Historical Sites in Israel

Whether you’re interested in ancient history, or recent history, you’ll find places in Israel that will take you back in time. Jerusalem holds a treasure trove of historical sites such as the Tower of David, and the Western Wall, a historical structure that was once part of the Second Temple. Other top Jerusalem historical sites include the spectacular Dome of the Rock, and al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, plus the magnificent churches on the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Cenacle. 

Historical sites in Israel are not limited to Jerusalem. Take a tour to Bethlehem to see the 4th-century Church of the Nativity built to mark the site of Christ’s birth. In the north, is the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and historical sites on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The incredible Old City of Acre has architecture from several historic periods, above and below the ground.  

Tel Aviv historical sites include Independence Hall, Ben Gurion House, the Neve Tzedek Quarter, and Rothschild Boulevard. Tel Aviv is home to over 400 historical Bauhaus buildings that have earned Tel Aviv UNESCO status. All of Old Jaffa is a historical site, where the ancient structures house eateries, galleries, and boutique stores. In Haifa don’t miss the mesmerizing Baha’i temple and gardens. Visiting historical sites in Israel will give you a better understanding of the country and its people.

Historical Events in Israel: From the Byzantines to the British

The history of the Land of Israel, from ancient times, through the centuries, and up until present day, is incredibly rich and fascinating, full of twists and turns - no wonder there are no end of books on it. But if you don’t have time to read tomes when planning your perfect vacation in Israel, then let us do some of the hard work for you and give you a ‘potted history’ of the Holy Land.The Knights Halls in the Hospitaller quarter, Acre, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockIn Part One of our series on major historical events in Israel, we took a look at certain ‘stand out’ events in the Bible, recorded in the nation’s first thousand years - from Abraham and Moses at Sinai to the eras of Kings David and Solomon, followed by uprisings against the Romans and the life and times of Jesus.Following on from this, today we’re taking a look at thousands more years of Jewish history, beginning with Byzantine Rule and ending with the British Mandate and plenty in between. From Persians and Crusaders to Arabs and Ottomans, we’ll do our best to give you a timeline on what, when and how in the Holy Land, from 313 to 1948. Ready? Then read on…1. Byzantine Rule in ancient IsraelBetween 313-636, ancient Israel was controlled by the Byzantines. Ruled over by Emperor Constantine, Christianity became widely practised in the Holy Land and churches were built in Jerusalem, Nazareth and the Galilee. The conquered territory was divided into three provinces: Palestina Prima, Palestina Secunda and Palestina Tertia and these provinces were part of the Diocese of the East.The Byzantines practised Orthodox Christianity but, compared to other periods in time, Jews fared well under their rule, at least the early part. This is because they occupied a legal position that was somewhat in ‘no man’s land’. They were not regarded as pagans, nor were they expected to convert to Christianity.Byzantine Cardo, Jerusalem, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockInstead, they were granted citizenship (i.e. legal equality with other citizens) and, for the most part, allowed to worship as Jews. They were not forced to violate Shabbat or Jewish holidays and synagogues were their recognised prayer houses. (However, the ritual practice of circumcision was banned, since it was considered barbaric by the Byzantines).Unfortunately, by the beginning of the 5th century, Emperor Theodosius ruled that Jews were perfidious (since they had rejected Jesus) and forbade them from holding public office and increased their taxes. Intermarriage was forbidden, as was the building of new synagogues. Luckily for the Jews, the Byzantines had other problems within their Empire so enforcement of the last restriction was lax. Consequently, Jews continued to build, and in old synagogues across Israel today, you can find beautiful mosaic floors, depicting Byzantine-style art. Some of the best examples can be viewed at archaeological sites such as Tsipori, Tiberias, Beit Shean and Beit Alpha.2. Persian Invasion to Ancient IsraelAt the tail end of Byzantine rule came an invasion of ancient Israel by the Persians. They were helped by the Jews (who hoped to be ‘delivered’ from their lowly status) and, as a reward for the help, the Persians decreed that they could administer Jerusalem. Unfortunately for the history of Jews in Israel, this ‘halcyon period’ only lasted three years after which the Byzantine army reconquered Jerusalem and expelled its Jewish population.Beit Shean Roman Theatre, Israel. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin3. Arab Rule in Ancient IsraelBetween 636-1099, ancient Israel was conquered by the Arabs, who would rule ancient Israel for the next 450 years or so. Events began with the Siege of Jerusalem in 636, four years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed when the Rashidun army conquered the territory. In the next four centuries, a number of Caliphates would rule, first from Damascus and subsequently from Egypt.Initially, Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and settle there. They were granted the status of ‘dhimmi’ (non-Muslims protected by law) and this gave them security over their property as well as freedom of worship. Of course, this came at a price - special taxes that they paid - but it certainly safeguarded their lives.However, as time passed, the Jews began to suffer more economic and social discrimination and, as a result, many of them left the country. By the end of the 11th century, the number of Jews in the land of Israel had decreased quite substantially.In the meantime, under the Umayyad Empire, caravan stops, bathhouses and places of worship were constructed, the most famous of which is the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. Built by Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in 691, this Islamic Shrine is one of the best examples of architecture and, today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Constructed on the Temple Mount, its golden dome makes it the city’s most recognisable landmark and, of course, it continues to be a focal point for Muslim prayer.Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Israel. Photo byThales Botelho de SousaonUnsplash4. The Crusaders Arrive in the Holy LandBetween 1099-1291, the Crusaders dominated the landscape of the Holy Land. Christian knights and peasants from across Western Europe heeded the call of Pope Urban to take up arms and aid the Byzantines in their struggle to recapture the Holy Land from Muslim control.The Crusades (or ‘holy wars’ as they are also known) were met with an extraordinary response from all sections of society. Military Orders were particularly well represented, including the Knights Templar, the Teutonic Knights and the Hospitallers, who made it their business to protect pilgrims travelling to and from the Holy Land.All in all, there were four major Crusades, the first of which culminated in the fall of Jerusalem and the slaughter of hundreds of its inhabitants, even though the leader Tancred had promised they would be spared. Today, if you visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, you can still see endless crosses carved into the stone walls, left behind by Knights who took shelter there.As a result, Christian rule was established in the Holy Land. Castles were built in Acre and the Galilee and Crusader states were established far north of ancient Israel. Only in 1181 did Saladin (the first Sultan of both Egypt and Syria) reclaim Jerusalem. In front of the Damascus Gate and the Tower of David, Saladin's army bombarded the ramparts with arrows but only after six days, when he moved to the Mount of Olives, was he victorious.Jews fared little better than Muslims in the Crusader era - thousands were murdered (beheaded or thrown in the sea) and their synagogues. The Crusades set the tone for many more centuries of antisemitism, not just in the Holy Land but throughout Europe.Ruins of Yehiam Teutonic Fortress, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin5. Mamluk Rule in PalestineBetween 1291-1516, it was the Mamluks who ruled the region. In Arabic, Mamluk means ‘one who is owned’ or ‘slave’ and these non-Arabs (who had, historically, served Arab dynasties in the Muslim world) came from a number of regions including Caucasia, Turkey and from Southeastern Europe.The Mamluks' years in power were marked by a major eradication of Crusader culture in the Holy Land. Not only did they prevent the Mongols from advancing into Syria but they were also extremely cultured - today, in Israel, and especially in Jerusalem, you can still see many of the buildings they designed.Initially, as with the period of Arab rule, Jews were once more granted ‘dhimmi’ status but as time passed, the Jewish community began to shrink. Where Jews continued to live, they were discriminated against in legal matters and forced to pay taxes on all manner of things, including the drinking of wine. Even so, despite these restrictions and laws, the legal position of Jews in the region was still far better than most of their fellow Jews in Europe. Mihrab (prayer niche) cut in the wall near Damascus Gate, Jerusalem. Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin6. Ottoman Rule in PalestineLife for the Jews improved considerably between 1517-1917, when the Ottomans conquered the region - in fact, many of the Jews driven out of Europe fled to the Holy Land, since they knew their chances of surviving there were better. Under the Ottomans, there were fewer restrictions for Jews in their daily lives and professions (even though they still had to pay a ‘head tax‘) but many decrees against them were not enforced and some Jews even rose to power in the Ottoman Court, as physicians and economists.Both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews settled in the Ottoman Empire and many became successful in business enterprises. The Jews were allowed to be responsible for their own courts and schools and held a wide variety of political opinions - some were extremely loyal to the Ottomans, others were ardent Zionists.Ottoman building in Acre, Israel. Photo byShalev CohenonUnsplash7. First Aliyah to Palestine‘Aliyah’ in Hebrew means ‘to ascend’ (or ‘go up’) and is a term traditionally used when referring to the immigration of Jews from around the world to Israel. The First Aliyah (also known as the ‘agriculture aliyah) was a large-scale arrival of Jews to Palestine. Many of them arrived from Russia since waves of nationalism and antisemitism had led to pogroms (organised killings) in their birthplaces. Since immigration to Palestine has occurred before, the use of the term "first aliya" is controversial.The Jewish Virtual Library says that almost half of the settlers (3000 persons) did not remain in the country as they faced financial problems and did not have any experience in farming.A majority of the immigrants did move to cities, such as Rishon LeZion (‘First in Zion’). However, some of them - pioneers as they are now known - established agricultural settlements, particularly with the financial support of Baron Rothschild. These includedZichron Yaakov(nearHaifa), Metulla (in northern Israel) and Rosh Pina (in Galilee).Ohel Ya'akov Synagogue, Zichron Yaakov, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockLife wasn't easy for the pioneers - when you factor in disease, lack of infrastructure, hard physical work and the hot climate, in retrospect it is astonishing how much they achieved with their labours. Nevertheless, the founding of these ‘yishuvs’ (agricultural communes) only served to strengthen their resolve to create a new kind of Jew - one who was both physically and mentally resilient, both a warrior and a farmer!The First Aliyah was also responsible for a resurgence in the cultural life of the Holy Land. Much of this can be credited to Eliezer Ben Yehuda, born in Vilna in 1858 who, after having moved to Jerusalem, vowed to transform Hebrew into a modern language, spoken by the majority of people arriving (at the time, it was only used for prayer).In this period, the National Library was founded and today houses books, photographs, maps and pamphlets and even poems written in the revived Hebrew language(now known as ‘Ivrit’). Incidentally, Ben Yehuda not only wrote the first-ever Hebrew-English dictionary but realised his dream - today, it is the national language of the State of Israel and spoken by almost nine million people! Quite some achievement.Old fashioned farming in the Biblical Garden in Yad HaShmona, Israel.Photo byGeorg Arthur PfluegeronUnsplash8. Second Aliyah to PalestineThe Second Aliyah took place between 1904-1914 when approximately 35,000 immigrants arrived in Palestine. The vast majority were from Eastern Europe (many fleeing pogroms in Poland and Russia) but some were from Yemen. Many of them were pioneers who joined the ‘old yishuv’ i.e. traditional Jewish communities based in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron and Safed and this brought with it considerable urban development (most notably in Tel Aviv, which was founded in 1910).Although a minority of them were ideologically committed, without a doubt they left their mark. They were committed to the establishment of ‘Hebrew settlements’ (run as co-operatives) and many eventually became involved in politics - including Ben Gurion and Beri Katznelson. The framework they created would, undoubtedly, set the groundwork for the establishment of the future state of Israel.9. British Mandate Period in PalestineOttoman rule came to an end after 400 years when the British arrived in town and established the Mandate. The period of their rule lasted from 1918-1948 (from the moment General Allenby walked through Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City (becoming the first Christian in hundreds of years to control the city). The British Mandate was a critical period in Jewish history for a number of reasons, maybe one of the most important being that it set the scene for the “Balfour Declaration.” In essence, this was when Lord Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Minister, pledged his support for the establishment of a ‘Jewish national home in Palestine’.The house of Paula and David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv, Israel.Photo credit: © Jenny EhrlichThough Israel would not be ‘born’ for some decades, this declaration had a major effect - Jewish migrants began arriving in earnest to Palestine and Jewish institutions began to take shape. However, as violent clashes between Arabs and Jews, unfortunately, became more common, support in England for the Mandate began to wane.Whilst the Mandate survived World War II, support for it was at an all-time low and after Jordan was given independence in 1948, Britain declared they would terminate their Mandate in Palestine on 14th May 1948. In that respect, they did accomplish one of their goals - hours earlier, the Israeli Declaration of Independence was issued. This leads us onto number 10…!10. The State of Israel is ProclaimedOn 14th May 1948, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, David Ben Gurion read out a proclamation, declaring the birth of the State of Israel. Today this building is a museum and is called the Hall of Independence. Just eleven minutes later, the USA would recognise his decree, soon followed by the USSR. Jews everywhere danced into the street, celebrating joyously, even though they understood that a war with the Arab world was almost inevitable. Although the British army had withdrawn their troops earlier that day, the State of Israel officially came into being at midnight on 14th May 1948, when the Mandate was officially terminated. And then began a whole new era, with the first-ever Jewish state established. Watch this space for Part Three, when we’ll look at some of the major historical events in Israel from 1948 to the present day.Independence Hall where is The Israeli Declaration of Independence was made on 14 May 1948, was the Tel Aviv Museum.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Ancient Routes of Israel

