Mount of Olives is the beautiful mountain that stands to the east of the Old City of Jerusalem. Well, it’s not really a mountain. It’s more like a hill, rising to a height of around 825 meters. But when it comes to the Mount of Olives, the height doesn’t matter. It is a holy place to Christians, Jews, and Muslims and one of the top attractions in Jerusalem. Whether you’re seeking churches, spectacular views, or fascinating stories, Mount of Olives is a place to visit.
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Why is Mount of Olives important?
In the Hebrew Bible
Jerusalem is a great place to open the Hebrew Bible and read from the holy scripture. The first reference to Mount of Olives appears when the Bible talks about King David’s flight from Absalom. In Samuel 15:30 it is said: “And David went up by the ascent of the Mount of Olives and wept as he went up.” Though, Mount of Olives appears mainly in context to the End of Time and the resurrection of the dead.
According to the apocalyptic prophecy of Zechariah: “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zechariah 14:4). This is what many people believe will happen at the End of Time. Based on this prophecy, Jews also believe that the resurrection of the dead will begin on Mount of Olives. That is why many want to be buried in Mount of Olives cemetery, with their face toward Temple Mount. Some are even willing to pay more than 20,000 USD to be buried there.
In Jewish rituals
Mount of Olives always played an important part in Jewish rituals. At the time of the Holy Temple, the ceremony of the burning of the red cow took place on Mount of Olives. The ashes of the red cow were used to purify people from the impurity of the dead. They were allowed to enter Temple Mount only after this ceremony.
The Romans burned down the Second Temple in 70 CE. Jewish people were forbidden to enter Jerusalem and get close to Mount Moriah, on which the temple once stood. So, they used Mount of Olives as a temporary replacement because it faced the former place of the temple. They also believed that the divine presence of GOD moved from Mount Moriah to Mount of Olives. It stayed there for three and a half years. That was why it was a proper place for prayers and the seven circuits during Hoshana Rabbah.
Jesus on Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives is mentioned many times in the New Testament. According to the Christian belief, Jesus ascended to the sky from the top of Mount of Olives. They also believe that Jesus will return to Earth from the same point.
But let’s talk about what happened before the Ascension. Jesus went across Mount of Olives many times on his way into and out of Jerusalem. He spent several days on the mountain during the last week of his life. When he arrived, his followers celebrated by lining his path and waving palm branches. Two days before the crucifixion, Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem in his Olivet Discourse on Mount of Olives. A day later, he prayed on the western slope of the mountain, traditionally in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then, he was betrayed and arrested.
In Muslim tradition
The Muslims also link Mount of Olives to the End of Time. According to Muslim tradition, a bridge will appear between Mount of Olives and Al-Aqsa (Temple Mount). The bridge will be extremely thin and will stand on seven arches. Only the righteous will be able to cross it safely and reach the Garden of Eden. The sinners will fall to the burning fire of hell.
Near the Mount of Olives Viewpoint is the Seven Arches Hotel, inspired by this tradition. The hotel was built in the 1960s by the Jordanian royal family when they still ruled East Jerusalem.
How to Get to Mount of Olives?
Mount of Olives lies to the east of the Old City. The Kidron Valley separates between the mountain and the old city. Here are several ways to get to the top of the mountain:
1 – By bus
Take a bus to the Seven Arches Hotel, located near the viewpoint. You can take Egged bus line 84, which leaves from the Ammunition Hill Light Rail Station. Stop at the “Seven Arches Hotel” station. The ride take about 15 minutes without traffic and costs 5.5 shekels.
2 – By taxi
Taxis get to the top of the mountain but are very pricey. It costs around 50-70 Shekels from the city center. If you take a taxi from the valley next to Mount of Olives or from Lions Gate/ Dung Gate, it also costs around 50 ILS because the taxis there refuse to turn on the meter. Keep in mind that taxi drivers ask for more than needed, especially if you are tourists. So, negotiate the price before boarding the taxi or, even better, ask them to turn on the meter. Using Gett is recommended, because the Gett drivers are obligated to turn on the meter. However, some still try to find ways to cheat you. More about that in my post >> 15 things not to do in Israel.
3 – On foot
Mount of Olives is right next to the Old City, with the Kidron Valley as a borderline between them. It’s a very steep climb from the Kidron Valley to the top of Mount of Olives. So, be prepared. The climb can take about 20 minutes.
There are two ways to climb to the top:
One way is to climb on the road. The climb begins from behind the Church of Gethsemane, where there’s a paved road turning right. Cars are driving up and down, sometimes at tremendous speed, and the road is narrow with no sidewalk, so keep watch.
If you prefer not to walk on the road, there’s also a staircase which leads to the top. Continue to the small cafe situated a bit above Gethsemane. You’ll find the staircase to its right. There are a LOT of stairs. So the climb won’t be easier, but at least you won’t have to be worried about cars. The staircase leads to the Church of Pater Noster, so to get to the viewpoint, you’ll need to turn right and walk a short while along a road.
