The Jewish Cemetery
The ancient and most important cemetery in Jerusalem is on the Mount of Olives. The Mount is situated outside the boundaries of the ancient city and is built of chalk that is easy to chisel out and so was used a burial ground of the Jews of Jerusalem from as far back as the days of the First Temple, and continues to fulfil this function to the present day.
On the southern slopes of the Mount, dispersed between houses of the village of Silwan, are ancient burial caves from the First Temple Period. A little to the north, along the wadi bed, are the magnificent monuments of the Second Temple Period, that constituted part of the burial area of Jerusalem during those times. Higher up on the Mount in the grounds of the Dominus Flevit Church and in the area of "the Cave of the Prophets" there are more burial caves.
The Mount of Olives was not used as a Jewish burial site in all periods of history. In the Middle Ages the Jews of the city were buried on the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount. Later the cemetery spread along the Kidron riverbed and to its east, to the foot of the Mount of Olives. The earliest tombstone from this period is dated 1636. At first members of all the different communities were buried in one cemetery at the bottom of the hill. In the middle of the nineteenth century, with the fast growth of the Jewish population of Jerusalem, and primarily the Ashkenazic population, an additional area was purchased further up the hill (today – west of the Seven Arches Hotel), and a separate Ashkenazic cemetery was established there. The Sephardic community continued to be buried in the original site, but later on purchased areas south of the Ashkenazic area (Hatzur and Helkat Miriam). The split in the Ashkenazic communities brought about the purchase of an additional area, Prushim, above the first Ashkenazic plot and to its south. Later a further plot, Hassidit, was acquired and then another "Prushit", so that by the middle of the twentieth century most of the western and southern slopes of the Mount had become a Jewish cemetery.
Under Jordanian rule (1948-1967) the cemetery was desecrated. The tombstones were destroyed or uprooted and some of them were used as paving stones for the new hotel and for Jordanian army camps. During this period a new road was paved from the top of the Mount southward and the main road to Jericho was widened, both on top of graves. After the Six Day War a comprehensive but slow restoration operation of the various plots was launched. The cemetery started being used again and has even grown over the years.
Many famous names from the Torah World and from the Zionist leadership are buried on the Mount of Olives. They include: the Ohr ha-Chaim, Rabbi Chaim ben-Attar and Rabbi Yehuda Alcalay who were among the heralds of Zionism; Hassidic rebbes of various dynasties and Rabbis of "Hayeshuv Hayashan" (the old – pre-Zionist - Jewish settlement) together with Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Askenazic Chief Rabbi, and his circle; Henrietta Szold, the founder of the Hadassah Organization and the poetess, Elza Lasker-Schiller, Eliezer ben Yehuda, the father of Modern Hebrew, Sh. Y. Agnon, the Nobel Laureate for Literature, and Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel School of Art; Israel's sixth Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, the victims of 1929 and 1936-39 Arab riots, the fallen from the 1948 War of Independence, together with Jews of all generations in all their diversity.
The Mount of Olives Information Center – tel. 02-6275050 may be contacted to locate graves and for help in organizing memorial ceremonies.
Graves of the Prophets
At the top of the Mount of Olives, in the upper part of the ancient cemetery, there is a large and unique burial cave. The cave is carved out with two parallel corridors in a sort of semicircle, with passages between them. In the outer corridor some 30 burial alcoves have been carved out and there are other burial rooms.
Travellers seeing the place, both Jews and non-Jews, imagined seeing in this cave the graves of the prophets who prophesied at the beginning of the Second Temple Period: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. The tradition has its roots in the 14th century, when a pupil of Nachmanides (the 'Ramban') marked the place as just the grave of the prophet Haggai. But over time the descriptions of travellers added Malachi and Zechariah. Today the identifying of this cave as the burial place of all three prophets is common.
From the nature of the cave and the way it was carved it would seem that this place, (particularly the room at the end of the central corridor), served at least partially as a family burial cave during the Second Temple Period. Afterwards, probably not before the Byzantine Period, the corridors and the additional alcoves were carved out. The place became a burial place for both Jewish and Christian pilgrims in the 4th and 5th centuries C.E. The inscriptions from this period engraved on the plaster around the opening of the alcoves gave the name of the deceased and the place where he lived, but we have no further information about them. "Antiochus from Bazrah" refers to today's Buseirah in southern Syria. "Zonodurus from Manilla" in Bashan, "Anmus from Palmira" refers, of course, to Tadmur in the Syrian Desert, and there are many more.