When reading about the history of the Middle East and, in particular, the Holy Land, you’ll often hear references to the term ‘‘ancient Israel’. But what does that really mean? Well, in large part it is to do with the tribes and kingdoms that were formed by the Jewish people in the Levant in ancient times. (The Levant is an area that, today, is made up of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Israel and Palestine)A camel rests between trips, Negev Desert, Israel.Photo byCole KeisteronUnsplashAncient Israel's main agricultural products were grapes, olives, lentils, dates and grains (usually wheat or barley). Over time, they developed a thriving trade with Egypt, Greece and Cyprus (using their ports on the Mediterranean). But how did they travel further afield? By creating different routes, some which ran by the sea and others which ran over hilly terrain.Below we’ll be taking a look at certain ancient routes in Israel - some no longer exist, and others have been ‘modernised’ to give tourists a sense of what life was like thousands of years ago when people travelled by foot and with camels to explore new lands and trade their wares...The Via MarisThe Via Maris was, for sure, one of the most significant ancient Israel trade routes. Both In Hebrew (‘Derech haYam’) and Latin, this means ‘ Way of the Sea’ and references to it can be found both in Isaiah (in the Hebrew Bible) and Matthew (in the Christian Bible). It dates back to the early Bronze Age and was a route linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria, Mesopotamia and Anatolia.‘Via Maris’ is a Roman term and the reference to the sea is, of course, theMediterranean Sea- the stretch of coast through which the route passed. It is also known by other names - the ‘Coastal Road’ and ‘the way of the Philistines’ and in modern-day Israel, it is referred to as the ‘International Coastal Highway.’Tel Aviv Port, Israel. Photo byShai PalonUnsplashThe Via Maris was one of three major trade routes that were used in ancient Israel, along with the Ridge Route and the King’s Highway. Within ancient Israel, it ran from the Galilee (in the north) to Samaria (in the south) and passed through the Jezreel Valley. Along the route, it split into two branches - one that ran along the coast from Acre down to Ashkelon and Gaza, and the other that took an inland route, through the Sea of Galilee and Jezreel Valley, the two branches reunited at Megiddo (known in contemporary times as ‘Armageddon’).The Via Maris was a principal coastal highway for traders and the one most of them chose to travel on from Egypt and then far north. There were simple reasons for this - it was close to water, sources of food and towns. It also avoided the highlands. Megiddo was equally important as a pit stop on this route, guarding the western branch of a narrow pass on the most important trade route of the ancient Fertile Crescent. Sea of Galilee, Israel. Photo byChris GallimoreonUnsplashThe Via Maris connected all of the major trade routes stretching from Egypt and Syria to Iraq, Turkey and modern-day Iran. As a major thoroughfare, it connected the Sinai with Damascus passing, as mentioned before, through the Jezreel Valley. Over the centuries, after the Jews were exiled from Israel, that valley was abandoned and became a marshy, swampy area. It was only revitalised after Zionist pioneers arrived in the early 20th century and set about draining the land; today, of course, it is unrecognisable - filled with orchards, greenhouses and kibbutzes/moshavim that produce all kinds of fruits and vegetables.Crucially, branches of the Via Maris also intersected with the major trade routes of its era including the Silk Road, the Indus Valley and beyond. The Via Maris was a ‘home base’ for explorations of worlds beyond - indeed, it was really the beginning of commerce, where Jews would trade fish, grains, oil and dairy for everyday staples from the Far East (as well as luxuries like spices). Nachsholim Beach, Nahsholim, Israel. Photo byBen MichelonUnsplashThe King’s HighwayThe Kings Highway (also referred to as the ‘Via Nova Traiana’ was an ancient thoroughfare that connected the Gulf of Aqaba and Syria through the area that we now know as Jordan. One of the world’s oldest continually used routes of communication, it is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The King’s Highway was a crucial passage for ancient trade, running from north to south of this part of the Levant. The Roman Emperor Trajan (who reigned from 98-1117 CE) actually renovated the road, in his desire to improve communications and transport between Aqaba and Bostra.Once ‘modernised’ the road was then referred to as the ‘Via Nova Traiana’ (as opposed to another road, in Italy, that had been built by the same Emperor, named ‘Via Traiana’. The King’s Highway was a crucial artery for Crusaders, journeying from Europe via Syria to Jerusalem on their military pilgrimages and for the interested visitor, there are many fortified castles to be explored on its route, even today.Today, the King’s Highway is still promoted as a tourist attraction with more rural parts of Jordan. It links up important historical sites such as Al Karak, Al Tafilah and, most notably, Petra, as well as beautiful natural sites such as Wadi Al Mujib.Wadi Rum, Aqaba, Jordan. Photo byRinaldo VadionUnsplashThe Ridge RouteThis path was of less importance for international trade than either the Via Maris or the King’s Highway but, nevertheless, travellers used this route. They would travel through the hills of Judea and Samaria, passing by the city of Jerusalem. It was called the Ridge Route (or sometimes the Hill Route) because it followed the watershed ridgeline of the surrounding mountains.The Way of the PatriarchsThis ancient north-south route crisscrossed the land of Israel. It was given this name by biblical scholars because of its having been mentioned in biblical narratives. This, you see, was the route often travelled by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the three founding fathers of Judaism.Also known as Derech ha Avot (the Hebrew term), it linked Jerusalem and Hebron and today can be found between the communities of Alon Shvut and Neve Daniel in the Gush Etzion part of Judea. Unlike the Via Maris and the King’s Highway, which were ancient roads that ran international borders and passed through the territory of many different peoples, this route was entirely within the territory of ancient Israel.Snow in Kings Highway, Jordan.Photo by Thales Botelho de Sousa on UnsplashThe Incense RouteThe Incense Route was an ancient trade network of important land and sea trading routes. It connected the Eastern world with the Mediterranean and involved ports all across Egypt and the Levant, as well as northeastern Africa, Arabia, India and the Far East. From the 3rd century BCE until 2 CE, the Nabateans were transporting incense across the desert, from Arabia to the Mediterranean and, from then on, demand for other luxury goods in the Roman world flourished. The Incense Route was a way to trade all kinds of articles, including Arabian frankincense and myrrh. Gold, rare woods and feathers came from Africa whilst precious stones, pearls, silk and spices arrived from India and further east. The Incense Trade Route was, in the main, controlled by the Arabs, who transported goods by camel caravans and for almost 700 years, this hazardous but very profitable trade was carried on.Mamshit, Nabatean city, part of the Incense Road, Israel. Photo credit: Jenny EhrlichMerchants also had other ingenious ways of trading on this route - indeed, some individuals in Southern Arabia constructed inflatable rafts made out of animal skins. From there, they could secretly float bundles of incense out on the Arabian sea, where ships were clandestinely waiting for them. The ships would then sail up the Red Sea in the dead of night and drop off the incense at ports in Egypt.Today, visitors to Israel can explore the Incense Route down in the Negev desert. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a wonderful site, with archaeological sites and desert panoramas. The ‘Spice Route’ as it is called by locals, is perhaps best explored on a jeep trip since much of the terrain (especially in the Arava part of the desert) is barren and suitable only for experienced hikers.Travelling north on the Spice Route, a particularly fine place to visit is Mitzpe Ramon, home to the world-famous crater. Whether you want to hike inside it, wander around its parameters and enjoy the views or abseil down its side, you’re bound to enjoy yourself. There’s also an ‘Artists Quarter’ nearby, as well as a farm selling local goats’ cheeses and many visitors choose to stay overnight in Bedouin campsites.Mitzpe Ramon, Israel. Photo byDmitry ShamisonUnsplashThe Gospel TrailThe Gospel Trail was established by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism in November 2011, giving Christian pilgrims (and indeed anyone else interested in this period of history) the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Consisting of over 60 km of paths and roads with special signposts, tourists can walk, hike or cycle as little or as much of the route as they choose. The route itself runs through Galilee, beginning at Nazareth (where Jesus spent many of his formative years) and ending at Capernaum, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It follows the route Jesus was supposed to have taken (referenced in the Book of Matthew, in the Christian Bible) when he left his hometown and set off for Galilee, where he would begin his ministry.The main part of the route begins, as stated above, in Nazareth, and visitors can walk along the Nazareth range, affording panoramic views of Mount Tabor, the Church of the Transfiguration, Kfar Kanna, and the Turan Valley.Column in the synagogue,Capernaum, Israel. Photo byPhil GoodwinonUnsplashThe path then slopes down through the Arbel cliffs towards the sea of Galilee, until it reaches ancient Magdala (the home of Mary Magdalene). From Magdala, it continues north along the Sea of Galilee until it reaches what is known as the ‘Holy Triangle’ - the places that are the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, and Capernaum.From there, visitors can walk the length of the Sea of Galilee on the promenade (or bike around it, if they are fit!) and stop along the way to see all kinds of attractions, including national parks, churches and the baptismal site of Yardenit.Israel National Trail (Shvil Israel)This hiking trail traverses the length of the country, stretching approximately 1000 km from Kibbutz Dan in the far north (near the Lebanon border) all the way down to Eilat, on the Red Sea. Loved by nature enthusiasts, biblical scholars, and adventurers alike, it's the perfect way to see Israel’s natural beauty.The Israel National Trail was the idea of Abraham Tamir and Ori Dvir, who were avid Israeli hikers. Inaugurated in 1995, it has given thousands of locals and tourists the opportunity to experience Israel’s varied landscapes up close and personal - from mountains and hills to deserts and wadis. A continuous footpath across the country, it has been lauded by nature enthusiasts, ramblers, hikers, and even National Geographic.Mountains near Eilat, Israel.Photo byJosh AppelonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Roman Ruins in Israel

