The Mount of Olives looks out on Jerusalem’s Old City from the east. In purely geographical terms, it shelters Jerusalem from the Judean Desert and catches and directs precious water toward the city. It was once covered in olive trees, but not so much any more.
For 3,000 years the Mount of Olives has been Judaism’s most sacred burial ground. Some 150,000 Jews are buried there, including biblical prophets and revered rabbis. The Kabbalistic Zohar text tells that when the Messiah comes, the Mount of Olives will be his first stop and on that day, the righteous will rise from the dead.
The Mount of Olives is also important in Christianity as a place frequented by Jesus. According to the New Testament, he spent time there with his disciples teaching and praying. On the night of his arrest, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the mount. The Book of Acts tells that forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives and will return there.
A number of Christian churches on the Mount of Olives mark key events described in the New Testament:
The lovely little, tear-shaped Dominus Flevit Church commemorates the story in Luke, chapter 19, in which Jesus looks out over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and weeps, having foreseen the destruction of the Temple and the diaspora of the Jews. Dominus Flevit means “the lord wept” in Latin.
The Church of the Pater Noster stands on the traditional site where Jesus taught the Lord’s Pray to his disciples. Pater Noster means “Our Father” in Latin. The prayer is displayed around the church in over 100 languages.
The Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene may be the mount’s most recognizable monument, with its seven golden onion domes.
The Church of All Nations, so-called because many nations contributed to its construction in the 1920s, stands on the traditional site where Jesus prayed before his arrest. The church is also known as the Church of the Agony. Next to the church, the Garden of Gethsemane holds 1,000-year old olive trees, some of the oldest trees known to exist anywhere.
The Chapel of the Ascension was built by Crusaders in the 12th century on the traditional site of Jesus’ ascension. A few years later, Jerusalem fell to Saladin and the church was converted to a mosque. In Islam, Jesus is revered as a prophet. The chapel is open to visitors of all faiths.
The classic view of Jerusalem is from the Mount of Olives and most tours of the city include photo stops there, in addition to the church visits.
Click to see tours to Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.