You cannot pass through Jerusalem without climbing the Mount of Olives and admiring the view of the city from up here, or without stopping by the foot of the mountain to visit the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations.
A must-see sight on the Mount of Olives is the Jewish Cemetery, the oldest and most important burial place in Jerusalem. It is said to encompass up to roughly 150,000 tombs from various periods (some are 3,000-year-old), including tombs of notable old and modern Jewish figures. The cemetery has been mostly keeping the headlines in the past years for it’s ‘running out of room’, with pessimistic outlook that there will be no more room for other graves in the upcoming years. And that can be easily seen, as a plot for a grave here can cost more than USD 22,000.
Most known as the place where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before his crucifixion, the Garden of Gethsemane took its name from what in Hebrew means “oil press”.
There are eight ancient olive trees in the garden, surrounded by an iron fence, yet there is still no result to link them to the time of Jesus. If radiocarbon tests conducted in 1982 revealed that some of the trees here might have been 2,300-year-old, a study by the Italian National Research Council in 2012 determined the trees could not be more than 1,000-year-old. However, scientists found out that all of these eight trees derive from one parent tree, so it’s possible they are offshoots of trees dating back to the times of Jesus.
All in all, the olive trees are quite impressive not through their height but through their twisted, secular branches and seeing them for the first time gave me the feeling of sharing a mysterious rendez-vous with the past.
The Church of All Nations, a Roman Catholic church located on the Mount of Olives next to the Garden of Gethsemane, hosts a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest.
The church was built between 1919 and 1924 using funds donated from many different countries and its name comes from those multi-national donations.
Both the church and the garden sites were full in the morning when we visited them, with tourists also originating from a various multitude of countries from all continents.
And of course, where there are lots of tourists, the commercial spirit cannot miss either, as upon leaving we could notice nearby locals providing camel tours for visitors.
Israel Museum, the house of the Dead Sea Scrolls
You cannot go to Jerusalem either without paying a visit to the Israel Museum, the country’s national museum and one of the largest in the region.
The museum stretches on about 50,000 square meters and shelters nearly 500,000 unique items, collections of archaeological objects and old papers, among whom there the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. The museum lures roughly 800,000 visitors on a yearly basis.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical manuscripts in the world (discovered during 1947–15656 in 11 caves in and around the Wadi Qumran) are housed in the Shrine of the Book, an urn-shaped building underground the museum.
The Scrolls are not on display all the time. As the papers are so fragile and too much light might harm them, they are exhibited on rotation, so every scroll goes on display from 3 to 6 months and after that it is stored in a dark room to get its well-deserved “beauty sleep”.
The Israel Museum also hosts and displays the Aleppo Codex, dating back in the 10th century, which is allegedly the oldest Bible codex in Hebrew.
Outside the museum, a 1:50 scale-model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, which measures 2,000sqm. The model is a replica of how the city of Jerusalem looked like prior to its destruction by the Romans in 66 CE. So, the model is on a scale of 1:50, with two centimeters representing one meter of the ancient city.
The model was built at the initiative of Hans Kroch, owner of the Holyland Hotel, in the memory of his son Jacob, who lost his life in the Israeli War of Independence. It took four years to be completed.
However, the museum is not only a house to the ancient items, but it also shelters an impressive collection of paintings assigned to different styles and periods of time. Tourists can find here canvases by famous foreign painters such as Rembrandt or Pissaro or by Israeli or Jewish ones as Marc Chagall, who is also honored at the Knesset building. The Chagall state hall at the Knesset hosts 12 floor mosaics, one wall mosaic and three Gobelin tapestries.
For there is so much to see in the Israel Museum, I haven’t had enought time to also visit the painting collection, but this will give me the opportunity to return to Jerusalem in the near future.
King David’s Tomb
King David’s Tomb located on Mount Zion is also a hot tourist spot in Jerusalem, despite its authenticity controversies. The site is considered to be the resting place of David, King of Israel, but most of the historians argue that.
However, the premises are impressive through its size and white limestone walls and also through its history.
Formerly a Franciscan headquarters and later on a mosque, the place was converted into a synagogue after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, so despite controversies and disputes over it, the venue is definitely flowing with culture and history.
Western Cardo, Jerusalem’s shopping street in the Romans’ time
I cannot end today’s feature without mentioning the Jewish Quarter’s Western Cardo, the remains of the magnificent main road from the Roman-Byzantine period serving as a major shopping avenue throughout time until nowadays.
Tourists can step right on the original stones that paved the “street” some 1,400 years ago.
During the Roman Empire, Jerusalem had two main roads (cardines, singular- cardo) running north to south. The Western one, whose remains are captured here on camera, was a major 22.5-metre wide highway.
It was a really busy thoroughfare, a real commercial and cultural hub in Jerusalem back then, now hosting the Mosaic Project, featuring 10 original and reproduced mosaics in the ancient Roman section, depicting the various shops that used to line the historic street. The mosaics were placed among the modern stores located here at present, providing a marvelous foil between past and present.