Perhaps none of the sites or landmarks in Jerusalem attest as strongly to the Jewish people's ancient, deep and ongoing attachment to the Land of Israel and its capital city as does the Mount of Olives (Har Hazeitim). Descend the steps leading to the Western Wall in the Old City's Jewish Quarter and suddenly it looms before you, a modest and dusty hump of a mountain ringed nearly from base to summit in dense rows of ivory tombstones, themselves the bones of 3,000 years of Jewish history in Jerusalem. This mountain rising out of the Kidron Valley, always outside the walls of the city, has been identified in Jewish tradition as the mountain over which the Messiah will make his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, and the spot from which the resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Age will commence. Its holy soil covers the graves of innumerable Jews, often brought to the Holy Land from distant lands after death to be interred.
The countless graves, some so ancient that all evidence of writing and masonry have been eroded away, seem to whisper tales of ages of the city long confined to the past. Evidence indicates that the mount has been used as a Jewish cemetery since the Israelites captured Jerusalem. The massive mausoleums at the mount's foot, including the famous Pillar of Absalom, are the graves of upper-class Jews from the Hasmonean era. Even after the diminishment of the Jewish community in the Holy Land, Jews continued to immigrate there in old age to ensure burial on the mount and speedy resurrection at the End of Days. As space became more limited, burial on the mount was increasingly reserved to only the most renowned and pious Jews, or those who had made some significant contribution to their community. This continued until 1948, when the the Jordanian Legion captured the Mount of Olives during the War of Independence, along with east Jerusalem and the Old City.
The Jordanians infamously desecrated the ancient cemetery during their tenure, leveling large sections and using the headstones to pave roads and build latrines in army bases. The hotel which stands atop the mount is an artifact of the Jordanian occupation. When the mount was recaptured in 1967, it reentered use as Judaism's foremost burial ground. The mount is of significant interest to Christians as well. The Kidron Valley was where Jesus took his last walk, the Garden of Gethsemane that grows on its northern slopes was the site of his capture, and it is from the summit of the Mount that he beheld the beauty of Jerusalem and wept for its coming destruction. Among the churches located on the Mount are Dominus Flevit, the Church of Pater Noster, the Russian Church of Mary Magdalene and the Church of All Nations, all of which are open to visitors during set hours.
Visitors of all religions can appreciate the breathtaking view from the top of the Mount, which requires a potentially difficult walk up a steeply angled road. The reward is worth it – a panoramic view of all Jerusalem spread out before you, including a rare view of the top of the Temple Mount, the deep furrow of the Valley of Hinnom, and the stark landscape of the Judean Desert behind.
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The Jerusalem Tourism Map:Print
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