One of the most rewarding and inspiring things to do in and around Jerusalem is to view it from different angles from the hills surrounding the city.
On the western slope of the hill of Ramat Rachel a nice observation point was created in 1999, the "Yair Lookout". It offers good views of Jerusalem from a less well-known angle.
You can see Mt. Scopus in the distance, the Temple Mount and the Old City wall a bit closer, several prominent features of the new city, such as the Israel Museum, the Knesset, the Jerusalem Theater, Teddy's Stadium...
Right beneath the lookout is the main Jerusalem - Betlehem road.
So, for all of you who have seen the views of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and Mt. Scopus: Come to "Mitzpeh Yair" for a different view!
The well known Israeli archeologist Yochanan Aharoni started the excavations in Ramat Rachel in the 1950s. He found burial caves from the early bronze age, probably Canaanite, but the main findings were at the top of the hill, the remains of a fortress from the First Temple period (about 600 BC). There were actually two fortresses, an earlier one built by King Hizkiyahu who faced the Assyrian siege, and a later one built by King Yehoyakim, who had to face the siege by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. A well preserved gate of the fortress was taken to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, along with a few well-preserved capitals (copies can be seen on the excavation site). The fortress wall was a casemate wall, meaning a double wall with rooms (used either for storage or as dwellings) in between the two walls.
What was the name of this ancient settlement from the First Temple period? The most likely answer is "Beit Kerem", not to be confused with today's Beit-Ha-Kerem, a modern Jerusalem residential neighborhood.
More remains were found from the Byzantine period, including a basilica and a colombarium.
In recent years the excavations have been resumed, and during our visit it was exciting to see young volunteers digging, shovelling and sifting the soil with lots of enthusiasm.
According to Christian tradition Mary, pregnant with Jesus, had a rest on her way to Bethlehem, sitting down on a stone between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Early pilgrims' accounts mentioned a church on this site.
When Prof. Yochanan Aharoni excavated Ramat Rahel in the early 1960s he discovered a Byzantine basilica close to the hilltop, and called it the Katisma. Its location up the hill made it an unlikely place of rest for the weary, pregnant Mary traveling on the road down in the valley.
A few years ago, during road works on the main Jerusalem-Bethlehem road, the remains of a previously unknown Byzantine church were uncovered, with an octagonal floor plan and a beautiful mosaic. The site has not been restored yet, but hopefully will be in the future.