Born in England, Elizabeth Feyodorovna was one of Queen Victoria’s many granddaughters. When she married Grand Duke Sergei, brother to the ruling Russian Tzar in 1884, she embraced his Russian Orthodox religion with fervor. Childless, she devoted her life to the Church and to charitable pursuits.
On July 16, 1918, during the Revolution, Bolsheviks executed the Russian Czar and his immediate family. One day later they hurled Elizabeth and other royal Russians down the shaft of an abandoned coal mine. Grenades were thrown down the shaft in a further attempt to finish off the aristocracy, but the saintly Elizabeth stayed alive long enough to rip off her clothing and bandage the wounds of her companions.
It may have been her voice, singing hymns to comfort the others, which eventually led a passerby to the deserted mine. By the time he returned with help, however, everyone inside was dead.
One of Elizabeth’s Jerusalem projects was the construction of a magnificent church in Ein Kerem, the biblical village where, according to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born. But work was halted when World War I broke out. For nearly a century afterward, all that remained was a shell, barely visible from the road to the Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem.
Some years ago, however, construction began again on this grandiose Russian Orthodox Church. Today, outdoors enthusiasts can feast their eyes on its shiny golden domes while strolling along a new, paved promenade above Ein Kerem. Lined with flowers and fragrant spices like lavender, tarragon and rosemary, the promenade is especially lovely in late afternoon when the domes sparkle against the sky. The promenade begins near the Ora Intersection in the Holy City, just below a bridge which is slated to host a new section of the Light Rail. (Winter warning: after a heavy rain, the end of the promenade may be muddy.)
Convinced that the coronavirus won’t strike us if we wander about in the open air, we spent this week strolling Jerusalem promenades: not walks next to the sea, as promenades often are, but strolls on wide paved paths along sites steeped in modern and ancient history. All but the urban promenades also present some of the best views this city has to offer.
Except for the Mount Zion Promenade, all are level walkways. However both the Gabriel Sherover and the Goldman promenades end with steps, so if you use a wheelchair you have to turn around to get back to where you started. Strolls take from half an hour to over an hour, depending on how many times you stop to rest and enjoy the view, or to take advantage of attractions along the way.
The newest – and shortest – of the walks is along Dubnov Street, in the heart of the Talbieh neighborhood and home to some of Jerusalem’s wealthiest residents. It was named for Russian-Jewish historian and prolific author Shimon Meyerovich Dubnow, born in Belarus in 1860 and murdered by the Nazis in 1941.
Featuring both a wide stone pavement and an asphalt bicycle path, the promenade passes next to Hansen House, a large German institution built in the 1880s as a hospital for the treatment of leprosy and today home to the Urban Design branch of the Bezalel Institute of the Arts.
Hansen’s garden, located just below the promenade, is known locally as Moon Grove, and is full of ancient oaks and pines, blooming flowers and, in season, blossoming almond trees. During the 1980s, developers fought hard to get their hands on this choice property, but environmentalists and area residents carried on a hard public battle that ended with Moon Grove being declared an Urban Park.
Further along the promenade, Talbieh’s Rose Garden (Gan Hashoshanim) was created in the 1930s. Its landscaped lawns and gardens are so beautiful that for many years it hosted many of early Israel’s state events.
Sacher Park-Herzog Promenade
Three different sign-posted paths surround most lakes in this writer’s native state of Minnesota, making it easy to walk, run, or jog without running into other people. The longest of the promenades we tried this week also features a running track, bicycle path and walking lane – but here in Israel, people can’t seem to figure out which is which.
This second urban promenade begins in part of Sacher Park and ends at a sculpture of a staircase going nowhere outside the neighborhood of Givat Mordecai. But while this promenade is noisier than the others and lacks any kind of tranquil feel, it does provide playgrounds, lots of grass, and restrooms. It begins at Sacher Park, just past the intersection of Bezalel Street with Ben Zvi Boulevard and above the Gan Sipur Café.
