Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. For the Jewish faith, it is the site of the Western Wall, the last remnant of the second Jewish temple. For Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the site of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Muslims, the Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest sanctuary of Islam.
Part 1: Wellspring of Holiness
Simon delves into the past to explore how this unique city came into being, explaining how it became of such major importance to the three Abrahamic faiths, and how these faiths emerged from the Biblical tradition of the Israelites.
Starting with the Canaanites, Simon goes on a chronological journey to trace the rise of the city as a holy place and discusses the evidence for it becoming a Jewish city under King David. The programme explores the construction of the first temple by Solomon through to the life and death of Jesus Christ and the eventual expulsion of the Jews by the Romans, concluding in the 7th century AD, on the eve of the capture of Jerusalem by the Muslim caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab.
Part 2: Invasion, Invasion, Invasion
Simon discovers the impact on the holy city of a new faith – Islam. He explores Muhammad’s relationship with Jerusalem, the construction of one of Islam’s holiest shrines – the Dome of the Rock – and the crusaders’ attempts to win it back for Christianity.
He also brings to life lesser-known characters, whose impact still resonates – Al Hakim’s destructive delusions of grandeur and Queen Melisende’s embellishment of crusader Jerusalem, as well as the notorious stand-off between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart.
The episode ends in the 13th century with King Frederick II, whose groundbreaking power-sharing deal prefigures the tortuous peace negotiations of our own times. Then, as now, peace did not last.
Part 3: Judgement Day
Simon explores how this unique city rose from a crumbling ruin after the crusades to be rebuilt as a world centre of Islamic pilgrimage. He explains how Jerusalem became the object of rivalry between the Christian nations of Europe, the focus of the longing of Jews from all over the world and, ultimately, the site of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.
Starting in the Middle Ages, Simon goes on a chronological journey to trace the revival of the city under the Mamluks and its conquest by the biggest of all the Islamic empires – the Ottomans. He examines how the distinctive national identity of the Arab population evolved under centuries of Turkish Ottoman rule and how the city came to be prized by the great powers of 19th-century Europe. The programme explores the emergence of Zionism and the growing Jewish population of the city and traces the origins of today’s nationalist struggle.