Mount Zion guide starts with a map, Bible verses, and then we tour landmarks (King David’s Tomb, Room of the Last Supper, Dormition Abbey). Let’s begin!
Note: I took the featured photo of the Dormition Abbey during the Jerusalem Festival of Light.
One One Foot
Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem just outside the walls of the Old City. The term Mount Zion has been used in the Hebrew Bible first for the City of David and later for the Temple Mount, but its meaning has shifted, and it is now used as the name of ancient Jerusalem’s Western Hill. In a wider sense, the term is also used for the entire Land of Israel.
Mount Zion is adjacent to the South of the Old City.
Map of the area:
And here is my photo of the Old City Map sign that I saw during one of my visits:
Note: you can click on the image to enlarge it.
On the photo of the map above, Mount Zion is located at the bottom between the squares N4 and O6.
Directions And Parking
For detailed directions check Old City Of Jerusalem guide.
In that guide, I mentioned different ways of reaching the Old City. And now I want to show the way from HaPa’amon Garden (one of the only free parking places not far from Old City). If you are using it, you will see nice views of Mount Zion. Moreover, there is a nice place on the way. At Mendes-France square (about 300m from the parking) you can find this fountain with lions:
Lions were not selected randomly. The lion is the symbol of Jerusalem, and it appears on the emblem. The lion represents the “lion of Judah,” the symbol of the Tribe of Judah and later on the Kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem.
As you progress towards the Old City (about 400m from the fountain) you will see the panorama of Mount Zion (on the right) and the Old City walls further away.
As you look at the photo above you will notice something strange.
Why Mount Zion is outside the Old City walls?
Interestingly enough, legend has it that Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent initially meant for Mount Zion to be inside the walls of the Old City. However, the Turkish engineers who were planning the restoration of the walls accidentally left Mount Zion and King David’s Tomb outside the walls, prompting the livid sultan to execute them.
Keep in mind that this route has a rather intense climb up to Mount Zion.
Mount Zion in The Bible
Zion is mentioned many times in the Bible. And in this section, I want to discuss only those mentions that tell us about Mount Zion’s location.
The City Of David
2 Samuel 5:7 (NRSV):
Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David.
1 Chronicles 11:5 (NRSV)
The inhabitants of Jebus said to David, “You will not come in here.” Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, now the city of David.
According to the quotes above, King David conquered Jebusite (Canaanite tribe) fortress called the “stronghold of Zion”. Then he renamed it to “City of David”.
Thus Mount Zion was at lower eastern Hill, where the City Of David is located today.
Here are two other Bible verses that tie City Of David and Zion:
1 Kings 8:1 (NRSV)
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion.
2 Chronicles 5:2 (NRSV)
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion.
Psalm 2:6 (NRSV):
I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.
Once the First Temple was erected at the top of the Eastern Hill, the name “Mount Zion” migrated there too.
After the conquest of the Jebusite city, its built-up area expanded northward towards the uppermost part of the same, Eastern Hill. This highest part became the site of Solomon’s Temple.
The identification of the pre-Israelite (Jebusite) and Israelite towns on the Eastern Hill is based on the existence of only one perennial water source in the area, the Gihon Spring, and on archaeological excavations revealing sections of the Bronze Age and Iron Age city walls and water systems.
The “Mount Zion” mentioned in the later parts of the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 60:14), in the Book of Psalms, and the First Book of Maccabees (c. 2nd century BCE) seems to refer to the top of the hill, generally known as the Temple Mount.
Isaiah 60:14 (NRSV):
The descendants of those who oppressed you
shall come bending low to you,
and all who despised you
shall bow down at your feet;
they shall call you the City of the Lord,
the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
And to complete the picture here is the reasoning behind moving Mount Zion to its current location:
The last shift of the name Mount Zion was to the Western Hill, which is more dominant than the Eastern Hill and seemed to first-century CE Jerusalemites the worthier location for the by-then lost palace of King David. Western Hill is what today is called Mount Zion.
In the second half of the First Temple period, the city expanded westward, and its defensive walls were extended to include the entire Western Hill behind them. Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the city almost completely around 586 BCE, severing the continuity of historical memory. A long period of rebuilding followed, ending with Jerusalem’s second destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE. Josephus, the first-century CE historian who knew the city as it was before this second catastrophic event, identified Mount Zion as being the Western Hill, separated from the lower, Eastern Hill, by what he calls the “Tyropoeon Valley.” It must, however, be said that Josephus never used the name “Mount Zion” in any of his writings, but described the “Citadel” of King David as being situated on the higher and longer hill, thus pointing at the Western Hill as what the Bible calls Mount Zion.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, Zion is mentioned many times at the Bible, and further in this post, you will see additional verses.
