From the Mount of Olives we can plainly distinguish all the convents, and the different quarters of the Catholics, Armenians, Jews, Greeks, etc. The “Mount of Offence” (so called on account of Solomon’s idolatry) rises at the side of the Mount of Olives, and is of no great elevation. Of the temple, and the buildings which Solomon caused to be erected for his wives, but few fragments of walls remain. I had also been told, that the Jordan and the Dead Sea might be seen from this mountain; but I could distinguish neither, probably on account of a mist which obscured the horizon.
At the foot of the Mount of Olives lies the valley of Jehosaphat. The length of this valley does not certainly exceed three miles; neither is it remarkable for its breadth. The brook Cedron intersects this valley; but it only contains water during the rainy season; at other times all trace of it is lost.
The town of Jerusalem is rather bustling, particularly the poor-looking bazaar and the Jews’ quarter; the latter portion of the city is very densely populated, and exhales an odour offensive beyond description; and here the plague always seizes its first victims.
The Greek convent is not only very handsome, but of great extent. Hither most of the pilgrims flock, at Easter-time to the number of five or six thousand. Then they are all herded together, and every place is crowded with occupants; even the courtyard and terraces are full. This convent is the richest of all, because every pilgrim received here has to pay an exorbitant price for the very worst accommodation. It is said that the poorest seldom escape for less than four hundred piastres.
Handsomest of all is the Armenian convent; standing in the midst of gardens, it has a most cheerful appearance. It is asserted to be built on the site where St. James was decapitated, an event commemorated by numerous pictures in the church; but most of the pictures, both here and in the remaining churches, are bad beyond conception. Like the Greeks, the Armenian priests enjoy the reputation of thoroughly understanding how to make a harvest out of their visitors, whom they are said generally to send away with empty pockets. As an amends, however, they offer them a great quantity of spiritual food.
In the valley of Jehosaphat we find many tombs of ancient and modern date. The most ancient among these tombs is that of Absolom; a little temple of pieces of rock, but without an entrance. The second is the tomb of Zacharias, also hewn out of the rock, and divided within into two compartments. The third belongs to King Jehosaphat, and is small and unimportant; one might almost call it a mere block of stone. There are many more tombs cut out of the rock. From this place we reach the Jewish burial-ground.
The little village of Sila also lies in this valley. It is so humble, and all its houses (which are constructed of stone) are so small, that wandering continually among tombs, the traveller would rather take them to be ruined resting-places of the dead than habitations of the living.