Mount of Olives is the beautiful mountain that stands to the East of the Old City of Jerusalem. Well, to be honest, it’s not really a mountain. It’s more like a hill, rising to a height of around 825 meters. But, the Mount of Olives doesn’t need to be any higher in order to be enchanting.
Besides it’s beauty and height, Mount of Olives is also an important mountain to Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It is believed by Christians and Muslims that Jesus ascended from the top of Mount of Olives. Christians also believe Jesus will return from this very spot. According to belief, Jesus also did many other things on the mountain during the Holy Week. We’ll learn about all of them later in the post.
For Judaism, Mount of Olives is important because it is connected to the End of Times and the Rescurrection. Jews believe that during the resurrection, the people buried on Mount of Olives would come back to life and therefore, the Jewish people buried on Mount of Olives are buried with their face in the direction of the Temple Mount, so that the Temple Mount will be their first sight.
Muslims also have a belief connected to the End of Times and the Mount of Olives. They believe that in the End of Times a very thin bridge will appear above the Kidron Valley, linking Mount of Olives to Temple Mount. The righteous will pass unharmed and the sinners will fall off the bridge and dye. The bridge will have seven arches, hence the Seven Arches Hotel on top of the Mountain.
I’ve been to the Mount of Olives many times and I’ve seen it from the Old City of Jerusalem even more times. You can’t miss it if you’re making your way to the Western Wall or to Mount Zion. You can recognize the oldest Jewish cemetery on its eastern slope, with graves dating back to the First Temple period. You can also recognize many churches on the slope, including the glistening golden-domed Church of Mary Magdalene. But, let’s stop talking about the Mount of Olives from far away and start getting closer…
How to Get to Mount of Olives?
There are a few ways to get to the Mount of Olives from the Old City of Jerusalem:
1 – By Bus – If you want to get to the very top right away, without having to climb the mountain, you can ride a bus to the Hotel Seven Arches, located on top of Mount of Olives. Line buses 275, 257 and 3 leave from the Sultan Sulliman Terminal near Damascus Gate. Ask the driver where is the nearest station to the Hotel Seven Arches or the Chapel of the Ascention. The ride is about 15 minutes and the price is 5.9 Shekels (true to time of writing – January 2018).
2 – By Taxi – I’ve heard about people taking a taxi to the top. It should cost you around 50-70 Shekels from the city center, but this is of course the easiest way up.
3 – By Foot – There are about three main ways to get to the Mount of Olives by foot. All ways lead to the base of the mountain, so you will need to climb to the top. It’s a very-very steep climb, so be prepared to take in some breathes on the way up. The climb can take about 20 minutes to 30 minutes. But what are the three ways to the base of the mountain?
Way #1 – Shortest Way – Walk through the Muslim Quarter and exit from Lion’s Gate.
Way #2 – Nicest Way – Exit the Old City from Dung Gate (near the Western Wall) and walk along the road going in the direction of the Mount of Olives. There is a nice promenade along the road and you can see different monuments at the foot of Mount of Olives. If you look closely, you might also notice small rectangular holes in the mountain-side. Those are tomb caves from the First Temple period.
Way #3 – Longest Way – Exit from Zion Gate and walk through the parking lot to the road leading towards the Mount of Olives. After a few minutes of walking, you’ll get to the same part mentioned in Way #2. This walk can take about 20 minutes.
Tips Before You Go:
- Some churches on Mount of Olives close during the afternoon for about two hours, so try to fit everything in the morning, as there’s not much to do on Olive Mountain itself during the afternoon break.
- The Mountain might be holy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t thieves on the mountain. If you’re walkig in crowded areas, make sure you have your valuables in a safe place, because there are pickpockets on Mount of Olives, especially at the top of the Mountain.
Climbing Mount of Olives: Thing to See Along the Way
I’ll assume you decided to walk to the base of the mountain and are ready for the tough climb up. All the sites I will write about can also been seen from the top of the mountain to its base, if you’re coming from the top.
At the base of the Mount of Olives is an important church with a beautiful facade, The Church of all Nations, also called Church of the Agony or Church of Gethsemane. Here is believed to be the place where Jesus prayed before his arrest in Gathsemane. In the courtyard of the church is a beautiful olive tree garden with the most ancient olive trees in Israel, about 900 years old. There are also two trees planted by Popes. Inside the church pay attention to the windows, which are made by purple alabaster. Purple is a color of grief in Christianity and this is what Jesus felt when he prayed here. If you look at the ceiling, you’ll see the inside of 12 domes, each with a different flag. Those represent the 12 Catholic communities that donated to this church.
Opening Hours of the Church of all Nations: Every day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and during summer until 6:00 PM. As far as I know, there is no afternoon break (true to January 2018).
Not far from the Church of All Nations, on the other side of the road, is the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary. This church is the property of two Christian communities: the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. This is a very colorful church and on its bottom level, in the center, is the empty tomb of Saint Mary. There is a tradition (it is not written in the New Testament) that Saint Mary’s body was buried here and after three days taken up to the sky by Jesus as part of Virgin Mary’s Assumption. Also, on both sides of the staircase are tombs of important Crusader Queens of Jerusalem.
Outside the church is The Cave of Betrayel, believed to be the place where Judah betrayed Jesus and helped arrest him.
