OLD CITY JERUSALEM

THE walled Old City of Jerusalem, dating back some 3,000 years, is a microcosm of the Middle East.

It is here, in the world's most disputed and awe-inspiring city, that the three major religions -- Islam, Christianity, and Judaism -- have intermingled for centuries marked by conflict, conquest, and renewal.

Within its walls is the Dome of the Rock, the striking golden dome that dominates the whole city. It is Islam's third-holiest site.

The Dome, whose image has become synonymous with Jerusalem, is situated on the Temple Mount, the place where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven.

It is also the site of the destroyed Jewish temple.

The only physical reminder of the temple today is the Western Wall, known to non-Jews as the Wailing Wall, the holiest Jewish site where observant Jews have traditionally come to mourn the temple's destruction in AD 70.

Also contained in the Old City, ironically in the Muslim quarter, is the most holy site for many Christians -- the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified, buried, and resurrected.

As Jerusalem approaches its 3,000th anniversary next year, it remains the center of a political conflict. Israel insists that it will remain the ''eternal capital'' of the Jewish state, and Palestinian Arabs claim it as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

But while the political and religious conflicts rage outside its walls, day-to-day life continues in the winding allies and crowded markets of this intriguing labyrinth of human existence.

To an outsider who does not know its precise dividing lines, it is one of the richest of human experiences to move between the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish quarters, and to mingle with its 20,000 inhabitants, who have found a way to live together.

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