How We Came To Visit Jerusalem and The Mount of Olives
As it’s the epicentre for the world’s main religions, and despite neither Jonathan nor me actually being religious, we have both always wanted to visit Jerusalem. However, we were somewhat hesitant to visit because we believe that spending travel dollars is, in a way, like voting and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict had us conflicted. We wanted to see Jerusalem, but we didn’t want our dollars being mixed into an ugly situation. Then we got the opportunity to, instead of doing the normal touristy things, to do a house sit in East Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives we couldn’t resist. Cat cuddles summoned us!
Most days, as our housesit was located near the top of the Mount of Olives, we would take this route down to the Old City of Jerusalem. Without stopping, it’s only about a 30-minute stroll.
There’s a lot to see on the Mount of Olives and it’s an interesting walk. Not everything will be open, some places may be too busy with group tours but it’s an interesting walk and definitely worth the effort. Allow at least two hours.
Ok, so put on your comfy shoes, grab a bottle of water, let’s go!
The Chapel of the Ascension
The Chapel of the Ascension is a Christian and Muslim holy site that is said to mark the place on the mountain where Jesus ascended into heaven. The small round church in the centre of the courtyard contains a stone imprinted with Jesus’ footprints.
You are welcome to touch the footprints but do not stand on them.
The chapel is quite small. The main body of the chapel was built during the Crusader era; the octagonal drum and stone dome are Muslim additions.
In the courtyard, there are remains of Byzantine church, Greek Orthodox and Syrian altars.
We arrived there just before 09:00, and there were no other tourists around, but by 09:15, a huge tour group showed up.
There’s a 5NIS fee to enter the Chapel of the Ascension. The staff weren’t the most welcoming people we have ever met. Should you wish to purchase a souvenir, there’s a small trinket stall by the entrance to the chapel.
Opening Hours for The Chapel of the Ascension
Open daily from 08:00 to 17:00. If it’s closed when you get there, just ring the bell to let them know you’re there.
Opposite the Chapel of the Ascension is a Greek Orthodox Church, but it appears to be only open to nuns, so they wouldn’t let us in.
Church of the Pater Noster
The Church of the Pater Noster is a Roman Catholic church. It is part of a Carmelite monastery and is also known as the Sanctuary of the Eleona.
The current Church of the Pater Noster is quite modern, and it stands right next to the ruins of the 4th-century Byzantine Church of Eleona. The ruins of the Eleona were rediscovered in 1910.
There’s a long tradition that says Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer in the grotto that lies under the church.
Around the cloisters on the church walls are plaques that bear the Lord’s Prayer written in 171 different languages.
We arrived at the church just after 09:00. Two large tour groups were entering, but if you walk in the opposite direction of the tour groups, you’ll quickly escape the hoards.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually access the church interior as it had been reserved for a mass by one of the tour groups.
The Church of the Pater Noster costs 10 NIS to enter, and this includes an information leaflet. But that’s not available in 171 languages!
There are toilet facilities here.
Opening Hours for the Church of the Pater Noster
Open daily, except Sundays, from 08:30 to 12:30 and 14:30 to 16:30.
Mount of Olives Tomb of the Prophets
Close to the Church of the Pater Noster is a sign that reads “Tombs of the Prophets – Haggai and Zechariah.” It appears to be in the garden of a private home, and as none of the tour groups seemed to be visiting, we did!
As we entered the entrance to the tomb, we were greeted by the charming, elderly custodian who gave us a quick explanation of the cave and who is buried there. Apparently, this was a tomb for the three prophets and 47 of their followers.
The tombs in the cave were dug by hand, and you can see the marks on the cave walls. As it’s rather dark down there, we were given candles to walk around.
The tombs are free to enter, but there is a tip box. However, the gentleman at the entrance was so nice and helpful; you’ll want to tip. If the access to the tombs is closed, don’t worry. The custodian with the keys lives within the courtyard and will open the entrance for you.
Opening Hours for the Tomb of the Prophets
The tomb is open to visitors on weekdays during daylight hours.
The Rehavem Lookout offers views of Old Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock, and the Jewish Cemetery. It gets busy but everywhere along that path will give you a great view, you don’t need to go to the Lookout.
The Jewish Cemetery
The Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives is the most ancient and most important Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem. Burials on the Mount of Olives started more than 3,000 years ago in the days of the First Temple and continues to this day.
This cemetery on the southern and western slopes of the Mount of Olives is the world’s oldest continually used Jewish cemetery. Since ancient times, the people of Jewish religion have wished to be buried here, because according to the bible, this is where the resurrection of the dead will begin when the Messiah returns to Earth.
Why Do They Place Rocks On The Jewish Graves?
Rather than placing flowers, Jewish tradition places stones on graves.
