Jerusalem is 31° north of the Equator, which is about the same latitude as New Orleans and Shanghai.

It is about 30 miles (50 kilometres) east of the Mediterranean as the crow flies, 2500 feet (750 metres) above sea level, and half an hour’s drive from the Dead Sea, which is the lowest spot on Earth.

From the clifftop fortress of Masada one can see the Dead Sea and the distant hills of Jordan. Masada was the last stronghold of Jews who refused to acknowledge the dominance of the Romans following the destruction by them of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70CE.

The view from this hilltop fortress reminds us that Jerusalem, with all its metropolitan aspects, is on the edge of a desert, and just a hop and a skip away from this scene. And the desert is always there in the background, even if one stays within the modern city and the only reminder of it is the fine sand that creeps in an deposits itself on the bookshelves and tabletops of houses and apartments in the city.

Since writing the above, I read, in Amos Elon’s book Jerusalem a quote from The Historical Geography of the Holy Land by George Adam Smith, published London 1904: “We shall never understand the history of the City without appreciating the conspiracy between its people and the free, wild desert at their gates.”