Mount Zion Landmarks
In this section, we will go over the most landmarks on Mount Zion, and then we will visit the most popular ones.
- Dormition Abbey – see the full description below.
- King David’s Tomb – see the full description below.
- The Cenacle – Room of the Last Supper – see the full description below.
- The Chamber of the Holocaust was Israel’s first Holocaust museum. Today this small museum is located at Ma’ale Shazkh street. And the opening hours are Sunday to Thursday from 8:00 to 17:00, and Friday from 8:00 to 13:00.
- Catholic cemetery on Mount Zion – many people go there to pay respect to a notable person. Of course, I am referring to Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories in Poland.
- Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu is a Roman Catholic church located on the eastern slope of Mount Zion. One interesting fact is that the church’s name originates from “Gallicantu,” which in Latin means cock’s-crow. This is in memory of Peter’s triple rejection of Jesus.
Mark 14:30 (NIV):
Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice[a] you yourself will disown me three times.”
King David’s Tomb
I want to start from the building where King David’s Tomb is located. Since in the same building, on the second floor, you can find the upper room – the cenacle. Moreover, the same building has a lovely roof view.
Note: I visited King David’s Tomb during the weekend. And on Saturdays, photography is not allowed there.
King David’s Tomb is a site considered by some to be the burial place of David, King of Israel, according to a tradition beginning in the 12th century. The majority of historians and archaeologists do not consider the site to be the real resting place of King David.
It is located on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, near the early 20th century Abbey of the Dormition. The tomb is thought to be situated in a ground floor corner of the remains of the former Hagia Zion, considered a Byzantine church or late Roman era Synagogue. The Diaspora Yeshiva now administers the building, a Jewish seminary group.
Due to Israeli Jews being unable to reach holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City during the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank (1948-1967), the tomb of David became a place of worship, sought for its views of the Temple Mount, and thus became a symbol of prayer and yearning. Formerly a mosque, it was converted into a synagogue following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948; from then onwards, the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs began the process of turning the site into Israel’s primary religious site. Jewish prayer was established at the site, and Jewish religious symbols were added. From 1948 until the Six-Day War in 1967, it was considered the holiest Jewish site in Israel.
If the majority of historians and archaeologists do not consider the site to be the real resting place of King David, then where it is? According to the Bible, King David’s tomb is located in the City Of David. Here is the verse from 1 Kings 2:10-12 (NIV):
Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David.
King David’s Tomb Opening Hours
Many sites list the following opening hours: Saturday to Thursday, 8:00 to 17:00 and Friday 8:00 to 1:00.
The official site lists the following activity hours:
Sunday to Thursday: 21:00 – 1:00
Friday – up to 15:00 and after 19:00
Saturday – open during the whole day (24 hours)
The “activity hours” look strange to me, and I guess the best bet is coming during the working hours I mentioned in the beginning.
Anyway, King David’s Tomb functions like a synagogue. There are different entrances for men and women, and once you enter inside, there is not much to see. Most people do not refer to this place as part of a tourist route, but rather as a place for praying.
The Cenacle – Room of the Last Supper
And now, from King David’s Tomb we will go one floor up to the Upper Room, also called Cenacle or Room of the Last Supper.
By the way, Cenacle comes from Latin and means “I dine”. And to understand the origin of the other names let’s look at the Bible.
Upper Room in The New Testament
Mark 14:15 (NKJV)
Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”
Luke 22:12 (NKJV)
Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready.”
Acts 1:13 (NKJV)
And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James.
These verses explain the origin of the Upper Room name. And this room got its third name, Room of the Last Supper, for the most famous event that took place there. But it is not the only event, and there are many others.
The Cenacle is considered the site where many other events described in the New Testament took place, such as:
- preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ final Passover meal
- the washing of his disciples’ feet
- certain resurrection appearances of Jesus
- the gathering of the disciples after the Ascension of Jesus
- the election of Saint Matthias as an apostle
- the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost
I was quite lucky to get The Last Supper Room all to myself. In two minutes another group came in, and you could barely find any place to stand.
History of Cenacle
The Room of the Last Supper is not a big one. And the photo above shows most of it. Nevertheless, there are many interesting details. For example, if you take a closer look, then you will see a Mihrab (a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca). Moreover, the stained window (on the right) has an Arabic inscription. To understand more let’s look at Cenacle’s history.
The early history of the Cenacle site is uncertain; scholars have attempted to establish a chronology based on archaeological, artistic and historical sources.
