Israel Travel Blog


A Guide to Some of the Oldest Churches in Israel

For many visitors to Israel, whatever their religious background, one of the highlights of the trip will be exploring the country’s many historical and religious sites. Israel has countless churches open to the public, many of them dating back hundreds of years, and as well as a great number in the capital, Jerusalem, there are some beautiful and fascinating buildings across the country. ForChristians visiting Israel on apackage tour, walkingin the footsteps of Jesusis an incredibly moving experience, and theexpedition of a lifetime. But you don’t have to be a Christian to find these sites extraordinary. Here, we look at ten of the most ancient churches in Israel and why tens of thousands of people each year flock to them, to gaze in awe at their architecture, mosaics, artefacts and let themselves be transported back in time…Church of Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock1. Megiddo, Jezreel ValleyThe Meggido church, in the Jezreel Valley, is located near Tel Megiddo in northern Israel and was found in a dramatic archaeological discovery in 2006. Its foundations date back to the 3rd century, making it Israel’s oldest church (even older than Jerusalem’s famous Church of the Holy Sepulchre). Astonishingly, it was found behind the doors of a maximum-security prison - indeed, some inmates helped archaeologists with the excavations!Findings there included an elaborate, well-preserved mosaic, which is unusual in that there are no crosses there, rather a picture of two fish lying side by side. Historians say this is the sign of a very early symbol, dating back to the period before Christianity was officially recognized as a religion (i.e. before Saint Constantine’s rule). There is also the inscription on the mosaic which names a Roman army officer - Gaianus - who donated money to the building of the floor. Combined with atrip to Nazareth, a visit to Megiddo is well worth your time.Tel Megiddo, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock2. Ein Avdat, Negev DesertSituated in a canyon, in the heart of the Negev Desert, the southern church there was part of the Byzantine Monastery or St. Theodoros. According to inscriptions found on the church floor, historians estimate that the church dates back to the 6th or 7th century. Archaeological findings show that the Ein Avdat church was inhabited both by the Nabateans and Catholic Monks. Historically, Avdat was a stop along the ‘Spice Route’ which transported spices and perfumes from the Arabian Peninsula to the port of Gaza. Because the area had many springs, a water supply was plentiful and the area quickly prospered. Little is left of the church today but we do know that reliquaries - containers holding a sacred relic - were kept inside. Once the oil had been poured over the relic, it was collected in bottles for pilgrims to keep as a souvenir.Ein Avdat, Israel. Photo credit: © Oksana Matz3. Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, GalileeMuch of Jesus’ ministry and preaching was carried out in the Galilee and this church - situated in Tabgha, on the northwest side of the lake, the Church of Multiplication is famous for being the spot where the miracle of the ‘two fishes and fives loaves’ were multiplied, in order to feed 5,000 people. This extremely old Byzantine church contains beautiful mosaics, depicting animals, plants - particularly the lotus flower - and geometric figures, all adding to its charm.The church underwent excavation in the 1930s and a new building was inaugurated in May 1982, to commemorate the sacred space as well as to accommodate the thousands of visitors who wanted to visit each week. Today, it is one of the most popular places to visit for tourists traveling around Galilee and Nazareth, either on historical or Christian day tours. Fun fact; the church windows are not made of glass, rather of stone! For a moment of quiet reflection, visit the pool in the backyard, which is full of fish. Other churches in the area can be visited with aChristian galilee tour.Church of Multiplication, Tabgha.Photo credit: © Shutterstock4. Church of the Pater Noster, JerusalemSituated at the top of the Mount of Olives, the history of the Pater Noster dates back to the rule of Emperor Constantine, who erected a simple building on this site in 330 known as ‘Eleona’. ‘Pater Noster’ in Latin means ‘Our Father’ and according both to tradition and the Gospel of Luke, the cave forming the grotto (under the church) was where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, which begins “Our Father, who art in heaven...”In 1874, the present church (which is part of a Carmelite Monastery) was erected. This credo is represented on the walls of the church, in the form of the Lord’s Prayer translated into close to 130 languages, all painted on ceramic tiles. The gardens are well landscaped, full of olive trees, and this tends to be more peaceful and (generally) less crowded than others in Jerusalem. Ideal for a visit on a day tour of Jerusalem.Pater Noster Church, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock5. Church of the Nativity, BethlehemThe Church of Nativity, a famous Bethlehem basilica, located just 10 kilometers from Jerusalem, is loaded with significance in that Christians believe it to be the birthplace of Christ. Built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian, it replaced Constantine the Great’s original structure (dedicated in 339 CE), and today is the oldest complete church in the Christian world.The interior of the church is somewhat minimalist (no pews in which to sit) but the wall mosaics - depicting saints and angels - are stunning and have been restored. The roof is held up by red limestone pillars (the stone obtained from local quarries). Two sets of stairs will let you descend to the Grotto of the Nativity where there you will see a 14-point silver star. This marks the exact spot of Jesus’ birth. This sacred spot is well worth a visit, perhaps by joining a Bethlehem half-day tour?Church of Nativity, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock6. Church of the Transfiguration, Mount TaborThis church is located on Mount Tabor in Galilee and is recognized as the place where Jesus was transfigured in the presence of his disciples, Peter, John, and James (notated in the Gospels). Because of its location along the major trade routes, the area was always of strategic importance in wars. The entire surrounding area, including Tsipori and Beit Shearim,is well worth exploring on a private tour.The Church of the Transfiguration is perched very dramatically atop the mount, offering visitors stunning views, and was built over the remains of previous churches from both Byzantine and Crusader times. The current building was erected in 924 by the Franciscans and boasts an impressive mosaic and chapels dedicated to Elijah and Moses. The smaller Greek Orthodox church nearby is not usually open to the public.Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor.Photo credit: © Natalia Brizeli7. Church of the Ascension, JerusalemThe beautiful Church of the Ascension, run under the auspices of Russian Orthodox nuns, is situated in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives. Dedicated to the ascension of Jesus (the day that Christ physically departed Earth, in the presence of 11 of his apostles) its tower - at 64 meters - was constructed at the end of the 19th century, so that pilgrims who could not walk as far as the Jordan River could at least climb its steps and take in the view. At the tower’s top is a belfry and inside it a heavy iron bell, the first-ever Christian bell to be rung in Ottoman times.The original structure was built in the 4th century but most of its inside, today, dates back to Crusader times. On the floor inside is a slab of rock, with an imprint inside which is considered to be Jesus’ footprint. This is known as the ‘Ascension Rock.’ After Muslims took control of the chapel from the Crusaders in 1188, they converted it into a mosque - look carefully and you will see a minaret. The Mount of Olives has three other churches that are associated with the ascension, and an excellent way to see them is on a private walking tourof the area.The Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dan Porges8. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, JerusalemWithout a doubt, the most famous church in Israel and a highlight of any visit to the capital, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre sits within the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Famed for being the place not just at which Jesus was crucified but where he was also buried and resurrected, it is a focal point for Christian pilgrims, particularly at Easter when pilgrims retrace Christ’s last walk along the Via Dolorosa (the last four ‘Stations of the Cross’ are within this church).Built by Constantine the Great in 326 CE over a tomb believed to be that of Jesus, it took nine more years before commemoration and the wooden doors of the church are original. Inside the magnificent interior are a number of sites including the tomb of Jesus (which sits under the largest dome in the church) the Anointing Stone (tradition says that this is the spot where Christ’s body was prepared for burial) and Calvary itself (which has two chapels, one of which houses the Rock of Golgotha, which can be seen through the glass. The jurisdiction of the church compound is divided between the Catholic, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox Churches. (Interesting fact: look out for the thousands of crosses, scratched into the walls by Crusaders traveling to the Holy Land from Europe). Truly one of Jerusalem’s most breathtaking sites and a must-see on a tour of the Old and New City.Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin9. St. George's Monastery, Wadi QeltSt. George's Monastery, one of five monasteries in the Judean desert this extraordinary building has been carved into the edge of a cliff in the north-eastern part of a huge canyon in which it sits. To reach it, you walk down a somewhat steep but paved hill and across a bridge - the location is extraordinarily picturesque and impressive and even overshadows the monastery itself.The monastery itself was settled in 420 CE, by Syrian monks, in the emptiness of the desert. It is, however, named after Saint George of Choziba, a Cypriot monk who lived there in the 6th century. Inside, the chapel remains in its original form. The monastery is multi-layered, with two churches, both of which contain icons and mosaics, and the doors in iconostasis date back to the 12th century. Following the stairs down from the courtyard, you will find the Cave of Elijah. It is possible to explore this monastery alone but not easy or particularly advisable because of its remote location so probably best to take a private guided tour. St. George's Monastery, Wadi Qelt. Photo credit: © Shutterstock10. St. Joseph’s Church, NazarethSt. Joseph’s Franciscan Сhurch is located in Nazareth, the town of Jesus’ birth, and was built, according to tradition, over what was once the carpentry workshop of Jesus’ father, Joseph. The site was converted into a place of worship in Byzantine times and after the Crusaders arrived, in 12 CE, another church was built over it. After the Crusaders were defeated by the Arabs, the church was destroyed and was not rebuilt until 1914, by the Franciscans.Inside, the apse of the church has three paintings of interest: The Holy Family, The Dream of Joseph, and The Death of Joseph in the Arms of Jesus and Mary. Down a stairway lies a crypt where visitors can see caverns through a floor grille. A few more steps along leads to a black and white mosaic floor - some historians think that it was in use as early as the 1st-2nd century, and used as a pre-Constantine Christian Baptistery.St. Joseph is situated north of the Basilica of the Annunciation and close to the large Franciscan convent Terra Santa. It can be visited easily, along with other places of interest in Nazareth, and perhaps combined with a visit to the nearby Sea of Galilee. A perfect fit would be theNazareth and the Sea of Galilee Tour.St. Joseph’s Church, Nazareth.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Por Sarah Mann

