When spring comes to Jerusalem, one of the best places to see the wildflowers bloom, especially the purple crocuses and red poppies, is in Emek HaMatzleva, at the south end of Gan Sacher. A walk here along the paved or unpaved paths that wind among the almond and olive trees is one of the best ways to experience nature in the city. There are plenty of secluded places in the olive groves to unpack a picnic or share a bottle of wine. The main path through the area leads up to the Israel Museum, making a stroll here a nice addition to a visit to the museum. But this being Jerusalem, history is also never far away.
In fact, the name of the place, which translates to Valley of the Cross, comes from a long-held belief by some Christians that the wood for cross in the crucifixion outlined in the New Testament story, was taken from trees here. The area contains two main sites worth exploring: The Monastery of the Cross and an ancient olive press. The sprawling Monastery of the Cross was first built in the 6th century, but most of today’s remaining building is from a rebuilt version in the 11th century.
From its wooden door and stone courtyard, entering the building takes one back to the Middle Ages. In addition to colorful frescoes and stunning architecture, the monastery also contains museum-like rooms with ancient items, like cooking utensils and furniture, portraying a picture of what life was like for the monks who lived here back then. The monastery also has a nice garden and small snack bar for those looking to enjoy the peaceful surroundings. At the north end of Emek HaMatzleva, on the hill near the Israel Museum, sits an ancient olive press. Some historians say the monks from the monastery used this press to make olive oil. Today it is another interesting yet peaceful place in the valley, with the nearby groves of olive trees a perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon. Emek HaMatzleva is bordered by Herzog Street on the south and the Israel Museum along its western edge.
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