Based on the survey conducted by Jacob Pinkerfeld in 1948, Pixner believes that the original building was a synagogue later probably used by Jewish Christians. However, no architectural features associated with early synagogues such as columns, benches, or other accouterments are present in the lower Tomb chamber. According to Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis writing towards the end of the 4th century, the building and its environs were spared during the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus (AD 70). Pixner suggests that the Mount Zion site was destroyed and rebuilt in the later first century. The lowest courses of ashlars (building stones) along the north, east, and south walls are attributed by Pinkerfeld to the late Roman period (135-325 AD). Pixner believes that they are Herodian-period ashlars, dating the construction of the building to an earlier period. Many scholars, however, date the walls’ earliest construction to the Byzantine period and identify the Cenacle as the remains of a no-longer-extant Hagia Sion (“Holy Zion”) basilica. The Roman emperor Theodosius I constructed the five-aisled Hagia Sion basilica likely between 379 and 381 AD.
Sixth-century artistic representations, such as the mosaics found in Madaba, Jordan (the “Madaba Map”) and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, depict a smaller structure to the south of basilica. Some have identified this smaller structure as the Cenacle, thus demonstrating its independence from and possible prior existence to the basilica. The basilica (and the Cenacle?) was later damaged by Persian invaders in 614 AD but restored by the patriarch Modestus. In AD 1009, the church was destroyed by the Muslim caliph Al-Hakim. Shortly afterward, it was replaced by the Crusaders with a cathedral named for Saint Mary featuring a central nave and two side aisles. The Cenacle was either repaired or enclosed by the Crusader church, occupying a portion of two aisles on the right (southern) side of the altar. The Crusader cathedral was destroyed soon afterward, in the late 12th or early 13th century, but the Cenacle remained. (Today, part of the site upon which the Byzantine and Crusader churches stood is believed to be occupied by the smaller Church of the Dormition and its associated Abbey.)
Syrian Christians maintained the Cenacle until the 1330s when it passed into the custody of the Franciscan Order of Friars, who managed the structure until 1524. At that time, Ottoman authorities took possession of the Cenacle, converting it into a mosque. The Franciscans were evicted from their surrounding buildings in 1550. Architectural evidence remains of the period of Muslim control, including the elaborate mihrab in the Last Supper Room, the Arabic inscriptions on its walls, the Qubba over the stairwell, and the minaret and dome atop the roof. Christians were not allowed to return until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The historical building is currently managed by the State of Israel Ministry of the Interior.
Cenacle Opening Hours
The opening hours are 8 – 18 daily and closed on Yom Kippur. Plus, admission is free.
Former President’s Room
From the Room of the Last Supper, let’s take the stairs. Once we climb to the third floor, the roof, you can see a small building. And on the door of that building, there is a sign telling: “The President’s Room.” It was the actual President’s room until 1967. From the outside, it looks like a small room, and it is always closed.
During the 1948 war, Mount Zion was conquered by the Harel Brigade on May 18, 1948, and became the only part of the Old City to stay in Israeli hands until the armistice. At first, it was linked to the Jewish neighborhood of Yemin Moshe across the Valley of Hinnom via a narrow tunnel. But eventually, an alternative was needed to evacuate the wounded and transport supplies to soldiers on Mt. Zion. A cable car capable of carrying a load of 250 kilograms was designed for this purpose. The cable car was only used at night and lowered into the valley during the day to escape detection; it is still in place at what is now the Mount Zion Hotel. The ride from the Israeli position at the St. John Eye Hospital to Mount Zion took two minutes.
Between 1948 and 1967, when the Old City was under Jordanian rule, Israelis were forbidden access to the Jewish holy places. Mount Zion was a designated no man’s land between Israel and Jordan. Mount Zion was the closest accessible site to the ancient Jewish Temple. Until East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War, Israelis would climb to the rooftop of David’s Tomb to pray. The winding road leading up to Mount Zion is known as Pope’s Way. It was paved in honor of the historic visit to Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI in 1964.
Another reminder of the war can be found at Zion Gate. Before entering the gate, take a look at the Old City wall. You will see many bullet holes.
Since we already saw the Dormition Abbey from the viewpoint, let’s head there.
When getting off the rooftop and going around the building, you will find the statue of David playing Lyre. I took this photo while standing very close to the entrance to the Room of the Last Supper.