Beersheba

Beersheba is the largest city in the south of Israel and often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Negev.’ Historically, it was home to many Jews from Sephardic backgrounds (i.e. those who immigrated to Israel from Arab countries). Over time, more immigrants arrived from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union and today the city has a very mixed feel.Tel Beer Sheva, Israel. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityThe outskirts of Beersheba are also home to many Bedouin - nomadic Arab tribes, who practice Islam and who mainly live in their own townships, built between 1968-1989 by Israel. The city has grown substantially since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and today is home to the prestigious Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, as well as an emerging high-tech scene in Omer, a suburb just outside the city.Etymology of the name BeershebaEtymologically, be’er is the Hebrew word for ‘well’ and sheva could either mean ‘seven’ or ‘oath’ (see the history section below for more about this). In terms of what the city’s name actually refers to, there are a few explanations. These refer to Beersheba meaning: the oath of Abraham and King Abimelech (‘Well of the Oath’); the seven wells supposedly dug by Isaac (‘Seven Wells’); the oath of Isaac and King Abimelech (‘Well of the Oath’); the seven young lambs that sealed Abraham and King Abimelech's oath (‘Well of the Seven’).Beersheba in the BibleBeersheba has an interesting biblical history. According to the Hebrew Bible, it was created after Abraham built a well (‘be’er’ in Hebrew) in the Negev desert. After the king’s servants captured his well, Abraham complained to their master. The dispute was eventually settled with an accord (agreement) and they both, then, together, swore an oath (‘shevua’ in Hebrew) to confirm this.Beersheba symbolized the southern boundary of the Land of Israel. Historically, it was also the home of not just Abraham, but the other two Israelite patriarchs - Jacob and Isaac. It was an important center in Israelite times until the destruction of its altar in 7 BCE.Tel Beer Sheva National Park. Photo credit: © Nadav Taube. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityHistory of BeershebaThe earliest remains of settlement at Beersheba were found by archaeologists in the form of a number of rock-hewn dwellings (11th/12th centuries BCE) as well as a deep well that supplied fresh water to the first permanent settlement of the Israelites from the Tribe of Simeon. Much of this site was excavated in the late 1960s and early 1870s, uncovering several layers of settlement remains, including fortified towns from the early Israelite period and the time of the Kingdom of Judah.Geography of BeershebaSo where exactly is Beersheba? Well, if you look at a map of Israel, it’s situated on the northeastern edge of the Negev desert. It is 120 km southwest of Jerusalem and 115 km southeast of Tel Aviv. Because of the existence of water (which flows south from the Hebron hills each winter) and remains underground, it has been populated for thousands of years. Beersheba’s main river is the Beersheba stream which floods in the winter. Climate of BeershebaIn Beersheba, the summers are long, hot, and very dry. The winters, in contrast, are cold and mostly clear. Throughout the year, the temperatures can range from 7 to 35 degrees. Rainfall is rare but sandstorms occur periodically, as well as flash floods in the colder months.Demography and Economy of BeershebaBeersheba is the fourth largest city in Israel (after Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa) with a population of 204,000, and an estimated population of 300,000 by 2030. It is a predominantly Jewish city, with 97% of its occupants identifying as Jews.The economy of Beersheba is growing, with the three biggest employers being the Soroka Medical Centre, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces), and Ben-Gurion University. A high-tech park is currently being built near the north railway station and another, the Sammy Ofer park, is located in nearby Omer. The city is also home to a number of electronic and chemical plants, including Teva Pharmaceuticals.The archeological site of Tel Beer Sheva, Israel. Photo credit: © Tsvika Tsuk. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityMuseums and Art Galleries in BeershebaAnzac Museum, Beersheba - the Anzac Memorial Centre is a wonderful center that tells the story of the ANZAC soldiers - hundreds of horsemen who came from Australia and New Zealand - who fought bravely in First World War Palestine. It tells the story of these soldiers and the conquest of the city in the course of the Battle of Beersheba (1917) in a very experiential manner, giving visitors the opportunity to journey back to another time and place.Old Quarter, Beersheba - the new ‘Old City’ in Beersheba was designed to provoke an upturn in tourism and seems to have had some success. The old train terminal has been restored, along with a Turkish engine (dating back to Ottoman times), two original railroad cars, and the station master’s dwelling. The historic city of Beersheba, widely known as "the Old City" is a unique example of a well-planned city, built by the Ottomans. Designed by German and local Arab architects it was once an extraordinary combination of oriental and modern. Alongside beautiful gardens and well-planned streets were fine oriental buildings, with ornate balconies and beautiful Arches and you can see these again today.Art Museum of the Negev, BeershebaThe museum’s collection mainly relates to modern Israeli art but, over the years, began displaying exhibitions of ceramics and international art. Back in Ottoman times, it was the home of the Governor and during the First World War, it housed British Officers. An important biblical site of Tel Beer Sheva. Photo credit: © Tsvika Tsuk. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthoritySites of BeershebaAbraham’s Well International Visitors Centre - According to the world’s three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), this is the spot at which Abraham dug his famous well, leading the city to be named as such. Visitors are invited to join a tour (approximately 1 hour) where the story of Abraham is recounted and learn about the different roles of wells in ancient times. There is also the opportunity to watch a 3D movie with subtitles (in nine different languages). Israeli Air Force museum - one of the top attractions in Beersheba, here you can see an enormous collection of airplanes and helicopters, some of which you’ll even be able to explore and scramble upon, as well as a video on offer telling the story of Israel’s air force. As you might imagine, this museum is particularly popular on Israel Independence Day (when you can visit for free!)Negev Zoo - this zoo has a good collection of mammals, reptiles, and birds - keep a special lookout for the lizards, snakes, and turtles!Carasso Science Park - this family-friendly science museum offers visitors both young and old a variety of outdoor displays and interactive exhibits. It’s very much a hands-on experimental place, designed to stimulate kids’ interest in technology and science. It has seven specialized laboratories, dealing with subjects such as genetics, crops, and nuclear energy, as well as a 3D printing facility. It is open every day save for Friday.Driving in the Negev Desert, Israel.Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplashTel Beer Sheba - these UNESCO-listed biblical city ruins can be found several kilometers east of the modern city today. This ancient town was originally built on a low hill on the banks of a wadi (dry river bed) which flooded each winter. These include an altar (once used for sacrifice), a well of 68 meters deep (one of the deepest in Israel), and the city gates (two, an outer and also the main gate, guarded by two towers). Visitors can also see the “Governor’s Palace'' which once boasted ceremonial halls, a storeroom (one of the largest buildings in the ancient city) which, when excavated, were found to contain hundreds of pottery vessels, and a water system, built deep into the chalk rock of the city fortifications.Transportation in BeershebaBeersheba, as the gateway city to the Negev, is well-served by public transport, which is fast, efficient, and relatively cheap. Egged bus number 470 from Beersheba to Jerusalem runs every half an hour from the main station and takes approximately 1 hour and 32 minutes, dropping you at the third floor of the Jerusalem Central bus station. Buses from Tel Aviv to Beersheva also run regularly, both from the Levinsky bus station and Savidor on the Namir Road. The fastest journey will take about 1 hour 13 minutes. Taking the train from Tel Aviv to Beersheba is also a good option - trains leave from Savidor, HaShalom, and HaHaganah stations every 30 minutes and the journey takes just under 1 hour 30 minutes with a fast train.From Beersheba to Eilat, there are buses leaving constantly, traveling directly south on Route 40. The journey will take approximately 3 hours with bus 397. From there, visitors can take tours to Jordan, especially tours to Petra. Even a day tour of Petra is possible since travel time from the border of Eilat/Aqaba to Petra is only 2 hours by car or minibus.Tel Beer Sheva, Beersheba, Israel. Photo credit: © Nadav Taube. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Por Sarah Mann

