The great sacred sites all possess extraordinary power, mystery, and beauty, at least partly conveyed upon them by centuries, if not millennia, of reverence. The ownership and histories of Israel's holy places are often a matter of contention and debate, not only among the three great monotheistic religions, but also among sects within these religions.
- The Western Wall (Jerusalem): Part of a vast retaining wall built by Herod around the Temple Mount, this is the most visible structure remaining from the Second Temple complex. Judaism's great legacy to the world is spiritual, but the massive stones of the Wall, each with its perfectly carved border, are testimony to the physical grandeur of the ancient Jewish world. Over the centuries, this enduring fragment of The Temple complex has come to symbolize the indestructible attachment of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. For more than 1,000 years, under Islamic governments, the Wall was the closest point that Jews were permitted to approach to the place where the ancient Temple of Jerusalem once stood. Because of the sanctity of the Temple Mount itself, very observant Jews do not go farther than the Wall to this day.
- Dome of the Rock (Jerusalem): A gloriously beautiful Islamic shrine, built in A.D. 691, covers the rock believed to have been the altar or foundation stone of the First and Second Temples. According to Jewish tradition, the rock was the altar upon which Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac; Islamic tradition holds that it was Abraham's first son, Ishmael, the father of the Arabic people, whom Abraham was called upon to sacrifice, either at this rock or at Mecca. The rock is also believed to have been the point from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended to glimpse heaven during the miraculous night journey described in the 17th Sura of the Koran.
- Al Aqsa Mosque (Jerusalem): On the southernmost side of the Temple Mount, built in A.D. 720, this is the third-most-important Muslim place of prayer after Mecca and Medina.
- Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Jerusalem): Christianity's holiest place, this church covers the traditional sites of the crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection of Jesus. Built about A.D. 330, the complex is carefully divided among the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian, and Ethiopian churches.
- Mount of Olives (Jerusalem): Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem from the east, the mount offers a sweeping vista of the entire city. Here, Jesus wept at a prophetic vision of Jerusalem lying in ruins; in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the lower slope of the mount, Jesus was arrested; and the ridge of the Mount of Olives is the place from which, according to tradition, Jesus ascended to heaven. An encampment site for Jewish pilgrims in ancient times, the Mount of Olives contains Judaism's most important graveyard.
- Baha'i Gardens (Akko): At the northern edge of Akko, this site marks the tomb of the founder and prophet of the Baha'i faith, Baha' Allah. As such, it is the holiest place for members of the Baha'i faith.
- Baha'i Shrine & Gardens (Haifa): The shrine was built to memorialize the remains of one of the Baha'i faith's martyrs, Bab Mirza Ali Muhammad, who was executed by Persian authorities in 1850.
- The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem marks the site of Jesus' birthplace. It is the oldest surviving church in the Holy Land; the Persians spared it during their invasion in A.D. 614 because, according to legend, they were impressed by a representation of the Magi (fellow Persians) that decorated the building. Note: At press time this is an area for which the U.S. State Department has issued a warning against visiting. Check the State Department website before you head out, and do not attempt to visit unless the warning has been lifted.
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