One of the most contested cities in the history of the Abrahamic faiths is Jerusalem. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all lay claim to the city, each citing a religious text to support the assertion. As a result, Jerusalem has also borne witness to some of the harshest wars fought between followers of these religions. During the Central Middle Ages Christian crusaders were sent to conquer Jerusalem in the from the Muslim ‘infidels.’ Even today, though Israel bears legal right to the city, surrounding Arabs continue to violently dispute that claim.

In Jerusalem, Ibn Battuta visited only the holy site of the ancient Temple Mount, where the Jewish Temple of Solomon once stood. Upon this mountain was the Dome of the Rock and the accompanying al-Aqsa mosque, built by Muslim rulers in the eighth century.  The Dome of the Rock was built to commemorate the site of Muhammad’s landing during his night journey to meet with God in the seventh heaven. For this reason the Temple Mount is the third most important place in Islam. Ibn Battuta briefly visited the mosque but left soon afterward. Perhaps this was due to a lack of excitement in the city. When Ibn Battuta was there, Jerusalem was just a small town with a population of about 10,000. In the 14th century, there was no great importance to the city other than the holy sites [1].

Jerusalem Crusades map

Image courtesy of the Medieval Sourcebook.

A Crusader’s map of Jerusalem from the Late Middle Ages. Jerusalem would have looked similar to this when Ibn Battuta visited the city.

Now home to nearly 900,000 people, Jerusalem is currently the capital of Israel [2]. It is an industrial center, political core, and artistic hub. The religious heart of the country, it hosts two major universities and numerous colleges. Jerusalem is the spiritual center for the three major monotheistic religions. For Jews, it is the site of the binding of Isaac, location of the Temple, and the Biblical capital city founded by King David. To Christians, it is the home of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to be the burial place of Jesus. For Muslims, however, it is only the third most spiritual city, important only for the aforementioned Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque.

The ongoing violence of the Palestinian-Arabs against Israelis for over a century does not disrupt the bustling rhythm of the city. With its unique combination of old and new, ancient and modern, spiritual and secular, Jerusalem entices tourists and citizens alike. Six centuries after Ibn Battuta’s visit, no visitor to Jerusalem can complain of a lack of excitement.

Jerusalem European drawing

Image Courtesy of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A map of Judea showcasing Jerusalem, drawn by 15th century German artists Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg. Notice that the map is unrealistic. Even though the entire map is drawn at an eastern angle, Jerusalem is drawn westward so as to show its iconic buildings. It is interesting to note as well that the walls here are imaginary, since no walls existed at the time. 


[1] Dunn, Ross. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005.

[2] Israel National News, “Jerusalem – Changing Demographics.” Last modified 2012. Accessed August 15, 2012.