Israel travels

Five glorious places from which to look out over Jerusalem

Strikingly different vantage points for gazing at the holy city

Sunset at Gerald Halbert Park (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Sunset at Gerald Halbert Park (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 have first glimpsed Mount Moriah is, today, covered by a spectacular promenade with wonderful overlooks and breath-taking panoramic views.

Financed largely by the generous Sherover and Haas families in the 1980’s, it is only one of several sites that offer strikingly different vantage points for gazing at Jerusalem.

Most are wheelchair/stroller accessible (see note at the end of the article) and, best of all, they are free.

1. Haas-Sherover Promenade

Full of beautiful walkways that include landscaped gardens and creative balconies, the Haas-Sherover Promenade is located in East Talpiot. From its main observation points near the United Nations Headquarters it is easy to make out Mount Moriah, which in earliest biblical times was only a barren hill. Today Mount Moriah is topped by the golden Dome of the Rock, built in 691 over the site on which the First and Second Temples (and their Holy of Holies) once stood.

The Haas Promenade (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
The Haas Promenade (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

A narrow ridge covered with buildings 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 conquered by King David and fashioned into the political and spiritual capital of Israel over 3,000 years ago.

2. Confederation House Overlook

Confederation House on Emil Botta Street near the King David Hotel was built in the mid-19th century by a Moslem landowner on property owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. 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 Abdullah, during the first stages of the War of Independence. They had soon realized its strategic importance, for not only did face the Tower of David and Jaffa Gate, but it provided control over the road to Hebron, and stood higher than the adjacent Jewish neighborhood of Yemin Moshe.

The view from Confederation House (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
The view from Confederation House (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

On February 10, 1948, Arab troops captured the house from the British. With control of this strategic position, they were able to easily roll barrels of explosives down the hill into Yemin Moshe, and used the villa as a base from which to constantly terrorize the neighborhood. The British eventually re-conquered 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.

A wonderful overlook is found atop a grassy hill above Confederation House, which was restored in 1984 by the World Confederation of United Zionists. From the overlook there are several amazing views of the Old City. Spread out before you are the Old City Walls, with Notre Dame Monastery in the distance, to your left. Also easily visible are the imposing Franciscan College Frères, the tower of the Greek Catholic church, the yellow flag of the Latin Patriarchate, and Jaffa Gate.

3. Mount Zion Promenade and Overlooks

Featuring lawns, benches, new excavations, and excellent explanatory signs, the Mount Zion promenade is just below the Old City walls south of Jaffa Gate. When it ends at the wall’s southern corner, next to Mount Zion, there is an overlook with a stupendous view of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Yemin Moshe, and a restored 1860’s windmill.

Mishkenot, as seen from Mount Zion (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Mishkenot, as seen from Mount Zion (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

4. Mount Scopus Observation Decks

Two observation decks are located on Mount Scopus – but 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 your left include the tall tower of the Russian Ascension Church, and the Augusta Victoria hospice built by German Emperor Wilhelm II 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.

The Glick Plaza (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
The Glick Plaza (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

In the distance directly across from you, the brilliant golden dome atop the Dome of the Rock underwent major renovations whose cost was covered by the Kingdom of Jordan. Beyond it is the dark-gray dome of al-Aqsa mosque.

Hundreds of tombs, elaborate and simple, were hewn into the slopes of the hills surrounding the city at the end of Second Temple period. A number of empty burial chambers from that period are found just under the Plaza.

Not far from Glick Plaza, the Gerald Halbert Park and Observation Plaza stands 834 meters above sea level. With luck, you will be able to make out the blue waters of the Dead Sea, several hundred meters below you and in the distance. If not, you can still easily see Jordan’s Moav Mountains on the other side.

5. Gandhi Overlook

Before beginning their 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 Rehav’am “Gandhi” Zeevi. A historian, general, and politician, he was murdered by terrorists at the nearby Dan Jerusalem Hotel (formerly Hyatt Regency) 11 years ago while serving as minister of tourism. Mitzpe Gandhi is located below the Seven Arches Hotel, which old-timers like me remember as the once super-elegant Intercontinental Hotel.

The view from the Mount of Olives (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
The view from the Mount of Olives (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

From the overlook, teeming with visitors and merchants peddling their Holy Land wares, the view encompasses almost the entire Old and New Cities, from the unfortunate skyline featuring the Leonardo Hotel, Jerusalem Tower, and a couple of new high rises, all the way down the slopes of the city to the Temple Mount and its glittering gold dome.

Directly below the overlook stands the oldest and most important Jewish cemetery in the world with over 70,000 graves. Some of them date 3,000 years, all the way back to the First Temple period. Many people believe that three of the prophets from the Bible — Zechariah, Malachi and Haggai — are buried on the Mount of Olives, in a cave towards the top of the slope. More recently, Nobel Prize Winner S.Y. Agnon was laid to rest here; so were Eliezer Ben Yehuda and his family, and prime minister Menachem Begin.

With the exception of the Confederation House Overlook, all of the promenades and observation balconies are wheelchair accessible.


Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.
Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides customized private tours for individuals, families and small groups.

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