At one point the promenade veers left to continue under a bridge and into the Valley of the Cross, where it passes a large monastery. Constructed in 1039 by a Georgian (Iberian) monk named Prochorus, the monastery stands over earlier foundations whose exact ancestry is uncertain. At the end of the walkway there is a monument to 12th-century Georgian poet and philosopher Shota Rostaveli, who spent the last years of his life in Jerusalem.
At Herzog Boulevard the promenade continues to the right, still following Sacher Park. Near the end of the promenade, things change, and walkers stroll on a level above the bike track. Attractions close by include the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and Gazelle Valley.
Mount Zion Promenade
Jerusalemites knew that this year’s prolonged summer would finally come to an end when hills in the area around Mount Zion began to fill with white squill. Considered harbingers of the first rain, squill bloom in late summer and early fall so that they won’t have to compete with far more splendid flowers for the attention of pollinating insects. They are easy to identify, for they have very tall stalks and white flowers which bloom from the bottom up.
Just now there are masses of squill on the slopes below the new Mount Zion Promenade. Of course they won’t be around for long, but even when they disappear there will be plenty to see.
Walkers begin by climbing steps at the junction with Sultan’s Pool and ascending Mount Zion. The promenade, which is part of Jerusalem Walls National Park, runs parallel to a road constructed in 1964 to enable Pope Paul VI to visit the holy sites, appropriately called Pope’s Way.
Along the way are stunning views of the Hinnom Valley, in biblical times a fiery pit into which pagans and Jews alike are believed to have thrown their first-born children in order to appease the monstrous god Moloch. On the other side of the valley are Second Temple-era burial caves, the Karaite cemetery and rocky slopes that were used for rappelling in better days. Above them all stand the striking Scottish Church, and the historic 19th-century St. John’s Eye Hospital, today the Mount Zion Hotel.
Farther along the promenade, the neighborhood of Abu Tor comes into view. So does the wall which separates the Palestinian Authority from Jerusalem. The stroll ends at an environmental sculpture by French artist Daniel Buren whose three large empty frames are called “Trois points de vue pour un dialogue” (Three points of view for a dialogue).
Armon Hanatziv Promenade
Aleksander Gudzowaty was an extremely wealthy, non-Jewish Polish businessman greatly interested in promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. To that end, he sponsored the construction of Jerusalem’s stunning Tolerance Monument, which was completed in 2008. Created by Polish Sculptor Czesław Dźwigaj, it is found at the beginning of the Goldman Promenade, one of three wide level walkways that together make up the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in southern Jerusalem.
Every tourist to Jerusalem (and the locals as well, of course) is familiar with the oldest, the Haas Promenade, completed in 1987. But two others – one beneath the Haas and a second immediately to its east – are less well-traveled. All three offer terrific 180-degree views of both old and new Jerusalem.
Gabriel Sherover Way, inaugurated in 1989, begins off Naomi Street in the neighborhood of Abu Tor and ends with steps leading to the Haas parking lot. Besides its gorgeous views, it features three pergolas and several environmental structures at whose titles you can only guess.
The Goldman Promenade is the newest of the three, and almost circles around Government House, a magnificent structure built around 1933. In Hebrew called Armon Hanatziv (Commissioner’s Palace), it housed a series of High Commissioners during the British Mandate and today serves as headquarters for the United Nations.
The Goldman Promenade begins with the Tolerance Monument. It stands at one end of a large parking lot along Alar Street, which runs to the right of Government House. At the far end of the parking lot, steps and a ramp lead down to the promenade with views of the city from a slightly different angle. Near the end of the walk there is a fenced-off area containing stone structures dating back to the Hasmonean era (2nd to 1st centuries BCE) and one shaft of an aqueduct nearly 3,000 years old. Finally, steps lead down to a small pool, next to the Haas Parking lot.
A fitting conclusion to the promenade, with its modern and historic sites, is a venture into Sherman Park, on Alar Street across from UN headquarters. Here, within the grass and trees of the park, a modern-day mosaic map illustrates the ancient aqueduct’s route from the hills of Hebron to Jerusalem.
Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel. Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.
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