Day Trip to Masada and the Dead Sea

Tourism is slowly returning to the world and Israel is no exception - COVID restrictions are easing and if you’ve been double vaccinated and your last shot was less than 6 months ago, then you’re welcome in the Holy Land. Once you’ve received the results of your PCR test from the airport (which usually takes around 12 hours) you’re free to start exploring - and what better place to start than with two of Israel’s top attractions - Masada and the Dead Sea.Tourists on a day group tour to Masada and the Dead Sea with Bein Harim. Photo credit: © Sarah MannWriting this not just as Bein Harim’s social media maven but as an intrepid solo traveler, I’ve always wondered what it’s like to explore sites abroad with a group, led by a professional, guide and today I’m being given the chance to find out first-hand, joining one of the company’s first-day tours running since Winter 2020! I really have no idea what to expect so I’m coming with an open mind, plenty of sunscreen, snacks, and the requisite bathing suit! Let’s see if it’s all it’s cracked up to be…Tel Aviv pick-up - 6.40 amBleary-eyed, I show up at the pick-up point, in downtown Tel Aviv, early. I quickly spot the other participants - three women, from France, Austria, and the US respectively. They’re all taking a longed-for vacation after Corona and love the idea of a group day tour - they tell me they don’t want to deal with car rentals, Israeli roads, and complications in Hebrew. They also want to learn as much as they can about the area we’re visiting, andguided tours in Israelare perfect for that.And before we know it, here he is, in a bright yellow banana-themed t-shirt. His name’s Itamar and he’s been guiding for over a decade - he’s young, fun, personable, and immediately we all warm to him. We hop in the van and head towards Jerusalem, to pick up our fifth trip member. Before we’ve even hit the highway, he’s giving us a bit of the history of Tel Aviv and quizzing us on our Hebrew. This is going to be fun!Sea Level Sign, on the way to the Dead Sea. Photo credit: ©Sarah MannJerusalem pick-up -7.55 amWe pick up Elena at the hotel - we’re a bit late because we’ve been battling city traffic and then we’re off. Jerusalem’s en route to the Dead Sea and soon we’ve left the city behind and are confronted with desert scenery and Bedouin shepherds. We stop for an obligatory photo at the ‘Sea Level’ sign and stretch our legs - it’s November but the weather is perfect - a toasty 26 degrees. Then we jump back in our van and head south, heading further and further below sea level. The Dead Sea’s the lowest point on earth (!) and we can feel the temperature rising. Itamar reminds us to drink lots of water (a must in this part of the world) and points out things of interest en route, including the Qumran caves (where famousDead Sea Scrollswere discovered there in 1947).There is a number of sinkholes (where the soil has eroded, with devastating consequences) causing parts of Route 90 to be cordoned off. The Dead Sea is evaporating - in the last 30 years it’s said to have lost 30% of its water - and the climate crisis isn’t helping it either.Masada Cable Car, Israel. Photo byDebby HudsononUnsplashIn the meantime, we’re all getting to know each other, chatting about where we’re from and why we took the trip. For some, it’s the first time in Israel, for others a chance to rediscover old places. We’re a group of independent women, all with our own reasons for loving travel, and being driven by Itamar is a delight because he’s hilarious and knowledgeable at the same time. After a pit stop at the Ahava outlet (where we grab a coffee and a couple of us buy some mud pack treatments), it’s onto our first stop of the day - Masada.This ancient fortress is a place I personally have visited a fair few times but I have to admit that every time I return, I get goosebumps. Completely isolated, at the top of a mountain in the midst of the Judean desert, it takes your breath away. Designed by King Herod, a master builder and lover of the good life, not only was Masada his ‘winter retreat’ but also a haven from his enemies. And Herod spared no expense either - this Royal Citadel contained not one but two sumptuous palaces, remains of which have been excavated and we’re going to see today.Looking through an ancient stone wall opening at the Masada ruins in Israel. Photo byCraig VodnikonUnsplashMasada Fortress - 11.30 amBefore we ascend by cable car, Itamar gives us a little history of the complex (which is, by the way, completely fascinating) and we watch a fun 7-minute film, explaining the strategic importance of the fortress and why it’s so important to Israelis today. There’s a lot of Jewish history bound up with this place - after all, it was where Jewish rebels, 2,000 years ago, decided to commit suicide en masse rather than be taken alive (and then be made slaves) by the Romans. A sobering thought - but also a symbol of Jewish resistance, heroism, and bravery. No wonder it’s so revered today.Exploring the Fortress - 12 pmWow! Up we go, in the cable car, with astonishing views below us, including the ‘snake path’ which winds through the mountain precariously. We then spend a good hour exploring the site - frescos, bathhouses, cisterns, storerooms (with tonnes and tonnes of grain), and even a synagogue. Now I realize the advantage of taking guidedMasada tours- Itamar has a wealth of information at his fingertips and I’m learning so much (even as someone who’s studied Jewish history for 20 years). He takes us from place to place, answering our questions, explaining the whys and wheres of this astonishing fortress, treating us to some ‘Bamba’ (a tasty peanut snack that Israelis love, which he packed in his bag in case we became hungry before lunch!) We look at models of Masada, in terms of how it was set out, back in the day, and marvel at the thermal pipes, the aqueducts, and even the sleeping quarters for the guards who protected Herod. Tourists in Masada, Israel.Photo credit: ©Sarah MannThere truly is no end to the resourcefulness of the engineers involved in Masada, we all agree. Built in the year 30 BCE, it’s spread out over three terraces and made up of eight Roman camps, a siege wall, and a ramp constructed of earth and wood, which was established on the western side of the fortress. It’s also an example of a luxurious villa - Herod imported only the finest wines and best food here, no matter the cost and the lengths that armies of servants had to go to transport it. Still, this was a place where the King didn’t just enjoy himself but also conducted business - and Herod was certainly one for impressing his guests.It’s super hot by now and we’re all looking for shade, every time we move to a different spot. Itamar takes us to some fabulous lookout points where, at every turn, we’re afforded panoramic views. The Dead Sea glistens before us, shades of blue and turquoise, and the sky is clear. What’s even more astonishing is that, because of COVID, Masada is almost deserted. We don’t have to wait to enter a single part of the complex and, in certain parts, the silence almost deafens us.Masada ruins, Israel. Photo byKelly ReprezaonUnsplashIt’s also fun to be in a group tour like this - because it’s a lot smaller than normal, it gives us the chance to ask endless questions and really get to know each other better. We’re a very diverse group - Maria grew up in South America and because she’s catholic, it’s always been her dream to visit Israel. Francois’s been in the Holy Land before, but it was over 20 years ago, and in the meantime, she’s been learning Hebrew, Linda’s flown in from LA because she wanted to take a holiday before starting a new job. And Ute’s taking a quick break, having hopped a flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv with Wizz Air. It’s really eye-opening, meeting all these different people, who’ve come from all over the place to visit this country! It’s also good to see how much they’re enjoying their time in Israel and, from what I can see, their day out with Itamar. Our guide reminds us to keep swigging water and we oblige. Now it’s off to the Dead Sea, for a spot of lunch, some floating in the lowest point on earth and some optional mud-slathering!2000-year-old fortress of Masada. Photo credit: © ShutterstockDead Sea - 2.15 pmWe’re heading to Kalia Beach, at the top of the Dead Sea (for which there is an entry fee, but it’s included in the price of the day trip). Itamar, our loveable guide, gives us the lowdown on where to find changing rooms, lockers, and places to grab a bite (because we’re all starving!) Nobody can wait to get into their bathing suit - the idea of floating in water is quite novel! - and soon we’re all at the water’s edge. As someone who’s content just to sit in a chair and admire the views of Jordan from across the water, I soon become the appointed photographer, snapping everyone as they wade in and realize, quite quickly, how buoyant they are!The weather’s good, even though it’s mid-November, and the beach isn’t particularly crowded either. The air feels so clean and pure, and I can’t help but smile as I watch my group trying valiantly to put their feet down in the water! Some are reading books (the ultimate photo opportunity, to show off back home).Some are floating peacefully and one has got out of the water to cover herself in black mud, which can be found all over the beach and is perfect if you want to rejuvenate your skin! Even Itamar has stripped down to his trunks and has gone in, and I have to smile as I watch them all larking around…Floating at the Dead Sea, Kalia Beach, Israel.Photo credit: ©Sarah MannThe beach closes at 4.30 pm (since it gets dark early at this time of the year) and, as sorry as we are to leave, we’re all quite exhausted. We hit the road back to Jerusalem and as we arrive in the city, dusk is turning to dark and the lights are twinkling. Itamar drops off two of our participants (one wants a cocktail, the other has decided - on my recommendation - to make an impromptu visit to the Israel Museum since it’s open until 9 pm that night). Everyone’s swapping numbers and hoping to meet again in Tel Aviv, for dinner, in a couple of days. We’re tired but happy, that’s for sure. By the time we arrive back in Tel Aviv, I’m dead beat, Itamar, who’s gone above and beyond for all of us today, drops us all off personally, close to our homes, and as I hug them all goodbye I wonder why I’ve spent my life avoiding day group tours. After all, even if you’re traveling independently in Israel, there’s no reason why taking these kinds of trips isn’t a great idea.So there you have it - what to expect on a day tour to Masada and the Dead Sea. And whilst I do work for Bein Harim Tours, I have to say that this is a day tour I’d recommend to anyone - history, archaeology, scenery, and a chance to chill out at the beach too. These are sites that everyone should see on a trip to Israel, and taking one of the organized Dead Sea tours is ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to hire a car, appreciates the knowledge of a guide, and wants to make new friends. Competitively priced and giving you a lot of bang for your buck, what’s not to like? In fact, I might even take another one soon. Watch this space… Sunset at the Dead Sea, Israel. Photo byBenjamin RascoeonUnsplash
Por Sarah Mann

