Mount of Olives, Jerusalem: amazing views, history and 150,000 graves!

Mount of Olives, JerusalemSituated on the eastern side of ancient Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives is actually a mountain ridge with three peaks, offering spectacular views across Jerusalem and in particular, the Old City of Jerusalem.

The mount runs down into the Kidron Valley, a wonder of its own that separates the Temple Mount (where the iconic Dome of the Rock is located) from the Mount of Olives and continues down in to the Judean desert…

The Mount of Olives is associated with Christian and Jewish traditions and is named after the olive trees that previously adorned its slopes. During the First and Second Temple Periods in particular the mount was a location of great significance and was the center of Jerusalem life. Still today the mount is considered a place of holy significance and location of pilgrimage.

One of the most striking aspects of the mount is that it served as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years and has around 150,000 graves. Burials were halted between 1948 and 1967 during Jordanian occupation when mass vandalism of around 40,000 to 50,000 graves took place, but it still remains a burial site today. There is in fact a team in Jerusalem photographing every grave, mapping it digitally, and recording every name so that the information will eventually be available online.

Many biblical references are also tied in with the Mount of Olives; it is also considered to be the location where God will redeem the dead (and all those buried on the mount will be resurrected) when the Messiah returns on the Day of Judgment.

Norman Macleod, a missionary visiting Israel back in 1864 famously wrote this:

As a place of burial it differs from almost every other on earth, in being, as no other is, a witness to a faith that is firm, decided and uncompromising until death. It is not therefore the vast multitude who sleep here, but the faith which they held in regard to their Messiah, that makes this spectacle so impressive.

But the Mount of Olives is also a great place of pilgrimage for Christians: over half a dozen churches, many associated with chapters in the life of Jesus, are located on the mount along with other impressive sights – some of the highlights include:
  • The Church of the Ascension, which offers panoramic views from the top of its 45 meter tower.
  • The Church of All Nations (also known as the Church or Basilica of the Agony) is a Roman Catholic church featuring a stunning gold mosaic, and which is wonderfully located in the Garden of Gethsemane. In this historically significant garden you can see many ancient olive trees which are believed to have been standing during the lifetime of Jesus.
  • The Russian Orthodox Church, Church of Maria Magdalene, is a sight to behold with its beautiful gold roof.
  • The Tomb of Zechariah, a monolith carved out of rock.

There are a number of very interesting Christian graves on the mount: for example, you can find the remains of Prince Phillip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, and Russian Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, who was killed with the Czar’s family during the Russian Revolution.

Mount of Olives Jerusalem

If you’re interested in exploring more in-depth, check out the Mount of Olives Information Center, situated on Derekh Yericho street, 200 meters east of the traffic lights at Lion’s Gate.  The center can supply information about the sites on the mount or help you locate graves in the cemetery. If you have some spare time, the center can also arrange volunteer activities on the Restoration of the Mount of Olives Graves Project. Tours are also available at the mount including the Pilgrim’s Tour, Israel’s Fighting Heritage and the Jerusalem Path (North).  Ask at the center for details.

How do I get to the Mount of Olives?

There are a number of ways to reach the Mount of Olives. A taxi can be an economic way if there are more than two people sharing, otherwise it is possible to walk there from either St. Stephen’s Gate in the Old City or from East Jerusalem. Alternatively you can take the bus from the bus station on Sultan Suleiman St. (no. 75, around 5.5NIS).

Here’s a great clip of the Mount of Olives which will give you an idea of how close it is to the Old City…

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