The origin of placing a stone on the grave is uncertain. The most common explanation is that placing stones is a symbolic act that indicates someone has come to visit the cemetery and that the deceased has not been forgotten.
Others say stones, unlike flowers, last for eternity, just like the memory of our loved ones.
Just passed the Jewish cemetery is the seemingly always crowded Dominus Flevit Church. Dominus Flevit is Latin for “The Lord Wept.” It was here that Jesus apparently wept over the future fate of Jerusalem.
The church that stands on this spot now was built in 1955. It’s supposed to resemble a teardrop to symbolise the tears of Christ.
The Dominus Flevit Church is built on the ruins of a 5th-century Byzantine church. Just to the left of the entrance to the church are the remains of a mosaic floor from the original church that stood here.
The church and grounds are free to enter, and there’s a good view from here over Jerusalem Old City.
It does get crowded with Christian tour groups who hold mass in various parts of the gardens.
Opening Hours For Dominus Flevit
Summer (April-September) 8:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 18:00.
Winter (October-March) 8:00 – 11:45 and p14:00 – 17:00.
Church of St Mary Magdalene
Continue down the hill, and you’ll come to the Church of St Mary Magdalene, a Russian Orthodox Church. Its opening hours are quite limited, but the doors were open when we walked passed, and we strolled in. Guess we look Russian!
When you enter through the gate, turn right and walk up the stairs to the church. There are some nice places up here to sit under the shade of the olive tree and admire the view of the old city.
It’s quite a pretty church with its seven golden onion domes that glisten in the sunshine. The church commemorates Mary Magdalene, who’s revered as a saint by the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox churches. Mary Magdalene was one of the few people named in the Gospels as being present at the crucifixion of Christ and the first recorded witness of his resurrection.
Opening Hours For The Church of St Mary Magdalene
Only open Tuesday and Thursdays from 10:00-12:00, but we visited on a Saturday.
Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives
The Garden of Gethsemane is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. This, according to the New Testament, is where Jesus went with his disciples to pray before he was crucified.
The olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemene are approximately 2,000 years old.
The garden leads to the Church of All Nations. The path around the garden gets very crowded, especially in the mornings with people blocking the pathways as they read aloud passages from their bible and, in their enthusiasm, are totally oblivious to those around them.
It’s recommended to arrive around 14:30 when the garden reopens after lunch. This recommendation certainly worked for us.
Opening Hours For The Garden of Gethsemane
Open daily from 08:30 to 12:00 and 14:30 to 17:00
On Sundays and Thursdays, it closes at 16:00.
Mount of Olives Church Of All Nations
The Church of All Nations is located near the foot of the Mount of Olives, next to the Garden of Gethsemene. It is called the Church of All Nations because many countries contributed to the cost of construction.
This church is the third church to be built on this site and was completed in 1924.
On the front of the building is a gorgeous richly-coloured triangular mosaic.
The church is also known as the Basilica of the Agony. This is because it is built over the rock at the base of the mountain where Jesus is said to have prayed the night before he was crucified.
Inside the church, in front of the high altar, is the flat outcrop of rock, which Christian tradition believes to be the Rock of Agony where Jesus prayed.
People queue to see the rock, but the queue moves quickly. To avoid long lines, try to head there just after lunch when the church reopens at 14:30.
There’s no charge for entering the church.
Opening Hours For The Church Of All Nations
Open daily from 8:30 to 11:30 and 14:30 to 16:00.
The Tomb of the Virgin Mary On The Mount of Olives
The Tomb of the Virgin Mary is located near the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane.
To enter the tomb, you walk down a staircase that was carved in the rock during the 12th century. It’s quite impressive with its lanterns and religious artwork.
The crypt is sheltered within a barrier. So that to visit, you need to bend forward to enter. This means people have to bow and thereby show their respect for the sanctity of the site. The tomb dates back as early as the first century.
It seems that not all Christians believe this is where the Virgin Mary is buried, and it is very much a belief for the Eastern Christians. Others believe that the Virgin Mary was buried in Ephesus, in Turkey.
When we were there, there was an Armenian tour group there, enthusiastically singing hymns as they waited to enter the crypt. Their voices were quite harmonious and perfectly in tune. It was quite beautiful and moving to listen to.
Many visitors were overcome with emotion and weeping. They kissed the images of Mary, making the sign of the cross but politely wiping away any trace with a tissue for the next person.
It was actually quite a powerful sight to witness.
There’s no fee to enter the Tomb of the Virgin Mary.
Opening Hours For The Tomb of the Virgin Mary.
Open daily, except Sundays from 06:00 to 12:00 and 14:30 to 17:00.
