The Temple was destroyed twice, first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans. Religious Jews pray the Third Temple will be built by the Messiah himself.
Since 1967, the Temple Mount has been an almost constant source of tension because it is also home to the …
2. Haram al-Sharif
Muslims call the Temple Mount "Haram al-Sharif" (the Noble Sanctuary), and it's home to one of the most sacred sites in Islam: the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed was carried on a flying steed from Mecca to al-Aqsa during his miraculous Night Journey, said Muqtedar Khan, an expert on Islam and politics at the University of Delaware.
“It’s al about al-Aqsa,” said Khan. “That’s why all Muslims are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.”
According to Islamic tradition, the night journey took Mohammed to the same Jerusalem rock on which Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, where the Muslim founder led Abraham, Moses and Jesus in prayers as the last of God's prophets.
That rock is now said to sit in the Dome of the Rock, whose golden roof gleams above the Old City skyline.
Since it's construction in the seventh century, the Haram al-Sharif, now controlled by an Islamic trust, has been an almost constant source of tension between Muslims and Jews.
In the 1980s, Jewish radicals plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa, believing that it would lead to a spiritual revolution and usher in the messiah.
In 2000, the Second Intifada - a five-year-long Palestinian uprising -- was sparked, Palestinians say, after Ariel Sharon, then a candidate for Israeli Prime Minister, visited the compound surrounding al-Aqsa.
Sharon insisted that his visit was not intended to provoke Palestinians, but many saw it as an attempt to underline Israel’s claim to Jerusalem’s holy sites.
3. The Western Wall
Israeli soldiers wept when they saw the Western Wall in 1967, after seizing East Jerusalem from Jordan.
“We have returned to our most holy places,” said one Israeli general. “We have returned and we shall never leave them.”
Located at the foot of the Temple Mount, the 62-foot-tall stone wall once supported the courtyard of the ancient temple, the center of Jewish spiritual life for centuries.
For Jews, the wall is one of the last remaining links to that time, and they gather before it to hold religious services, to pray or to slip notes into its cracks.
“There's a tradition that notes put in the wall are like notes transmitted to heaven,” Heilman said, “since this is as close as Jews were able for generations to get to the Temple Mount where they believed God dwelt on earth.”
How close Jews get -- and which kind of Jews -- has been a subject of fierce debate in recent years.
The praying area is divided into men’s and women’s sections, and ultra-Orthodox men have hurled chairs at women who sing and pray at the wall or try to enter the men’s section, accusing them of violating Jewish law.
In response, a group called Women of the Wall has launched a highly publicized protest campaign to win the right to wear prayer shawls, lead prayers and read collectively from the Torah at the holy site.
4. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
In the fourth century, after converting to Christianity, Emperor Constantine launched what historian Karen Armstrong calls “one of the first recorded archaeological excavations in history.”
He was looking for Jesus’ tomb and thought he found it in Jerusalem. Constantine asked his mother to oversee the construction of a magnificent church on the site.
Originally called the Church of Resurrection, it was destroyed by a Muslim caliph in 1009, but later Muslim leaders allowed Christians to rebuild the church.