Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mount of Olives

It is safe to say that pretty much every tourist who visits Jerusalem makes it to the Old City. However, not everyone fits in a visit to the nearby Mount of Olives, from where you have the best view of the Old City. Of course, the Mount of Olives is known for much more than its view, however, I'll get to all of that in a minute. What draws many tourists to this high up hilltop location is to get a picture with Jerusalem's famous camel sitting up top outside the Hotel of the Seven Arches in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olive's peak:

Camel on top of the Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is mentioned several times in both the Old and New Testaments and is thus a very important location to several faiths. In particular, the Jewish faith has acquired a large portion of the mountain and uses it as a (very, very, very expensive) burial ground. The religion preaches that the Messiah will come from the Golden Gate (on the side of the Old City) and thus, he will arrive facing the Mount of Olives. Thus, anyone buried there will be the first ones to greet the Messiah. As for the Christian faith, there were several important events in the life of Jesus that occurred in various locations on the Mount of Olives. For instance it is believed Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer at Pater Noster Church; that he wept over the future destruction of the city at Dominus Flevit Church; and that he was historically betrayed and arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane. Indeed a lot of history in this most famous hillside:


     

You may not know that the Mount of Olives is actually a 2 mile wide ridge. On its southern end are a grouping of approximately 80,000 Jewish tombs; although, in total, there are an estimated 150,000 tombs of various faiths planted throughout the Mount. On the northern end of the Mount is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an area called Mount Scopus. Sitting on Hebrew University's campus, however, you'd never know you were so close to such history. A number of famous people from history past and present are buried on the Mount of Olives. Here's what you have to look forward to once you reach the top of the Mount (you know, it's the "postcard" view of Jerusalem):

View of Jerusalem's Old City from the Mount of Olives
You can choose to take a taxi there, but from our experience, they really try to rip you off. It's a tourist trap and there's not much to do about it. So, try your best to negotiate a price. If you want to walk, it's doable, but it'll take you awhile. You've got to be up for the hike. Luckily, there's a lot to see along the way. We started out just outside of Mamilla Mall, close to the Jaffa Gate:

    

We made our way through the Old City's Christian Quarter markets, past the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and straight down the Via Dolorosa which actually snakes through the Arab Quarter (seen in photos below) and out to the Lion's Gate. We found some decorations in the Arab Quarter that we think are up for the month long holiday of Ramadan (time of year when Islamic people reflect and atone, fasting for a total of 30 days):


    

We even found some cute kids who wanted to pose for a photo-op which I always love when they ask me willingly instead of the other way around:

    

  

Finally out of the Old City's walls, we found this sign below pointing us toward the Mount of Olives. We weren't sure exactly how far we were going to have to go; all we knew was we were going to have to go up a hill. Well, folks, take it from me; once you've made it this far, just do yourself a favor and take a taxi because the walk uphill is a long one and a steep one. You're literally going to have to climb a mountain. It was nice to walk through the Old City, but just go ahead and hop in a cab from there.

      

At the base of the Mount of Olives you will see those gold domes up in the air, which is the Russian Church of Mary Magdalene. You'll have to get a tour guide to give you the details of everything you will pass by in the area because there's a whole lot to see:

    

You'll also see at the base of the Mount of Olives the Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of the Agony, which references the night that Jesus spent there on the eve of his Passion. Right next to it is the idyllic Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus actually is thought to have spent the night before his arrest, lamenting and being consoled, praying for mortal anguish. The same olive trees referenced in the Bible are also seen centuries later on the lovely Mount of Olives:

Church of All Nations
As I told you, there are a number of tombs buried into the Mount of Olives. Here, just halfway up the Mount of Olives, you can see the tip of the Dome of the Rock from inside the Old City where we just came:

    

A little higher up onto the Mount of Olives, the views were getting nicer and nicer. This is still before we opted to take a taxi the rest of the way to the top:

View from Mount of Olives
Now at the top of the Mount of Olives, you can see how much higher up we are and how much more beautiful the view is from this vantage point. You can really take it all in:

 

   

And just as we'd been told and just as we'd seen online, there was our cute, little camel waiting for his picture to be taken in this postcard image of Jerusalem (hint, hint: if you want to get here, just ask a taxi driver to take you to the Hotel of the Seven Arches, that is what's literally directly behind you as you snap this photo):

Camel on top of Mount of Olives
    
And of course, we didn't come all the away up there just to catch the view. We also wanted to get a ride on a camel. It'll cost you though. We bargained the guys down to 30 shekels for the two of us, so 15 shekels apiece. Sometimes you gotta just pay up. We felt a little rushed through the process, but it was fun nonetheless:

     

    

On top of the Mount of Olives, it is very windy! You know how that gets in the way of a perfect shot. Regardless, just being up there was amazing. There were a bunch of other tourists in the area too and I'm sure it's always busy with buses full of incoming groups so sometimes you've got to wait your turn to snap a shot or two:

    

    

    

    

Having had our fill of the camel (and of the heat and the sun and the fearless camel owners) it was time to start heading out. It is manageable to walk down the staircase on the right hand side of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives back down to ground level:


    

So, in sum, don't miss out on the Mount of Olives! If you choose to go, you can walk to ground level from the Old City but I'd take a taxi from there (unless you're feeling particularly eager). Bring lots of water and some sunscreen and try to encourage the camel owners to keep the camel positioned for awhile so that you can get your "money shot". If you're interested in a tour of the Mount of Olives, you can check out Sandeman's tours here going to the Mount of Olives on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Looking out from the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem's Old City

1 comment:

  1. Greetings, looking towards the dead sea and then towards the gulf of aqaba how far could you on a clear day?
    Rick

    ReplyDelete

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