It was already the second time that the guardian of the Bab Al-Rahmah Muslim Cemetery had kicked me off. He didn’t understand any English, let alone the reason why I was ‘suspiciously’ wandering around its leaning tombstones. The soft wind was caressing the yellow flowers that had grown in between the graves.
I couldn’t help but lie down and take some pictures, although this way I would have surely caught his attention, once more.
After five minutes, the guardian found me again.
Speaking loudly, he pointed at the long line of tourist buses stuck on the highway on Mount of Olives, which was just in front of us. He probably thought that I ended up in the wrong cemetery.
Then he grabbed my elbow and pulled me towards the main gate, the one overlooking the entrance to the Old City.
But I didn’t want to go inside the walled city to find an uncomfortable maze of souvenir shops selling fake crafts and overpriced spices. All I wanted to do was digging into Jerusalem’s melting pot of religions by exploring its different cemeteries.
Next on the list, the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives. This is the most ancient Jewish cemetery in the world: its earliest tombstones are 3000 years old.
I walked across the different sections of the cemetery -each one belonging to a different Jewish community- and climbed as far as the top of it.
From up there, the view is stunning: all those tombs made out of white stone look like Jerusalem’s traditional rectangular houses.
The thing I liked the most about Jerusalem is that all its buildings, as far as its suburbs, are made out of limestone: it makes the city shine in the rain and glow in the sunshine.
The brilliance is especially impressive in the late afternoon, when the town looks golden.
While I was taking in the ivory view, the muezzin gave his call to worship. I turned my head around looking for the minaret, and I could count four of them. I also spotted dozens of Jews mourning their dead and a long queue in front of the Russian Orthodox Church.
I walked down the chaotic road full of tourist buses; the traffic was backed up and horns were constantly honking.
I kept walking ‘till I reached Mamilla, an elegant area made up of hotels, shops and offices. I bought some falafels wrapped in a soft Pita bread and sat in a pocket park secluded between big, modern buildings, some of which were still under construction.
This tiny park was also a historic Muslim Cemetery, which dates back to the 11th century. The green area is dotted with wooden benches on which locals spend their lunch breaks. There were veiled women and Orthodox Jews, bearded hipsters and girls in leggings, Arab men wearing the keffiyeh and Israeli female soldiers wearing guns.
In the afternoon, I climbed Mount Zion and entered the Catholic Cemetery, which is known for safeguarding the grave of Oskar Schindler. He was a Nazi Party member credited with saving the lives of one thousand of Jews during WW2.
Yet another guardian escorted me around, but this one was nicer: he just wanted to be my guide, making sure that I wouldn’t miss any notable grave or overlook his storage room inhabited by doves and chicken (by no means the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in a cemetery!)
The neighbouring Armenian cemetery was closed, so I took a bus to the National Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl, which is the final resting place for the leaders of the country, for people who died for the country and for police officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
Unlike the cemeteries I had visited during the day, this one was especially neat: the graves were aligned on the slope of the mountain, grouped in trim gardens and spaced out by white cobbled paths.
The tombs were polished and adorned with fresh flowers and the place was silent: all the tourists were inside the Herzl Museum, which is at the main entrance of the park.
Mount Herzl is one of the highest points in Jerusalem. From up there, I could see the different neighbourhoods of a city where religions often collide and divides grow deeper. They were smoothed by the golden glow at dusk.
Visiting Jerusalem Cemeteries:
Bab Al-Rahmah (Muslim Cemetery Eastern Gate)
Address: Derech haOfel, Jerusalem
Jewish Cemetery (Mount of Olives)
Address: Jericho Road 52, Jerusalem
Mamilla Muslim Cemetery
Address: Gershon Agron 29, Jerusalem
Catholic Cemetery (Mount Zion)
Address: Aravna haYevusi 3, Jerusalem
National Military Cemetery (Mount Herzl)
Address: Herzl Boulevard 1, Jerusalem
PEEK THROUGH || Check out my travel video “2 weeks in Israel and Palestine… in 2 minutes”
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