Walking Tour: Mount of Olives

  • Start Olive Tree
  • End Church of All Nations
  • Length 1¼km; three hours

This hillside, both an ancient necropolis and Christian holy site, was also a sloping olive orchard. So a fitting place to begin the walk is an olive tree at the top, just in front of 101 El Adawiya St (the stop for bus 255 is just a few metres away). You can get your bearings underneath its shade, sitting on the small, circular concrete enclosure.

A few metres away on your left is the entrance to the simply designed, octagon-shaped Dome of the Ascension/Chapel of the Ascension, parts of which are 1600 years old. It's said that Jesus came here to say goodbye to his disciples and ascend to heaven; two angels in white appear to tell them to be patient and that he will return. A small piece of bedrock is said to bare the mark of Jesus's footprint. The minaret of the mosque built in 1517 overlooks the compound.

Around 50m downhill at the intersection with Al Shayykh St is the Church of the Pater Noster where it's said Jesus preached to his disciples during the last week of his life. Roam the grounds and the interior of the chapel and look out for the Lord's Prayer translated into 132 languages.

Further downhill, veer left. Incredible views lie ahead: the Dome of the Rock, the sealed-off Golden Gate (according to the Bible, it's where the righteous will enter the Temple Mount on the Day of Judgement), the Valley of Jehoshaphat and the Jewish cemetery.

Just before you pass the Seven Arches Hotel, turn right down two flights of steps, and you'll see a sign pointing to the left for the Tomb of the Prophets. Jamil, the caretaker, will hand you a candle and you can descend into a dark cavern where it's said the prophets Hagi, Malachi and Zachariah, along with their followers, are buried.

Once back on the main road, watch your step going downhill – it's extremely slippery. On your right are many Jewish graves, and you might see Hasidic men praying. Only 25m or so on, also on your right, is the entrance to the Church of Dominus Flevit. Just inside, in a typical Jerusalem twist, is a two-car garage next to a fenced-in enclosure with an ossuary filled with Herodian-era bones. The chapel itself (next to a small Crusader-era shrine with a cross on a mosaic tile floor) was built in the early 1950s and commemorates the spot where, according to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus wept (hence, it's designed in the shape of a tear drop) after foreseeing the destruction of the Second Temple.

Downhill again for about 75m, the strikingly beautiful golden onions sparkling in the sunlight are part of the Russian Orthodox Convent of St Mary Magdalene. Visiting hours are extremely limited so you'll likely only get a glimpse from above.

On the other side of the road is the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemane, with beautiful bougainvilleas and ancient olive trees, an Italian-style garden with dessert- and Mediterranean-style vegetation. Biblical tradition says that it was here that Jesus slept his final night, prayed with his disciples and was finally betrayed by Judas and arrested. Modest dress is required here.

Next to the garden is the Church of All Nations. Built only in the 1930s, it has a spectacularly vivid mosaic above the entrance: Jesus pictured in the centre with the symbols of alpha and omega above him and on one side King David and Moses and the other his disciples and Mary. Inside is even more breathtaking, with a glittering golden mosaic cupola and a stone in the centre of the altar said to be the spot where Jesus rested (excerpts from the Gospel of Matthew are available for those wishing to pray).

On the other side of the street, just 10m or so further downhill, at the intersection with Jericho Rd, a major, traffic-clogged road, is the 4th-century Tomb of the Virgin Mary belonging to the Greek and Armenian Orthodox churches. The Crusader-style entrance leads into a dark, incense-filled stairway. Egg-shaped oil lamps hang from the ceiling. You first pass the chapel of Melicenda the Queen and then the chapel of Joseph and finally at the bottom is the cross-shaped, baroque sarcophagus of Mary.

You could continue on from here to the Valley of Jehoshaphat to see several ancient tombs. Most visitors grab a taxi (drivers are infamous for fleecing tourists) or walk uphill and enter the Old City at Lions' Gate.