Many descriptions of this place by Jewish pilgrims, by regular travellers as well as by Christian pilgrims have been preserved.
The cave is owned by the Russian Orthodox Church, though prior to their acquiring it, attempts were made to purchase it by Jerusalem Jews, who even presented a document affirming their possession of the place, but they were not successful in their claim.
The Cave is in the yard of the Ottoman family. Telephone: 054-6987688
Times of Opening: Every day until 3 pm. (Coordinating your visit in advance is highly recommended).
Payment: A tip
The Grave of the Prophetess Hulda
At the top of the Mount of Olives, on the skyline, there is a small structure, hidden between the houses around it. In front of it there is a small yard where people meet. The structure has a few steps leading down to an underground room in which there is stone memorial. It is difficult to know how old this little room is – whether it was a burial cave or a relatively new room.
Jewish testimonies from the Middle Ages identify this place with the burial place of Hulda , the Prophetess who lived in the Land of Israel towards the end of the First Temple Period, close to the beginning of Jeremiah's time. Hulda counselled the messengers of Josiah, King of Judah at that time.
"So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe--now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the second quarter…." (II Kings, 22:14 )
It is known about Hulda that she lived in "the Second Quarter", that is identified with an area west of the Temple Mount on the western hill. In Second Temple times there were two gates on the south side of the Temple Mount – the Hulda Gates, that were the main entrance and exit gates for those coming to the Temple. According to ancient tradition, Hulda's grave was inside the city:
"…The graves of the House of David and the grave of Hulda the prophetess were in Jerusalem and no man as ever touched them…" (Jerusalem Talmud Bava Bathra 1, 11)
so there are those who want to locate her place of burial near the gates that bear her name and not according to the tradition of the travellers, on the top of the Mount of Olives.
Opening times: by arrangement in advance
Tel. 050-5586843 054-6941902
Payment: A tip
The Tombstones in the Kidron Valley
At the bottom of the Mount of Olives, close to the bed of the Kidron Valley, are a number of extremely impressive burial structures carved in the rock. These are burial caves and commemorative tombstones of the rich of Jerusalem and its priests, that scholars think were built towards the end of the Second Temple Period. Despite their relatively late dating, they are popularly known by names connected with the First Temple Period.
The most northern of these caves is the Absalom Monument.
The Absalom Monument
The lower part of the Absalom Monument is cube-shaped and carved out of the rock, while its upper part is built of stone. The façade of this tombstone has high pillars, capitals and much decoration. Inside the structure there are a number of rooms that were used for burial.
The source of the name "the Absalom Monument" is the biblical story of Absalom, King David's third son, of whom it is written:
"Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar which is in the King's Valley, for he said, 'I have no son to keep my name in remembrance'; he called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom's Monument to this day". (II Sam. 18:18)
Absalom who rebelled against his father is the archetype of the rebellious son and so in the last few hundred years the Jews of Jerusalem have taken their 'problematic' sons to teach them a lesson in front the Absalom monument. There were those who threw stones at the monument to express their repugnance of the son who rebelled against his father.
Behind the Absalom Monument lurks the opening of another burial cave of the Second Temple Period – the Cave of Jehoshaphat. This is a burial cave with rooms and alcoves that was designed it would seem for the family of the distinguished personage who is buried in the Absalom Monument. The opening to the cave is big and impressive and is embellished by a very fine-looking gable.
The Tomb of the Sons of Hezir
The Tomb of Sons of Hezir is a burial cave carved out above the Kidron Valley cliff, facing west.
The front of the cave has two pillars, with two pilasters and a decorated cornice and it leads into burial rooms that were carved into the mountain. The burial cave is dated by scholars to the second century BCE. As opposed to the other burial buildings described here, where we do not know who is buried in them, in this cave an inscription above its façade was discovered which reads: "This is the grave and monument of Elazar Hania Uazar Yehuda Shimon Yohannan sons of Yosef son of Obad Yosef and Elazar sons of Hania Priests of the Hezir family". According to this inscription it would seem that in this cave were buried the descendents of the priestly family of "Hezir" which was known from the time of King David:
"The divisions of the sons of Aaron were these….. lots [were drawn] …. The seventeenth [went] to Hezir". (Chron. 24:1,7,15)
The inscription indicates the existence of a memorial monument on the grave, but this is not there today. It may be that on the cliff to the north of the cave there once stood a memorial monument for this burial cave, perhaps in the form of a pyramid that has been removed over time.
