Walk up, look down

View old and new Jerusalem from one of its many observation points.

mount zion 521 (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
mount zion 521
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
“And [God]... said to [Abraham], ‘Take your son... and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about....Abraham got up and saddled his donkey... [and]... set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.” – Genesis 22:1-4
The mountain range from which Abraham may first have glimpsed Mount Moriah is the site of a spectacular promenade today with breathtaking panoramic views. Financed largely by the Sherover and Haas families in the 1980s, it is one of several observation points that offer striking views of Jerusalem.
Among the city’s most exciting attractions, these overlooks are often wheelchair- and stroller-accessible (see the list at the end of the article) and, best of all, free. You can go day or night, whenever you’re in the neighborhood.
1. Haas-Sherover Promenade. Located in East Talpiot, the Haas-Sherover Promenade stretches from Armon Hanatziv (the United Nations’ headquarters in Israel) to 1 Naomi Street. Don’t just content yourself with the view from either end; you can stroll along beautiful walkways that include landscaped gardens and creative balconies. Because this is not a circular route, you get to enjoy the view twice – coming and going.
From the promenade’s observation points, it is easy to identify Mount Moriah, which in biblical times was only a barren hill. Topping it today is the golden Dome of the Rock, built in 691 over the site on which the First and Second Temples (and the Holy of Holies) once stood.
Look for a narrow ridge covered with buildings that descends in your direction. It is delineated by the steep Kidron Valley to the right and a distinct asphalt road running parallel on the left. These are the boundaries of the ancient Jebusite city that King David conquered and fashioned into the political and spiritual capital of Israel over 3,000 years ago.
2. Confederation House overlook. Confederation House on the tiny Emile Botta Street (off King David Street) was built in the mid-19th century by a Muslim landowner on property that the Greek Orthodox Church owned. Because the elegant villa was one of the first structures to appear outside the Old City walls, with only wilderness on all sides, it was sturdy and well-fortified.
British police took over the house, known as Beit Abdallah, during the first stages of the War of Independence. They soon realized its strategic importance, for not only did it face the Tower of David and Jaffa Gate, it provided control over the road to Hebron and stood higher than the adjacent Jewish neighborhood of Yemin Moshe.
On February 10, 1948, Arab troops captured the house from the British. With control of this strategic position, they were able to roll barrels of explosives easily down the hill into Yemin Moshe, and used the villa as a base from which to terrorize the neighborhood constantly. The British eventually reconquered the house, but they refused to permit traffic between Yemin Moshe and the rest of the city.
Yemin Moshe was effectively under siege, and the population had no choice but to move elsewhere.
To reach the overlook for several amazing views of the Old City, take the path next to the sign pointing to Confederation House and almost immediately walk a few steps up the grass-covered hill. With the Old City walls spread out before you, you can find Notre Dame in the distance, to your left, the imposing Franciscan College des Frères, the tower of the Greek Catholic church, the yellow flag of the Latin Patriarchate, and Jaffa Gate.
Confederation House is further along the path and down the stairs. Restored in 1984 by the World Confederation of United Zionists, the former Arab villa now hosts a variety of multicultural events and a gourmet vegetarian restaurant.
3. Mount Zion Promenade. If you are coming from the Confederation House overlook, continue to your right onto a path that leads to stairs. These wind down and around and end up at the Hutzot Hayotzer artists’ colony. Walk up the steps between its two rows of jewelry and silver workshops, turn left at the sidewalk, continue to the stop lights, cross the street, and head for the Old City walls. Turn right onto a wonderful promenade and enjoy a lovely stroll featuring grass, benches, new excavations, and excellent explanatory signs.
The promenade, which is south of Jaffa Gate, ends at the wall’s southern corner, next to Mount Zion. If you gaze down across the valley, you will have a stupendous view of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Yemin Moshe neighborhoods.
During a visit to Jerusalem in the early 1850s, Sir Moses Montefiore was shocked and appalled by conditions inside the disease-infested and overcrowded Old City. Swearing he would find some way to better the Jews’ situation, he decided to build them a new neighborhood. By 1860, the elongated first building of Mishkenot Sha’ananim was complete. It contained 28 one-and-a-half-room apartments and two synagogues – one on each end, for the Sephardi and Ashkenazi residents respectively. The second, smaller building was constructed in 1866, about the same time as a cholera epidemic raged inside the Old City.
Yemin Moshe joined Mishkenot Sha’ananim in 1892. Today the upper building features a music center, while the lower structure is a hotel for visiting writers, musicians and artists.
