Mount Zion's Religious & Mysterious History

A short, and extremely worthwhile walk outside the Old City of Jerusalem - Welcome to the Mount Zion Compound - A place you never forget

It's no joke: Legend holds that both King David and Jesus lived on Mount Zion. King David may not actually be buried here, but the site was the closest Jews could come to the Western Wall before the Six Day War, and Christians believe Jesus spent his last night here.

Mount Zion once referred to the Temple Mount, but the name was appropriated for its present location, outside the walls of the Old City during the Middle Ages. Located just outside Zion Gate, the site has great significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The starting point for our walk is Zion Gate, at first glance your average gate, but in fact, a structure whose planning involved a great deal of tactical thought. It is riddled with rifle bullets, remnants of the War of Independence, and consequently acquired its nickname: “Wounded Gate”.

Outside the gate, a path passes above the adjacent parking lot, and after a few meters you will reach a fork in the road. The right hand fork continues close to the wall of Dominion Abbey. On the left, in the upper part of the wall, is a statue of a man, holding the cross of Jerusalem, once the symbol of the Crusaders and currently the symbol of the Franciscan monastic order, appointed custodians of the Catholic holy places by the Vatican and the Pope.

The figure in the statue is the founder of the order, St. Francis, who lived in Italy in the 12th century. Franciscan monks are a frequent sight around Israel, easily recognizable by their brown habits, triangular hats and triple-knotted white belts (representing the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, as well as the three monastic vows).

On to David's Tomb

Continue in the direction of the Dormition Abbey, walking straight and slightly to the left, up to the site of David’s Tomb. The site is probably the only place in Israel, and possibly in the world, that is home to a synagogue on the first floor, a former church on the second floor and a mosque on the roof.

There are many legends and myths abound about David’s Tomb, but the site is unlikely to house the actual remains of King David, since the Bible (I Kings: 2) says David was buried in the City of David, hundreds of meters from Mount Zion.

Notice the large mezuzah at the entrance to the site and the structure of the tomb itself, adorned with crowns from three Torah scrolls smuggled to Israel by Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust.

The Temple Mount Observation point, next to the minaret in Arabic of the Nebi Daoud (Prophet David) mosque, is so called because this was the closest Jews were allowed to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall between the years 1948-1967, when the Old City was under Jordanian occupation but Mount Zion was under Israeli rule.

King David's Tomb adorned with crowns from three Torah scrolls smuggled to Israel by Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust

To the south is the famous Hass Promenade and Herbert Samuel’s former Government House, now the U.N. Headquarters. Turning to the east, you can see the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and Intercontinental/Seven Arches Hotel.

Continuing to the north (left) is the tower of Augusta Victoria Hospital with its triangular roof, and further left from there – Hebrew University Tower on Mount Scopus. Beneath the University Tower, within the Old City, the tip of the golden Dome of the Rock, at the center of the Temple Mount, is just visible.

To the west is Dormitian Abbey in all its glory, and behind it the King David Hotel and the YMCA tower. In Latin, “dormire” means to sleep, and in the Abbey's name refers to the Virgin Mary, who Christians believe spent her last night in Zion there. A visit to the Abbey is highly recommended.

Crusader pillars and Muslim prayer halls

There is a door at the exit of the complex, leading to the hall of the Last Supper, known as the Coenaculum, a Crusader structure dating from the 12th century. Notice the impressive arches and the Muslim prayer niche facing Mecca.

Opposite the entrance is a Crusader pillar decorated in the shape of a falcon. On either side of the bird is a fledgling pecking at its belly. Jesus is depicted in many drawings as a cockerel with his followers depicted as chicks. Here the falcon represents Jesus and his followers are the fledglings biting his flesh to save their lives.

The Last Supper Room

According to Christian tradition, Jesus sat in this hall on the last Seder Night before his crucifixion. He allowed his disciples to drink wine (symbolizing his blood) and to eat bread (what were they doing having bread on Passover?) symbolizing his flesh.

This ceremony is still preserved as part of the Mass, and is perhaps best known for the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci. The Pope visited here in 1966 and as a result Israel was granted permission to pave the road leading from Sultan’s Pool to here, despite its proximity to the Jordanian border of that period.

You can also visit the grave of Oscar Schindler on Mount Zion, in the Church of St. Peter and other interesting cemeteries. I recommend visiting the place at night, although the abbey, the tomb and hall of the Last Supper close at dusk.

But there is no substitute for the beauty of the illuminated complex and the breathtaking view from the rooftop over the Old City and Jerusalem. Satisfaction guaranteed.