History Of Dormition Abbey
Our Dormition Basilica is also relatively young with its barely hundred-year history. But it stands on old stone and oral testimonies of Christian belief. When the room of the Last Supper was lost during the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman troops in 70 A.D., a Jewish-Christian synagogue was built on Mount Zion, later designated as the “Church of the Apostles.” In the fourth century, it was enlarged to become a small church. At the beginning of the fifth century, a large Byzantine basilica known as “Hagia Sion” was erected in its place. Which, however, was already destroyed during the Persian invasion of 614. Only in the 12th century was a new church built by the crusaders, larger than all its predecessors, and called “Santa Maria in Monte Sion.” However, when the Muslims retook the city from the crusaders in 1187, many traces of the brief Christian period were wiped away. The stone remains of Santa Maria are found today only in the area of the present-day Room of the Last Supper and deep in the ground beneath our monastery and our church.
A the end of the 19th century, when the Germans undertook to acquire the plot of land on Mount Zion, it was still a field of rubble behind which arose the Nebu Daoud (Prophet David) complex.
Source: official website
Dormition Abbey Opening Hours
The official site lists the following opening hours:
Sundays: 11:30 – 17:30
Weekdays: 9:00 – 17:30
But during church services, the church is open only to worshipers. And I know this first hand, since, during one of our visits, we were asked to leave at midday. So, when are masses? There are at 6 am, 7 am, 10 am only on Sunday, 12:15, 18:15, and 20:00.
Taking the masses into account, the opening hours (that I saw on several other sites) are probably:
Weekdays: 8:30 – 11:45 and 12:30 – 18:00
Saturday: 8:30 – 11:45 and 12:30 – 17:30
Sunday: 10:30 – 11:45 and 12:30 – 17:30
And now let’s enter the Dormition Abbey.
Mosaic Floor in Dormition Abbey
Dormition abbey has quite a unique architecture. It is a circular building with several niches (containing altars and a choir).
But in this section, I wanted to mention the unexpected zodiac floor mosaics (though it is hard to see it because of the chairs).
The floor mosaic of the upper church, which our confrere Mauritius Gisler designed and carried out in 1932, can be read as a kind of confession of faith and story of creation:
In the center, three concentric bands mark the center of the creation. The light of the triune God, his truth, and wisdom are carried out into the world by the greater and the lesser prophets and the apostles and evangelists. Additional bands are formed around the center until finally, the ends of the earth are reached – graphically and in letters presented as the names of the twelve months and the twelve signs of the zodiac. The entire circular presentation is surrounded by a quotation from the Book of Proverbs.
Source: official website
Dormition Abbey Crypt
Dormition Abbey has a crypt. You can use the stars in the far end to go one floor down to the crypt. In the crypt of the Basilica, you can find the site, where, according to the old Jerusalem tradition Mary lived and died after the Resurrection of Jesus.
In the center of the crypt, you can find the statue of Mary.
Originally the gown of the figure of Mary was of chased silver and goldplated. After the war of 1948 and the occupation of the church, only the wooden core remained. The ivory hands also had to be replaced and the nose in ivory had to be repaired.
Source: official website
Also, in the crypt, there is the altar for the reposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
Dormition Abbey Concerts
During one of our visits, a tour group entered the Dormition Abbey. Their guide left the group and went upstairs. As it turns out, the guide is also an organ player, and we enjoyed several music pieces.
As you can see from the following fisheye shot (I took it while looking straight up), there is an organ in the back.
Moreover, Dormition Abbey holds different concerts. You can find additional information about the concerts either at the official site or at the Christian Information Center (has concert information of many churches).
And the last photo was taken from behind the graveyard (located behind Room of the Last Supper ).
Yes, Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem. Over the centuries, the name Mount Zion referred to different hills in/near the Old City. See the description above for additional information.
The term Mount Zion has been used in the Bible for three different hills. First for the City of David, then for the Temple Mount, and lastly for its current location.
However, in the New Testament, Mount Zion is used in a wider sense and refers to Jerusalem.
The short answer is that we do not know. The book 2 Samuel 5:7 tells how David took the stronghold of Zion. Thus, the words might have non-Semitic routes. Different associations were suggested. Here are some of them: “castle” in Hebrew, “dry land” or “citadel” in Arabic, and “river” in Hurrian.
The short answer is maybe. There is King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, but the majority of historians and archaeologists do not consider it to be the actual resting place of King David.
According to the Bible, King David’s tomb is located in the City of David. But according to tradition, King David’s tomb is located on Mount Zion. So, the short answer is we are not sure.
The Room of the Last Supper, Cenacle, is located on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Mount Zion has great historical significance, and a visit to the main landmarks will take at most half a day. Moreover, most of them are free. Thus, I do not see a reason not to visit it, unless maybe you are very short in time.
Have you ever been to Mount Zion? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.