Admittedly, most people don't come to Jerusalem to run. They come to walk the path Jesus trod when he carried the cross to his own crucifixion. They come because Muhammad miraculously traveled to Jerusalem by night, then ascended to heaven. They come because the stone mentioned in the Bible upon which Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac rests in Jerusalem. Millions of tourists come to the Holy City every year, the only place where the three major monotheistic religions of the world converge. And once a year, in the spring, hundreds of them are runners.
The Jerusalem Half Marathon has been run through the city's streets and parks for 18 years. Originally started as a way to promote civic spirit, the number of runners increases every year. This year, the mayor himself ran, as well as 1,500 members of the Israeli military and visitors from all over the world. Plans are already in the works to expand the course to a full marathon in 2011, Israel's first.
THE PRE-RACE MUST DO'S
The half marathon course winds its way through the modern section of town. So, spend your pre-race days experiencing Old City Jerusalem. Surrounded by towering stonewalls up to 50 feet high, Old City is only a third of a square mile in size, but loaded with history, myth and sacred sites. Not to mention shops. Until the 1860s, this area contained the entire city of Jerusalem. Today, no car traffic is permitted inside.
Start at the Jaffa Gate, one of the seven stone portals leading inside the 10-foot-thick city walls. Legend says that every conqueror of Jerusalem will march through this gate. You'll enter into a small square, head north or left into the Christian Quarter on David Road. Here, you'll stroll past a mass of bazaars, coffee shops and restaurants. Hang a left on Christian Quarter Road past several monasteries until you reach the most important Christian church in the world: the Holy Sepulchre. Calvary, the place where the New Testament says Jesus was crucified, is said to be inside, as well as his tomb.
From the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, head west through the Muslim Quarter, the most heavily populated area in the Old City, to the Temple Mount. If there is political unrest in the city, this is one area you may not be able to access. Temple Mount is considered the holiest site in Judaism, and the third holiest site in Islam, and as such is hotly contested property in the Arab-Israeli conflict. If you can, visit the Dome of the Rock, which was built around the stone Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac on, and believed to be the center of the Earth according to some maps. This is also the place where the Koran says Mohammed ascended to heaven, his footprints still on the stone.
Next, walk south to the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall. Once upon a time, there was a Jewish temple atop Temple Mount. It was the most sacred site in the Jewish world until the Romans destroyed it in 70 C.E. Luckily, they missed a portion of the outer wall, which Jews now regard as the closest they can get to the holiest spot in Judaism. Prayer at the Western Wall can get so fervent that it is often referred to as the "Wailing Wall."
Head west down through the Armenian Quarter where you'll see shops full of beautiful handmade ceramics. Be sure to grab a falafel, a popular middle-eastern dish, on your way back to the Jaffa Gate.