(Last updated on: 02/04/2020)
The Mount of Olives, otherwise known as Mount Olivet, is adjacent to Jerusalem’s old city. It makes for the perfect way to spend an afternoon when staying in the area and we really enjoyed looking around at all of the tombs and churches.
If you’re wanting to visit the Mount of Olives, here’s my complete guide to the area.
What is the Mount of Olives?
As the name suggests, it’s a mountain ridge named for the olive groves that once absolutely covered it. The Mount of Olives has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years. There are approximately 150,000 graves!
The southern part of the mount was the Silwan necropolis – the most important ancient cemetery in Israel. A lot of the tombs were destroyed through quarrying and conversation into housing for monks and Muslim villagers, but many can still be seen by visitors today.
The Mount of Olives has a lot of biblical significance. It is mentioned in the Old Testament, in connection with David and his flight from Absalom, as well as in relation to Yahweh the Israeli god who was to stand on the Mount of Olives and split it in two. It is also referenced in the New Testament as the place where Jesus stood as he wept over Jerusalem. He is said to have spent time on the mount with his disciples. The Garden of Gethsemane is at the bottom of the mount, and it is said that the Mount of Olives is where Jesus ascended to heaven.
Getting to the Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is located just outside of the old city of Jerusalem. You can walk from the old city to the mount, or get a bus. If you choose to walk, set off from St Stephen’s Gate (also known as Lion’s Gate) – it is a 1.3 mile walk from here, which should take approximately half an hour.
Buses are available from Sultan Sullivan Terminal. The terminal itself is around a 14 minute walk (0.6 miles) from the old city, and the bus ride then takes approximately 15 minutes, stopping 13 times along the way. The bus you want to take is the 275, and you’ll want to alight at the Chapel of the Ascension. From there it’s a 2 minute walk to the Mount of Olives.
You can, of course, get a taxi. Ask around for the best taxi firm to use when you’re there – it can sometimes be difficult to find drivers who will take you there, or will be happy to use the meter, so it helps to ask the advice of a friendly local.
If you’re not much of a DIY traveller, book a tour like one of these. There are various tours that incorporate the Mount of Olives, leaving from the old city of Jerusalem and covering all of the major sacred and religious sites. These tours are ideal if you want to make sure you don’t miss anything out, and if you’re worried about getting lost and doing it all alone.
Things to see at the Mount of Olives
The mount is somewhat of a pilgrimage for Christians, due to the sheer amount of biblical locations there. There are over half a dozen churches! You can visit them all, especially on guided tours, and there’s plenty more to see too…
The Church of Mary Magdalene is a Russian Orthodox church. It has seven gold domes and was built in 1888 to honour the Russian czar’s mother. There are some stunning mosaics inside.
The Chapel of the Ascension, sometimes known as the Dome of Ascension, marks the highest point in Jerusalem. It is a small, standalone dome. Built in 392AD, this exact spot is where Jesus is said to have ascended to heaven – hence the name! Inside is a stone with a footprint, said to be that of Jesus himself. The chapel was detroyed, rebuilt, purchased by Saladin, made into a mosque and now belongs to the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem. It draws a lot of visitors.
Read also: Visiting Bethlehem: A complete guide
There is also the Church of the Ascension, another Russian Orthodox church. This is also said to have been the spot where Jesus ascended to heaven – different derivatives of the faith tell the story slightly differently. This church is also said to be where the head of John the Baptist was found!
The most vibrant place on the mount is the Church of All Nations. Also known as the Basilica of the Agony, it is adorned with a stunning gold mosaic. It was funded by 12 nations, each of which is honoured inside by a mosaic in the ceiling. This church is adjacent to the Garden of Gethsamane, and is apparently where Jesus prayed for the last time before ascending to heaven.
Augusta Victoria Lutheran Hospital, Church and Tower has stood since 1910, with the hospital itself being established in 1950. It was the first building in Jerusalem to have electricity. The hospital now helps Palestinian refugees.
Dominus Flevit, or ‘The Lord Wept’ is a church constructed in 1955. It’s in the shape of a tear drop, in memory of Jesus weeping when he foresaw Jerusalem being destroyed.
The Church of the Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster) is a convent and church. The church that stands there now was built in 1874 – other churches have stood there before, but they were destroyed. The site is where Jesus is said to have taught the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples.
Other things to see at the Mount of Olives
The Garden of Gethsemane, as mentioned, is located at the bottom of the mount. It’s an urban garden that visitors can walk around. According to the New Testament, this is where Judas betrayed Jesus on his final night. It has long since been a focal point for Christian pilgrimages. There are ancient olive trees growing in the garden.
The Tomb of the Virgin Mary is located in the Kidron Valley, at the foot of the mount. She died a natural death, and is said to have been buried here. Apparently, her body was resurrected on the third day after her soul was received by Christ. The tomb is on the eastern side of the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary.
As mentioned, the Old Jewish Cemetery takes up a lot of the Mount of Olives. It is the oldest continually used Jewish cemetery in the world with graves belonging to all sorts of people.
The view out over the old city of Jerusalem is something else to see at the Mount of Olives. It’s absolutely breathtaking!
So there you have it – a complete guide to visiting the Mount of Olives when you’re at the old city of Jerusalem.