No other city on earth carries such deep religious significance for so many people as small, cream-stone-walled Jerusalem. Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in other words to more than half of the people on the planet, it has made a rich subject for many a history. Matthew Teller’s new book is slightly different: it is a ‘biography’ of the city that gives voice not just to the past but also to a range of people who live in the city today.
Teller, who was born to British Jewish parents and has spent much of his journalistic career writing about Arab countries, challenges the duality in the way onlookers tend to see the city as either Israeli or Palestinian, Jewish or Muslim. The reality on the ground, which he brings so colourfully to life through his encounters with its inhabitants, is much more complicated.
Look at a map of the Old City of Jerusalem today and you will see there are four quarters: Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian. Teller traces their origins back to two Royal Engineers who were tasked with mapping the city in 1841, after Britain had scared the Egyptian army