Grotto of Gethsemane
The Grotto of Gethsemane is located next door to the tomb of the Virgin Mary along a narrow walled passageway.
It is said that it was here in the Grotto of Gethsemene where Jesus’ disciples slept while Jesus prayed on the mountain, and where Jesus was betrayed by Judas and later arrested.
In the 4th century, the grotto became a chapel. More than 40 graves, mainly from the 5th to 8th centuries, have been discovered underneath the chapel. There’s some lovely artwork on the walls and ceilings.
There is no fee to enter the grotto.
Opening Hours For The Grotto of Gethsemane
Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays
8:00 – 12:00
Sundays and Thursdays 14:30-15:40
Rather than walk alongside the busy road packed with tour buses belching fumes, take a walk through the Kidron Valley.
Here you’ll see a grandiose tombstone, Absalom’s Pillar. Absalom was the son of King David, who conquered Jerusalem around 1000 BCE and built his capital in the City of David.
Absalom isn’t buried there. Apparently, he had it built as he had no son, and he wanted something made so that people would remember him.
Absalom died in a battle fighting against his father in the Forest of Ephraim on the other side of the Jordan River.
Arabic Muslim Cemetery
From the tomb, we took a short cut through the Arabic Muslim Cemetery. This will take you passed the sealed Eastern Gate on the eastern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. There are eight main gates to the Old City, but this one that faces the Mount of Olives is sealed shut.
It is believed to be the oldest gate of the Old City, dating back to the 6th century.
Why Was The Eastern Gate To Jerusalem Sealed?
The Eastern Gate on the Temple Mount was sealed shut in 1541 by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman as a defensive move. This gate is said to be the point at which the Jewish Messiah will enter Jerusalem, and therefore, to prevent this from happening, the sultan sealed the gate.
However, prior to this, the gate was closed in 810 by the Muslims, then reopened in 1102 by the Crusaders, and then walled up again in 1187 by Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt and Syria after defeating the Crusaders and gaining control the city of Jerusalem and Palestine.
Significance Of The Eastern Gate For Jews
Jewish literature details that when the Messiah arrives, he will enter Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate.
Significance Of The Eastern Gate For Christians
In Christian literature, the Eastern gate or the “Golden Gate,” is where the parents of Mary met after the Annunciation.
Some Christian texts say this is the gate that Jesus passed through on Palm Sunday.
Significance Of The Eastern Gate For Muslims
For Muslims, the gate is referred to as Bab al-Dhahabi or Bab al-Zahabi, which means Golden Gate or the Gate of Eternal Life.
Muslims believe that this gate is the site of Allah’s final judgment and the location of future resurrection.
Whatever your views of religion are, the Eastern Gate is one of the most history-rich and controversial sites in Jerusalem.
From here, walk a little further and head into the Old City via Lions Gate.
The Lions Gate is the nearest gate for the start of the Via Dolorosa. The Via Dolorosa is the processional route for Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. But that’s a walk for another day.
How To Get To The Start Of The Mount Of Olives Walking Tour
Coming from Jerusalem, take bus 255 or 275 from the small bus station near Damascus Gate. It costs 5NIS. Cash only on these buses. If you have been travelling around Israel using the Rav-Kav cards, please note they don’t work on the ‘Arabic’ buses.
You could walk up, it’s not that far, but it’s deceivingly steep.
Take a taxi, or join a tour.
Tips For Walking The Mount Of Olives
There’s nowhere to buy food or water on the way down, so bring water and snacks with you.
At the start of the trail near the Chapel of the Ascension are some small minimarts and a fruit shop that sells freshly squeezed pomegranate juice for 10 NIS. Try it with fresh ginger, delicious.
Also, nearby is a street food cart that sells local bread served with boiled eggs, falafel, and cream cheese.
Oh, bring a hat as there’s not much shade.
Try and start early, you won’t be the only one on the trail!
Wear comfy shoes and dress respectfully to enter the churches.
Also, please note that I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible with opening times, but times may vary. For example, the Russian Orthodox Church says it’s only open on Tuesday and Thursdays, but we visited on a Saturday. So don’t take timings quoted as gospel (no pun intended!)
And another thing worth noting is that many of the churches around Jerusalem will rent out space to tour groups for mass and prayer, so it’s not always possible to enter.
The Mount of Olives Map
Interested In Housesitting?
Whenever we travel, we use housesitters to take care of our dog and occasionally on our travels, such as this one, we take care of other people’s pets. We usually use TrustedHousesitters. Quote RAF65835, and you’ll get a 25% discount off membership when you join.
Don’t want to pay for a membership, Nomador is also good, and they offer a free trial for up to three listings.
Have you walked the Mount of Olives? What did you think?
Have you ever tried housesitting? Tell us about it in the comments below.