Guide to the Jerusalem Old City

If you were to choose just one place to visit while in Israel it should be the Old City of Jerusalem. Packed within the 450 year old city walls is 1km² holding some of the country’s top attractions.The Old City is an exciting, exotic, spiritual and fascinating world of narrow cobbled alleys, mosques, churches, eateries, markets and more. The Old City remains as it was thousands of years ago and people still live and work here in the ancient buildings. Among the wonders of the Old City are the most important Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious sites in the country.Brief History of JerusalemJerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and getting an overall understanding of the history is extremely useful for anyone visiting the City of Gold. As you tour the various sites you’ll hear names of historic periods, leaders, and events so this brief history of Jerusalem will help you get some perspective. It was here in Jerusalem that the ancient Jewish temples were built and where Jesus often visited and eventually was crucified. Golgotha, the site of Jesus's crucifixion is within the Old City marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites in the 11th century BC and established his kingdom. Muslims took the city in 637AD and in 1099AD the first Christian Crusaders arrived. The city changed hands several times and saw pilgrims arriving to various religious sites. The Old City walls we see today were built under Ottoman leader Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1500s. Up until 1860 all of Jerusalem was within the Old City walls, then the first neighborhood beyond the walls was established and the new city grew into the modern metropolis we see today. But within the Old City walls, time seemed to stand still. From 1848 to 1867 the Old City was ruled by Jordan and no Jews were allowed to visit or live in the Old City until it was retaken by Israel in the Six-Day War. Jews returned to the city and it was repopulated with people in all four of the Old City’s quarters. The city has remained a tourist attraction and a pilgrimage site for Muslims visiting Temple Mount, Christians visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Jews visiting the Western Wall.Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThe Timeline of Major Events in the History of Jerusalem3500 BC – First signs of human settlers.c.1800 BC – Jerusalem mentioned in Egyptian texts.1010-970 BC – Reign of King David, during this time he declares Jerusalem Capital of United Israel.970-931 BC – Reign of King Solomon, during this time the First Temple was constructed in Jerusalem (957BC) on Temple Mount, and the county was divided into Israel and Judah.837-800 BC – Reign of Hezekiah, King of Judah, during this time the underground waterways from Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam were dug to bring water to the city.597 BC – Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar II captured Jerusalem.586 BC – Due to rebellion Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the city, including the First Temple, and exiled many inhabitants including Jews who were sent to Babylon.537 BC-332 BC – The Persian Period. Persians ruled under Cyrus who encouraged Jews to return to Israel and begin work on rebuilding the Temple. 521 BC-516 BC – The Second Temple was completed. 445 BC – City walls are rebuilt. 332 BC-167 BC – Hellenistic Period. Alexander the Great conquers Palestine, taking it from the Persians.167 BC-63 BC – Hasmonean Period. With the Maccabean Revolt led by Mattathias, the Maccabean War is started and Jewish Priest Judah Maccabee takes over Jerusalem and restores the Temple which had been profaned under the earlier non-Jewish leaders. 63 BC -324 AD – Roman Period. Romans capture Jerusalem but the Hasmoneans continue to rule under Roman protection. 40 BC – Herod is appointed King of Judea and reigns as Herod the Great. Under Herod, they began rebuilding the Temple.Sculpture of King David playing the harp, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock1 AD – Jesus of Nazareth born in Bethlehem.26 AD – Pontius Pilate appointed as Roman procurator of Judea.c.33 AD – Jesus is tried and crucified in Jerusalem.41 AD-44 AD – Agrippa King of Judea rebuilds the city walls. 63 AD – The Second Temple is completed. 66 AD-73 AD – Jewish Revolt against the Romans, during this time the Temple was destroyed (70 AD) by Titus. 132 AD-135 AD – Following the Bar Kochba War Jerusalem became the Jewish capital once again. 135 AD – Roman Emperor Hadrian captured and destroyed the city, built new city walls, and expelled Jews from the capital.324 AD-638 AD – Queen Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine comes to Jerusalem and sets about identifying the locations of famous biblical events. She initiated the construction of several churches on holy sites including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, constructed in 335 AD. The Jews are permitted to return to Jerusalem (438); the city is captured by the Persians and the Jews are expelled (614) and then the Byzantines recapture the capital (629).638 AD-1099 AD – Muslim Period. During this time the Caliph Omar comes to the city and the Jews are allowed to return. The Dome of the Rock is completed (691) and the al-Aqsa Mosque is completed (701). Under Caliph al-Hakim many synagogues and churches were destroyed.1099 AD-1244 AD – Crusader Period. Godfrey de Bouillon captures Jerusalem, and Baldwin I is declared King of Jerusalem. 1187AD – Saladin, a Kurdish General, takes Jerusalem from the Crusaders and allows Jews and Muslims to return to the city. 1192 AD – Richard the Lion Heart attempts to capture Jerusalem but having failed makes a treaty with Saladin allowing Christians to pray at the holy sites.Dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock1219 AD – Sultan Malik-al-Muattam has the city walls destroyed.1244 AD – The Turks capture Jerusalem from the Crusaders once and for all.1260 AD-1517 AD – Mamluk Period. During this period the Mamluks capture Jerusalem; Nahmanides the great Jewish thinker arrives from Spain and established Jewish learning centers (1267AD); Marco Polo passes through and the Black Death plagues the city.1517 AD-1917 AD – Ottoman Period. The Turkish Ottomans peacefully take over the city and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilds the city walls which have not stood for over 300 years. The walls include the city gates and Tower of David which remains today.1700 AD – Under Rabbi Yehuda HaHassid the Hurva Synagogue was built. 1860 AD – First Jewish settlements outside the city walls to escape overcrowding and disease. 1917-1948 British Mandate Period. The British led by General Allenby enter the city and lay their claim to the land. The construction of the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus begins.1947 –1949 – With the announcement of the UN resolution to partition Israel into an Arab State, Jewish State and Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem civil war breaks out. This resulted at the end of the British Mandate and the Israeli War of Independence. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan fight against the Jewish State which is just coming into shape. The Israel-Transjordan Armistice Agreement (April 1949) gives Transjordan control of East Jerusalem. 1949 – Establishment of the State of Israel. 1967 – Six-Day War between Israel and Jordan, Israel captures the Old City which had been under Jordanian rule since 1949, and the Old City is united.Old City market, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinOverview of the Old CityThe Old City is surrounded by fortified walls and it is possible to walk along the ramparts. Visitors enter the Old City through the wall’s seven gates (there are actually eight gates but one is closed). The Old City is divided into four uneven quarters – the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian quarters. The division is not with walls but rather the quarters flow one onto the other.In each quarter there is a distinct character; you’ll see people in traditional dress in each of the quarters – Hasidic Jews in their black coats and black hats in the Jewish Quarter, nuns, monks, and friars in their habits in the Armenian and Christian Quarters and in the Muslim Quarter the traditional keffiyeh headdress and long kaftan-type jellabiyah. In each of the quarters, you can buy souvenirs, taste ethnic food and see art and architecture unique to that quarter’s culture, religion, and history.Christian QuarterThe Christian Quarter in the northwestern of the Old City has the New Gate, Jaffa Gate, Damascus Gate, and the junction of David Street and Souk Khan el-Zeit at its corners. This quarter is home to approximately 40 holy sites but the star of the quarter is without question the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church is a beautifully ornate and cavernous structure with many small chapels and intricate artwork. Muristan fountain in the Christian Quarter; Old City of Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe church dates back to at least the 4th century and houses the site where Jesus was crucified at Calvary, the tomb where he was buried and resurrected, and the last four Stations of the Cross. The church is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox churches as well as the Syriacs, Ethiopians, and Egyptian Copts to a lesser extent.Jewish QuarterJews have inhabited the Jewish Quarter almost continuously since the 8th century BC. Parts of the Jewish Quarter have been excavated to reveal ancient Roman remains including the Cardo, which would have been the colonnaded main street during Jesus’ lifetime. The star of this quarter is the Western Wall; the last remaining part of the Second Temple which was destroyed in 70AD.The Western Wall (Kotel) opens up to a large plaza and Jews come from across the globe to worship here. Local Jews worship at the Western Wall as they would at a synagogue. You can place a prayer note with your personal message to God between the large stones of the Western Wall.Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem. Photo credit:Photo credit: © ShutterstockMuslim QuarterThe largest quarter of the Old City is home to the Muslim population (and a few Jewish families). It has narrow cobbled lanes that are a bustle of activity. Within this quarter there is the Temple Mount, this is where the ancient 1st century Jewish Temple stood, and today it is the site of the beautiful Dome of the Rock which covers the Foundation Stone from where Muhammad is believed to have ascended to Heaven.The Dome of the Rock has a distinctive golden dome which is a symbol of the city. Also on Temple Mount is the al-Aqsa Mosque, Muhammad’s destination in the Night Journey, and the Dome of the Chain a free-standing dome and the oldest structure on Temple Mount. The Western Wall Tunnels run beneath the Muslim Quarters and the Muslim Quarter has several Roman and Crusader remains. The Muslim Quarter has a lively market or “shuk” where you can find a huge range of goods. The Via Dolorosa runs through the Muslim Quarter and is home to the first seven Stations of the Cross.Armenian QuarterThis is the smallest quarter of the Old City. It is home to Christian Armenians who arrived in Jerusalem in the 4th century AD when Armenia adopted Christianity and Armenian pilgrims came to visit the holy sites and settled here. The Armenian Quarter centers on St. James Monastery and the 4th-century Cathedral of St. James which houses the Jerusalem Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin(Pop trivia: This is where Kanye West and Kim Kardashian held their daughter, North’s christening in 2015). The Armenians have their own distinct culture, religious traditions, and language. The Jerusalem Armenians are famed for their distinctive hand-painted tiles, tile murals, and handmade ceramics. You can buy ceramics in several stores in the Armenian Quarter and see street signs made from the brightly painted Armenian tiles.And Now for Something Special in the Old City….Dei res-Sultan Ethiopian Monastery accessed via the 9th Station of the Cross on the roof of a medieval annex in the Christian Quarter.Shopping in the Old City Market.Walking the Ramparts of the Old City walls.The Tower of David (Jerusalem Citadel) at Jaffa Gate, a museum, archaeological site, and sound and light show.Mamilla luxury shopping street – Northwest of Jaffa Gate.Follow the Via Dolorosa retracing Jesus’ route as he carried his cross towards Calvary.Join today our wonderfulJerusalem Old City TourСapers growing on the wall of a house in Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Por Petal Mashraki

