Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Mount of Olives

Sat 31 Oct  

Well, it had to be a photo of olive trees, didn't it? In fact the Mount affords a series of quite stunning views of the city of Jerusalem on the hill opposite, with the golden Dome of the Rock always prominent, and also houses the most enormous cemetery you are likely to see anywhere in the world.

The Mount - Har Hazeitim in Hebrew - has been a holy place for Jews since Biblical times: the olive branch carried by the dove to Noah's Ark after the flood is said to have been plucked from the Mount, King David fled Jerusalem via the Mount, during the Temple periods ritual sacrifices were prepared there, and its olive oil was used to anoint kings and in Temple services. It was a place of pilgrimage, and on a more practical note, bonfires were lit there to announce the start of each new month.

Above all, it is the place from which Jews believe that, in the 'end of days', the Redemption of the Dead will begin. Hence its popularity as a burial place since the period of the First Temple - the closer you are to to the foot of the Mount, the sooner you will be redeemed. The cemetery was widely desecrated during the period 1948-1967, when the Jordanians held the West Bank. Since then the Israelis have restored some graves, and opened up the area for even more.

As you walk down the hill you come across a series of churches belonging to various Christian creeds - you can't miss the Russian onion spires - and at the bottom is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus and the disciples prayed the night before the crucifixion. Some of the olive trees in the garden look old enough to have witnessed the scene.

However it is the cemetery that defines the Mount, as seen from both sides of the valley. The dead are all around you, awaiting their day.

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