By Dan Seligson, Eva Schlitz, and Craig Byer
This week marks Yom Yerushalayim! What’s that, you ask? It’s a national holiday in Israel that celebrates the day Jerusalem, which had been divided, was reunified. This year marks the Jubilee Year, which is 50 years since that day, so we put together a list of 50 interesting facts about the city.
- Jerusalem was founded as the City of David in 1010 BCE, but there’s evidence of settlements there going back all the way to 4500 BCE.
- That means that Jewish people have continuously lived in Jerusalem for more than 3,000 years.
- The Bible doesn’t have the first mention of Jerusalem: that honor goes to the Execration Texts, written 3,800 years ago in Egypt.
- Jerusalem has been conquered more than 40 times including by the Persians, the Romans, the Ottoman Turks, and the British Empire.
- More than 100 battles have been fought for control of Jerusalem over the course of its history.
- It’s hard to know exactly when the First Temple was built, but best estimates indicate the mid-10th century BCE – it took 150,000 workers.
- The Second Temple was built in the 6th century BCE and stood until the year 70 CE.
JERUSALEM AND JUDAISM
- Jerusalem is found all over Jewish practice: it’s mentioned on holidays, at funerals and weddings, and during daily prayers.
- Many Jews face Jerusalem, the site of the Temple, every time they pray.
- Yearly, more than a million notes are placed in the Western Wall, the last remaining piece of the Temple. They’re collected and buried.
- Yerushalayim, Hebrew for Jerusalem, contains the word “shalom,” which means peace.
- Jerusalem is named more than 900 times in the Hebrew Bible.
- “Jerusalem” is the last word said in Passover seders.
- A third of those Jews identify as ultra-Orthodox, while another 36% say they are “not very religious” or secular.
- In 1840, Jews became the largest ethnic group in Jerusalem (and have been ever since).
ABOUT THE CITY
- Jerusalem is a walled city: its walls are about 2.5 miles long, 40 feet tall, and 8 feet thick.
- There are 34 watchtowers along Jerusalem’s walls, and there are 7 gates for traffic.
- Municipal law requires all structures to be covered in Jerusalem stone, preserving the historical look of the city.
- Jerusalem’s emblem has a lion (representing the Lion of Judah), a wall (like the city walls and the Western Wall), and an olive branch.
- A testament to its long history, Jerusalem has more than 2,000 active archaeological sites.
- Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives is the oldest active burial site in the world and is home to more than 150,000 Jewish graves.
- Jerusalem is a holy site for all three Abrahamic faiths, and more than 3.5 million tourists visit every year.
- There are more than 50 Christian churches, 33 Muslim mosques, and 300 Jewish synagogues in the city.
- The Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, is in Jerusalem and is named for the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly) convened there in 5th c. BCE.
- There are more than 60 museums in Jerusalem. Our advice? Give yourself a whole day for the Israel Museum.
- The Israel Museum is home to the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the oldest Biblical manuscripts ever found.
- Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and archive, houses more than 450,000 photographs and 179 million pages of documents.
- There are more than 1,500 public parks and gardens in Jerusalem – that’s a lot of green space in the desert!
- Some of the olive trees in Jerusalem are more than 800 years old.
- There are more than 26 wineries in and around Jerusalem.
- There is a gazelle sanctuary less than a mile from the Old City walls.
- The Biblical Zoo features a collection of wildlife featured in the Bible. It’s one of Israel’s top tourist attractions.
- There’s even an American football stadium, donated by the Kraft family, who are the owners of the New England Patriots.
- The fabulous (and frenetic!) Mahane Yehuda Market packs in locals and tourists with its array of food, color, and noise.
JERUSALEM IN CULTURE TODAY
- Jerusalem is known for being, well, old. But it was also named one of the world’s fastest-growing high-tech hubs in 2015!
- Massachusetts start up accelerator MassChallenge opened an office in Jerusalem in 2016.
- Jerusalem’s light rail system was completed in 2011 and can accommodate 23,000 passengers an hour.
- 77% of Jerusalem residents have lived there for more than 20 years.
- There are also emergency response teams on bikes, which are particularly helpful in the Old City’s narrow streets.
- Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital was the first to perform computer-guided hip replacement surgery.
- Jerusalem hosts more than 30 annual festivals for everything from opera to film and from books to wine tasting.
- Guests at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel have included Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill, Prince Charles, Hillary Clinton, and Madonna.
- Notable Jerusalem residents include novelist Amos Oz and screenwriter Gideon Raff. And Oscar winner Natalie Portman was born there!
- NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire joined Jerusalem’s pro basketball team in 2016 – and they won the Israeli championship that year.
- If you’re looking for (arguably) the best hummus in Jerusalem, visit Abu Shukri. Delicious.
- Jerusalem hosts Israel’s second-largest Pride parade, which draws more than 25,000 marchers.
- Kippah shops are everywhere in Jerusalem, and you can find kippot that are decorated for every occasion.
- An episode of The Simpsons (“The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed”) focuses on group of mental phenomena called the “Jerusalem syndrome.”
- The hymn tune “Jerusalem” is extremely popular in England, and has been featured in movies like Chariots of Fire and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
- Neil Armstrong said when he visited Jerusalem, “I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.”