Nazareth the City

The modern-day city of Nazareth is the largest and capital city of Northern Israel. It is known as the Arab capital of Israel as the population is predominantly Muslim and Christian Arabs. Alongside Nazareth is Nazareth Illit with a predominantly Jewish population. However it is not modern-day Nazareth that attractions tourists to the city but the ancient biblical history. Nazareth is named in the New Testament as the hometown of Mary and Joseph and later as the town where Jesus spent his childhood. For this reason Nazareth has been a major Christian pilgrimage destination since the 6th century Byzantine era.Annunciation Church, Nazareth.Photo credit: © ShutterstockNazareth in the New TestamentThe Gospel of Luke tells us that Nazareth was the hometown of Mary and the site of the Annunciation where the Angel Gabriel appeared before her and told Mary of her future son (Luke 1:26). After Jesus was born in Bethlehem and a short sojourn in Egypt the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus settled in Nazareth. It was here that Jesus spent his childhood.Top Nazareth AttractionsEver since the biblical sites of Nazareth were identified in the 4th century Christians have built churches to mark these locations. The most important biblical locations in Nazareth are the sites of the Annunciation and the place believed to be where the Holy family lived.Basilica of the AnnunciationNazareth’s top attraction is this magnificent church built on the site of Mary’s childhood homewhere Roman Catholics believe the Annunciation took place. A Christian altar was built on this site as early as the 4th century and since then a Byzantine and Crusader church has stood here. The church had a rough history as it was destroyed several times and Christian access was routinely denied or they were charged a fee to visit the holy site. Basilica of Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockFinally, in 1730 ruling sheik Zahir al-Umar allowed the Franciscans to build a church on the site of Mary’s childhood home, the site of the Annunciation. This church survived until 1955 when it was taken down to make way for a new, larger church constructed in 1967. Visitors to the Church of the Annunciation can see the remains of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches as well as the excavated 1st-century dwelling believed to have been Mary’s childhood home and the site of the Annunciation.TheChurch of the Annunciationhas two levels; the lower level holds the excavated 1st century remains while the upper level is used as a parish church. The Basilica is topped by an unusual cement dome. One of the features of the church is a collection of mosaics from Christian communities around the world depicting Mary and baby Jesus. The church is the largest in the Middle East.The interior of Annunciation Church, Nazareth. Photo credit: © ShutterstockChurch of St. Gabriel (Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation)In the 6th century, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation was built near Mary’s Well over Mary’s Spring that feeds the Well. Greek Orthodox believe that the Annunciation took place here as Mary was fetching water. This is the Greek Orthodox alternative to the Catholic Church of the Annunciation. The present church was built in 1750. Visitors can still see Mary’s Spring running beneath the church altar. In the upper part of the church, there is a magnificent carved and painted wooden iconostasis from 1767. The Chapel of the Spring dates back to 1750 and features a barrel-vaulted roof and colorful marble and glazed ceramics.St Joseph's ChurchThe Church of St Joseph is perhaps Nazareth’s second most popular attraction. It stands alongside the Catholic Church of the Annunciation and commemorates the site of the Holy family’s home and Joseph’s workshop. Beneath the church are the excavated remains of a 1st-century dwelling thought to have been Joseph’s workshop and the Holy family home. the present church was built in 1914 on the site of an earlier Crusader church.St. Joseph's Church, Nazareth.Photo credit: © ShutterstockMary’s WellThe natural spring that feeds Mary’s Well is believed to have been where Mary would have gone to collect water for her family. Today the Well is a public fountain covered by a reconstruction of a 19th-century structure.Synagogue ChurchJesus returned to Nazareth twice during his ministry in Galilee. He taught in the Nazareth synagogue and it was here that he outraged worshipers by announcing his ministry and declaring himself the Messiah. The crowd chased Jesus to the top of a hill where they intended to throw him off a cliff but he miraculously disappeared. This hill is known today as Mount Precipice, or the “Hill of the Leap” located about 3km south of Nazareth. (Luke 4:16-30). The Church of Our Lady of the Fright marks the site where Mary stood as she watched Jesus attacked by the crowd. The synagogue where Jesus prayed is now marked by a Crusader-era Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Synagogue Church). Other Nazarethsites include the Coptic Church of the Annunciation; the Mensa Christi Church (1781); Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent, a large church overlooking the city from a hilltop; Nazareth Village, a recreated 1st-century village as Nazareth would have been in Jesus’ lifetime; the Anglican Christ Church; the White Mosque, the oldest mosque in the city; the gold-domes Maqam al-Nabi Saeen Mosque and the excavated Ancient bath House.To see the biblical sites of Nazareth join theNazareth and Sea of Galilee tour.Tower of the St. Joseph's Church in the Old City of Nazareth. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Por Petal Mashraki

Bethlehem

Bethlehem is the place of Christ’s birth but also a thriving modern Palestinian city. Today visitors can travel to Bethlehem to see the exact place where Jesus was born. To reach Bethlehem tourists in Israel must go through a border crossing into the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank and travel past places like the Inn of the Good Samaritan and Shepherds’ Field where shepherds watched their sheep on the night of Jesus’ birth. Once in Bethlehem tourists can visit historic churches built to mark specific biblical sites.Bethlehem rooftop view. Photo credit: © ShutterstockAccording to an ancient Hebrew saying, “a man is the fruit of his home’s landscapes.” The Christ is no mere man, of course, but as God sent His only begotten son to walk among us, we should feel blessed for having the opportunity to know Him and walk in his footsteps, as well as witnessing with our own eyes the environment in which He was born.For that reason, many Christians choose to take a tour of Bethlehem. In order to provide themselves with the best and most convenient tour possible, many Christians choose to take guided Israel toursand receive information about the place from experts who know all there is to know about Jesus Christ, the city, and its connection with Christianity throughout the generations.When the word Bethlehem rises to mind one could not be held guilty if he or she thinks of faraway biblical times, but as we know Bethlehem is not just a city of the past. Adorned with amazing churches built by many congregations during many different periods, filled with many significant museums and artifacts and containing beautiful natural surroundings, while Jesus’ birth is of course the city’s main attraction, it is far from being the only one. A good tour of the city will not only enlighten you as to what the city was but also show you what it is today.Bethlehem in the BibleBethlehem features in the Old Testament as the birthplace of King David; it is also where Rachel was buried when she died in childbirth giving birth to Benjamin (Genesis 35:19). In the Bible, the city is referred to as Beth Lechem – House of Bread; the City of David and as Ephratah. Bethlehem is mentioned many times in the Bible, for example in Ruth; Genesis; Joshua; Samuel I; Judges, and John.The New Testament’s Book of Luke and of Matthew tells the story of the Nativity. Joseph and Mary, who was pregnant, traveled from their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, near Jerusalem. They made the journey because of a census that required each citizen to return to their ancestral town to register. As Joseph was from the House of David he needed to return to Bethlehem, the City of David. When the couple arrived they found the city overflowing with visitors and no accommodation was available. As Luke tells us: “Mary laid Jesus in a manger as there was no room in the inn.”The Shepherds' Field Chapel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockBethlehem HistoryLess than a century after Jesus’ death tradition had established a site in Bethlehem that was believed to be the place of Jesus’ birth. Many houses at the time had an adjacent cave that was used for storage and to house animals and so a cave became the venerated site of the nativity. In the 4th century St Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine took it upon herself to travel through the Holy Land authenticating biblical site. In 326 she commissioned a church to be built in Bethlehem around the nativity cave. A part of the floor mosaic of this original church can still be seen in the present Church of the Nativity. St Helena’s church was replaced in 530 by a larger structure that has survived. Under the Crusaders two kings were crowned in this church and it was completely redecorated in 1169. Despite later looting under the Ottomans, fires, and an earthquake the Church of the Nativity has survived.In modern times Bethlehem came under the British from 1920 to 1948 when the British Mandate was in place. The UN 1947 partition resolution included Bethlehem in the international enclave of Jerusalem which would be administered by the UN. However, just a few months later Jordan captured the city in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and controlled the region until the Six-Day War in 1967 when Israel captured the West Bank including Bethlehem. Israel administered the city until 1995 when the Oslo Peace Accord placed Bethlehem within the Palestinian Authority West Bank and Israel withdrew from the area.Bethlehem TodayToday Bethlehem is home to Muslim and Christian Arabs who live mostly in harmony. The city’s economy depends largely on tourism as well as traditional products and handicrafts like Middle Eastern jewelry, olive wood carvings, olive oil, marble, and religious objects.Silver Star Marker of Jesus' Birth Site, Grotto of Nativity, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockBethlehem AttractionsManger Square – This is the first stop for Christina visitors to Bethlehem.Manger Square is bordered by the Nativity Church; the Mosque of Omar and the Palestinian Peace Center. Manger Square is the site of a festive gathering each Christmas Eve of Christians from across the globe who come to celebrate Christ’s birth.Church of the Nativity – Also known as the Basilica of the Nativity this church is built around the Holy Grotto of the Nativity, the oldest continually worshipped Christian site. Although originally built in the 4th century the present structure dates back to 565 with additions made later by the Crusaders. The earliest mention of the manger site in Bethlehem was by Justin Martyr in c.160 AD followed by a mention by Greek historian Eusebius of Caesarea.The structure we see today was commissioned by Christian Roman Emperor Constantine and his mother St. Helena in 326 AD. The church was built around the Sacred Cave. The original structure was replaced in 530 AD by a larger church but parts of the Constantinian floor mosaics can still be seen. Miraculously the church was not destroyed when the land came under the rule of the Persians and later Muslim rulers. During the Crusader era of the 11th century, Baldwin I and II were crowned in the Church of the Nativity.Under the Crusaders the church was renovated and redecorated. The church remained untouched under the Mamluks and Ottomans although precious marble was removed by the Ottomans for use in construction on Temple Mount Today the church is shared by the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Churches. Church of Nativity, Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockHighlights of the church include the Door of Humility; a small entrance to the church that requires visitors to bow down as they enter. It also served a practical purpose during the Ottoman era when looters couldn’t fit their carts through the doorway. The church’s wide nave is flanked by 44 columns painted with Crusader images and the walls are adorned with murals. There are two Greek Orthodox altars and an Armenian altar dedicated to the Three Kings (three wise men). The Chapel of the Manger is a Roman Catholic shrine with 12th-century mosaics. The Grotto of the Nativity lies beneath the church and is reached down a flight of stairs. A silver star marks the place where Jesus was born. A door connects the Church of the Nativity to the Church of St. Catherine.Church of St Catherine – Alongside the Church of the Nativity stands another historic church marking the site where Christ is said to have appeared to Saint Catherine of Alexandria. It was here that Christ is said to have predicted Catherine’s martyrdom when she was burnt on a wheel (hence: Catherine Wheel) at Mount Sinai in c.310. The church was dedicated in 1347; mentioned in records in the 15th century and enlarged in 1881. Manger Square, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe church is flanked on two sides by a Franciscan monastery where there is a beautiful cloister restored by Barluzzi using 12th-century capitals and columns from the monastery. Visitors to the church can descend a flight of steps to caves where there is the Chapel of the Holy Innocent; St. Joseph’s Chapel; Chapel of St. Eusebius; the Tomb of St. Paula and her daughter Eustochium and the Tomb of St. Jerome. Jerome is said to have translated the Bible in one of the church’s subterranean caves in 386 AD.Milk Grotto – Also called the Grotto of Our Lady and the Chapel of the Milk Grotto. It was here that the Holy Family took refuge when escaping from Herod’s decree to kill all newborn males (Massacre of the Innocents). As Mary nursed baby Jesus a little of her milk is thought to have dropped to the ground turning the cave surfaces white. A 5th-century Byzantine chapel once stood here and the present chapel dates back to 1872.PracticalitiesWhere to eat: Ha’agala, a country café located a short car drive or a beautiful bike ride away from Bethlehem, is a charming place for those who want to combine great food with relaxation. Ha’agala, Ha’Horesh 3, Alonei Aba.Where to sleep: Talitha Kumi Guest House is known for high standards and great service and is just five minutes walk from the most important destinations. B’eit Jala 7.A street in Bethlehem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Por Petal Mashraki