What do you think when the word ‘Israel’ comes to mind? An exotic, faraway land where the natives ride around on camels? The place Jesus was born, ministered, was crucified and rose again? The land of milk and honey, with plenty of other wonderful produce besides? High-tech companies, housed in gleaming modern glass buildings? Miles and miles of sandy beaches, at which people sun themselves and cool off with a dip in the Mediterranean Sea?Roman ruins in Beit Shean, Israel. Photo byPatrick CampanaleonUnsplashWhy visit Israel?Well, if you mentioned any of the above, you wouldn’t be wrong, because Israel is a small country but it’s just bursting with things to do and see. Whether you’re looking for a chillout vacation at the beach, a hiking holiday in the Galilee, the opportunity to visit boutique vineyards and enjoy gourmet restaurants or simply the chance to wander the cities and countryside, soaking up the sights and sounds of the place, you won’t be disappointed.Archaeological Sites at Every TurnAnd for anyone interested in history, there’s no doubt about it, Israel’s a top destination. The fact is you can barely take a few steps without tripping over an ancient building or Roman ruins in Israel patiently restored by archaeologists. Actually, compared to other countries in the Mediterranean, Israel has an enormous number of archaeological sites - about 35,000 in approximately 22,00 square km! And that’s some serious history.In Israel’s long and chequered past, Roman rule was perhaps one of the most exciting periods in terms of building - particularly when it comes to King Herod, who was - by any standards - a Master Builder. Undertaking all kinds of gigantic building projects, the results of his labours are still visible today, and truly a sight to behold. Today, we’re going to look at some of them - Roman ruins all across the country that tell the remarkable story of their period of rule over the Jews.Herodion National Park (Herodium), Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhen exactly was the Roman Period?Roman rule in Israel began around 63 BCE and did not end for almost 400 years. This period in Israel’s history was, in many respects, extraordinary because not only did it incorporate the crucifixion of Jesus and the destruction of the Second Temple, but it was also a period of prosperity (after all, the Romans were not just organised, but obsessive when it came to infrastructure). For much of these four centuries, Israel (known as ‘Judea’) was an ‘autonomous’ part of the Roman Empire - the Jews paid taxes but had a certain degree of freedom when it came to self-rule. Of course, when disputes arose, the Romans would not hesitate to lay down the law.However, it was King Herod who really upped the ante, building prolifically during his reign, including the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the maritime port of Caesarea and palaces at Jericho and Masada, to name but a few. In the words of the scholar Vermes: “Without a doubt, he was the greatest builder in the Holy Land, planning and overseeing the execution of palaces, fortresses, theatres, amphitheatres, harbours and the entire city of Caesarea, and to crown them all, he organised the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem".Roman Theatre at Beit Shean National Park, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinThe Roman sites in IsraelToday, all of these sites are easily visited, with many of them ‘must-sees’ in Israel, whether you explore them independently or visit them as part of an organised tour, with an expert guide. Here are a few suggestions, to give you a deeper understanding of how the Romans left their mark in this extraordinary time.1. Roman sites in JerusalemThere’s no better place to begin than in the capital of Israel - Jerusalem - and its breathtaking and captivating Old City. Church of the Holy Sepulchre - one of Christianity’s most holy sites, according to tradition this is where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. It was the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great who made Christianity the official religion of his Empire and decided to build a shrine on the spot where Jesus was said to have died. He actually had the Temple of Venus in Jerusalem demolished as a result and, in doing so, a tomb was discovered that was thought to be the burial place of Jesus. Today, it is visited by millions of pilgrims from around the globe and cared for by priests of different denominations, under rules still in place from Ottoman times!Practically razed to the ground in 1009, the Holy Sepulchre Church and wider complex were rebuilt in the centuries that were followed by different groups, including the Byzantines and Crusaders. Evidence of this can be seen in the thousands of crosses carved in its stone wall - they were made by crusaders who had travelled to the Holy Land from Europe. Roman Pillar, Сardo, the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byShraga KopsteinonUnsplashThe Cardo - cardos were ancient Roman cities that ran north to south, filled with merchants’ stores and decorated elaborately with stone columns. Jerusalem’s Cardo was no different, beginning at the Damascus Gate and running south through the Old City, ending at Zion Gate. During excavations inside the Jewish quarter, archaeologists discovered that it had a central open-air passage for both carriages and animals, as well as pedestrian sidewalks. Today, you can still walk its cobblestoned streets and admire the arches, Corinthian columns and stone walls. Second Temple Compound and Western Wall - within this compound lies both Temple Mount (housing the Dome of the Rock) and the Kotel - the last remaining wall of the Second Temple, built by Herod. Complete with pinnacles, inner courts, retaining walls and underground vaults, Jews from across the Roman Empire would travel there (via the port of Jaffa) to ritually cleanse themselves then worship. Today, it remains an extraordinary site - the Western Wall Plaza is open around the clock but it’s likely that whatever time you choose to visit it, you will see Jews close to the wall, singing, praying and placing notes they have written to God in its cracks. You can also take a tour of the Western Wall tunnels, underground, which run for 488 metres and were built to carry water from nearby valleys to the Old City.City of David - actually located just outside of the Old City walls, surrounded by the Kidron Valley, Mount of Olives and Mount Zion. It was after David’s amazing conquest over Goliath that it took his name… and soon after, his son Solomon would erect the first Temple. After the Six-Day war in 1967, extensive excavations were carried out and today you can see treasures dating not just from Roman times, but also Greek, Muslim, Persian and Ottoman eras.Caesarea ruins at the Mediterranean Sea, Israel. Photo byJacques BopponUnsplash2. The Roman site of CaesareaSituated on the Mediterranean coast, about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv, this is one of Israel's most impressive archaeological sites. Once a Phoenician port, King Herod built here a magnificent harbour (which could accommodate 300 ships!) and afterwards an aqueduct (bringing water from Mount Carmel), hippodrome, amphitheatre and even a Roman palace. Excavations in recent times have uncovered no end of treasures, including a mosaic floor, synagogue, bathhouse, a temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar government buildings, courtyards and a cardo. Caesaria really is a ‘must visit’ on any visit to Israel, not just because of its ruins but also because of the beautiful views from atop the harbour.3. Masada National ParkProbably Israel's most visited site, the astonishing fortress of Masada is situated in the remote and barren Judean desert, close to the Dead Sea. Built by King Herod for use as a private residence, today you can ascend either by cable car or by hiking its long, winding snake path. At the top, as well as marvellous views looking out as far as the Dead Sea, you’ll see the remains of a bathhouse, mosaic floors, thermal baths, storehouses (with clay pots) and a magnificent palace. Masada is also the site at which the famous revolt of the Maccabees against the Romans took place, culminating in a siege by the Romans and mass suicide of the Jews there. In recent years, archaeologists have found coins minted within the time frame of the rebellion, fragments of Torah scrolls and even skeletons. As you wander the complex, you can’t help but be filled with a sense of awe - this was truly a feat of engineering, as well as the last stand of its Jewish patriots.Masada National Park, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock4. Beit Shean/Scythopolis This enormous national park in Beit Shean in northern Israel was once a city named Scypotholis. Built by the Roman statesman Gabinius, it was the only city of its time west of the Jordan river and flourished under the ‘Pax Romana’ (a period generally regarded by scholars as to the ‘golden age’ of Roman rule).Today it is home to one of the best-preserved Roman theatres of its time (it could seat 7,000 people), not to mention Roman temples, cardo, stores, the workshops of artisans, collonaded streets, and a hippodrome. Excavations have uncovered rare mosaics, burial tombs (in which sarcophagi have been found) and other notable treasures, including a bronze incense shovel. As well as these spectacular Roman ruins, you can also wander around buildings from other periods - Crusaders, Mamluks and Ottomans to name a few. The setting of this park is also wonderful - it’s surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery, which only adds to its grand past. A perfect attraction as part of any trip to Northern Israel.Beit Shean Archeological site, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin5. Winter Palace of JerichoAbout 3 kms from Jericho stands a winter palace constructed by Herod the Great - who, as well as being a master builder, had a taste for the finer things in life. This huge palace complex stretched across the entire Wadi Qelt gorge, not too far from the Monastery of St. George, and was connected at both ends by a bridge.Inside were upmarket amenities, including spacious sunken gardens, swimming pools and courtyards. Excavations beginning in 1973 actually showed the complex was made up of three different palaces and showed just how opulent life in Jericho was. Even the bathhouse was sophisticated - paved with red, white and black geometric tiles, it is one of the earliest mosaic floors uncovered in Israel.Additionally, because this palace was reasonably close to Jerusalem (it could be reached within a day) and had access to a regular water supply, from the nearby springs, it was also a place where dates, spices and aromatic plants were grown. With unobstructed views of incredibly desert scenery, it’s an easy trip from the capital, and can even be visited en route to the Dead Sea.Wadi Qelt Gorge, West Bank.Photo byChristian BurrionUnsplash6. HerodionThis impressive archaeological site is home to yet another palace belonging to King Herod (in case you are wondering, he had 15 of them!) Also known as the ‘Mountain of Paradise’ or ‘Jabal al-Fourdis’ it is only 12 km south of Jerusalem and was commissioned by the king, and built between 23 and 15 BCE. Today, it is believed to be the burial spot of Herod.Archaeologists working at Herodion have uncovered many elaborate buildings, including a synagogue, bathhouse, churches, tunnels, the palace itself and also a Mausoleum in which Herod is believed to have been interred. As you walk around, marvelling at this fortification, look out for the theatre that seated 400 and the escape tunnels (carved out by the rebels during the Bar Kochba rebellion). 7. Apollonia/ArsufEstablished by the Persians, between 5 and 6 BCE, this settlement close to Herzliya, on the Mediterranean coast, was once inhabited by a community famed for a purple dye that they made and exported! During Roman times, the town grew substantially and today you can see the remains of an elegant Roman villa, built around 2 CE using the finest Roman architectural touches.Furthermore, Apollonia is well-known for the remains of a Crusader castle established there in the 13th century. After you’ve explored the villa and castle, walk along the coastal path, looking out for the Sidna Ali Mosque, built in 1481, and the furnace, constructed in the Byzantine period. Archaeologists discovered shards of pottery and glass close by, concluding that the furnace was used to make both clay and glass vessels.Apollonia National Park, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin8. TsiporiOnce the capital of the Galilee, Tsipori was known in Roman times Diocaesaraea lies just a few kilometres from Nazareth and is an archaeologist's delight, containing remains from all kinds of periods, including Roman, Byzantine, early Islamic, Crusader and Mamluk. Tsipori, in Hebrew, means ‘little bird’ and this name might refer to the fact that the site is perched on the side of a mountain like its namesake could be.King Herod captured this city in 37 BCE and, today, much of Tsipori has been subject to excavations, which have revealed cobblestoned streets, homes of the Jewish people who lived there and also ritual baths. It’s also home to a Roman theatre, villas (containing elaborate mosaic floors) and a 5th-century synagogue. Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem also made a discovery, in recent years, of a winepress that dates back to Byzantine times, found inside a Roman-era reservoir…At Bein Harim, we offer both day trips, private tours andtour packages around Israel, many of which incorporate some (if not all) of the Roman ruins in Israel. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us if you’d like further information. We know Israel well and our guides are experienced and professional and perfect when it comes to leading groups around these ancient sites. Enjoy your trip - and we hope you get to enjoy some of these extraordinary places…Tsipori National Park.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By Sarah Mann

