Wonder at the Old City from afar on the Mount of Olives, from the top of the Tower of David, from a local’s perspective in the Jewish Quarter and up close at the Western Wall.
Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives, named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes, is a mountain ridge that has served as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years. Believed to be the site for the resurrection of the dead when the Messiah returns, today the Mount is a pilgrimage site for Catholics, Jews, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. Some landmarks on the Mount include Garden of Gethsemane, Tomb of the Virgin Mary, Beit Orot, Tombs of Absalom, Chapel of the Ascension, Brigham Young University, and Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene.
Jesus is said to have spent time on the Mount including his ascension into Heaven. During the days of the Second Temple, the start of each new month was celebrated on the Mount. After the Temple’s destruction, Jews celebrated Sukkot on the Mount to view the Temple site. After 1948, Jews and Israelis were barred from the Mount and thousands of graves were desecrated; following the Six Day War, the cemetery was restored.
The Western Wall, also called the Kotel, is a small segment of an ancient retaining wall encasing the Temple Mount. The Wall faces a plaza while the rest lies behind structures in the Muslim Quarter who also view the Wall as an Islamic holy site. The visible layer of the Wall is made of limestone each weighing two to eight tons and it is customary to walk backwards away from the Wall as a sign of reverence. Large crowds gather at the Wall on Tisha B’Av to commemorate the Temple’s destruction. The practice of placing prayers on paper into crevices of the Wall dates back to 1743. Over a million prayers are placed in the Wall each year and others can email prayers that organizations place in the Wall for them. The plaza facing the Wall is used for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and Israeli Defense Force ceremonies. Tens of thousands of Jews worship the Wall each year.
The Wall was erected upon First Temple foundations during the Second Temple Period. The Second Temple was destroyed by Romans in 70 CE. Beginning during Roman rule, Jews were barred from the Wall and would view it from the Mount of Olives. Many attempts were made to purchase the Wall and the Moroccan Quarter nearby. The right for Jews to enter the area and pray at the Wall was confirmed during the British Mandate which led to friction between Jews and Muslims. After the 1948 War, Jordan expelled Jews from Jerusalem until they regained control during the Six Day War. After establishing control of the site, the Moroccan Quarter was razed to create a plaza to hold over 400,000 people. Recent restorations include a library, heat, air conditioning, oil-burning light and a women’s prayer section.
Tower of David
The Tower of David, also called Jerusalem Citadel, is located near Jaffa Gate. The Tower contains artifacts including a quarry from the First Temple Period. After changing many hands, the Tower was taken back by the Jews during the Six Day War. In 1989 The Tower of David Museum of History of Jerusalem was opened depicting 4,000 years of Jerusalem’s history.
The Tower was built in advance of expected invasion by Assyria. In the Byzantine Period, the Tower served as a monastery and acquired its current name. In 1239 the Tower was destroyed by Kurds fighting Crusaders. Five years later, the Crusaders were banished from Jerusalem and the city was razed. The Ottoman Empire rebuilt the Tower in 1310 to its present space and added a mosque and minaret in 1635 which stands today. The Tower was renovated and opened to the public during the British Mandate.
The Jewish Quarter is one of the traditional four quarters of the Old City, stretching from Zion Gate to the Armenian Quarter and from Street of the Chain to the Western Wall. In the twentieth century, 19,000 Jews resided in the Quarter, today, around 2,000 Jews live there.
Under Jordanian rule, much of the Quarter was demolished and Palestinian refugees were housed there from 1948 to 1965. Following the Six Day War, the Quarter was rebuilt in the traditional Old City style and a plaza was developed at the foot of the Western Wall. Hurva Synagogue in the Quarter was destroyed numerous times and rededicated in 2010.
Archaeological digs have led to many findings including remnants of Roman bath houses, a pool with mosaic floors and terracotta roof tiles, a 2,000 year old depiction of Temple Menorah, Burnt House remains from the Great Jewish Revolt, the Israelite Tower from Jerusalem’s Iron Age, Byzantine Nea Church and a fifth century road connecting it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.