Mount of Olives Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday Walk

Taking a Walk Down the Mountain

Tours of Jerusalem may include a walk down the Mount of Olives. This is the site of a Jewish cemetery where the faithful have been buried for centuries awaiting the Messiah's return. Christians believe the Messiah arrived in the form of Jesus. The Mount of Olives is a central place to the Holy Week traditions of Palm Sunday, the agony in the garden, the betrayal, and arrest of Jesus, and his ascension into heaven. It also provides a stunning view of Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa is another route you can walk in Jerusalem.

The walk is about a half mile and descends 400 feet. Those walking down the Mount of Olives should wear sturdy shoes as the path is steep and there are some areas of gravel. It's unwise to wear flip flops due to the surface and the incline. Dress for respect of the holy sites of many faiths. Men should wear long pants rather than shorts. Women should wear pants or skirts that are below the knee and should have a garment to put on that covers their arms to past their elbows.

Tour buses will let walking tours off near the top of the Mount of Olives for the walk down the mountain. This is the only area accessible by wheelchair or the mobility impaired, as the rest of the walk has a steep descent.


Jerusalem From the Mount of Olives

View of Jerusalem From the Mount of Olives
Filippo Maria Bianchi/Getty Images

From the viewpoint near the top of the Mount of Olives, sweeping views of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

Immediately below the scenic overlook are Jewish cemeteries, where the faithful await resurrection and the entry into Jerusalem with the Messiah via the Golden Gate.

The golden Dome of the Rock is one of the three most holy sites of the Muslim faith. It is the site where Abraham bound his son Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice, but his hand was stopped by a messenger of God.

The first and second Jewish temples were built and destroyed on Temple Mount near the site of the Dome of the Rock.

The walls visible today are those built by Süleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s.

The Gospels tell of Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem from a viewpoint such as this one on the Mount of Olives. (Luke 19:41–44)


View of the City of David From the Mount of Olives

The City of David From the Mount of Olives
Wendy Bumgardner

From the Mount of Olives, you can see a green area, which is the Kidron Valley—a route for King David when he fled the City of David during the rebellion of his son, Absalom, and a passageway for Jesus en route to the village of Bethany.

Most cities in Israel were founded around springs of water rather than defensible positions. King David established his city in ancient Jerusalem just above the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley. The City of David did not belong to any of the 12 tribes of Israel and the neighboring Kidron Valley was deemed a neutral place.


Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives

Jewish Cemetery on Mount of Olives
Wendy Bumgardner

The Mount of Olives has been a burial site since ancient times. Over 150,000 graves of the Jewish faithful cover the slopes of the Mount of Olives. This cemetery is the resting place of important rabbis from the 15th to 20th centuries. They believed that when the Messiah returned, they would be closest to being resurrected so they could enter Jerusalem in triumph. The cemeteries underwent a period of vandalism during Jordanian rule in the mid-20th century. Today, pilgrims leave a small stone on the graves.


Descending the Mount of Olives

Starting Walk Down Mount of Olives
Wendy Bumgardner

On Palm Sunday, Jesus descended the Mount of Olives in a triumphant procession as his followers proclaimed that he may be the Messiah.

Walking down the Mount of Olives, walkers encounter a steep descent and share the road with vehicle traffic. Handrails are available in most places to aid stability. It is best to wear sturdy hiking shoes, and perhaps use a walking stick for added stability.


White Donkey on Mount of Olives

Mount of Olives Scene
Wendy Bumgardner

A prophecy said that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem riding on a white donkey (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday.

You will often see an enterprising man happy to pose (for a tip) with a white donkey such as the one that Jesus rode on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.


Road Down Mount of Olives to Jerusalem

Descending Mount of Olives
Wendy Bumgardner

The road from Bethany to Jerusalem passed down the Mount of Olives. Jesus descended the mountain and entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday.

Walkers today can visit Israel for the IML Walking Association's two-day March of Gilboa in Galilee.


Cave Graves on the Mount of Olives

Cave Grave on Mount of Olives
Wendy Bumgardner

An ancient gravesite on the Mount of Olives show how the inhabitants buried their dead in caves and then interred their bones in sarcophagi.

This ancient cave burial site near the garden of Gethsemane shows the method of burial in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. The dead were cleaned, anointed with perfume oils, wrapped in linen, and placed in the cave grave. After the flesh had decayed, the bones were collected and placed with the bones of their other family members in stone sarcophagi.


Garden of Gethsemane

Wendy Bumgardner

The Bible tells of Jesus taking two disciples with him after the Last Supper to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Mount of Olives was studded with olive trees in the time of Jesus. He spent much time here in his last days, preaching and teaching his disciples. At the Last Supper, he predicted that one of the disciples would betray him. Then he took Peter, John, and James to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. The olive trees there today are 8–900 years old, so while they're not exactly ancient they do add plenty of atmosphere to the surroundings.

The Bible says that Jesus prayed that he would not have to go through the agony he knew was before him, but he accepted the will of God that it must happen. All four gospels offer a slightly different account of the agony in the garden. The disciples kept falling asleep during this vigil, and Jesus said, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Jesus was then betrayed by Judas, arrested, and held nearby.

Today, after walking down the Mount of Olives, walkers pass alongside the garden to the Church of All Nations, or the Basilica of the Agony. This is the place where Jesus is believed to have actually prayed and is enshrined.


Church of All Nations - Rock Where Jesus Prayed in the Garden

Site of the Agony in the Garden at Church of All Nations
Wendy Bumgardner

A section of rock is enshrined in the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives. This where tradition says Jesus prayed during his agony in the garden. A modern cathedral is now on this site, replacing earlier churches that had been destroyed by an earthquake and other disasters.


The Golden Gate in the Walls of Jerusalem

Golden Gate Jerusalem
Wendy Bumgardner

Tradition holds that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem via the Golden Gate to resurrect the faithful and establish a new Jerusalem. When Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday, some believe he entered through the Golden Gate, others say it was the Lion's Gate which would be just to the right of this photo. The current Golden Gate is closed and sealed. A Muslim cemetery was built in front of it, which is believed will deter it being entered by the Jewish Messiah, who would not cross a cemetery.


View of Jerusalem From the Mount of Olives

View of Jerusalem from Foot of the Mount of Olives
Wendy Bumgardner

The golden Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa mosque, graces Temple Mount, the site of the first and second Jewish Temples. The current walls were built by the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s.


Upper Room of the Last Supper in Jerusalem

The Upper Room of the Last Supper in Jerusalem
Wendy Bumgardner

The Gospels tell of Jesus renting an upper room for Passover dinner with his disciples, his Last Supper. Tradition says that this was that room.

On Holy Thursday, Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples. During the dinner, he performed the first communion ceremony with breaking the bread and telling his disciples to break bread and drink wine as his body and blood in memory of him. He also predicted that one of the disciples at the table would betray him that night. From here, he left to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he was then betrayed and arrested.

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