4. Mishkenot Sha’ananim observation platform.
A large observation plaza above Mishkenot Sha’ananim offers a splendid view of Mount Zion.
To get there from the Mount Zion Promenade, follow a walkway down to the valley, cross, then ascend stairs leading directly up to the neighborhood.
Otherwise, head for the windmill on King David Street.
As long as anyone can remember, the windmill next to the plaza has been a fixture in Jerusalem.
But it has a new look, as last month the blades and cap were replaced to better resemble the original structure. This writer was present on that day a few weeks ago when the blades began to turn, just as they did when the windmill first appeared on the scene.
After laying the cornerstone for Mishkenot Sha’ananim in 1857, Montefiore put up the 18- meter-high, ultra-modern windmill for grinding grain into flour. And despite the curses of local Arabs unhappy with the competition, it continued to spin until steam-powered mills made it obsolete.
If you are there on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, you can see the blades turn with the help of the wind and a special pulley. Inside the windmill, there is a DVD of the neighborhood, the windmill and their histories, waiting for you to watch. Ask Yonatan, who sits there on Fridays, to turn it on. In February, the windmill will be closed while it is prepared for a return to its original function: grinding flour.
Directly across the valley, Dormition Abbey is an impressive German Catholic complex that Kaiser Wilhelm II built in 1910. Focus your attention on the clock tower, and you can imagine you are looking at the face of a Prussian soldier, complete with helmet, eyes and nose. In fact, if you happen to view it at just the right angle at night, the clock looks just like the emperor.
Just below the large and stately Greek Orthodox Seminary and to your right stands the Jerusalem University College. Originally a school for Arab boys, the structure was built in 1853 by Anglican Bishop Samuel Gobat and was known for years as the Institute of Holy Land Studies.
5. Mount Scopus overlooks. There are two overlooks on Mount Scopus that offer vastly different views. From Glick Observation Plaza, opposite the Hebrew University and just past the entrance to the Mazer Center for Humanities, Jerusalem is a stunning sight in the morning – and a romantic one at sunset.
Landmarks to the left include the tall tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension, and the Augusta Victoria hospice that Wilhelm II built and named for his wife. Between the two are the domes and arches of the Center for Near Eastern Studies on Mount Scopus (Mormon Center), one of the most sensational buildings in the city.
In the distance directly across from you is the brilliant golden dome atop the Dome of the Rock, which recently underwent major renovations that the Kingdom of Jordan financed. Beyond it is the dark-gray dome of Al-Aksa mosque.
Hundreds of tombs, both elaborate and simple, were hewn into the slopes of the hills surrounding the city at the end of the Second Temple period.
There are a number of empty burial chambers from that period just under the plaza (take the steps down the slope).
Not far from Glick Plaza, the road that runs parallel to the Hebrew University ends at a T-junction where turning right takes you to the Mount of Olives. Save that for later, when you visit Mitzpe Gandhi (the Gandhi Overlook). For now, cross the road to the Gerald Halbert Park and Observation Plaza.
You will be standing at 834 meters above sea level, with the Dead Sea several hundred meters below. With luck, you can make out its blue waters, and if not, you can easily see Jordan’s Moab Mountains on the other side.
6. Gandhi Overlook. Before beginning a tour of the Holy City, almost every tourist stops at (or is taken to) an observation point on the Mount of Olives for an unparalleled view of Jerusalem. The overlook is called Mitzpe Gandhi, named for Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi. A historian, general and politician, he was murdered by terrorists at the nearby Dan Jerusalem Hotel (formerly the Hyatt Regency) 11 years ago while serving as tourism minister. Mitzpe Gandhi is located below the Seven Arches Hotel, which old-timers remember as the once super-elegant Intercontinental Hotel.
From the overlook, which is usually teeming with visitors as well as merchants peddling their Holy Land-related wares, the view encompasses almost the entire old and new cities, from the skyline featuring the Leonardo Hotel, Jerusalem Tower and a couple of new high rises, all the way down the slopes to the Temple Mount.
Directly below the overlook is the oldest and most important Jewish cemetery in the world with over 70,000 graves. Some of them date back 3,000 years, all the way to the First Temple period. Many people believe that three of the biblical prophets – Zechariah, Malachi and Haggai – are buried on the Mount of Olives, in a cave toward the top of the slope. More recently, Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon was laid to rest here; so were lexicographer Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his family, and former prime minister Menachem Begin.
The following overlooks are wheelchair-accessible: Haas-Sherover Promenade, Mount Zion Promenade, Windmill Plaza, Glick Observation Plaza and Mitzpe Gandhi.