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Mount of Olives Walking Tour (Self Guided), Jerusalem

Aside from affording great views over the Old City, the Mount of Olives is home to half a dozen major sites of the Christian faith along with the oldest Jewish burial ground in the world. Considered a holy spot by many, it is associated with numerous events in Jesus' life including ascending to Heaven and teaching his disciples the Lord's prayer. The following self-guided tour will lead you through the Mount of Olives' most prominent landmarks.
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Mount of Olives Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Mount of Olives Walking Tour
Guide Location: Israel » Jerusalem (See other walking tours in Jerusalem)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Tomb of Zechariah
  • Tomb of Benei Hezir
  • Tomb of the Virgin Mary
  • Garden of Gethsemane
  • Church of St. Mary Magdalene
  • Old Jewish Cemetery
  • Dominus Flevit Church
  • Church of the Pater Noster
  • Chapel of the Ascension
Tomb of Zechariah

1) Tomb of Zechariah

Adjacent to the Tomb of Benei Hezir and a few meters from the Tomb of Absalom, this grand monument in the Kidron Valley was built in memory of Zechariah, a minor prophet in the Old Testament that the Book of Chronicles records to have been stoned:

"And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the Lord, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the Lord, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord."

Completely carved out of solid rock (truly a grand feat to accomplish!), the monolith stands out for its pyramid-shaped upper part; however, the overall style of the construction, which includes Hellenistic details such as Ionic columns, is similar to that of the Tomb of Benei Hezir, and several authors think that they are near-contemporary with one another. Scholars specializing in funerary practices and monuments have ascribed a first-century CE date to the Tomb of Zechariah.

Spectacularly large, it sits amid the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in the world, and can be climbed by visitors for nice views of the valley.
Tomb of Benei Hezir

2) Tomb of Benei Hezir

Dating back to the time of the Second Temple (2nd century BCE), this is the oldest of four monumental rock-cut tombs that stand in the Kidron Valley, testifying to the Hellenistic period and the time of the Hasmonean monarchy in Jewish history. The tomb is effectively a burial cave dug into the cliff, with an architectural style influenced by ancient Grece (two pillars with Doric capitals) as well as Nabataean culture (fashionable among some Judaean families for its decorative elements), but without any Egyptian influences.

The tomb's Hebrew inscription makes it clear that this was the burial site of a priestly family called Benei Hezir. In the Hebrew Bible, there are two mentions of men with the name of Hezir: one was the founder of the 17th priestly division (1 Chron. 24:15); the other was among the leaders who set their seal to the covenant with Nehemiah (Neh. 10:20). It is not known if there is a relation between the family buried here and the biblical Hezirs.

You can walk up close to the tomb complex; alternatively, the monument is fully visible from the roadside just outside the Old City. Walk along Maale Ha-Shalom on the valley side of the road until you are just above the tomb. There you will find a viewpoint, with layout map and an audio device that is well worth listening to while viewing the monuments below.
Tomb of the Virgin Mary

3) Tomb of the Virgin Mary (must see)

Believed to be where the Disciples laid the Virgin Mary to rest, this underground sanctuary in the Valley of Jehoshaphat – right outside the City Walls and next to Gethsemane – is one of Jerusalem's most intimate and mystical holy sites.

The fairly nondescript facade, the impressive flight of nearly 50 steps built by the Crusaders, and the side tombs halfway down (believed to have been used for royal burials during the Crusader period) all date from the 12th century. The tomb on the right, going down, is venerated as that of Mary's parents, St Anne and St Joachim.

At the bottom of the staircase, in the eastern branch of the crypt, you will find iconic images of the Virgin Mary as well as a richly decorated aedicule (shrine) on the place believed to be where Mary was laid to rest. While smaller, this structure resembles the aedicule at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which marks the Tomb of Christ.

Worshippers and visitors often come here to attend religious services held by Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Armenian, Syrian and Ethiopian Christians who all share the altar. Since Islam venerates "sister Mary", you will also find a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca, with Muslims being granted use of the area to pray.

Why You Should Visit:
The tomb is very well maintained and it is certainly something Christians should like to see.
The church is the only one in the world where you go DOWN the steps to enter.

Admission is free and it is open from 6 until noon, closing for lunch like many Holy Sites and re-opening from 2:30-5pm.
Garden of Gethsemane

4) Garden of Gethsemane (must see)

A place of great resonance in Christianity, this beautiful walled garden at the bottom of the Mount of Olives, revered since the apostolic period, is the site where – according to the four Gospels of the New Testament – Jesus experienced the agonizing premonition of his passion and death, and where he was arrested the night before his crucifixion. The name is Aramaic for "oil press" and most certainly refers to the fact that the area was once used to press olive oil.

Beyond the religious significance, the garden is essentially an urban olive orchard, with eight distinctive ancient trees among others. Carbon dating estimates the eight trees to be over 900 years old (as such, amongst the oldest known to science), having descended from the same parent tree – possibly itself a descendant from the original trees of Christ's time. They still produce fruit but are fenced off so unless you gracefully tip the gatekeeper, you can't go walking among them.

Also be sure to visit the adjacent Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of the Agony, which holds inside a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest. It was built in 1924 with funds contributed by twelve nations, hence the name and the twelve domes bearing national coats of arms. Silence is enforced, so it's usually quite peaceful.

