Things to See and Do in Acre

Acre is one of the most fascinating and beautiful cities you could visit in Israel it is reminiscent of the Old Port of Jaffa and of Jerusalem as the Old City of Acre is also built from magnificent stone. The Old City is “living history”; the ancient houses within the Old City walls are still occupied and alive with activity. Almost all the things to see and do in Acre are located in the Old City on the edge of the Mediterranean. The Old City of Acre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On arrival in Acre head straight to the Old City.Enchanted Garden (The Sites of the Old Acre Development Company)As you approach the Old City on your left will be a car park next to a Police Station. At the far end of the car park is the entrance to the Enchanted Garden or Festival Garden an entrance courtyard to the Hospitaller Fortress. The courtyard is surrounded by walls and you enter through an arched doorway in the wall. Inside you are immediately covered by the shade of massive, ancient trees and in the center of the courtyard is a beautiful fountain. In the garden you can find the ticket booth where you buy tickets for attractions in Acre, the Western Galilee and Upper Galilee. It is also the site of the Visitors Center and Reservation Center. Purchase your tickets here for several sites which can be explored from here. With your ticket you get a free audio-guide (you have to leave your ID as a deposit). Your ticket includes a 7 minute film introducing you to the sites of Acre which is screened in the Visitors Center. From the Enchanted Garden head into the Hospitaller Fortress.Hospitaller FortressThe military monastic order of the Knights Hospitaller were dedicated to caring for the sick and specifically pilgrims who had arrived in the Holy Land from Europe to visit Holy sites. The Hospitallers constructed their fortress from the late 12th century to early 13th century. The Hospitaller Fortress also called the Knights’ Hall was created when the Hospitaller Order was forced to move their headquarters from Jerusalem to Acre during the Second Crusader Kingdom (1291-1191) because of Muslim forces occupying Jerusalem. They constructed two or three floors around a central courtyard as well as an underground reservoir and sewage system. Visitors enter the cool first floor of the Hospitaller Fortress as the upper levels were destroyed by later Muslim conquerors. The ancient chambers are expansive with dramatic arches above each entrance. In the Hospitaller refractory you can see massive 3 meter thick pillars supporting the groin vaulted ceiling. The central courtyard covers 1200m² and is surrounded by arches supporting what was the upper level. You can see a long ramp leading down into the courtyard. This was for riders to enter on horseback. The Northern Hall is divided into 6 smaller halls and has a 10 meter high barrel vault ceiling supported by arches. The Sugar Bowl Hall is similar. It was constructed over the reservoir which was divided into two interconnecting halls. Sugar production utensils were found in the store room; the Hospitallers were leaders in the sugar industry. The Hall of Pillars covers 1300m² covered by an 8 meter high groin vaulted ceiling supported by square stone pillars. This was the Hospitaller conference room and storage room. You can also walk along the Southern Street of the Hospitaller Complex and visit the Hall of the Imprisoned. While in the Knights’ Fortress you can visit the Okashi Art Museum where temporary exhibitions are on display within the historic halls. Perhaps the most exciting section of this site is the narrow, low ceilinged escape tunnel which the Hospitallers carved out of the rock from their fortress to the sea. This is the only section of the complex which is not wheelchair accessible. Once you follow the tunnel to the end you will reach an open area where there is a small souvenir store. Through the store you reach the Turkish Bazaar. The Hospitallers are not to be confused with the Knights’ Templar who built their acre fortress in another part of the Old City during a different period of history.Turkish BazaarThe Turkish Bazaar is today a gentrified quaint narrow stone lane lined with restaurants and specialty stores housed beneath arched entrances which once would have been Turkish stores. You can grab a bite to eat or continue on to your right to the Turkish Baths and Citadel or your left to the main Market Street.Hamam al-Basha (Turkish Bath)Visitors enter this restored 18th century Turkish Bath from a small courtyard. Each visitor has an audio guide and enters with a group every half hour for a half hour visit. The Turkish Bath was an addition to the city during the Ottoman Period. The leading Pasha al-Jazzar made many changes to the city turning it into a powerful stronghold. Visitors to the Turkish Baths see an informative film in the first room (summer dressing room) where traders visiting Acre would come to relax and wash. Then you move on to the intermediary rooms where traders would get massages and special treatments. Finally