For the best view over the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives just can’t be beat. But don’t think you drove up there just to take in the view. There’s enough history in this one spot to fill days of lectures, but since you’re lucky enough to be actually standing there on top of one of the most famous mountains in the world, take a few minutes to learn about some of the momentous events that have happened here throughout history.
The Mount of Olives is mentioned in several places in the Bible: the Book of Samuel tells us this is where David fled from Absalom and the prophet Zachariah foretells that when the Messiah comes the resurrection of the dead will begin here. That’s one of the main reasons that Jews all through the centuries have wanted to be buried on the Mount of Olives.
If you look carefully at the bedrock below you on the mountain, you’ll still be able to make out some of the First Temple era burial caves that are dotted all over the area. It’s all part of the necropolis that surrounds the Old City, since Jews were never permitted to be buried inside the city walls.
For Christians, the Mount of Olives resonates as the place where Jesus spent time on the mountain, teaching his disciples. At the bottom of the mountain, where the Church of All Nations lies today, sits the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus spent his last days.
Looking over toward the Old City, the magnificent Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa are visible on the Temple Mount and a little further in the distance are the grey domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Some of the 150,000 graves of the ancient cemetery are below you as you look westward, and it’s not unusual to see small groups of people clustered around particular graves as they come to pay their respects on the anniversary of the death of a loved one or a revered figure.
Look to your right from the viewpoint to see the small “teardrop” church, Dominus Flavit, half way down the slope; with the shiny gold onion domes of the Mary Magdalene Russian Church just below that nestled amongst the trees.
Behind you is the 7 Arches Hotel, which was built in the early 1960s when the whole area was occupied by Jordan and off-limits to Israelis. This is where the PLO was founded in 1964.
A few practical tips:
1. Try to get to the viewpoint before noon. Once the sun has passed overhead, the glare will make it much harder to enjoy the view.
2. This is a prime pickpocket crime zone. Keep your wits about you and watch out for the pre-teens who will pop up out of nowhere offering you maps, panoramic photos and other junk while their friends eye your pocketbook.
3. If you’ve ever been tempted to take a camel ride, this is probably one of the best places to get that out of your system. You’ll get a short ride and a Kodak moment for around $10.