Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives overlooks the Temple Mount to the east of the Old City. The promontory played a key role in the story of Jesus. It was here that he prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and wept over its fate, here where he prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his death, and here where he is said to have ascended into heaven. From the top of the Mount of Olives is the most panoramic view of the city, especially at dawn and dusk.
One could easily spend a day touring the holy sites on the Mount of Olives, but be sure to visit Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. According to tradition, it was here that Jesus came to pray the night before his death. The site is marked by the Church of All Nations, which was sponsored by a dozen countries and built in 1919-24 over the ruins of two earlier churches. The mosaic on its front façade shows Jesus offering up his sufferings, and the mosaics that adorn its interior domes are decorated with the coats of arms of the countries that donated money for its construction. In the church, the altar is built on the rock on which Jesus is said to have prayed. Appropriately, the lighting in the church is kept low in keeping with the somber story that is commemorated here. Outside the church is a small grove of olive trees, some of which date back at least 1500 years.
Just up the hill from the Church of All Nations is Dominus Flevit, a small chapel built by architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1956. It is constructed in the shape of a tear drop to reflect the weeping of Jesus over the fate of Jerusalem and sits on the ruins of a seventh-century Byzantine church. The best view of Jerusalem is said to be visible out of the window above its altar.
Next to the Church of All Nations is the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, where a staircase leads down into the crypt where Mary is said to be buried. The underground church includes parts originally built by the Crusaders and is now in the hands of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox Churches. Dark and atmospheric, it was one of my favorite places in Jerusalem.