jews and British had a fairly good relationship until the 1936 Great Arab Uprising, when the British became pro-Arab and eventually left the city altogether.

Independent Times Arrive

After the formal declaration of Israel Independence on 14th May 1948, the Arab states surrounding Israel immediately attacked, leading to the first of several wars and the decisive 1967 Six Day War. Jerusalem was divided between Jordan and Israel, but has been fully claimed by Israel since 1967. Although relations between Palestinians and Israelis remain a little shaky, this is still one of the more peaceful periods in the history of Jerusalem, ironically.

To this day, Jerusalem often appears in the news, as borders between Israel and a yet-to-be-recognised Palestinian state remain disputed. While Christians, Jews and Muslims co-operate and respect each other's religious rights within the city, it is very much controlled by the government of Israel, who continue to authorise Jewish settlement plans on Palestrina land, on the outskirts of the city.