Jerusalem and the Crusades

The Crusades are an extraordinary and fascinating period for anyone intrigued by history, particularly in the context of Israel (or what was then referred to as ‘the Holy Land’). Some scholars argue they were a pilgrimage whilst others see them as a Holy War. Much has been written, and can still be written, about these military expeditions but for those who want the basics, this article is an attempt to explain some of the major events that occurred over these centuries, and how they impacted Jerusalem.A Crusader in the Army Museum, Paris.Photo byJeremy BezangeronUnsplashWe don’t promise here to give you all the answers (we couldn’t, even if we wanted to!)...rather look at a few of the important questions dealing with the long and arduous journeys undertaken by nobles and knights, all the way from northern Europe to Jerusalem....and what transpired when they finally reached the Levant. Today, we’re going to focus primarily on the First Crusade (scholars are still arguing about exactly how many there were) and the impact it had on Europe and the Levant.So what exactly were the Crusades?Essentially, from the perspective of the Christian history timeline, the Crusades were a series of religious wars/military expeditions that took place between Christians and Muslims. They began in the 11th century and were instigated by Western European Christians who were angered by centuries of Muslim rule. Supported, and often directed, by the Latin Church, the best known of them are the ones directed towards Jerusalem, between the period of 1095 and 1281.Sunset in the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo byDavid HolifieldonUnsplashIn 1009, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre needed to be rebuilt, after being destroyed by the Caliph of Egypt, Al-Hakim. Subsequently, Christian pilgrims were free to visit the church. Around 1077, Muslim Seljuk Turks took control of the Holy Land, and it became harder for Christian pilgrims to visit there and rumors of pilgrims’ mistreatment spread. Soon, the Byzantine Emperor Alexius, who feared that the Seljuks might soon invade his land (and reach the Christian city of Constantinople) reached out to the Pope, appealing for help. The call to arms by Pope Urban II was heard by tens of thousands of men, young and old, across Western Europe, and apparently, his words resonated with them. “May you deem it a beautiful thing to die for Christ in that city in which he died for us” he told them. Thousands cut out red Crusader crosses and sewed them into their white tunics before setting off. For them, the die was cast - they would fight for Jerusalem, at whatever personal cost. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo byAdam KringonUnsplashWho took part in the Crusades?The popular response across all social classes was enormous - both the People’s Crusade and the Princes’ Crusade attracted no end of participants. The Crusader's journey to Jerusalem was certainly seen as a ‘worthy’ penitential privilege and a willingness to accept Papal commands was common. What we do know is that the ‘call to arms’ was spearheaded by Pope Urban II at the 10-day Council of Clermont. There he gave a rousing and impassioned speech, designed to recruit men.As a result, many noblemen from France and England also signed up for the Crusades. Knights were particularly well represented, particularly a mysterious Order named the Knights Templar. Originally, their purpose was to protect pilgrims from danger but, over time, they ‘expanded’ their duties and became known as defenders of the Crusader states in the Holy Land. These knights were certainly brave, skilled warriors, and even today, tales of their military prowess are told to schoolchildren.Сrusader armor. Photo byNik ShuliahinonUnsplashWhat were the motives behind the Crusades?There were all kinds of reasons behind the Crusades in fact. Some individuals felt the need to obey the Pope, who had decreed that the Holy City of Jerusalem should be freed from Muslim infidels, in order to grant Christian pilgrims free access to worship. In the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux: “Oh men of war, oh mighty soldier, you now have something to fight for. If you win, it will be glorious. If you die fighting for Jerusalem, you will win a place in heaven.”Others were anxious to be forgiven for their sins since the Pope offered automatic forgiveness for anyone who signed up. Particularly for Knights, who had killed many in battle, this was an opportunity to have their soul cleansed. Serfs signed up because they were promised freedom from indentured labor. And then there were some troublesome young men who were ‘packed off’ abroad by their families. Obviously, there were other more materialistic reasons too - if victorious, the spoils of war would be theirs, particularly in the form of land (which could always tempt knights who were not destined to inherit their father’s lands). Finally, let us not forget the question of ‘honor’. Participating in a Crusade was an opportunity to prove one’s bravery, as well as see the world and have an adventure into the bargain.Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. Photo byGary ChapmanonUnsplashWhy was Jerusalem important in the Crusades?To medieval Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the Holy Land was not a mere geographical entity in the Middle East. Rather it symbolized purity and spirituality. All three faiths revered Jerusalem - for Christians, it was where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again. For Jews, it was where the city of King David was once captured and then made the capital of the ancient Jewish people.For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount was the place where Mohammed the Prophet was said to have flown over, on his fateful journey to Mecca. The enormous significance of Jerusalem to all three faiths in the time of the Crusades could not be underrated.The First CrusadeThe Crusaders marched across Europe, from France, Germany, and Italy, to Constantinople. After crossing into Asia Minor, they split up and began pillaging the countryside. There was an orgy of killing, in which citizens and enemy soldiers alike were massacred and even the arrival of a large Turkish army could not stop them. The Antioch fortress surrendered to the Europeans.The Crusaders rested and reorganized for some months but their eyes were still on the great prize - Jerusalem. Although they had lost many men in previous battles, they still numbered 1,200 cavalries and around 12,000-foot soldiers. On reaching Jerusalem, they found the city to be heavily fortified and so began building three huge siege towers. A week later they were complete. The Gate of St. Stephen was first to be penetrated and, once opened, the Crusaders flooded in.Knight's armor, the Army Museum, Paris. Photo byJeremy BezangeronUnsplashIn this battle, thousands of its Muslim defenders were massacred without mercy. The attack was so brutal that a Christan from that time actually claimed: “the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles.’ Another eyewitness, Ralph of Caen, watched the battle from the Mount of Olives and reported, “the scurrying people, the fortified towers, the roused garrison, the men rushing to arms, the women in tears, the priests turned to their prayers, the streets ringing with cries, crashing, clanging and neighing.”For sure, having to surrender Jerusalem to the Crusaders was an enormous blow to the Muslims. Christians quickly took control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Many Jews fared just as badly - thousands hid in their synagogues but were found and killed. Soon after, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was established under the rule of Godfrey of Bouillon. Al-Aqsa Mosque, Temple Mount. Photo byToa HeftibaonUnsplashThe Crusader StatesOnce they had fulfilled their vows of pilgrimage, many of the Crusaders left the Holy Land to return to Europe. This, of course, left the problem of who would govern these now conquered territories. At first, there was some disagreement about what kind of government should be established. Godfrey of Bouillon refused to take on the title of ‘King’ since he wished Jerusalem to be a secular state. Eventually, he took on the title of ‘Defender of the Holy Sepulcher‘.After Godfrey of Bouillon died suddenly of typhus (there was great mourning, and his body lay in state for several days, before being buried at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) the throne passed to his brother Baldwin I, also known as Baldwin of Boulogne. His Latin Kingdom eventually boasted 15 cathedral churches including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Four large western settlements, or Crusader states, were eventually established, in Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli By 1112, Caesarea, Arsuf (Apollonia), Acre, Beirut, and Sidon had been captured. Crusader castles were built in Galilee.In the meantime, all around the city of Jerusalem, you could see arts and crafts from different traditions - Latin gold workers on one side of the market, and Syrian goldsmiths on the other. Some pieces that you can see today even bear inscriptions, showing that they were made by an Islamic craftsman for a Christian purchaser!Muslim people near Herod's Gate, next to the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashThe French Influence of the CrusadesThe vast majority of the Crusaders in the Jerusalem Kingdom were from France, not to mention the soldiers and knights who arrived in the next 200 years to act as reinforcements. Of course, with them they brought the French language, thus making Old French the lingua franca of the Levant. Without a doubt, King Baldwin was able to take advantage of the rivalries that existed between his Muslim enemies and soon extended his control along the Mediterranean coast.The states were ruled very successfully for the next 20 or so years. But by 1131, the rule of the early Crusaders had come to an end. There was no more a policy of expansion, rather a consolidation of what had been captured. Unfortunately, the northern Crusader states were now endangered, since the Byzantines were preparing to go to war. In 1133, Edessa was captured and this would set the scene for the next chapter - the Second Crusade.Analyzing the CrusadesSo what was it all about? Some historians argue today that whilst the overriding initial motive for the Crusades was religious, many pilgrims succumbed to their darker impulses i.e. greed and a lust for power. What we do know is that the dead number is millions. Ultimately, the Crusades never did manage to create a ‘Holy Land’ that they envisaged would be part of Christendom but with their actions, they certainly changed history forever. Montfort, the principal Crusader castle of the Teutonic Order, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinWhat was the Impact of the Crusades?The Crusades, over time, did not have the impact they had hoped insofar that Islam was not defeated - in fact, the actions of the Crusaders in what is now Israel eventually produced a backlash. When Saladin famously conquered Jerusalem in 1189, his plan was to avenge the slaughter of Muslims in Jerusalem by killing all of the Christians he found in the city. Luckily for them, he eventually agreed to let them ‘purchase’ their freedom, as long as they gave assurances that Jerusalem’s Muslim citizens be left unharmed.Who controlled Jerusalem after the Crusades? Without a doubt, Saladin’s achievements were astonishing - he unified the Muslim Near East, using a clever mixture of diplomacy and warfare. At the height of his power, his sultanate spanned Egypt, Syria, the Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia), the Hejaz (western Arabia), Yemen, parts of western North Africa, and Nubia. After defeating the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin, he regained control over the city after 90 years of Christian occupation. Muslims across the world still consider this liberation of Jerusalem a great incident, particularly because Saladin restored the city’s religious, political, and social balance. Arsur of Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, Apollonia National Park, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinIn the meantime, Europeans learned a great deal from this period of history too. They became better warriors - more adept at designing castles and using gunpowder. They learned a great deal from Muslim scholars about medicine and science, and eventually adopted their numbers system (1, 2, 3) which they found more straightforward than Roman numerals.The Crusaders also learned that the world was vast, and that beyond Jerusalem were India and China, places where they could buy and sell. Over the years, trade flourished and many goods were brought to Western Europe, including silk, spices, cotton, and lemons. Much was also learned about agriculture, the breeding of animals and flora, and fauna.Today, of course, the argument still reigns about the Crusades and whether they were a legitimate reaction to Muslim aggression or simple colonial aggression. What we do know, however, is that the battle for Jerusalem was far from over - and that centuries of war would lie ahead, as armies wrestled for control of this extraordinary city.If you are interested in Christian day toursfeel free to contact us. If you are willing to visit some Crusader castles in Israel, let us know and we will elaborate a customized private tour for you.Belvoir Crusader Castle,Jordan Star National Park, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin
By Sarah Mann