Opening Hours of the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary: Mondays to Saturdays from 6:00 AM to 12:00 and from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM.
After visiting those two churches, you can make your way to the steep climb. The climb begins a bit after the Church of All Nations. There is a road going right. If within a few minutes you don’t see a steep climb, know that you aren’t on the right track.
After a few steps, you’re supposed to see on your left a big, green closed gate. If you don’t see it closed, it’s a miracle. On the opposite side of the green gate is an old column named Judah Column. According to tradition, this column was present at the time of Jesus’ arrest. Originally, it was located near the Cave of Betrayel, but moved here.
And what’s behind the green gate? I was lucky to be there when the gate was open. Inside is a beautiful garden leading to a very impressive church, the Church of Mary Magdalene. Yes, the church you can see from far away, with the golden domes that might remind you of onions. This church belongs to Russian Christians.
Keep on climbing along the road. You’ll see to your right the huge cemetery on Mount of Olives. You might notice that there are no flowers on the graves, but rather stones. This is due to an ancient Jewish tradition to place stones on graves, to show that you have visited the grave and honored the buried there. The more stones on the tomb, the more it was visited. Unlike flowers, that wither, stones never die.
After a few minutes of steep climbing, you’ll see another door to your left. This door leads to the outstanding property of the Franciscans, the Dominus Flevit Church. This church was designed by Barluzzi (who also designed the Church of All Nations) to resemble a tear drop. Accccording to tradition, it was here that Jesus stopped on his way to Jerusalem during the Holy Week, looked over the city and mourned it, as he foresaw its destruction. The destruction did happen a few years after his Ascention, in 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple. Inside the church, you will notice that the church is not directed to the east as most churches are, but is rather directed towards the Old City, that lies to the west. This is meant to remind the people of the event commemorated in this place.
Outside the church is a breathtaking view of Jerusalem and mainly of the Temple Mount. Near the entrance to the property is an exhibition of ancient ossuaries dating from the Second Temple period. The Franciscans, who found them when building the church, believe these ossuaries were part of a cemetery of Jewish-Christians, the first of Christ’s followers.
Opening Hours of Dominus Flevit Church: Every day from 8:00 AM to 11:45 AM and from 2:30 Pm to 5:00 PM.
After some more minutes of climbing, you’ll see a tall staircase ahead. Just before the staircase, to your right, you’ll see an entrance to a sites named Tomb of the Prophets. This site is important to both Jewish and Christians. According to tradition, this is the burial site of the three last Bible (Old Testament) prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Inside you’ll be given a candle to light your way through the impressive catacombs, containing about 35 burial niches.
Opening Hours of the Tomb of the Prophets: Mondays to Thursdays and Saturdays from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Closed on Sundays and Fridays.
Ascend up the stairway and you’ll arrive to a small road junction. I advise to go left in the direction of the most important site for Christians. Walk along the road and after a few minutes turn left onto Rub‘a el-Adawiya Street. A short while afterwards, you’ll see The Chapel of the Ascension to your right. You can enter through the gateway into a large circular courtyard, encircling a small chapel. It is believed that from this very spot Jesus ascended into heaven. Some believe that he will also return from this very spot. Inside the chapel is a rock, on which you can see a footprint, believed to have belonged to Jesus. The chapel was built during the Byzantine period on the highest point of the Mount of Olives. Later the chapel was destroyed by Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah and built again by the Crusaders. When Saladin arrived, the chapel was handed over to the Muslims and today it is the property of the Muslim Waqf, who also see Jesus as a holy figure, as they believe he was one of the last prophets before Muhammed.
To enter the chapel itself, you will need to pay a small fee of money to the Muslims that are in charge of the place (in cash only).
Opening Hours of the Chapel of the Ascension: Every day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
After visiting this spiritual location, you can follow your tracks back to the place where you had to choose between right and left, near the end of the stairway. On the way you might see another Christian complex, called Church of the Pater Noster (Eleona). This church is the property of the Carmelites and commemorates the place where Jesus taught his students the Pater Noster prayer. All around the courtyard are porcelain tablets, on which the prayer is written in many different languages, including Hebrew. The original church was one of the four first churches to be built by Helena, Constantine the Great’s mother.
There is a small entrance fee to the church, but if you have time and it’s open, I think it’s worth it. I really like the inside of this church. It’s very impressive!
Opening Hours: Mondays to Saturdays from 8:00 AM to 12:00 and from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM.
Finally, we reach the grand finale of the tour on Mount of Olives. If you would have turned right after climbing the stairway, you would have arrived shortly at one of the most beautiful and breathtaking view platforms in Jerusalem, The Mount of Olives Overlook Platform, also known as Rekhav’am Observation Point (named after a former Minister of Tourism that was assasined in 2001). From this point you can enjoy the all view of the Old City, Temple Mount and the New City. You can see the whole Holy City from here. It’s a magical site during the day as well as it during the night. And the wonderful sounds of the city around you just add to the uplifting experience. Sometimes I get up there and hear the Mu’adhin calling for one of the Muslim prayers and the bells of the churches ringing. There is trully no place like this. Right beside it is the Seven Arches Hotel.
I’m not putting a photo, because you just have to see it for yourselves!
Hope you have a great day on Mount of Olives!
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