Mount of Olives cemetery finds a new home - on the Internet

Tombstones being identified, data uploaded to Web.

January 24, 2010 10:46
2 minute read.

mount of olives 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The world's oldest Jewish cemetery just went online.

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A new project undertaken by the City of David archeological Park, located south of Jerusalem's Old City and at the foot of the Mount of Olives cemetery, has begun the process of identifying and documenting tombstones throughout the entirety of the Mount of Olives and uploading the data to the Web.

Tens of thousands of graves on the mount have already been mapped and incorporated into a database, in the first-ever attempt to restore the graves and record the history of those who were buried there. The project includes the creation of a Web site ( that aims to raise awareness of the City of David and to honor the memory of those buried in the cemetery, as well as to inform about the tours and activities available.

Additionally, the Web site tells stories of the people buried in the cemetery and, through a simple search window, one can locate the documented graves by name.

"We hope that this Web site will give people all over the world the opportunity to remove the dust of generations from the graves of their loved ones, and to both restore and reveal the stories buried underground," Udi Ragones, the public relations director for the project, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

"There's so much history there, so many stories, that this project is fascinating both from a personal perspective as well as an historical one," he said.

While more than 20,000 gravestones have already been documented, organizers estimate that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 in the cemetery, which leaves an enormous amount of work left to be done.

The already documented graves include those of the reviver of the Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Shai Agnon, former prime minister Menachem Begin, Hadassah Women's Organization founder Henrietta Szold, founder of the Bezalel Art School Boris Schatz, Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar, also known as the Ohr ha-Chaim after his popular commentary on the Torah, and Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate.

Burial on the Mount of Olives dates back around 3,000 years, to the First and Second Temple periods, and continues to this day. Under Jordanian rule, from 1948-1967, the cemetery was badly vandalized. Tombstones were destroyed, broken and uprooted and many were used to pave the floors of Jordanian army encampments.

During this time, a road was paved from the top of the mountain southward, and the road to Jericho was widened, all on top of graves.

After the Six Day War, the cemetery was slowly restored. Yet until now, there has been no major effort to map and record the graves and to decipher and restore the names on all the tombstones.

The number of grave-sites listed on the Web site continues to grow, as workers identify them and pinpoint their location on the map. The site allows users to visit the cemetery through the use of a zoomable aerial photo of the Mount of Olives and a photo of each grave.

Every name listed includes the available information about that person and a photograph, with the option for the user to upload more data and photos about their loved ones and acquaintances who are buried on the mount.

The Web site also lets visitors create a tourist map and route of the graves that they wish to visit that can be printed complete with driving and parking instructions.

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