Getting to the base of the mountain
If you’re coming on foot from the Old City, here are some ways to get to the mountain:
Way #1 – Shortest Way – Walk through the Muslim Quarter in the Old City and exit through Lion’s Gate.
Way #2 – Nicest Way – Exit the Old City through Dung Gate (near the Western Wall), turn left, and walk along the road going in the direction of the Mount of Olives. There is a pleasant 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 mountainside. Those are burial caves from the First Temple period, about 3,000 years old.
Way #3 – Longest Way – Exit through Zion Gate and walk through the parking lot to the road leading down to 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.
Important to note
- Some churches on Mount of Olives close during the afternoon for about two hours, usually between 12 to 2 PM. So try fitting your visit in the morning or after 2 PM. Usually, the sites are less crowded in the second half of the day. However, keep in mind that the churches close around 5-6 PM, depending on the season. You can check the most updated opening hours on the website of the Christian Information Center.
- It is required to take hats off before entering the churches. Also, please keep quiet inside the churches to respect the place.
- Mount of Olives is holy, but that doesn’t mean that thieves stay away from it. There are pickpockets on the mountain, especially near the top. So, if you’re walking in crowded areas, make sure you have your valuables in a safe place. And watch the below video to get a better sense of what I’m talking about.
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What to see on Mount of Olives?
There are many places to see on Mount of Olives. Here they are, from the bottom to the top:
At the base of the mountain
The Church of Gethsemane
This beautiful church lies at the base of the Mount of Olives. It is also called the Church of All Nations and the Church of Agony. In Hebrew, we call it “Gat Shemanim,” which means “olive oil press.” Here is believed to be the place where Jesus prayed before his arrest in Gethsemane.
The courtyard has a lovely olive grove with the most ancient olive trees in Israel. Many are about 900 years old. Two trees were planted by Popes.
Inside the church, there are purple alabaster windows. 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 the establishment of this church.
It’s free of charge.
Opening hours: Every day from 8 AM to 5 PM. In summer, it’s open till 6 PM. There is no afternoon break.
Tomb of Mary
This church also lies in the valley, near the Church of Gethsemane. Just cross the road, go down some stairs, and you’ll reach it.
The Tomb of Mary is the property of two Christian communities: the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. When you enter, you need to go down a long flight of stairs until you reach the empty tomb of Saint Mary. According to Catholic tradition, Saint Mary’s body was buried here and, after three days, taken up to the sky by Jesus as part of the Assumption of Virgin Mary.
The church is quite dark. Walking down the stairs, it’s worth stopping halfway to appreciate the tombs of important Crusader Queens of Jerusalem.
It’s free of charge.
Opening hours: Every day from 6:30 AM to 1 PM and from 2:30 PM to 6 PM.
This small cave lies right next to the Tomb of Mary, to the right of the church. It is believed to be the place where Judas betrayed Jesus and helped arrest him. It is also where the eight of the apostles waited while Jesus was praying in the nearby garden.
It’s free of charge.
Opening hours: Every day from 8 AM to 12 noon and from 2:30 PM to 5 PM. In summer, it’s open till 6 PM.
On the western slope
There are several sites on the western slope of Mount of Olives, along the road that leads to the top. So, if you want to visit them, you will need to go on the road and not use the stairs. Here they are from bottom to top:
Start walking up the road, and you’ll soon see a green door to your left. Usually, it’s closed. Opposite the door, there’s an old column known as Judas Column. According to tradition, this column was present at the time of Jesus’ arrest. In the past, it stood next to the Gethsemane Grotto but was moved here.
Church of St. Mary Magdalene
When looking at Mount of Olives from afar, you will probably notice a church with golden onion-shaped domes. That’s the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, owned by the Russian Orthodox church. This magnificent church lies beyond the green door, opposite Judas Column. To reach it, you need to pass through a beautiful garden. It is open only two hours a day, three days a week, so you need luck and planning to see it.
The church was built in 1888 by Tsar Alexander III in honor of his mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia. Inside the church are displayed the relics of two martyred saints, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia and Varvara Yakovieva.
It is dedicated to Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ greatest followers. According to the Gospel of Mark, she was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection.
It’s free of charge.
Opening hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10 AM to 12 noon. If you are a Russian Orthodox Christian, you can try coordinating a visit outside these hours by calling (+972) 02 628 4371.
Mount of Olives Cemetery
Keep on climbing on the road, and you’ll see to your right the vast cemetery of Mount of Olives. It is the largest and holiest Jewish cemetery in the world, containing about 70,000 graves. Burial on Mount of Olives began already in the First Temple period. The most ancient burial caves are near the Arab village of Silwan, at the foothills of the mountain. The cemetery is also the final resting place of famous figures, including Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who revived the Hebrew language, and Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister.
You might notice that there are no flowers on the gravestones, only stones. It is due to an ancient Jewish tradition. If you leave a stone, it will remain there for a long time until someone moves it. This way, people know that someone visited and honored the buried there. Flowers, on the other hand, wither and die.