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient Hebrew/Jewish manuscripts, discovered in the Judean desert, inside the Qumran Caves, in 1947. Historians are confident they date back to the last three centuries BCE and the first century. Written also in Aramaic (a Semitic language that was commonly spoken in this period and often used in the writing of holy scriptures) their contents include the second-oldest known surviving manuscripts that were later put into the Hebrew Bible. The majority of the scrolls were written on parchment, with some on papyrus and one on copper.The Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockHistory of the Dead Sea ScrollsThe Dead Sea Scrolls are, of course, of enormous significance - historically, theologically, and archaeologically - since they give us enormous insight into the daily religious practices at the time of the Second Temple. Because of the poor condition of some, less than half of them have actually had their texts identified to date.Of those that have been studied, scholars agree that about 40% relate to the Hebrew scriptures, roughly 200 books from the Hebrew Bible. Another 30% are related to the Hebrew Bible but not canonized. These include commentary on the Bible and apocalyptic proclamations. Finally, the remaining 30% relate to apocryphal manuscripts, containing books not included in the Jewish canon - either previously undiscovered or known only through translations. So how were the Dead Sea Scrolls actually found? In fact, it is an astonishing story.Qumran and the Discovery of the ScrollsThe story of the discovery dates back to 1947 when a shepherd boy and his cousin were out tending their flock. On realizing that one of them was missing, they wandered into the nearby Qumran Caves (close to the Dead Sea) to search for the animal. There, they stumbled upon seven scrolls, all of which were buried in earthenware jars. Burying worn-out Hebrew manuscripts was a common Jewish practice at that time, since - in Judaism - it has always been forbidden to discard them casually. Not knowing the importance of this discovery, they took the scrolls back to their Bedouin camp. There they remained for some time, whilst their family began looking for a dealer to whom they could sell them. How they later came to be recognized for the extraordinary items they actually were is, again, a fascinating story.The Dead Sea Shore.Photo credit: © ShutterstockDetective Story Behind the Discovery of the Dead Sea ScrollsEventually, not knowing their true value, the Bedouins sold all seven scrolls to two antique dealers - three to a man named Salahi and four to a man called Kando (who then resold his to Archbishop Samuel, head of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark, in Jerusalem). Professor Chaim Sukenik, an archaeologist working in conjunction with the Hebrew University, tracked down Salahi and, after seeing the scrolls and, in his own words, trembling with excitement, acquired them.In the meantime, because of the 1948 War of Independence, Archbishop Samuel smuggled his four scrolls out of Israel (to keep them safe) and shipped them to New York. In 1954, having decided to sell them, he placed an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. This very advertisement was seen by Yigael Yadin, the son of Professor Sukenik, back in Israel. After having raised $250,000, he purchased them, through a middleman, on behalf of the State of Israel, and - once they were back in Jerusalem - reunited them with the other three. A true detective story!What Can We Learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls?The scrolls give us enormous insight both into history and biblical texts. Many of the words in the fragments found are quite different from the words of the same passages in the Greek Old Testament. This shows that the ‘sacred words’ of the Bible have changed over time, even after the Romans conquered the region.Obviously, there is an enormous debate between academics as to their origins and how they came to be placed in this cave. Many scholars believe they were put there by the Essenes. The Essenes were a sect in ancient times who were regarded as being extremely pious and who - it is believed - had deliberately left Jerusalem for the wilderness of the Judean desert. The Judean Desert.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWho Were the Essenes?The Essenes, essentially, were priests, many of whom practiced a monastic existence. They regarded Jerusalem as a city of corruption and, in comparison, regarded themselves as the ‘sons of light’. In the desert, they worked communally, eschewing private property. They were alone (they had left their families behind) though still kept Jewish law, although they ate no meat and carried out no sacrifices. They worked hard in their fields and not for profit, rather for basic survival. Their lives were disciplined, admission to their group was not easy, and, once a member, an Essene divulged nothing to the outside world. One of the professions in which they excelled was scribe, which is perhaps why the scrolls at Qumran were so well looked after. As well as having been placed in earthenware jars (which were water-resistant and practically airtight) most had been written on the hide (skin) of animals, which is known to be a long-lasting material. The cool, dark atmosphere of the caves acted as a deterrent against humidity.Not all academics, however, believe it was the Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some believe the scrolls were abandoned by refugees fleeing the Romans, after the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Others believe that it could also be possible that they were placed there by a number of individuals, over a longer period of time. After all, these caves were used for shelter by all kinds of people, for hundreds of years.The truth is, we will never be entirely sure who wrote them. Without a doubt, however, the Dead Sea Scrolls have provided scholars with a unique window into a time in Jewish history that was extraordinarily complex.The Qumran Caves, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhere are the Dead Sea Scrolls Today?The Scrolls today are held in a building erected especially for them, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Named “The Shrine of the Book” it is by far and away one of the most popular attractions there and visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year. This Shrine holds all seven scrolls - Isaiah A, Isaiah B, the Thanksgiving Scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary, the Community Rule, the War Rule, and the Genesis Apocryphon. Save for the last (written in Aramaic), all are written in Hebrew. The Isaiah and Copper ScrollsThe most impressive of the Dead Sea Scrolls is, perhaps, the Isaiah Scroll - the only one from Qumran that is completely preserved. At almost 735 centimeters long, it is the oldest of its kind - academics estimate that it was written around 100 BCE. This stands in the center of the hall, beneath the Dome itself.The Copper Scroll also has a fascinating backstory - it is, in many respects, a ‘treasure map’ because it lists 54 different underground places where caches of silver and gold were hidden. Unfortunately, none of these hoards have ever been recovered (historians believe they may have been pillaged by the Romans (or, if you are more cynical, never existed at all). Since it was not made of parchment, the Hebrew and Greek letters of this scroll were actually chiseled onto it.The galleries of the building are also worth exploring - the upper section tells the story of the people who lived at Qumran and the lower gallery center of the 10th-century Aleppo Codex, which is the oldest-known complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.Israel Museum, home to the Dead Sea Scrolls.Photo credit: © ShutterstockDesign of the Shrine of the BookThe Shrine of the Book was designed by two architects - Frederick Kiesler and Armand Baros. Built in 1965, with funds detonated by the David Gottesman family (a Hungarian philanthropist) its magnificent design is structured to represent one of the earthenware jars in which the scrolls were found.The building itself is contemporary, and striking because of its use of black and white. Some have referred to it as an abstract modernist’s dream. The white dome of the building is shaped like the lid of the jar, with a black basalt war standing nearby. This contrast is deliberate and mimics the theme of the struggle between the forces of light and dark (i.e. good and evil) mentioned in the texts.A Modernist Design for a Building Symbolising SpiritualityTwo-thirds of the building is actually housed underground - the entrance is beneath the basalt wall - and walks through a passage that has been designed to imitate the actual caves in which the scrolls were discovered. Inside are many glass cases that contain pages of scrolls. However, it is the central display, which resembles a giant spindle, along with a handle, that really catches the eye. More pages of the scrolls are displayed here, and spun around (rotated) regularly so that no one section is ever at risk of deterioration from being ‘over-displayed.’ The building took seven years to complete and its location, is a reflection of the national importance that is placed on these ancient texts and the extraordinary building which is now housing and preserving them. Today, the building is regarded as an icon of modernist design. The symbolism of the building has also been taken, by many, to show the Shrine of the Book as a kind of sanctuary, in which deep spiritual meaning can be found. Not accidentally, a corridor links it with the Second Temple of Jerusalem model, emphasizing that these two buildings, together, are an invaluable source of learning for anyone seeking to understand that period in history.View of the Dead Sea from Masada fortress.Photo credit: © ShutterstockVisiting Qumran and the Israel MuseumQumran, which is set in the Judean Desert, not far from the Dead Sea can be seen from afar during any day trip to the Dead Sea and Masada. Alternatively, individuals with a particular interest in history and archaeology can choose to travel to the archaeological park alone, or take a trained guide, as part of a private tour of the Dead Sea area. Approximately 20 miles from Jerusalem, it takes around 50 minutes to reach there by car.The Israel Museum is one of the country’s most prominent museums and world-renown, not just for the Dead Sea Scrolls but also for its fine art collection, Model of the Second Temple, sculpture garden, reconstructions of synagogues that once existed in Venice, Curaçao, and Cochin and engaging exhibits (both permanent and temporary) relating to Jewish culture, art and life.The Israel Museum is situated 2 km from the Central Bus Station and is close to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament). It can be visited alone, as part of a guided tour, with aJerusalem Private Tour, or with a Jerusalem New City Jewish Private Tour. Parking is available and buses numbers 14 and 15 run there from the city center.The Israeli Museum is open seven days a week and offers discounts for students, senior citizens, and the disabled. A number of guided tours take place each day, in different languages, most of which are free. Audio guides are available and can also be downloaded onto your smartphone. Tickets can be booked online at a price of 59 NIS/18 USD (regular) ad 39 NIS/12 USD (discount).The museum also boasts an excellent shop, which sells beautiful jewelry, sculptures, small statues (including the replica of the famous ‘Ahava’ statue there), art books, and Judaica (menorot, hannukiot, and wine cups) made by established Israeli and international artists. Visitors can also purchase refreshments and meals in its two eateries, both being kosher, with one serving dairy products and the other a meat menu.The Judean Desert vegetation.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
By 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
By Petal Mashraki


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.
By Petal Mashraki

Acre (Akko)

Acre (also spelt Ako, Acco, Akka or Akko) is a city on Israel’s northern Mediterranean coast just north of Haifa. Visitors to Acre come to see the Old City, one of the oldest cities in the world with a rich history and structures from a number of historic periods. The Old City sits on a peninsula on the edge of Acre’s natural harbor, once an important commercial port and gateway to the Levant. The Old City is completely surrounded by the ancient city walls with just two entrance points for traffic. The city’s narrow lanes are mostly left to pedestrians and visitors can safely explore the alleyways discovering history at every turn. Acre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Acre waterfront.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Old City consists of several layers built one on top of the other over the course of hundreds of years. Acre was frequently conquered and each empire left behind impressive structures that allow us to trace Acre’s history. Today the Old City is a lively bustling hub for residents and tourists and is home to people of several faiths. Akko is mentioned in the Bible in Judges 1:31 and again when describing the territory of the Tribe of Asher. In the New Testament, the Book of Luke tells of Paul of Tarsus stopping in Ptolemais (the name of Acre at the time) in 59AD.A Brief History of AcreAkko is first mentioned in the 15th century BC as one of the cities conquered by Tutankhamun, King of Egypt. During the Old Testament period Acre was within the territory of the Israelites Tribe of Asher. In 333BC Alexander the Great occupied the city and in 261BC the Egyptians changed the city name to Ptolomeus after the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy. During the Hasmonean Period (140BC-116BC) Acre was a Jewish settlement. Under the Romans Acre was an important port city and during the Byzantine era Acre became a Christian city with its own Bishop. It was considered sacred because Saint Paul had visited the city.In 640AD Acre was conquered by the Muslims and in 1104 the Crusaders took the city. The Crusader Knights Hospitallers’ mission was to protect pilgrims and care for the sick and poor. For a brief period, Salah a-Din captured the city from 1187 until 1191 then Richard the Lionheart recaptured Acre. Bahai Gardens, Acre.Photo by Shalev Cohen on UnsplashIn 1347 the Knights Templars (a military branch of the church) join the Hospitallers in Acre and built their own fortress with a tunnel to the port to use in the event that an escape was necessary. When the Egyptian Muslims (Mamluks) conquered the city in 1291 all Christians fled. The extensive Crusader city was destroyed leaving only remains beneath newly built Mamluk structures. The city fell into disrepair and became an insignificant village.The Ottomans arrived in 1750 in the form of Daher el-Omar. The new ruler had the fortified city walls built and renovated the Acre port. In 1775AD El-Omar was overthrown by El-Jazar who went on to become one of the most powerful and ruthless rulers Acre has known. El-Jazar had many renovations and new structures built. In 1799 Napoleon reached Acre but failed to breach the fortified city walls.El-Jazzar died in 1804 and was followed by successive Muslim rulers. In 1831 the Egyptian General Ibrahim Pasha conquered and destroyed the city. The British took the Holy Land from the Turks in 1918 and the Acre fort was converted into a British prison. In 1947 Jewish underground resistance forces broke into the jail and released Jewish prisoners. In 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel Acre became part of the Jewish State.Acre Old City Market.Photo credit: © ShutterstockHighlights of the Old City of AcreAcre Old City Market - As you enter the Old City of Acre you will be immediately met with a busy market street lined with vendors selling everything from fresh fish and meat to toys and electronic gadgets. In the market stop to sample freshly squeezed juice or try one of the local eateries that offer Arabic delicacies and fish dishes.The Underground Crusader City of Acre- The city we see above ground today is mostly from 1750 built by Ottoman Turks. With the Crusader city beneath the surface, it remained untouched until being excavated and restored in the 1990s. The Crusader City beneath Akko is one of the most important attractions in the city although unseen from ground level. Visitors can tour the hidden Crusader City and discover the large halls, the Templars' Tunnel, and chambers.Turkish Bathhouse, Acre- also known as Pasha’s Hammam, this public hot bath and sauna complex has been restored and enhanced by metal figures of men enjoying the different sections of the baths.Acre port.Photo credit: © ShutterstockUnderground Prisoners Museum - Acre has several outstanding museums including the Underground Prisoners Museum. The Citadel of Acre was originally built during the Ottoman era over the remains of a Crusader fortress. The Ottoman citadel was used as administrative offices and later a prison, army barracks, and arsenal. Under British rule, the Citadel was converted into a prison. Several members of the Jewish resistance were held here under the Turkish and British in the years before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 as well as many hundreds of other prisoners. Among the well-known Jewish heroes who spent time in the British prison, there were Zeev Jabotinsky and Moshe Dayan. Today the former prison is a museum focused on the story of the Acre prison and the Jewish resistance fighters.Acre Old City MosquesThe beautiful Al-Jazzar Mosque (the White Mosque) stands at the entrance to the Old City. The 18th-century mosque is the largest mosque in Israel outside of Jerusalem and has many outstanding architectural features. Beneath the mosque are vast water cisterns. Other Acre mosques include the el-Bahar Mosque, built in the 16th century; the el-Majadalah Mosque built in 1809; the el-Mualek Mosque constructed in 1748; the el-Ramal Mosque, the first Muslim place of worship built in Acre and el-Zeituna Mosque.The Templars' Tunnel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinAcre Old City SynagoguesThe Or Torah Synagogue (Jariva Synagogue) is unique in having mosaics covering almost every surface inside and out. Today the four floors of the synagogue are used to display mosaics from Kibbutz Eilon, seven Torah Arks, and an extensive collection of natural stones from across the Holy Land. The synagogue mosaics and stained glass windows illustrate the history of the Jewish people.The Ramchal Synagogue and the Achav Synagogue were the two places of Jewish worship in Acre from the 16th-18th century. In 1758 Dahar el-Omar had the el-Mualek Mosque built on top of the Ramchal Synagogue. The Jews were given a small property alongside the former synagogue as compensation.Other Acre Landmarks and AttractionsThe Old City is home to four churches and two monasteries. St. John Church was built over the 12th century Crusader Church of St. Andrew. Visitors can follow the City Walls around the city, along the water’s edge past the marina and to the lighthouse. Acre is sacred to the Baha’i faith and is the site of magnificent Baha’i gardens. The gardens surround the shrine of Baha’ullah, the founder of the Baha’i religion who lived and died in Acre in the 1800s.There are many other wonderful sites to discover and things to do in Acre. One of the latest additions to the attractions of Acre is a ferry ride along the coast from Akko to Haifa.To visit Acre join a group coastal excursion or a privatetour of Acre.Acre City Walls.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
By Petal Mashraki

