You can probably cover the major sights of East Jerusalem in a half-day. Saladin Street leading northward from the Old City walls is a modern thoroughfare of clothing shops, appliance stores, and restaurants.
Mount Scopus, Mount of Olives & Valley of Kidron
The northern half of the long, high Mount of Olives ridge just east of the Old City is called Mount Scopus—Har Hatsofim, which means “Mount of Observation.” It was here that the Roman armies of Titus and Vespasian camped in a.d. 70 and observed the city under siege as they planned their final attack. The southern part of the ridge is the Mount of Olives. The deep Valley of Kidron/Valley of Jehoshaphat separates the ridge from the Old City. Traditionally, many believe this will be the site of the Last Judgment.
For Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus, take bus no. 4A, 9, or 28 from downtown West Jerusalem. Other parts of the Mount of Olives best reached by foot from the Old City’s Lion’s Gate, or by taxi.
The Commonwealth War Cemetery CEMETERY-At the northern end of Mount Scopus is the final resting place for 2,472 Christian and Jewish soldiers who died fighting in the British Army during World War I. A memorial also honors 1,000 Muslim and Hindu soldiers, buried in separate graveyards in South Jerusalem. Open Monday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm.
About 90m (295 ft.) from the crest of the ridge is Mount Scopus Hadassah Hospital; at the crest is Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, which opened in 1925, and is now one of the largest institutions of higher learning in the Middle East. The university is mostly housed in a modern, fortresslike megacomplex designed by David Reznik. The design reflects the university’s past experience, when from 1948 to 1967 it was a besieged Israeli enclave surrounded by then-Jordanian-controlled territory. From the Harry S. Truman Institute (a pink stone building), there’s a sweeping view of both the New and Old cities. Tours are conducted Sunday to Friday at 11am from the Sherman Building.
Visfas: The road skirting the ridge of the Mount of Olives proceeds past the high-towered Augusta Victoria Hospital, the Arab village of Et-Tur, the Mount of Olives, the Jewish Cemetery, and the Seven Arches Hotel. The best views of Jerusalem are from Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, or from the Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives, and the Seven Arches Hotel. For optimum viewing and photographing, come in the morning, when the sun is behind you.
Central Part of the Mount of Olives-Here you’ll find six churches and one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world. It was this cemetery that religious Jews had in mind when they came to die in the Holy Land through the start of the 20th century. Start down the path on the right, and you’ll come to the Tombs of the Prophets, believed to be the burial place of Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah, but identified by archaeologists as tombs of prominent and noble families from the time of the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) in the 1st century b.c.
The People’s Princess
Among the thousands of people who have found their final resting place on the Mount of Olives, one of the most recent and unusual is Princess Alice of Greece, mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II. Born in Windsor Castle in 1885, the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Alice at an early age was diagnosed as being almost totally deaf. Carefully trained in lip reading, she was fluent in both English and French; later in life she also mastered Greek.
In 1903, Princess Alice married Prince Andrew, son of King George of Greece, and devoted her life to helping others. During the 1912 Balkan War, she worked as a nurse close to the battlefront, caring for sick and wounded Greek soldiers. During this time, both the princess and King George stayed in the home of the family of Haim Cohen, in the northern Greek city of Trikkala, near the war zone. Alice was fascinated by the family’s warmth and traditions. The princess’s friendship continued when Cohen later became a member of the Greek Parliament. By the late 1930s, the Greek royal family was no longer in power, but Princess Alice remained in Athens, wearing the habit of a nun as she became increasingly committed to a life of religion and charitable work.
In 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, Princess Alice learned that the widow and children of Haim Cohen were desperately trying to escape deportation to the death camps in Poland. At the risk of her life, and with the help of two servants, Princess Alice hid her Jewish friends on the grounds of the royal palace in Athens for 13 months until Greece was liberated. Princess Alice died at Buckingham Palace in 1969, and in 1988, in accordance with her dying wish, was reinterred at the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. In 1994, Prince Philip and his sister, Princess Sophie, traveled to Jerusalem to receive Yad VaShem’s Medal of Honor of Righteous Among the Nations, awarded to their late mother. A tree in memory of Princess Alice has been planted at Yad VaShem.