Tabgha

Tabgha is a small area right on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, on the western shore between Capernaum and Ginosar and just below the Mount of Beatitudes. The name Tabgha comes from the Greek – Heptapegon, meaning place of the seven springs. Tabgha has been identified as the site of the miracle of the loaves and fish (Mark 6:30-46) and the place where resurrected Christ came to meet his disciples (John 21:1-24). The seven springs of Tabgha bring warm water into the Sea of Galilee attracting fish which has made it a popular fishing area for centuries. The area has lush green vegetation, trees offering shade and the cool water just a few steps away.Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, Tabgha. Photo credit: © ShutterstockBiblical TabghaThe Gospel of Matthew tells us that after Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded by the Romans he withdrew in a boat to a secluded area. Crowds of followers went after Jesus and by nightfall, there were 5,000 people gathered on the hillside. Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and gave them the traditional blessing. Then he divided the food among the gathered crowd. The loaves and fish miraculously fed all of the 5,000 people and there were even leftovers.After Jesus was resurrected he appeared several times to the disciples; one of these appearances took place in Tabgha. Peter, Andrew, Simon, and four other disciples were at Tabgha where they had been fishing through the night but had failed to catch anything. They came ashore and as the sun rose they saw Jesus standing in front of them on the beach of Tabgha. The disciples did not recognize Jesus but he called out to them. He told them to throw their fishing nets back into the water. When the disciples brought their nets in they found them full of fish. Jesus prepared food for the disciples over a fire and lay out the food on a rock. This rock became known as the Mensa Christi and can be seen today in the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter at Tabgha.Jesus challenged Peter’s faith three times symbolically canceling out the three times that Peter denied Christ on the night before the crucifixion. Then Jesus commissioned Peter to lead the church. He asked Peter to feed his lambs, tend his sheep and feed his sheep. Jesus also told Peter that he would die a martyr. From this point onwards Peter was recognized as the head of the church and the apostles.History of TabghaFloor mosaics in theChurch of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, Tabgha.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinIn the Byzantine era, the spring water of Tabgha was channeled into three water towers and taken via aqueducts to nearby Ginosar to be used for irrigation. During the 4th century, a small chapel was built by Joseph of Tiberias. It was replaced with a chapel in 480 by Martyrius of Jerusalem, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Martyrius was originally from Egypt and he had the floor mosaics of the chapel created in the Egyptian style. The mosaic we see today of the fish and loaves has survived from this original chapel.The chapel was destroyed in 614 and remained in ruins until excavation in the 20th century. Under the Crusaders the Church of St Peter’s Primacy was constructed in Tabgha and the city was known as Mensa Christi (table of Christ) or Mensa Domini (work of the table). During the Ottoman era in 1595, a village existed on the site of Tabgha with a few houses and mills. Under the British Mandate, a community of Muslim and Christian Arabs lived here and farmed the land. During the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Tabgha was cleared of residents and structures destroyed. Since then Tabgha’s lands and historic structures have been restored.Tabgha AttractionsChurch of the Primacy of St. PeterAfter Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples at Tabgha where they sat down together to eat. It was at this time that Jesus chose Peter to lead the Christian church. This site is commemorated on the beach of Tabgha by the Church of the Primacy of St Peter. It is a small structure built in 1934 of black basalt rock. In the surrounding gardens, you can see a bronze sculpture depicting Jesus giving Peter his blessing. The church is literally on the water’s edge and you can take just a few steps down to the shore and even touch the water. This is a quaint and peaceful church with idyllic gardens and ample shade all around.Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and FishThe 20th centuryChurch of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish that we see today stands on the site of the original 4th-century church and the Byzantine floor mosaic has survived. The mosaic features images of birds, snakes, vines, fish, and flowers. There are peacocks, a flamingo, swan, ducks, herons, geese, cranes, geese, and cormorants. The most significant mosaic is the one closest to the altar that depicts a basket of bread flanked by two fish. Rock in its natural state lies beneath the altar and is believed to be where Jesus placed the bread and fish as he made the blessing.To visit Tabgha, join ourNazareth and Galilee Tour.
Por Petal Mashraki