Entrance to the Tomb of the Sons of Hezir must be coordinated in advance with the Mount of Olives Information Centre Tel. 02-6275050
Zechariah's tomb is carved entirely from the rock. Its lower part is in the shape of cube over which is featured a pyramid, also carved from the rock. At its front, columns have been sculpted out of the rock, half pilasters and other decorations. The monument is dated as being from the first century BCE. The monument has no burial room and it can be assumed that it was built as a memorial monument for a grave that was nearby that has not survived or whose hewing was not completed.
According to a Jewish tradition from the 13th century, this impressive moment is connected to the killing of Zechariah the Priest in First Temple times:
"Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada….But they conspired against him, and by command of the King [Joash] they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord". (II Chron. 24: 20,22)
The Rabbis of the Talmud regarded this event extremely severely. The Midrash relates that when the Babylonians came to Jerusalem,
"Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, saw the blood of Zechariah bubbling in the Temple courtyard and asked what it was. He was told: it is the blood of sacrifices that was poured here. He had some blood [of sacrifices] brought, but it was not the same. He then said to them: If you tell me [the truth], well and good, but if not, I will tear your flesh with combs of iron. They said: What can we say to you? There was a prophet among us who used to reprove us for our irreligion, and we rose up against him and killed him, and for many years his blood has not rested. He said to them: I will appease him. He brought the great Sanhedrin and the small Sanhedrin and killed them over it, but the blood did not stop bubbling. He then slaughtered young men and women over it, but the blood did not stop bubbling. He brought small children and slaughtered them over it, but the blood did not stop bubbling. Then he said; Zechariah, Zechariah. I have slain the best of them; do you want me to destroy them all? When he said this to him, it ceased to bubble". (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 57B).
Jews used to be buried in the "yard" around Zechariah's Tomb until the place was excavated in the 60s.
The Unfinished Cave
South of Zechariah's Tomb there is a burial cave of which only the beginning of the entrance has been hewn out, but for some reason, the hewing was never completed. There are those who think that the Tomb of Zechariah was the memorial monument of whoever was to have been buried in the Unfinished Cave.
This large complex, built in the form of a German castle, sits on the border between the northern end of the Mount of Olives and the southern end of Mount Scopus, on the top of the hill, and because of its distinctive shape and its elevation, it can be seen and recognised a long distance away. Today it serves as an UNRWA hospital.
The German Kaiser Wilhelm II laid the cornerstone to this complex, that was originally designed to be a hostel for German pilgrims, on a visit to the country with his wife in 1898. The construction of the building took more than ten years and it was named after the Kaiser's wife, Augusta Victoria. The bell tower of the church appears to be low because of its width, but the view from its top is impressive and spectacular, even breathtaking. In the tower belfry are hung bells that were brought from Germany and bringing them up from Yaffa to Jerusalem necessitated the temporary closure of this main road.
During the First World War, the Turkish Army Command took over the building, while the British, after the capture of the place, converted it to the official residence of the British High Commissioner. The first High Commissioner to live there was Sir Herbert Samuel, who was Jewish. The building was damaged in a strong earthquake in 1927 and after its repair was used by the British as a military hospital during the Second World War.
In the back or eastern part of the complex is: The Nursery House". In this building is housed "The German Evangelical Institute for Beginnings of the World", that was founded by the Swedish theologian, linguist and scholar, Prof. Gustaf Dalman (1855-1941) who served as its director from its foundation in 1902 until 1917 (during the First World War). It has a library and a few archaeological findings.
Times of Opening: Monday – Saturday, 8am – 1 pm
Closed on Christian holidays.
There is a fee of NIS 5 to go up the tower to see the view. Entrance to the church is free, but no weapons are allowed. Tel. 02-6287704
The Hebrew University
In 1918 the cornerstone of the Hebrew University was laid on Mount Scopus at an official ceremony in the presence of Ministers and dignitaries among whom were the British Foreign Secretary, the Earl of Balfour, Albert Einstein and the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of the country, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook. In 1925 the doors of the University opened to its first students. In the University grounds an interesting botanical garden was planted that added to the beauty of the place and to the knowledge of the students of botany. In the area of the garden some ancient burial caves were found. In one of them was found a sarcophagus bearing the inscription "Nicanor Door-maker". It is possible that here rest the bones of the famous Nicanor from the Midrash who brought copper doors from Alexandria in Egypt and a miracle happened for him while he was at sea with them. The Temple Nicanor Gate was named after him. (Mishna Middoth 3, 3; Tesephta Yom Hakkippurim 3, 4)
Two early Zionist leaders, Leon Pinsker and Menachem Ussishkin, are buried in the cave, in an attempt to establish a sort of "Pantheon" – an official cemetery for the leaders of the Zionist Movement, but no one else, apart from these two, are buried here.