Make very sure your knees, shoulders and upper arms are properly covered, preferably with clothing and not just a shawl, or you will be refused entry. Women should definitely avoid shorts of any length.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am–12pm / 12:30–4pm
Church of St. Mary Magdalene

5) Church of St. Mary Magdalene

In the 1880s, Tsar Alexander III had this Russian Orthodox church raised in memory of his mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna (known before her marriage as Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine) who died before his second birthday. Set amid trees, its seven gilded onion domes, each topped by a tall golden cross, are among the most striking features of the skyline seen from the Old City. These and other architectural features are in 16th- to 17th-century Muscovite style. The interior has several murals that depict the life of Mary Magdalene, the first recorded witness of Christ's resurrection.

Completely in harmony with the entourage, St. Mary Magdalene's is a striking contrast to others in Jerusalem and is worth looking out for when scanning the Mount of Olives. To this day it is the final resting place for Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia who was martyred along with her fellow nun, Varvara Yakovleva, during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Also buried here is Princess Alice of Battenberg, responsible for harboring Jews when the Nazis occupied her country, in order to help keep them alive.

Opening Hours:
Tue, Thu: 10am-12pm
Old Jewish Cemetery

6) Old Jewish Cemetery

A large cemetery occupies the western and southern slopes of the Mount of Olives – the oldest continually used Jewish cemetery in the world. Since ancient times people of Jewish religion wished to be buried in this very place in the Holy Land since, according to the Bible, it is precisely where the resurrection of the dead will begin once the Messiah returns to Earth. Many characters from the past, some of whom are also mentioned in psalms and verses of ancient sacred texts, rest here.

Among the oldest tombs in the cemetery, at the foot of the Mount in the Kidron Valley, are those of Absalom, the son of David, and of Zechariah, the priest of the First Temple, while another tomb has an inscription bearing the name of a family that lived 2,000 years ago. Burials have continued and were only interrupted during the period between the Arab-Israeli war and the Six-Day War (1948-67). Traditionally, instead of using flowers, a stone is placed on the cenotaph or gravestone to denote a visit, as stones never wither and will always be there to show that the dead are not forgotten.

From the summit of the Mount of Olives, visitors can enjoy the most evocative panorama of the Holy City, with the Dome of the Rock right their view – an absolute must for first-timers!
Dominus Flevit Church

7) Dominus Flevit Church

Its name meaning "The Lord Wept", this chapel on the western slope of the Mount of Olives recalls the incident in the Gospels where Jesus, while riding toward the city of Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, had his "great lament" for the future fate of the Jewish people and of the Second Temple. Designed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi to stylize the shape of a teardrop, it was built in the 1950s on the ruins of a 7th-century chapel, with part of the original apse preserved.

The views over the Dome of the Rock / Old City from both the altar window and the serene gardens are justly famous and enough to justify a visit. Full of symbolism, both physically and spiritually, Dominus Flevit also has a collection of ossuaries (100 BC to 300 AD) one can observe just after entering its gates and, more importantly perhaps, a fine early Christian mosaic, to the side of the church door.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8-11:45am / 2:30-5pm
Church of the Pater Noster

8) Church of the Pater Noster

South of the Chapel of the Ascension, past a grove of ancient olive trees, this church is set in an enclosed garden and built over the grotto (cave) in which Jesus preached on the ultimate conflict of good and evil leading to the end of the world. The Crusaders, believing it to also be the place where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer, gave the church its present name – Pater Noster being Latin for "Our Father".

The original Basilica of Olives, built under the direction of St Helena in AD 326, was destroyed by the Persians 300 years later, its partly restored ruins interesting to see. The building that stands here today dates from the late 19th century when the site was supervised by contemplative Carmelite nuns.

Inside, a short flight of stairs from the south side of the open courtyard leads to the tomb of the Princesse de la Tour d'Auvergne who bought the property in 1868 and had the Lord's Prayer inscribed in 62 languages on exquisitely tiled panels in the entrance and cloister (their number has more than doubled since then, also including various dialects).

If unsuccessful in finding your own language, ask for help in the shop – they have a map of all panels/plaques.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 8:30–11:45am / 3–5pm; free admission
Chapel of the Ascension

9) Chapel of the Ascension (must see)

Part of a larger complex consisting first of a Christian church and monastery, then an Islamic mosque, the Chapel of the Ascension is located on a site the faithful traditionally believe to be the earthly spot where Jesus "was carried up into heaven" 40 days after the Resurrection – an impression of a rock inside the small octagonal shrine is regarded as the footprint Jesus left as he ascended.

Before the point in history where Emperor Constantine was converted to the faith, early Christians held special celebrations honoring Christ's return to heaven in a cave located on the Mount of Olives (most likely, the cavern was used for the safety and security of worshippers). Poimenia, a famous Roman Lady of means, built the first chapel here around the year 390, but the present building was erected by the Crusaders, and subsequently converted into a mosque by Salah ad-Din in 1198, with a mihrab pointing towards Mecca (in the south wall) added shortly after. The presence of a mosque on the site is not as bizarre as it might seem, considering that Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet.

The tiny burial crypt next to the mosque is revered by all three local religions: Jews believe it contains the 7th-century BCE prophetess Huldah, Christians believe it to be the tomb of the 5th-century saint Pelagia the harlot, or the penitent; while Muslims maintain that the 8th-century Sufi mystic and wali, Rabi'a al-Adawiyya is buried there. What is certain is that the Christian tradition of Saint Pelagia is the oldest.

If you want to visit this place, try to do so when there are not too many people inside. Arriving before or after prayer time (before or after noon) should be fine.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am–5pm (to 2:30pm in winter)

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