Things to See and Do in Acre

Acre is one of the most fascinating and beautiful cities you could visit in Israel. It is reminiscent of the Old Port of Jaffa and of Jerusalem as the Old City of Acre is also built from magnificent stone. The Old City is “living history”; the ancient houses within the Old City walls are still occupied and alive with activity. Almost all the things to see and do in Acre are located in the Old City on the edge of the Mediterranean. The Old City of Acre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On arrival in Acre head straight to the undeground Crusader City.Nargilas (hookas) at Acre Port.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinAs you approach the Old City on your left will be a car park next to a Police Station. At the far end of the car park is the entrance to the Enchanted Garden or Festival Garden an entrance courtyard to the Hospitaller Fortress. The courtyard is surrounded by walls and you enter through an arched doorway in the wall. Inside you are immediately covered by the shade of massive, ancient trees and in the center of the courtyard is a beautiful fountain.In the garden, you can find the ticket booth where you buy tickets for attractions in Acre, Western Galilee, and Upper Galilee. It is also the site of the Visitors Center and Reservation Center. Purchase your tickets here for several sites which can be explored from here. With your ticket, you get a free audio guide (you have to leave your ID as a deposit). Your ticket includes a 7-minute film introducing you to the sites of Acre which is screened in the Visitors Center. From the Enchanted Garden head into the Hospitaller Fortress.Inside the Crusader Citadel, Acre.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinHospitaller Fortress, AcreThe military monastic order of the Knights Hospitaller was dedicated to caring for the sick and specifically pilgrims who had arrived in the Holy Land from Europe to visit Holy sites. The Hospitallers constructed their fortress from the late 12th century to the early 13th century. The Hospitaller Fortress also called the Knights’ Hall was created when the Hospitaller Order was forced to move their headquarters from Jerusalem to Acre during the Second Crusader Kingdom (1291-1191) because of Muslim forces occupying Jerusalem. They constructed two or three floors around a central courtyard as well as an underground reservoir and sewage system. Visitors enter the cool first floor of the Hospitaller Fortress as the upper levels were destroyed by later Muslim conquerors. The ancient chambers are expansive with dramatic arches above each entrance. In the Hospitaller refectory, you can see massive 3 meter thick pillars supporting the groin-vaulted ceiling. The central courtyard covers 1200m² and is surrounded by arches supporting what was the upper level. You can see a long ramp leading down into the courtyard. This was for riders to enter on horseback. The Northern Hall is divided into 6 smaller halls and has a 10-meter high barrel vault ceiling supported by arches. The Sugar Bowl Hall is similar. It was constructed over the reservoir which was divided into two interconnecting halls. The courtyard ofHospitaller Fortress, Acre.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinSugar production utensils were found in the storeroom; the Hospitallers were leaders in the sugar industry. The Hall of Pillars covers 1300m² covered by an 8-meter high groin-vaulted ceiling supported by square stone pillars. This was the Hospitaller conference room and storage room. You can also walk along the Southern Street of the Hospitaller Complex and visit the Hall of the Imprisoned. While in the Knights’ Fortress you can visit the Okashi Art Museum where temporary exhibitions are on display within the historic halls. Perhaps the most exciting section of this site is the narrow, low ceilinged escape tunnel that the Hospitallers carved out of the rock from their fortress to the sea. This is the only section of the complex which is not wheelchair accessible. Once you follow the tunnel to the end you will reach an open area where there is a small souvenir store. Through the store, you reach the Turkish Bazaar. The Hospitallers are not to be confused with the Knights’ Templar who built their acre fortress in another part of the Old City during a different period of history.Ceramics for sale at the Acre Old City Market. Photo credit: © ShutterstockTurkish Bazaar, AcreAcre Old City Market (also known as the Turkish Bazaar) is today a gentrified quaint narrow stone lane lined with restaurants and specialty stores housed beneath arched entrances which once would have been Turkish stores. You can grab a bite to eat or continue on to your right to the Turkish Baths and Citadel or your left to the main Market Street.Heading back through the Turkish Bazaar you reach the main market street/Via Regis/Kings Way which runs north to south from the entrance of the Old City to the port. This would have been the main throughway during the Crusader period. Here you can enjoy the local color, buy souvenirs, eat delicious local sweetmeats and dine in authentic restaurants. It is not geared towards tourists but rather the local community coming to buy their vegetables, fish, meat, clothing, and household items. At the southern end of the market street is Chaim Parchi’s home ( former al-Jazzar’s Minister of Finance and the Pasha’s right-hand man during the 18th-19th century), and the Ramchal Synagogue.Ramchal Synagogue, AcreThis synagogue is named after the Acre Rabbi who lived here from 1743 to 1747. In 1758 the Bedouin ruler Dahar el-Omar took over Acre and confiscated the building which was one of the finest in the city. He constructed the el-Mualek Mosque on top of the synagogue. The Jews were given a replacement building north of the mosque. The new Ramchal synagogue was much smaller and today it has been restored and can be visited by the general public.A street in Acre Old City.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinUnderground Prisoners Museum, AcreIn the former Citadel, the British set up their prison where they held members of the various Jewish underground resistance organizations. The Jews were fighting for an independent Jewish state and to get rid of British Mandatory rule. Among the prisoners was Zeev Jabotinsky, Commander of the Jewish Defense of Jerusalem.Other “guests” in the prison were members of the Haganah and Etzel including Moshe Dayan, Moshe Carmel. The museum features statue figures of prisons arranged as they would have been when imprisoned. The prison offers a comprehensive introduction to this period of history and the Jewish resistance groups which fought for the establishment of Israel.Hammam al-Basha (Turkish Bath), AcreVisitors enter this restored 18th century Turkish Bath from a small courtyard. Each visitor has an audio guide and enters with a group every half hour for a half-hour visit. The Turkish Bath was an addition to the city during the Ottoman Period. The leading Pasha al-Jazzar made many changes to the city turning it into a powerful stronghold. Visitors to the Turkish Baths see an informative film in the first room (summer dressing room) where traders visiting Acre would come to relax and wash. Then you move on to the intermediary rooms where traders would get massages and special treatments. Finally, there is the large steam room with a fountain in the middle and a magnificent ceiling with small air holes. Throughout the baths, there are statues of bathers in various activities.Hammam al-Basha (Turkish Bath), Acre. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinAcre PortOnce you reach the Acre port you can take a boat excursion out to sea or a pleasant ride in a horse-drawn carriage. The port area is lined with restaurants and cafes. The port was first mentioned in 527-525BC when the port was a base for a massive fleet. During the Muslim Period under Sultan Muawiya, the sea walls were fortified and a large shipyard was built here. Soon the Egyptians took the port and undertook further renovations. In the Crusader period, the port was an essential link to the west. Next, the Ottomans took the city and the port fell into disrepair and was used mainly by fishing boats until being rejuvenated under Daher el-Omar. The port was destroyed when shelled by the British and Austrians in 1840. The Acre Port has long been an entry point for pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land. From the Crusader Period onwards Acre became a major port and this continued into the early 20th century.Templars Tunnel and the Tunnel ExperienceThe Templars were a military-monastic Christian order originally based in Jerusalem on Temple Mount (hence the name). When Salah al-Din conquered Jerusalem in 1187 they relocated to Acre. They built a fortress on the edge of the sea protected by two towers. Today the remains of the Templar fortress are beneath the water at the southern end of the Old City. A 350-meter long tunnel runs from the port where the fortress would have stood inland beneath the Khan a-Shune and almost reaching the Khan al-Umdan ("Caravanserai of the Pillars"). Part of the tunnel is hewn from natural rock and other parts are covered with a semi-barreled dome. Visitors can enjoy animated screenings throughout the tunnel. The screenings reveal interesting stories about life during the Crusader Period.The Templars' Tunnel, Acre. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinAl-Jazzar MosqueThis is the largest mosque in Israel outside of Jerusalem. It was constructed during the Turkish Period and inaugurated c.1781 in the early period of Al-Jazzar’s rule of Acre. The architecture incorporates Byzantine and Persian styles. It has a beautiful green dome and minaret. The mosque was called the white mosque because of the dome that was once white but now painted green. The Al-Jazzar mosque holds Sha’r an-Nabi a lock of hair from the beard of the Prophet Muhammad. Before entering the mosque you will see a small circular “kiosk” topped by a green dome constructed for dispensing cool drinks to the worshipers. Next to the mosque are the family tombs of El-Jazzar and his successor Suleiman Pasha. If you are interested in visiting other mosques in Acre there is El-Raml Mosque, El-Mualek Mosque, El-Majadalah Mosque, El-Bahar Mosque and El-Zeituna.Tomb of Cafarelli, AcreIn 1969 the tomb of Caffarelli was discovered in what is today the Yad Natan Agricultural College. Caffarelli was a colorful character and an engineer in Napoleon’s army. He lost his left leg in a battle in Europe but continued to serve the French army. The popular general was nicknamed “wooden leg” and “dad on crutches” by his soldiers.Caffarelli was one of the engineers tasked with designing Napoleon’s attack on Acre. He was wounded by a Turkish sniper shot and had to have his arm amputated up to the elbow. Unfortunately, the wound turned gangrene and he died two weeks later. Napoleon visited Cafarelli on his deathbed. The French Embassy in Israel holds an annual memorial ceremony by the tomb.Acre Seafront. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinAcre ChurchesThere are several charming churches in Acre. San Andreas Church is an early 18th century Greek Orthodox Christian church. The Crusader Period church was built when the community settled in the southwestern part of the city. Next to the San Andreas Church is the Maronite Church. The Maronites are said to have descended from the Armenians and they were banished from Acre at one point only to return under the rule of Fakhr al-DinII. He allowed the Maronites to renovate their church in 1666. Next to their church is the Notre Dame de Nazareth Monastery. Terra Sancta Church is a Franciscan church. It is believed that the founder of the Franciscan order, Francis of Assisi visited Acre in 1219. Records from 1673 show thatFakhr al-Din II allowed the Franciscans to settle in Acre and build their church and monastery. The church has a distinct red steeple. St. John’s Church is adjacent to the lighthouse and is used by the Franciscans. It is thought to have been constructed in the 18th century and today is Acre’s only functioning Latin-Catholic church. The Greek Orthodox church of St. George is thought to have been the first Christian place of worship in Acre. It was established during the Ottoman Period. The church has a richly decorated traditionally Eastern Orthodox interior.View of Acre from the ramparts. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinOr Torah Synagogue (Tunisian Synagogue/Jariva)This Tunisian synagogue was constructed in 1955 and inspired by the El-Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba. The building's interior has rich mosaics and 140 stained glass windows. The mosaics depict scenes from the Bible, Palestinian flora and fauna, the Israeli Army, and more. It is a one-of-a-kind structure because of the interior decoration and has four floors and 7 Torah arks.Khan al-Umdan (el-Omdan or Pillars Inn and Clock Tower)This is the country’s best-preserved khan (the Persian name for caravanserais or inn where travelers could rest on the various ancient trade routes). The khan was built under el-Jezzar’s rule in 1784 and was one of four such khan’s in Acre. The khan has multiple columns which earned it the name Caravanserai of Pillars or Inn of Columns. The granite columns were brought to Acre from Caesarea and Atlit. Later this was where Bah’aullah of the Baha’i faith would receive guests. A clock tower was added in 1906 in honor of Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid’s silver jubilee. The Jaffa Clock tower was built for the same purpose. The khan is open 24/7 to visitors and is a major performance venue during festivals.Wooden masks on the wall in Acre Old City.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinShrine of Baha’u’llah and Bahai GardensMost visitors to Israel know about the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa but in Acre, you can see where the Baha’i prophet Baha’u’llah lived for 12 years and was buried. The major sites here are the Manor and the Shrine of the Prophet. The shrine is the holiest site in the Baha’i faith and when believers pray they face this site. Baha’u’llah was born in 1817 in Iran and despite his superior position in the Sheikh’s court he chose to devote himself to the poor. The mansion covers 740m²; the ground floor was built in 1821 and the upper floor was added by a prosperous merchant in 1870. The merchant fled from Acre during a plague in 1879 and the property was acquired by Baha’u’llah. Similar to the Haifa gardens the Acre Baha’i gardens are exceptional.Treasure in the WallsThis Ethnographic Museum displays artifacts in the northeastern walls of the Old City of Acre. The walls were originally constructed during the Ottoman Era under el-Jazzar following the failed siege by Napoleon in 1779. The Commander’s Tower now holds an exhibition of life in Galilee during the 19th-20th century. The artifacts on display include furniture, locks, clocks, and household items. One wing of the tower has been turned into a recreation of historic artisan workshops and market stalls including a blacksmith, hat maker, pharmacy, and carpentry.Visit Acre with a group day tour or book an individual excursion in Acre with a private guide.Cannons in Old Acre walls.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Por Petal Mashraki

Top 9 Attractions and Activities in the Negev Desert

The magical Negev Desert in southern Israel takes up about 60% of Israel but is sparsely inhabited due to the harsh desert climate. When the State of Israel was established one of the goals set was to make the desert bloom and in many places that has been achieved.Mamshit Archeological Site, Israel. Photo credit: © Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityThe Negev also has a history dating back to the ancient trade routes and it is home to unique flora and fauna. The Negev is unlike any other area in Israel and shouldn’t be missed. The Negev Desert flows into the Judean Desert where you can also visit Masada, the Dead Sea and the Yotvata Bar Hai Nature Reserve, and Timna National Park in the Arava Desert.1. Jeep excursionsOn a Negev jeep tour, you can go deep into the desert, far off-road to places most people don’t get a chance to see. A guide will explain to you about the local fauna and flora and you will be able to race across the dunes, drive through dry desert valleys and stop to boil up a pot of coffee in the wilderness. There are “wet” jeep tours that take you to desert springs; jeep tours where you can learn about following animal tracks; night jeep tours; survival jeep tours; tours that take you to Nabataean ancient sites and jeep tours that visit Bedouin villages. Tours leave from several points in the Negev including Mitzpe Ramon and Kibbutz Sde Boker.2. Camel Riding ExcursionsIf you want to take things at a slower pace and retrace the steps of ancient camel caravans then take a camel riding excursion into the desert. The “ship of the desert” is a great way to enjoy the scenery, learn about the unique desert environment and gain an understanding of what it was like to travel across the Negev hundreds of years ago. There are a number of places where you can join a camel tour including Mamshit Camel Farm, Kfar Hanokdim, and the Negev Camel Ranch. There is no prior experience needed and camel riding tours are suitable for all ages. There are tours lasting 1-4 hours.Safari Jeep Tour.Photo credit: © Shutterstock3. Ramon CraterThe Ramon Crater or Makhtesh Ramon is a huge naturally formed crater 38km long, 450 meters deep, and 6km wide. It is best reached via the town of Mitzpe Ramon where there is a Visitors Center overlooking the crater. From here you can take hiking tours, jeep tours into the crater, and abseiling excursions where you get to climb down the side of the steep crater.4. Alpaca FarmThere is a welcoming alpaca farm in the heart of the Negev where you can learn about the creatures, pet them, feed them and even stay the night. You can also meet other animals which live on the farm like angora sheep, llamas, donkeys, horses, and camels. There are walking trails on the Alpaca Farm which meander through the untouched desert landscape. Kids can have a ride on the alpacas and you can learn about the alpaca wool production process.5. Negev Wine TastingThe ancient Nabataean civilization cultivated vineyards in the Negev thousands of years ago using a sophisticated irrigation system. The first modern-day winery in the Negev was planted by Carmel Winery in the Ramat Arad area in 1988, then other wineries and vineyards have sprouted up across the otherwise barren landscape. There are now several wineries so that it is possible to follow a Negev wine tasting route along Route #40. Wineries that welcome visitors include the Yatir Winery, Midbar Winery, Sde Boker Winery, Neot Smadar Winery, Carmel Avdat Winery, Rota Winery (where there is also a fruit farm where you can do your own fruit picking in the summer), and Kadesh Barnea Winery.Alpaca farm in the Negev Desert. Photo credit: © Shutterstock5. Sand SurfingThis unique desert experience takes you out to the Negev sand dunes in a 4X4 jeep. Once there you get to slide down the soft dunes on specially designed boards that resemble snowboards but without the footholds. The activity is suitable for those over 2 years old and you don’t need any prior experience. Sand surfing is usually combined with a jeep tour, a historical site, or a desert village for lunch.6. Kibbutz Sde BokerThis kibbutz is famed as the former home of David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel who moved here in 1953. Today Ben Gurion’s former home has been turned into a museum where the original furniture, mementos, and personal items of Ben Gurion and his wife have been preserved. Ben Gurion had a passion for the Negev and the small community. He lived here until his death and over the years he welcomed many dignitaries and world leaders. While at Sde Boker you can visit Ben Gurion's tomb, the Sde Boker Winery, and the Sde Boker Field School.The archeological site of Avdat, Negev Desert, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock7. AvdatThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it was one of the most important Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine sites settled in the 3rd century BC along the Incense Route. Here you can see the ancient remains of a Nabataean tomb, a Roman-era residential area, and the remains of a Byzantine fortress, Byzantine bathhouse, wine press, cistern, and ancient Sacred Precinct. There are also two 4th century churches nearby. Perhaps the most important ancient remains are of the Nabataean Temple of Oboda.8. HikingThere are many marked hike trails through the Negev for those of all levels of ability. The trails are color-coded to keep hikers on track. Many of the trails take you to the oasis where there are deep canyons, waterfalls, and hidden natural spring pools. Some of the most popular routes are the Mamshit Loop, passed the Nabataean city; Mt. Ardon, with a challenging climb; Zin to Ramon, a six-day trek passed mountains and springs; Wadi Shua, with hidden gems; Wadi Mamshit; Ramon’s Tooth passed beautiful rock formations and the Hemet Cistern Loop with great views of the Ramon Crater.9. Bedouin HospitalityThe Bedouin people still live in the deserts of Israel with several communities in the Negev. They have a unique and fascinating culture and there are several places in the Negev where you can be a guest in a Bedouin tent and experience their traditional hospitality. Bedouin hospitality includes traditional food, musical performances, tea, coffee, camel rides and even sleeping over in the Bedouin tent under the desert sky.Сamel riding with Bedouins in the Negev Desert.Photo by Greta Schölderle Møller on Unsplash
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UNESCO Incense Route – Desert Cities in the Negev

