Dating back to the First Temple Period, the Mount of Olives Cemetery is Jerusalem's oldest cemetery. It is used to this day, and continues to offer its "prime location" – with a direct view of the Temple Mount.
As one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world and Jerusalem's oldest functioning cemetery, the Mount of Olives Cemetery has been used for the burial of Jews for thousands of years. Containing the graves of generations of Jewish dignitaries, the cemetery is home to over 70,000 graves, and it continues to serve the population of Jerusalem, as well as Jewish believers from around the world who choose to be buried adjacent to Judaism's holiest site.
The ancient burial sites on the Olive Mount can still be found, mostly in caves containing tombs from the First and Second Temple periods. Overlooking the Temple Mount and the past site of the temples, this burial site has long been considered a prime location for Jewish burial. Part of the Jewish belief, the Messiah is supposed to arrive in Jerusalem through the Mount of Olives, and therefore many Jewish believers wished to be buried at this site. In addition, throughout the generations, earth from the mountain was distributed to Jewish Diasporas around the world, where it was integrated in the burial sites of local Jews.
The Mount of Olives Cemetery overlooks the Kidron Valley, another ancient burial site which is home to the tombs of ancient royal family members (such as Absalom's Tomb). Jewish burial has been recorded in the cemetery from as early as the 16th century, following many centuries of undocumented burial after the destruction of the Second Temple.
Over the years, the ancient Jewish graves have been vandalized, and the tombstones destroyed or stolen for other uses. However, in the last few years, the cemetery has been restored, and many of the tombstones reconstructed. Following the 1967 Six Day War, Jewish Israelis began visiting the cemetery and the graves of their loved ones, also enjoying the breathtaking view of the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Temple Mount and the Old City behind them.
New roads were constructed to facilitate easier visits to the cemetery, and the many historic and religious sites in the area – encompassing Jewish, Islamic and Christian history – bring thousands of visitors to the cemetery each day. Indeed, it is one of the most frequently visited burial sites in Israel, and it serves to provide an ongoing connection to the living, connecting the past and the future of Jerusalem.
The cemetery is also a pilgrimage site for many religious and Ultra-Orthodox Jews, as it is the burial site of some of Judaism's most important rabbis and spiritual leaders. The Mount of Olives Cemetery, while a solemn site, continues to attract numerous visits each year, and provides its long history combines to create an important Jerusalem landmark.