UNESCO Site: Biblical Tels – Megiddo, Hazor, Beer Sheva

Tels are prehistoric settlement mounds predominantly found in the Middle East. Megiddo, Hazor and Beersheba are three of 200 such tels in Israel, which contain significant remains of cities which have biblical connections. Excavation has found large multi-layered settlements which existed over the course of several millennia. The locations were probably chosen as settlement sites due to their strategic positions along important ancient trade routes and because of the available water supplies. The three tels are referred to as “biblical tels” as they appear in the Old Testament.Tel Hazor National Park, Israel. Photo credit: © Yuval Gassar. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityIn 2005 UNESCO declared these mounds as having outstanding universal value according to 4 criteria:1. The tels show an interchange of ideas and values between the east and west through trading, this can be seen in the many styles of building including those of Egypt and Syria;2. The tels offer a rare insight into the living conditions and lifestyle of the Canaan cities of the Bronze Age and the biblical cities of the Iron Age; 3. The development of Levant (Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and eastern Turkey) urban development evident in the tels had a great impact on future historic developments in the region;4. Having been mentioned in the Bible the three tels have spiritual and religious universal value.The findings at these tels show us that there was a centralized authority that controlled the important trade routes through the region. Thankfully the remains at each site have retained their integrity and have been left untouched for centuries. Over the course of time, the tels have become conical-shaped mounds with a flat top. The tels show evidence of sophisticated, geographically responsive, engineering in the ancient underground water systems designed to bring water to the cities. Ruins at Tel Megiddo National Park. Photo credit: © Avi Bahari. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTel HazorTel Hazor is located in northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee and boasts one of the best examples of ancient ramparts in the Middle East. The ramparts enclosed the city with 9 meter high walls and there were two monumental gates. Its late Bronze Age palaces and temples stand out as some of the best in the Levant and the most complex in Israel. Excavation began at Tel Hazor in 1928 and later in the 1950s the well-known archaeologist Yigal Yadin led further excavations; in 1990 work was once again resumed on the site. A six-chambered stone gate was found which can be attributed to the time of King Solomon. The complex water system involved a 30-meter descending tunnel and a cave with a vaulted corridor. As with the other two tels, Tel Hazor held an important position at a major ancient crossroad. Tel Hazor National Park. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTel MegiddoTel Megiddo is just 50km southwest of Tel Hazor at the northern point of the Kishon River and has an unparalleled number of temples in its early Bronze Age temple compound, which shows that there was a continuity in the ritual activity on the Tel. This mound was the site of a powerful Canaan settlement that controlled the Via Maris, a route connecting Egypt with Syria, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia.Megiddo is referred to as Armageddon in the New Testament. The site was first excavated in 1903-5, then again in 1925-39, and again in the 1960s – 70s. Archaeologists uncovered around 30 different cities built one on top of the other on at least 20 levels. Another major archaeological find was an 80-meter long aqueduct that brought water from a spring at the foot of the mound up a vertical shaft to supply the city with fresh water.Tel Megiddo Archaeological Park. Photo credit: © Avi Bahari. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityTel BeershebaTel Beersheba is in southern Israel near the Negev Desert and the archaeological findings show an elaborate, oval-shaped and walled, Iron Age town plan unparalleled in the Levant. The well-planned town has a central square and an underwater drainage system as well as a well 69 meters below the ground. Excavation of Tel Beersheba only began in the 1960s. They discovered the remains of a 9th-century Judahite settlement which continued into the 8th century until it was destroyed by a fire during the Assyrian campaign. Among the remains is the Governor’s Palace with three long halls and several ancillary rooms.Tel Beersheba, Israel.Photo credit: © Nadav Taube. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
By Petal Mashraki

The History of Cinema in Israel

For a small country, Israel has not just a thriving film industry but a nation of cinema aficionados. Indeed, even in the era of home streaming and Netflix, you’ll find movie theatres across the country packed out, both for blockbusters and small, independent films. Whether it’s a film by a local director or the latest James Bond, Israelis will be there…and this is reflected in famous Israeli movies competing internationally and winning many awards over the years.Cinematographer’s room.Photo byNoom PeerapongonUnsplashIn Israel today, the population is just under 9 million people but there are 10 film schools and seven international film festivals held each year! Even though cinema attendance has declined in the last 30 years (well, this is true of almost everywhere in the world today), film directors are still hard at work, producing works that showcase Israel across the world as a vibrant, modern nation, not without its dilemmas but constantly changing.The History of Cinema in IsraelBefore the state was established, there were many cinemas in Israel (see below), initially silent movies. Baruch Agadati established the AGA Newsreel and directed an early film called ‘This is the Land’ in 1935. Also, the children’s author Zvi Lieberman had two of his books turned into films and one of them - ‘Over the Ruins’ - is considered to be a ‘landmark’ in the history of cinema in Israel. After Israel came into being in 1948, different genres of film emerged. These included:1. Documentary / Propaganda films in Israeli cinemaThese were filmed for several purposes - not only were they informative (letting Jews around the world see how the new state of Israel was faring), but they also served as a means of persuasion i.e. encouraging Jews to emigrate, not to mention attracting donations. Two of the most important of these filmmakers were Ya’acov Ben-Dov and Lazar Dunner. The latter was responsible for the short color film entitled ‘A Day in Degania’, showcasing the first established kibbutz in the country, in the Galilee. In 1953, the Israeli Public Information Administration was established and subsequently produced many propaganda films - they dealt with current affairs, news to do with agriculture and health. These films gave foreigners a glimpse into Israeli Society and were a powerful tool of instruction.Сinema Sign. Photo bySamuel Regan-AsanteonUnsplash2. ‘Bourekas’ films in Israeli cinemaThese ‘comic melodramas’ were popular in the 1960s and ’70s. Often real tearjerkers, they played on ethnic stereotypes of Ashkenazi (European) and Mizrahi (Sephardic-Arab world) Jews and stuck to a predictable format. In general, this would involve a canny, street-smart Mizrahi man trading insults with a conceited, cold, arrogant Ashkenazi man. Whilst highly popular, with their slapstick humor, they were also criticized for being ‘shallow’ and ‘low brow’. Today, they are no longer made but many have obtained cult status, including ‘Sallah Shabbati’ by Ephraim Kishon, ‘The Contract’ directed by Menachem Golan, and ‘Hagiga B’Snuker’ by Boaz Davidson.3. ‘New Sensitivity’ films in Israeli cinemaStyled after the new wave French movement, this genre of film was popular in Israel in the 1960s and 1970s. Promoting both artistic and aesthetic values, it was a somewhat modernist style. Films at this time included “The House on Chelouche Street” by Moses Mizrahi, “Hole in the Moon” by Uri Zohar, and “But Where Is Daniel Wax?” by Abraham Zeffer.A spectator in the cinema. Photo byKaren ZhaoonUnsplashMovie Theatres in Israel - Past to Present‘Kolnoa Eden’, Tel Aviv - The Eden cinema dates from the turn of the 20th century and was one of the earliest cinemas built in Tel Aviv. It was founded by Moshe Abarbanedl and Mordechai Wieser in 1914, even though residents of the neighborhood (Ahuzat Bayit) objected strongly.During the First World War, it was closed by the Ottoman government but reopened under the British Mandate and was a true center of social and cultural activity. It even served as a live venue in 1923, when it hosted ‘La Traviata’ performed by the Palestine Opera! It remained popular into the 1950s and 1960s but closed its doors in 1974. Mograbi Cinema, Tel Aviv - The Kolnoa Mograbi (Mograbi Cinema) was an art deco cinema that opened in 1930, in central Tel Aviv. For years it was, arguably, the city’s most famous cinema and during holidays people often gathered in front of it - indeed, after the 1948 partition and establishment of the State of Israel, it was one of the places where locals broke into spontaneous dancing and cheers of joy. It remained a city landmark for decades afterwards but, following a fire in 1986, it was demolished.Cafe Lorenz, Tel Aviv - In 1905, Cafe Lorenz opened to the public in Jaffa Road in the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek, with the Lorenzo family screening films there and 20 years later, the Kesem Cinema (‘Magic Cinema’) was housed there for a short period. Turned on projector.Photo byJeremy YaponUnsplashEsther Cinema, Tel Aviv - Built in 1930, it opened as the ‘Dizengoff Square’ cinema (because of its location but the following year was renamed ‘the Esther Cinema’. Built in the Bauhaus style of architecture (popular in Israel in the 1930s, because of the number of German Jewish architects who had arrived in the city), it was commissioned by Esther and Moses Nathaniel. Very modern for its day, it had seating for 1000 people, air conditioning and a cafe. Soon, it became a social and cultural hub, holding lectures and political meetings too. What makes this building special even today is that it was restored and renovated, made into a boutique hotel called ’Cinema’. Great care was taken to keep the exterior in keeping with the 1930s and inside you can see the original staircase, chandeliers, and a display of projectors and movie posters. It is fair to say that, today, this building is one of the most striking in Tel Aviv.Alhambra Cinema, Jaffa - Located on Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa, and designed in Art Deco style by Elias Al-Mor, this cinema opened in 1937 and was named after the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Owned by Palestinians, it was used as a cultural institution as well as a cinema, then as a theatre in the 1960s. After being abandoned for a long time, it was restored in 2010 and now is home to the Scientology Centre. People watching a movie in a movie theatre. Photo byKrists LuhaersonUnsplashCinema International, Jerusalem - This silent movie theatre opened in Jerusalem on Jaffa Road in 1912. Housed in Feingold House, it screened silent feature films but with no regular showings - it all depended on how many tickets were sold! Smadar, Cinema Jerusalem -Situated in Jerusalem, in the German Colony, this cinema opened for commercial screenings in 1935 and was soon known as the ‘Orient.’ Jewish management took it over (since originally it had been a German-owned business) and after 1948 it was purchased by four young soldiers, three of whom were later bought out by the fourth, a movie lover called Arye Chechik. It became a real family business - he sold tickets and worked the projector, whilst his wife sold sweets at a nearby stand!The Armon, Haifa -Moshe Greidinger opened this cinema in 1935 - a building that could seat 1,800 and in art-deco style. Soon it became the hub of Haifa’s entertainment scene, being used not just as a movie theatre but also as a music venue for the Israeli Opera and Israeli Philharmonic.Clapboard plays an important role in the video production process. Photo byJakob OwensonUnsplashMovie Theatres in Israel TodayToday, many of the small, independent cinemas in Israel have closed down, since they cannot compete financially with the big multiplexes, in the form of ‘Cinema City’ and ‘Yes Planet’. However, that does not mean that there is no demand for independent productions - on the contrary, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa are all popular, and not just on a day-to-day basis but for the film festivals they hold.Cinematheque Tel AvivOpened in the spring of 1973, and located within walking distance of the historic part of the city, Tel Aviv Cinematheque and movie archive boasts five screening halls. It shows all kinds of films, both Israeli and international, and hosts a number of festivals. In the fall of 2011, its ‘sister’ the Israeli Cinema Centre opened next door to it. This wing is much larger than the original and boasts three screens, a library, and a restaurant. Cinematheque JerusalemThe Jerusalem Cinematheque was opened in 1981, the brainchild of George Ostrovsky, Lia van Leer and the then-mayor of the city, Teddy Kollek. Situated at the Valley of Hinnom (on Hebron Road), it boasts spectacular views of the Old City. With four screening halls and a growing film archive, the Cinematheque is a real treasure for all movie fans. Screening a mixture of commercial, Israeli, and international films (as well as gems from its archives) it regards itself as a leading platform for the promotion of local cinema. Its Film Archive preserves and showcases films from the beginning of Israeli cinemauntil modern times and is an exciting venue both for established and up-and-coming film directors. People at the movie theatre. Photo byErik WitsoeonUnsplashCinematheque HaifaThe Haifa Cinematheque was also established by Lia Van Leer and her husband Wim, but long before its Jerusalem counterpart - actually in the early 1950s. Today it offers visitors the choice of 40 plus films each month, screened in two different theatres. These include old and new films, restored prints, and retrospectives.Recognized Israeli Film DirectorsThere have always been classic Israeli films that are loved by its people, but until the last 20 or so years, they didn’t really break onto the world scene. All that has changed now and more and more tales of life in Israel, focusing both on the secular and religious worlds, as well as politics, music, and love, are ending up on the big screen. Ari Folman was nominated for an Oscar in his groundbreaking ‘Waltz with Bashir’, following the story of an Israeli soldier who battles mental health issues after fighting in the first Lebanon war. Eytan Fox became famous after his film ‘Song of the Siren’ (in 1994) was released, taking a comic look at an Israeli woman’s convoluted love life in the midst of the Gulf War. In 2002, ‘Yossi and Jagger’ was released, a touching portrayal of two men in love, whilst in the midst of their army service. And in 2006, ‘The Bubble’ aired a very personal film for Fox who, openly gay, wanted to deal with the subject of coming out of the closet.‘Footnote’ by Joseph Cedar, was released in 2001, and later won the ‘Best Screenplay Award’ at Cannes. Exploring the troubled relationship between a father and son who both work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it is both touching and poignant. Black and silver cameras with film reels. Photo by昔日少年寻不见onUnsplashCinema Festivals in IsraelIsrael holds a number of film festivals each year, which are well-attended. And because of its fascinating history and people, there’s a story to be had on every street corner, which means there are plenty of Israeli directors at the screenings too. The oldest of these festivals is the one held in Haifa, which began in 1983 and is held every year around Sukkot time (between September and October). Not only are there all kinds of screenings, but each night there is a program of cultural events, which includes outdoor film screenings, live music, and an artists’ market close by.Hot on the heels of Haifa is the Jerusalem International Film Festival (JIFF) which was first held in 1984. Ever since, each July, it screens between 150 and 200 films, giving both locals and tourists the opportunity to see some of the finest films that have just been made. A cinema sign, crafted into the ironwork.Photo byNick FewingsonUnsplashNor is Tel Aviv shy in this department, especially when it comes to documentaries. Docaviv, (the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival) was founded in 1998 is the largest festival in Israel, drawing audiences of up to 40,000. And there’s also TLVFest, which focuses on films related to the LGBTQ movement, supporting pluralism in one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities.Moreover, there is the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, which promotes young filmmakers, starting out in the industry. Each June it shows more than 200 short films from around the globe and its prizes are highly coveted. Held at the Cinematheque, events include masterclasses, exhibitions, conferences, and artist workshops. Running now since 1996, it has developed a real reputation for innovative cinema.If you are visiting Israel for one of these film festivals and would like to organize a day tour or private tour within the country, please feel free to contact us by phone or email. We are always happy to help!Cool looking movie theater popcorn bags. Photo byCorina RaineronUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