There is an option to search for a specific grave on the Mount of Olives website. Unfortunately, the search works well only in Hebrew.
There are several entrances to the cemetery, and it’s free of charge.
Dominus Flevit Church
Climb a bit further up the road, and you’ll see the Dominus Flevit Church to your left. The church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi, the “Architect of the Holy Land.” He also designed the Church of All Nations. He designed Dominus Flevit Church to resemble a teardrop. According to tradition, it was here that Jesus stopped on his way to Jerusalem during the Holy Week, looked over the city, and mourned over it as he foresaw its destruction. It was destroyed by the Romans a while later, in 70 CE.
You might notice that the church is not directed to the east as most churches but rather towards the Old City, to the west. It is because Jesus turned towards the Old City when he wept and mourned here. Outside the church is a breathtaking view of Jerusalem and mainly of Temple Mount. Peer inside the church, and you’ll see that the cross stands directly opposite of the Dome of the Rock, where the temple stood.
Near the entrance to the property is an exhibition of ancient ossuaries dating from the Second Temple period. The Franciscans found them while building the church. They believe these ossuaries were part of a cemetery of Jewish Christians, the first of Christ’s followers.
It’s free of charge.
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday and Saturday from 8:30 AM to 5 PM. On Fridays and Sundays, the church is open from 8:30 AM to 11:50 AM and then from 2 PM to 5 PM.
There are toilets on the property.
Tomb of the Prophets
After some more minutes of climbing, you’ll see a tall staircase ahead. Just before it, to your right, you’ll see an entrance to the 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 Biblical 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.
The prophets were people chosen to deliver GOD’s messages to the people. They were also able to predict the future.
It costs 5 ILS to enter.
Opening hours: Mondays to Thursdays from 9 AM to 3 PM. Closed on Sundays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
At the top
The Chapel of the Ascension
When you finish the climb, you need to turn left and then left again to Rub’a el-Adawiya Street. Then, you’ll find the Chapel of Ascension to your right. Christians believe that Jesus ascended to heaven from this very point, the highest point of the mountain. The exact location isn’t mentioned in the New Testament, but it seems like the right place. They say that he will also return to this point.
You can enter through the gateway into a large circular courtyard encircling a small chapel. 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. Later, the chapel was destroyed by Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah in 1009 and rebuilt by the Crusaders in the 12th century. When Saladin arrived in 1189, the chapel was handed over to the Muslims. Today, it is the property of the Muslim Waqf, who also see Jesus as a holy figure because they believe he was one of the last prophets before Muhammed. It is also known as the Ascension Mosque.
It costs 5 ILS to enter, and you must pay in cash.
Opening hours: Every day from 8 AM to 5 PM.
Augusta Victoria Church
About 1 km south of the Chapel of Ascension, you’ll find the Augusta Victoria Church, officially called the Ascension Church. It’s located inside the complex of Augusta Victoria Hospital. Augusta Victoria was married to the German emperor Wilhelm II and was the last German empress and queen of Prussia. She visited the Holy Land with her husband in 1898. When Wilhelm II built this complex in the early 20th century, he named it after his wife.
The church is outstanding, with a great number of mosaics, ceiling paintings, and stained glassworks. They all depict scenes from the New Testament, some of which occurred on Mount of Olives. There are also figures from the Hebrew Bible, including King David and Isaiah.
If you have energy, you can also climb up to the top of the bell tower, rising to a height of 60 meters. From the top, you can enjoy a fantastic view of the surroundings.
It costs 5 ILS to enter.
Opening hours: Mondays to Saturdays from 8:30 AM to 1 PM. The church is closed on Sundays.
Pater Noster Church
This church, also known as Eleona 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, the mother of Constantine the Great.
It costs 10 ILS to enter.
Opening Hours: Mondays to Saturdays from 8 AM to 12 and from 2 PM to 5 PM. The church is closed on Sundays.
Mount of Olives Viewpoint
The grand finale of the tour on Mount of Olives is the viewpoint. It is one of the most breathtaking view platforms in Jerusalem and is named after Rehavam Ze’evi, a former Minister of Tourism who was assassinated in 2001. The viewpoint is located south of the road leading up to the top of the mountain.
From this point, you can enjoy the view of the Old City, Temple Mount, and the New City. It’s a magical sight during the day as well as during the night. And the magical sounds of the city around you 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 truly no place like this. Right beside it is the Seven Arches Hotel.
If you like viewpoints, check out the 5 best viewpoints in Jerusalem.
Wherever you go, it’s important to think about travel insurance – also when traveling to Jerusalem! World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation, and more.
Mount of Olives is not really a mountain but is definitely a place to visit while in Jerusalem. Most of the sites on the mountain are Christian-related, but even if you aren’t interested in Christianity, it’s worth going up to the top for the stunning view of the city.
I wish you a great day on Mount of Olives!
Get more ideas for things to do in Jerusalem by reading my guide to Jerusalem.
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