The ancient incense route ran from Yemen, Oman, Somalia and Arabia through Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea port of Gaza, Palestine, covering 1,800 km and passing through 56 stops along the way. The stretch of this route which goes through southern Israel is 100 km long from Moa on the Jordanian border to Halutz. This ancient route through four towns in the Negev – Avdat, Halutz, Mamshit and Shivta; four fortresses – Kazra, Nekarot, Makhmal and Grafor and two caravanserais – Moa and Saharonim was deemed of outstanding universal importance by UNESCO in 2005. The remains offer evidence of the sophisticated engineering, knowledge of agriculture and irrigation used to settle this challenging environment to facilitate trade.Starting in the 3rd century BC and continuing for 700 years the Nabataean people traveled in large caravans from Petrain Jordan, across the burning desert to bring the precious incense and spices to the west. They managed to conquer the harsh desert and bring luxury goods from the Arabian Peninsula to the Hellenistic-Roman world. Their cargo included Myrrh, salt, spices, perfumes, and their most valuable item – Frankincense, which was used in large quantities by the Romans as incense, medicine, and in cosmetics. However along with trade goods came an exchanging of ideas and interaction between different nations, this is another reason the route was so valuable.Renovated Market in MamshitTowns, forts, and caravanserai were established as rest points along the route; as support for the Nabataean population who settled the rough land, and as a way to monitor, secure and defend the route. The innovative town planning involved in creating towns like Avdat is apparent in the surrounding pastoral landscape, field system, and water system with cisterns, dams, and reservoirs. This is another testimony to the power of the Nabataean culture and economy. Due to the challenging desert environment, there has been little damaging modern development on these ancient sites and fossilized landscapes. The settlements have, to a large extent, managed to retain their authenticity and integrity since being abandoned after the Arab conquest in 636AD.Thankfully all of the sites are state-owned and protected within national parks or nature reserves.In Moa on the Jordanian border, there are the ruins of an inn, storerooms, a guard post, and an aqueduct. In Mamshit are the remains of an inn, churches, a bathhouse, and parts of the ancient town’s sophisticated water system. Avdat was perhaps the largest Nabataean settlement along the incense route. Here you can see the remains of a sophisticated bathhouse and steam rooms, a fortress, burial caves, a deep well, a Nabataean shrine, and a furnace. Shivta was a much smaller settlement and here you can still see evidence of the water system, oil presses, and several churches. Halutz was the last town before the caravans headed towards their final stop in Gaza port and here you can see the ruins of a theatre and a church.For more detailed information feel free to read this article Ancient Routes of Israel.
Por Petal Mashraki

UNESCO Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel

The latest addition to the list of UNESCO sites in Israel are the caves on Mount Carmel which were honored in 2012 for their outstanding universal value as significant sites of human evolution. The caves show the longest sequences of human inhabitation in the region – up to half a million years of human evolution. Dating back to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic Ages, 500,000 BP ago, the sites were occupied by the Mousterian culture (250,000-45,000BP) and the Natufian culture (15,000-11,500BP).Mount Carmel, Carmel grand mall.The sites are unique in demonstrating the existence of both the Neanderthals and the Early Anatomically Modern Humans within the same Paleolithic framework. This makes the sites invaluable in research into human evolution. The caves have universal value as a central site of Natufian culture and shed light on the transition from nomadic Paleolithic life to hunter-gatherer settlements of the Neolithic life.Archaeological findings show the various adaptations made in the move towards agricultural life and animal husbandry. The Nahal Me’arot/Wadi al-Mughara cluster of caves is located on the western slopes of the Mount Carmel range along the south side of the Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara valley. They include the caves of Tabun (Oven Cave), Jamal, el-Wadi (Stream Cave), and Skhul. The site covers 54 hectares and the archaeological findings represent cultural deposits of human life covering a duration of about 500,000 years. There is evidence of Natufian burials as well as stone structures and terraced agricultural areas. Excavations uncovered artifacts, skeletal material, and fossils.Luckily the caves and their surroundings have preserved their integrity, they are intact and have not been damaged (except for graffiti in the Skhul Cave and trees grown around a water pumping station) or removed. Pollen traces and sea sand found in the caves indicate a warm climate in the region at one time and another layer of clay and silt indicates the colder climate during a period of glaciers. In the Tabun Cave, the remains of a female Neanderthal were found dating back to c. 120,000 years ago. Findings of a variety of types of flint, hand-axes, and arrowheads indicate the hunting and farming methods and the way these methods changed over time. Excavation of the sites began more than 90 years ago; findings have confirmed the site’s authenticity and yielded insight into the early human culture, biology, and lifestyle. Further archaeological investigation continues and more remarkable discoveries are predicted.
Por Petal Mashraki

Jerusalem Southern Wall Excavation

Since the 1960s excavations in the area of the south-west side of Temple Mount in Jerusalem have uncovered remarkable remains from the Second Temple (516 BC-70 AD) which stood on Temple Mount. Part of these excavations included what would have been the southern retaining wall of Temple Mount. The Southern Wall Excavation Site is accessed from the Dung Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Just past the gate is an archaeological park which includes the Southern Wall, the Southern Wall Museum and a Visitors Center.The Second Temple was originally built in 516 BC but was drastically altered and expanded under Herod the Great from 37 BC to 4 BC. It was during this reconstruction that the southern side of Temple Mount was fortified. The southern retaining wall of Temple Mount would have risen 32 meters above street level and run for a length of 281 m. The Temple and almost all of the Temple Mount structures were destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish Revolt of 66 AD-70 AD.Herodian StreetRunning the length of the wall would have been a paved street lined with stores. Along the wall remains were uncovered of an 8 meter wide street now known as the Herodian Street. When the Herodian Street was discovered it was cleared of a mountain of rubble that had accumulated over the almost 2,000 years since the temple’s destruction. On one side of the ancient Herodian Street the massive Temple Mount Southern Wall rises 32 meters and on the other side of the street a wall was uncovered with openings where there would have been stores. Here pilgrims could buy offerings to sacrifice in the temple and also visit the money changes. It may have been here in these stores that Jesus “cleared the temple courts of people selling cattle, sheep, doves and people sitting at tables exchanging money” (John 2:1322). As the Roman’s set about destroying the temple in 70 AD they would have toppled down massive stones onto this street. Above the stores we can see the remains of the base of a staircase.Robinson ArchHalfway up the side of the Southern Wall are the remains of the Robinson Arch (named after the researcher who discovered the arch in 1838). The arch was part of a large bridge structure which allowed access from the lower city to the Temple Mount. The arch was part of a 13 m wide and 19 m high walkway giving pilgrims access from the Herodian Street up a wide flight of stairs to the south-western Temple Mount entrance. This would have been one of three such bridge walkways into the temple. Only the small section of the arch attached to the Southern Wall and the base of the staircase have survived.Trumpeting PlaceOn the southwest corner of the Southern Wall a large slab of stone was found inscribed with the Hebrew words meaning: to the trumpeting place to proclaim. This could refer to the place where a priest would stand on the walls and blow a trumpet to announce the approaching Shabbat. The stone may have been thrown down from the temple walls during the destruction.Ritual BathsWhile excavating the Southern Wall many ritual baths (mikvah) were found. The baths are located close to the walls and were built according to Jewish laws. The baths would have been used by thousands of pilgrims to purify themselves before they entered the temple.Later Structures at the Southern WallThe Al-Aqsa Mosque was built in 705 AD and stands along the inside of the Southern Wall; you can see the mosque’s distinctive silver dome above the wall. Along the Southern Wall it is possible to see the remains of several structures from the later Arab Period including a number of Umayyad Palaces.
Por Petal Mashraki
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