Farther up the road, on the southern fringe of Et-Tur, stands the Mosque (and Chapel) of the Ascension (ring the doorbell for admission), marking the spot where Jesus ascended to heaven. Interestingly, this Christian shrine is under Muslim control. Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet. However, they do not believe Jesus to be the son of God, nor do they believe that Jesus died on the cross.
Just a few steps away is the Church of the Pater Noster that was built on the traditional spot where Jesus instructed his disciples in the Lord’s Prayer. Tiles along the walls of the church are inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer in 44 languages. The Carmelite Convent and Basilica of the Sacred Heart are on the adjoining hill.
From up here you can see a cluster of churches on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. All can be reached either from here or from the road paralleling the fortress wall, diagonally opposite Saint Stephen’s Gate (Lion’s Gate).
If you head down the path to the right of the Tomb of the Prophets, you’ll come to Dominus Flevit (daily 8am–noon and 2:30–5pm), which is a relatively contemporary Franciscan church that marks the spot where Jesus wept over his vision of the future destruction of Jerusalem. Next, the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, with its Muscovite-style onion-shaped domes of gold, was built in 1888 by Czar Alexander III (Tues and Thurs 10–11:30am). Call tel. 02/628-4371 or surf to www.jerusalem-mission.org/convent_magdalene.html for more information.
The Roman Catholic Garden of Gethsemane (Apr–Oct daily 8:30am–noon and 3pm–sunset; in winter daily 8:30am–noon and 2pm–sunset) adjoins the Basilica of the Agony (Church of All Nations); it’s in the courtyard where Jesus is believed to have prayed before his arrest. The church’s gold mosaic facade (which shines gloriously in late-afternoon sun) shows God looking down from heaven over Jesus and the peoples of the world. The church was built by people from 16 different nations in 1924. Next door, past beautifully tended gardens of ancient olive trees and bougainvillea, is the Tomb of the Virgin, which is a deep underground chamber housing the tombs of Mary and Joseph. The tomb is open daily 8am to noon and 2:30 to 5:30pm.
Kidron Valley-The Valley of Kidron is between the Mount of Olives and the Old City walls. It runs south, between Mount Ophel (where David built his city) and the Mount of Contempt. Just under the wall here, roughly in front of Al Aqsa Mosque, are two tombs: Absalom’s Tomb and the Tomb of Zechariah. At one time, religious Jews would throw stones at Absalom’s tomb (Kever Avshalom) in condemnation of Absalom, who rebelled against his father, King David. Modern scholars attribute Absalom’s Tomb and its neighboring structures to Herodian times—they’re Jerusalem’s only relatively intact structures from before the Roman destruction in a.d. 70.
The Valley of Kidron is also known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The Book of Joel records that the last judgments will be rendered here.
About 180m (591 ft.) down the valley is the Fountain of the Virgin, in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. Water from the spring (the Gihon) anointed Solomon king and served as the only water source for ancient Jerusalem. During the Assyrian invasion that wiped out the northern Kingdom of Israel (8th c. b.c.), Jerusalem’s King Hezekiah constructed an aqueduct through which the waters of the Gihon could be diverted and hidden inside the city, an extraordinary engineering feat at the time. Today, no one knows exactly how the tunnel diggers, working from each end of the project, were able to link up deep inside the city’s bedrock This tunnel saved ancient Jerusalem and the surrounding Kingdom of Judah from oblivion and changed the course of world history, Hezekiah’s Aqueduct is still there (underneath the ruins of a church commemorating the spot where Mary once drew water to wash the clothes of Jesus). It’s about 480m (1,575 ft.) long, and the depth of the water is from .5 to 1m (1 2/3 ft.–3 1/3 ft.). The walk (currently in escorted tour groups only) takes about 40 minutes; take a flashlight or a candle and a bag to keep valuables dry with you. You can walk through from Sunday to Thursday between 8:30am and 3pm, on Friday and holiday eves until 1pm. Entrance is free, but give the caretaker a tip. It is best to visit Silwan and Hezekiah’s tunnel with a tour group. Beside the Gihon Spring lie the ruins of the oldest part of Jerusalem: The City of David.