The whole of the University became an Israeli enclave within Jordanian territory between the years 1948 – 1967. On liberation, a new campus was established here in the form of the "Wall and Tower" that symbolized the return of the Jewish People to Israel in the generation of its revival.
Seven Arches Hotel
The hotel is situated at the top of the Mount of Olives, at the beginning of the ridge descending to the south, high above and opposite the Temple Mount. At the front of the hotel is a wide esplanade on which "observation balconies" have been built facing the Temple Mount, the Old City and the whole of the city of Jerusalem. This is a spectacular view that attracts tourists from all over the world and not a few Israeli visitors.
The hotel takes its name from the seven arches that form its façade. Its eastern ambiance is expressed in the arches and the number seven is regarded as a "holy number". The hotel is better known by its former name, the Intercontinental, as it was called when first established by the American company, Pan-American.
The area which the hotel is built on was previously agricultural land that was called 'el-kada', meaning 'the sitting' or 'the place of sitting'. It is possible that this Arabic name retains the Jewish tradition that regards the top of the Mount of Olives as the place where the Divine Spirit, before removing itself from the Temple completely, "sat" for three and a half years prior to the destruction of the Temple, in anticipation of the people repenting their sins.
There are those who associate the hotel area with the place where, during the Middle Ages, a large ceremony was held on the day of Hoshana Rabba by the Sages living in the Land of Israel – it was here that they fixed the calendar, excommunicated the Karaites, and so on. This ceremony was held at the top of the Mount of Olives around the Kisay Hahazanim ("the Seat of the Cantors") that is identified in the vicinity (in the area of the Church of the Ascension or of Dominus Flevit).
On 28 May 1964, three years before the Six Day War, this hotel (then the Intercontinental) was the venue of the first Palestinian Congress, where the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was founded. Ironically, from the esplanade of this same hotel Gen. Motta Gur was to conduct the battle for the liberation of the Old City in the Jerusalem and gave the famous command to capture the Temple Mount.
The Yehudai Observation Point
This observation point lies at the top of the hill that descends from the Mount of Olives into Emek Tzurim, slightly south of the Hebrew University complex, close it its Donors and Patrons Esplanade.
The observation point is in the shade of a number of huge, shady pine trees and from it a wide vista of Jerusalem can be seen: the western edges of the Mount of Olives range, the slopes of the Mount of Olives down to Emek Tzurim and the bed of the Kidron Valley, the Temple Mount and the Old City. To the north of the Old City extend the relatively new residential neighbourhoods established after "breaking out of the Walls" to the north and to the east. In the west, a skyline of towers in the centre of Jerusalem is seen together with the residential neighbourhoods after "breaking out of the Walls" to the west. This magnificent view is completed to the south by the Armon Hanatziv hills and Mount Gilo.
This observation point is named after the late police commissioner, Yosef Yehudai, of blessed memory, who was the commander of the Jerusalem Region of the Israel police force. A short time before his death, in an interview with Baruch Hameiri, he said:
"I am in love with Jerusalem, enjoy every single moment, and see it as not just an obligation but a privilege to serve with people like the Jerusalem Region force. I am full of wonder at the way the policemen and women of the Region and the officers are ready to devote their time to Jerusalem, over and above the call of duty and beyond what is expected of their time".
He died at the age of 42 on 20 Sivan 5749 (23.6.1989).
The Rehavam Observation Point
On the upper part of the Mount of Olives' gradient, at the front of the Seven Arches Hotel, close to the car park, is the Rehavam Observation Point named after the Minister of Tourism, Reserves General Rehavam Ze'evi, who was known to the whole country by his nickname 'Gandhi', and was murdered by terrorists in the nearby Hyatt Hotel.
The observation point gives a view from the top of the Mount of Olives over the place where the Temple stood, the Temple Mount, the Old City and the whole of Jerusalem. The observation point gives an excellent view of the Jewish cemetery on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, and from which lead a number of routes that cross the Mount. The view from the place is truly spectacular and attracts a great number of tourists from around the world and not a few Israeli visitors.
Public conveniences (restrooms) available.
