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

Tombstones being identified, data uploaded to Web.

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

The world's oldest Jewish cemetery just went online.

Anew project undertaken by the City of David archeological Park, locatedsouth of Jerusalem's Old City and at the foot of the Mount of Olivescemetery, has begun the process of identifying and documentingtombstones throughout the entirety of the Mount of Olives and uploadingthe data to the Web.

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

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

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

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

Whilemore than 20,000 gravestones have already been documented, organizersestimate 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 ofthe Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Nobel Prize for Literaturelaureate Shai Agnon, former prime minister Menachem Begin, HadassahWomen's Organization founder Henrietta Szold, founder of the BezalelArt School Boris Schatz, Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar, also known as theOhr ha-Chaim after his popular commentary on the Torah, and RabbiAvraham Yitzhak Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the BritishMandate.

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

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

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

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

Every name listed includes the available information about thatperson and a photograph, with the option for the user to upload moredata and photos about their loved ones and acquaintances who are buriedon the mount.

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