The History of the Hebrew and Yiddish Languages in Israel

When you arrive in Israel, one of the first things that will strike you is the letters of the Hebrew alphabet! You’ll see them on storefronts, menus, banners at Ben Gurion airport, and all kinds of public transport. The letters in this alphabet (referred to by scholars as Jewish script or ‘Ktav Ashuri’) certainly can puzzle visitors (luckily for them, the Roman script is widespread too!)A historic Old Testament scroll rescued from the city of Lodz in Poland.Photo byMick HauptonUnsplashEarly Hebrew was the alphabet used by Jews before the 6th century (basically the Babylonian Exile) and existed in local variants. For sure, it developed over time but essentially it had - and still does - 22 letters, but only with consonants represented.The letters are written in block form. Just as interestingly for the visitor, it was - and is still - written from right to left. And it’s not the only language in Israel you’ll see written this way either - Arabic (although written in cursive, not block letters) and Yiddish are also written right to left.As we all know, language is an incredibly powerful tool in society - it helps people communicate with each other, build relationships, and also enables them to promote their culture. Language lets people share common ideas, express feelings and desires, and, in turn, forges all kinds of ties between people. And never more so than in Israel which was in the interesting position of only having revived Hebrew (in its modern form) in the last 150 years!Today, we’ll be looking at language in Israel - how linguistic scholars and Zionists alike promoted a Hebrew revival and how this Hebrew revival impacted Yiddish speakers (many of whom had come to Palestine/Israel from Eastern Europe and knew nothing of Hebrew, save for what they could read in the Bible). We’ll also take a look at how Yiddish is still used in small religious communities in Jerusalem and how it’s even making a bit of a comeback amongst the young and secular in wider Israel. Let’s go! Lamir Geyen! ! בוא נלךA wall at Netiv HaAsara facing the Gaza border reads the words “Path to Peace” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Photo byCole KeisteronUnsplashHebrew From Ancient Times until the 19th CenturyHistorically, ‘square’ (block) Hebrew was established in the land of Israel, some time between the ½ BCE and slowly developed into what is now the modern Hebrew alphabet, in the next thousand years. By 10 CE, classical Hebrew existed in three clear formats - formal (used in books), rabbinical (used by medieval Jewish scholars), and local scripts.So actually, Hebrew had roots that dated back a long time, which makes the story of it being brought back to life even more extraordinary. As mentioned earlier, 150 years ago Hebrew was not a spoken language - it was effectively dormant and used simply for prayer. Only because of Eliezer Ben Yehuda - an individual of exceptional vision - was it brought back from life. How did he do it?A Hebrew RevivalBen Yehuda was born in Lithuania and arrived in Israel (then Palestine) in 1881. Settling in Jerusalem, he heard many languages around him - Russian, Polish, Arabic, German - and soon he took the view that these new arrivals needed a common tongue to unite them. As a Jewish nationalist. Ben Yehuda believed both in the return of Jews to their historical homeland (the Land of Israel) and a ‘national tongue’. To make the latter challenge a reality, he decided to transform ancient Hebrew - used just for prayer for thousands of years - into a modern language.Ben Yehuda campaigned vociferously for Hebrew to be made the official language of instruction in schools and set to work expanding the existing Hebrew vocabulary. He created more than 300 new words (including ‘toy’, ‘car’, ‘ice cream’, and ‘newspaper’). He also dedicated himself to compiling the first modern Hebrew dictionary and later edited the first Hebrew-language daily newspaper. On a personal note, Ben Yehuda was a stickler for discipline and, in schools today, every Israeli child hears the story of how he only spoke Hebrew to his own children (even when they wept). In fact, his son Ben Tzion was the first child in modern times to grow up using this language as his mother tongue because of his father’s sheer determination.Mia's Mosaics "We Were All Once Refugees". A collaboration with Kuchinate, a Women's African Refugee Collective, Tel Aviv. Photo byAntoine MerouronUnsplashHebrew as the national language of IsraelThanks to Ben Yehuda’s sterling efforts, more and more communities of Jews who had arrived in the First Aliyah (1881-1903) and the Second Aliyah (1904-1914) established Hebrew schools in their surroundings. As a result, by 1922 there were enough Jewish pioneers speaking Hebrew in their daily lives that the British Mandate rulers recognized it as the official language of Jews in Palestine. Since then, modern Hebrew has developed a lexicon of more than 75,000 words including almost 2,500 deliberately designed Hebrew alternatives for foreign words. Whilst Ben Yehuda himself never lived to see the creation of the State of Israel, this idea of the Jews speaking their own language in their own land came to pass. Arguably, this made him one of the most successful language revivalists of all time as well as one of the most prominent historical figures in Israel! Today, modern Hebrew (or ‘Ivrit’ as it’s called) is the standard form of the Hebrew language spoken in Israel, and every new immigrant who arrives is offered, courtesy of the government, a free ‘ulpan’ which is a language instruction program, teaching them the basics.Road sign in Haifa in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashSo whatis the Yiddish language?Today, in every school, restaurant, and business place in Israel you’ll hear Hebrew spoken. But as well as the fact that it was only adopted ‘officially’ 100 years ago, there’s another reason Hebrew wasn’t widely spoken back then - it’s because Yiddish was incredibly common. Yiddish was the language of Ashkenazi Jews - Jews who hailed from Central and Eastern Europe.Written in the same alphabet as Hebrew, by the 19th century Yiddish was spoken widely in any community in the world where a Jewish population existed. The history of Yiddish is indeed a fascinating one. Scholars have traced its origins back to the 14th century when Ashkenazi Jews emerged as a community in Europe. From its birthplace, in German-speaking areas, it eventually spread to all of Eastern Europe. A fusion of High German (‘Hoch Deutsch’) vernacular and Slavic words (especially Polish and Ukrainian) it even has a historical trace of Romance language expressions in it. Yiddish is an incredibly rich language, as a result, even having what is called ‘artificial loanwords’. This actually means that the word borrowed from elsewhere and used in Yiddish doesn’t even exist in the original language. A good example is ‘tate-mame’ which means ‘parents’ in Yiddish. (And not to forget aboutYiddishe mama). In Slavic, these two words mean ‘dad’ and ‘mum’, but there’s actually no such phrase in Polish (or, indeed, any other Slavic language).As a result, many of the Jews who arrived in the Holy Land (then Palestine) spoke Yiddish as their mother tongue. They came from all walks of society - writers, politicians, business leaders, artists, social activists - and they were devoted to their language. This, of course, would become problematic for them as time passed, since they were also Zionists, therefore felt obliged to promote the Hebrew language in its new, modern format.Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.Photo byArno SmitonUnsplashHebrew vs YiddishBetween the first aliyah and the creation of the State of Israel, therefore, Yiddish was spoken widely, although as time passed, modern Hebrew became predominant. However, Yiddish culture was alive and kicking in all kinds of forms - on the stage, in music venues, and in European-style cafes on Tel Aviv’s trendy Dizengoff street.So what changed this? Essentially, a huge cultural and ideological shift in Israel in the 1940s and 1950s. after the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. After millions of Jews had been murdered in the camps, the remaining survivors began looking for new homes. Some went to North America, others to Europe, and some even to Australia but many, of course, set sail for Israel.The then-Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, had made a decision not to turn away a single refugee, in his quest to bring Jews from across the globe to this new homeland. But not, as Ben Yehuda had also said, to be a collection of different peoples - to forge a new country and a new national identity. This didn’t just mean having Hebrew as the official language of the state, it meant actively encouraging Yiddish speakers to abandon their ‘mamaloshen’ (mother tongue).Ben Gurion’s vision (and that of many of his contemporaries) was to create a new identity for the Jews - strong, proud, and ideologically committed. He encouraged immigrants from Eastern Europe to forget the ‘shtetls’ (villages) where they had been raised, and ‘shake off’ everything to do with their old lives. Candles from Safed with inscriptions in Hebrew, Israel. Photo byJoshua SukoffonUnsplashIt was their obligation - he argued - as citizens of this young nation - to be pioneers and part of that duty was to abandon the culture of the diaspora. And thus the ‘Sabra’ was born - the ‘new’ Israeli who was resilient, the Jew who would fight back against tyranny (the implication being that many Jews in Eastern Europe had gone to their deaths ‘like lambs to the slaughter’).As a result, Yiddish didn’t have an easy time in the 1950s, in the state of Israel. Many of the state’s population spoke it as their mother tongue but were embarrassed and ashamed to speak it publicly. Even worse, legislation was passed, protecting Hebrew from ‘competitor’ languages, particularly Yiddish, forbidding theatre productions to be performed and newspapers written in other languages. Additionally, diplomats and anyone else who represented Israel abroad actually had to Hebraize their names.Many children of Holocaust survivors also recount their ‘shame’ at having parents who spoke Yiddish together, instead of Hebrew. The awful truth was that, in the 1950s, the enormity of the Holocaust was not really understood, and - as a result - many of the refugees were ‘blamed’ for not fighting back against the Nazis. A lack of consciousness about this dark period meant that children born in Israel often ‘rejected’ their parents (and as some admit, did not want to have anything to do with their ‘old world’ language and customs). As a result of this dilemma, and the growth of modern Hebrew, today in Israel only about 3% of the population speak Yiddish on a day-to-day basis. So who are they?View of the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives. Photo byRiaonUnsplashYiddish in the Haredi Ashkenazi World in IsraelWithin Jerusalem is a special neighborhood, named ‘Mea Shearim’ which in Hebrew means ‘one hundred gates’ or ‘a hundredfold’. One of the oldest of the city’s neighborhoods, the people who live there are of Haredi background - that is Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Their day-to-day language of communication is Yiddish. The residents only use Hebrew for religious studies and prayer at synagogue, since they believe Hebrew is a sacred language that should only be used for communicating with God.For any visitor to this quarter of Jerusalem, it may almost seem as if they have stepped back in time, into a world of yesteryear. Men wear black frock coats and large black hats. Women are always dressed modestly - no skirts above the knee or plunging necklines and blouses that cover the elbows. They also cover their hair, either with headscarves or wigs.For anyone visiting this neighborhood, they will hear Yiddish on every street corner. They will also see it written in the form of ‘Pashkvils’ which are street posters, used both for political manifests and obituaries. Whilst Mea Shearim is open to all, there are large signs at its entrance (both in Hebrew and English) reminding people to behave respectfully by dressing modestly and, on Shabbat, not using their cellphones or taking photographs.The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Israel.Photo byIvan LouisonUnsplashPreserving Yiddish Culture in Israel TodayBut what of Yiddish in the rest of Israel? Well, there is, thank goodness, a more ‘happy’ side to this story - after years of it being sidelined (and ‘downgraded’) in Israeli society, there has been a resurgence in interest in the Yiddish language and culture. Today, you can attend lectures in cities across the country, given about famous writers (such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote ‘The Magician of Lublin’ and Shalom Aleichem, who penned ‘Tevye the Dairyman’).There is a Yiddish theatre in Tel Aviv called ‘Yiddishspiel’ which was inaugurated in 1987, as a result of the campaigning of the then Mayor, Shlomo Lahat. Its mission is to restore this wonderful language (which had almost disappeared from Israel) to the public - who can learn about its charm and glory, and the extraordinarily rich culture that lay behind it. Today, it is flourishing and puts on several productions a year, which are viewed by Israelis and tourists of all ages.Furthermore, many Israelis (especially children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors) have now signed up for Yiddish classes. Tel Aviv University has begun hosting Yiddish summer camps and the Hebrew University now offers classes for credit. Every year, in Israel, the National Authority for Yiddish Culture now gives out prizes to prominent figures in the fields of arts and literature who contribute significantly to the Yiddish language and culture in Israel.So, what are you waiting for? Visit Israel and learn more about these two interesting languages for yourself!People in Tel Aviv cafe, Israel. Photo byYaroslav LutskyonUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