The Emek Tzurim Park lies in the upper reaches of the Kidron Valley, to the north-east of the Old City wall. The park covers an area of 170,000 sq. m. (42 acres) and is part of the National Park around the walls of Jerusalem. Its Hebrew name, Emek Tzurim is the translation of the Arabic name of the area "A-Svana" that refers to the flintstone found around the valley.
It was important to the British, who ruled here between 1917 and 1948 that the Old City wall would stand out as the dominant feature of the area. In their city planning they therefore ensured that there would be no building close to the wall and that there would be a "green belt" all around it. So an area was created, that has remained to the present, without any building and that can be used for tourist and recreational activities. However, under Jordanian rule and even under Israeli rule, these city bylaws were not strictly enforced and the area has started filling up with buildings with no planning permission. The remaining area, from the bottom of Mount Scopus and along the channel of the Kidron, is called Emek Tzurim.
Some agricultural equipment that was used in this "agricultural backyard" of Jerusalem in various periods was discovered here (some of which has been left where it was and other parts have been taken away for preservation and future restoration).
A covered area to the side houses the "Screening the Waste" project. This project, under the supervision of Dr. Gabi Barkai and Tzachi Schwieg of Bar Ilan University and supported by the Elad (To the City of David) Association, is designed to discover archaeological remains that were in the Temple Mount and were thrown out during the digging there in 1999 that was not under archaeological supervision and was, in fact, illegal. This digging was undertaken by the Muslim Waqf in order to build a huge, underground mosque in the area of "Solomon's Stables", in the southern part of the Temple Mount. The excavation, which was done under cover of dark, incited a massive public outcry, since a methodical archaeological excavation of Temple Mount had never been undertaken, the throwing out of this vast amount of material (400 trucks worth) was an irreversible blow to the heritage of the Jewish People and indeed to that of the entire world. Though archaeologists and public figures gave vent to loud protest, the damage had already been done. All that remained was to locate the earth that had been thrown out and to examine what could be found in it, since any find from the Temple Mount has immense importance, even if it was not found in situ. In the course of the sifting project thousands of items for all periods have been discovered including fragments of stone decorated with ornaments known to be from the Second Temple Period at the height of its splendour, arrowheads from Nebuchadnezzar's army and also from the Romans as well as coins and decorations from all the periods. Among the most exciting finds were bullae (seal rings) that were used to seal parcels or letters, ostracons written in ancient Hebrew script, seals, and more.
To book a visit and enjoy an archaeological experience – call: *6033
The Bet Orot complex sits on the slopes of the line between the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus, below Augusta Victoria. The building was acquired in 1986 in order to establish a group that would be the nucleus of the first Jewish residential district on the Mount of Olives. There is a 'yeshivat hesder' (a talmudic academy that combines study with military service) by the name of Bet Orot.
Commando Bridge and the Paratroopers' Monument
Close to the old Jericho Road, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, is a metal monument with a special design: an eagle with one wing raised high and the other broken. On the stone below reads the inscription: "To the memory of the fallen of Commando Unit 75 of Division 80". The monument was erected after the Six Day War in memory of five paratroopers who were killed on the Kidron Valley Bridge.
On the evening of 7 June 1967 the Paratrooper Brigade that had reached the Rockefeller Museum was preparing to attack Augusta Victoria and the A-Tur hill. Tanks went in front of the Commando Unit, but because of an error in navigation they continued down the Jericho Road instead of turning to go up the Mount of Olives. During the first stage, the force was still hidden from the Jordanian troops who were on the city wall, but further down the slope they came under heavy fire. Some of the solders were wounded and the attempt to get them away also went wrong and one of the tanks went off the bridge over the Kidron overturning into the valley below. The memory of the five paratroopers who fell in the battle was first erected on the road on the slope, close to the Kidron Valley Bridge, where the battle took place. Later the present monument was erected as a memorial to the unit's seven men who fell in the Six Day War and the 47 men of the regiment who fell in the Yom Kippur War.
The monument was designed by the sculptress, Yona Palombo, and the design of the stones and the engraving on them was done by Mordechai Kafri. It was built in the form of a metal eagle with a broken wing. One wing is strong and stretched out high, as a symbol of the unit's fighting men in battle. The other wing is bent, broken and smashed, its plumes falling apart, symbolising the fallen in battle. On both sides of the monument stones have been placed: basalt rocks from the north of the country and granite from the south. Every year on Jerusalem Day, Iyar 28, a memorial ceremony is held by the monument.