The American-German Colony, a Tel Aviv Hidden Gem

If you want to discover a really magical hidden gem in Tel Aviv then visit the American-German Colony. This small Tel Aviv neighborhood of just a couple of streets has unique houses built over 150 years ago by American settlers. Each structure has a fascinating story to tell about the Americans and the German Templers who took up residents after the Americans abandoned the Tel Aviv neighborhood. There are 10 wooden houses with two floors; a porch and facades featuring wooden carved details. This tiny Tel Aviv neighborhood is sandwiched between Jaffa and Florentine.The American Colony Tel AvivIn 1866 a group of 157 men, women and children of the Christian Lovers of Zion left Maine and traveled to Palestine. Their mission was to develop the Land of Israel and prepare Palestine for the establishment of a Jewish nation in the Promised Land. As soon as their leader George Adams had purchased land they began building one of the first neighborhoods outside of the walls of Jaffa.They built in the New England wood and clapboard-style using prefabricated structures they had brought with them from Maine.Their settlement was not easy. Many died, the land was difficult to farm, there was fighting among the settlers and their resources were limited. Just two years after their arrival there were only approximately 24 of the original American settlers remaining.The German Templer Colony Tel AvivA few years after the Americans abandoned the fledgling Tel Aviv neighborhood the German Templers arrived in Jaffa in 1869. They bought the abandoned colony homes and took up residence. Led by Pastor Hoffman the Templers aimed to prepare Palestine for the Second Coming. A large property at#8 Auerbach Street was sold to the Templers in 1871 and became Tempelstift, the Templer headquarters which is known today as Beit Immanuel. In 1904 the Templers built the Immanuel Church. During the Second World War many of the German Templers in Palestine became Nazi sympathizers and were expelled by the ruling British. The abandoned colony fell into disrepair. By the 1980s the American-German Colony houses were scheduled for demolition. Thanks to the efforts of American historian Reed Holmes and his wife Jean Carter the colony was preserved.What to See and Do in the American ColonyBeit Immanuel/ Hotel du ParkThe Tempelstift was constructed at #8 Auerbach Street in 1873 housing the Templer offices, community hall and school. In 1878 the Templers moved their headquarters and sold the property to Baron Plato von Ustinov (the grandfather of actor Peter Ustinov). Ustinov added a second floor to the building and made further architectural changes. Ustinov took up residence on the top floor and the building became the luxury Hotel du Park in 1895. It hosted many famous guests including Emperor Wilhelm II in 1898. Later the hotel was sold to the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews. In the 1970s the property became a gathering place for Messianic Jews. Today it is a guesthouse, mission and community center. Beit Immanuel Guest House has a room which holds displays on the history of the American-German Colony.Grand Hotel/ Jerusalem HotelAnother of the standout buildings is the Grand Hotel constructed by the Drisco brothers alongside the Hotel du Park at #6 Auerbach Street. The three storey building was the first stone structure in the Tel Aviv neighborhood. It was later bought by Ernest Hardegg, the son of one of the original Templer settlers and he renovated the property and reopened it as the Jerusalem Hotel. The Jerusalem Hotel operated from 1870 to 1940 and was the first luxury hotel outside the Jaffa walls. The historic hotel has recently undergone intensive renovations and will soon reopen as the Drisco Hotel.Norton HouseThe home of Ackley Norton at #4 Auerbach Street was one of the largest homes in the neighborhood. Norton was a wealthy ships’ captain and many festivities and parties were held in his home. The two storey wooden house built in 1866 became a religious mission in 1926; it housed the first state-sponsored haute-couture brand, Maskit in the 1950s and later the legendary Keren Restaurant. The Norton House will soon reopen as part of the newly renovated Drisco Hotel.Immanuel ChurchThe Immanuel Church on Be’er Hoffman Street towers above the low-level homes of the colony. It was a later addition to the community, completed in 1898. Not long after its completion the church became the German Evangelical Church serving the Templers and Evangelists in the community. The restored and renamed Immanuel Church has been home to the Norwegian Lutheran church since 1955. The church is open to visitors Tuesday to Friday 10:00 to 14:00.The Maine Friendship HouseThe house at #10 Auerbach Street was built in 1866 by the original American settlers using one of the wooden structures brought from Maine. In the 1890s the Templers doubled the size of the house with a stone addition. Jean and Read Holmes purchased the old colony house in 2002 and began restoration. Today it is the Maine Friendship House and site of a museum focused on the American Colony. The museum displays authentic items from the American settlement period including farming equipment and a wooden board carved with the initials of the house’s original owners. You can tour the house and watch an introductory film about the American Colony. The Maine Friendship House is open Friday noon to 15:00 and Saturday from 14:00 to 16:00.
By 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.
By Petal Mashraki

Prehistoric Tourist Attraction in Israel

Yarmukian Culture at Sha’ar HaGolanAlthough the many ancient sites, Greek and Roman sites and medieval sites of Israel are quiet well known there are also approximately 30 pre-historic sites in Israel. The Yarmukian culture was perhaps the earliest prehistoric culture in the Southern Levant to use pottery; they existed in the 6th millennium BC (5600-500BC). They used pottery as household containers, tools, everyday items and produced them in a variety of shapes and sizes. The pottery was decorated making them distinct from other cultural units. The Yarmukians also used limestone flint to make their household items and in addition excavation uncovered a rich collection of art objects.The known sites of the Yarmukian culture in Israel include Wadi Muraba’at in the Judean Desert; in the region of Tel-Aviv’s Habashan Street where three layers of archaeological evidence was uncovered; Nahal Qanah Cave; Tel Farah North; at the base of Megiddo; Hazorea in the Jezreel Valley; Tel Qishon in the Lower Galilee; Hamadiya and Munhata in the Jordan Valley and the most significant discovery of the Yarmukian civilization was made in Sha’ar HaGolan in the Jordan Valley.Sha’ar HaGolanSha’ar HaGolanis the Yarmukian culture’s “type site”, the site considered the model for this particular archaeological culture. Although Yarmukian findings had previously been made at Megiddo, it was not until 1949 when Prof. Stekelis classified Yarmukian culture as a Pottery Neolithic Culture following his excavation at Sha’ar HaGolan. His excavations continued from 1948 to 1952. The site is located in the Central Jordan Valley not far from Sha’ar HaGolan Kibbutz at the foot of the Golan Heights, and close to the Yarmouk River which gave its name to the culture.Most of the Yarmukian remains lay 1-1.5 meters below the remains of a later Middle Bronze I village. Stekelis found the remains of two round huts, a grave, flint tools, art objects and pottery. The findings spread over several 100,000m² this revealed that the original settlement was extensive.Today visitors can see the findings from the Sha’ar HaGolan excavations in the Museum of Yarmukian Culture on Kibbutz Sha’ar HaGolan. Among the objects on display is part of a collection of 130 anthropomorphic figurines made of clay, these stand out as an impressive demonstration of Yarmukian artistic achievement. Other exhibits are of ritual objects, basalt stone tools, flint tools, pottery and an informative film presentation of the archeological findings and the history of the Yarmukian culture.
By Petal Mashraki
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