there is the large steam room with a fountain in the middle and a magnificent ceiling with small air holes. Throughout the baths there are statues of bathers in various activities.Acre CitadelDuring the late Ottoman Period (1750-1918) the citadel was constructed on the ruins of the Crusader fortress to serve as a government building or Saraya. We can see the 13th century Crusader Fortress and Halls beneath the ground and the 18th-19th century Ottoman Citadel above. During the British Mandate (1918-1948) Jewish Zionist activists were arrested and held in a prison in the Citadel. This was the primary prison for Northern Israel and today forms the Underground Prison Museum.Underground Prisoners MuseumIn the former Citadel the British set up their prison where they held members of the various Jewish underground resistance organizations. The Jews were fighting for an independent Jewish state and to get rid of British Mandatory rule. Among the prisoners was Zeev Jabotinsky, Commander of the Jewish Defense of Jerusalem. Other “guests” in the prison were members of the Haganah and Etzel including Moshe Dayan, Moshe Carmel. The museum features statue figures of prisons arranged as they would have been when imprisoned. The prison offers a comprehensive introduction to this period of history and the Jewish resistance groups which fought for the establishment of Israel.Market StreetHeading back through the Turkish Bazaar you reach the main market street/Via Regis/Kings Way which runs north to south from the entrance of the Old City to the port. This would have been the main throughway during the Crusader period. Here you can enjoy the local color, buy souvenirs, eat delicious local sweetmeats and dine in authentic restaurants. It is not geared towards tourists but rather the local community coming to buy their vegetables, fish, meat, clothing and household items. At the southern end of the market street is Chaim Parchi’s home and the Ramchal Synagogue.Chaim Parchi’s HomeThis is the former home of Ahmad al-Jazzar’s Minister of Finance and the Pasha’s right hand man during the 18th-19th century.Ramchal SynagogueThis synagogue is named after the Acre Rabbi who lived here from 1743 to 1747. In 1758 the Bedouin ruler Dahar el-Omar took over Acre and confiscated the building which was one of the finest in the city. He constructed the el-Mualek Mosque on top of the synagogue. The Jews were given a replacement building north of the mosque. The new synagogue was much smaller and today it has been restored and can be visited by the general public.Acre PortOnce you reach the Acre port you can take a boat excursion out to sea or a pleasant ride in a horse-drawn carriage. The port area is lined with restaurants and cafes. The port was first mentioned in 527-525BC when the port was a base for a massive fleet. During the Muslim Period under Sultan Muawiya the sea walls were fortified and a large shipyard was built here. Soon the Egyptians took the port and undertook further renovations. In the Crusader period the port was an essential link to the west. Next the Ottomans took the city and the port fell into disrepair and was used mainly by fishing boats until being rejuvenated under Daher el-Omar. The port was destroyed when shelled by the British and Austrians in 1840.The Acre Port has long been an entry point for pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land. From the Crusader Period onwards Acre became a major port and this continued into the early 20th century.Templars Tunnel and the Tunnel ExperienceThe Templars were a military-monastic Christian order originally based in Jerusalem on Temple Mount (hence the name). When Salah al-Din conquered Jerusalem in 1187 they relocated to Acre. They built a fortress on the edge of the sea protected by two towers. Today the remains of the Templar fortress is beneath the water at the southern end of the Old City. A 350 meter long tunnel runs from the port where the fortress would have stood inland beneath the Khan a-Shune and almost reaching the Khan el-Omdan (Pillars Inn and Clock Tower). Part of the tunnel is hewn from natural rock and other parts are covered with a semi-barreled dome. Visitors can enjoy animated screenings throughout the tunnel. The screenings reveal interesting stories about life during the Crusader Period.El-Jazzar MosqueThis is the largest mosque in Israel outside of Jerusalem. It was constructed during the Turkish Period and inaugurated c.1781 in the early period of Al-Jazzar’s rule of Acre. The architecture incorporates Byzantine and Persian styles. It has a beautiful green dome and minaret. The mosque was called the white mosque because of the dome which was once white but now painted green. The mosque holds Sha’r an-Nabi a lock of hair from the beard of the Prophet Muhammad. Before entering the mosque you will see a small circular “kiosk” topped by a green dome constructed for dispensing cool drinks to the worshipers. Next to the mosque are the family tombs of El-Jazzar and his successor Suleiman Pasha.If you are interested in visiting other mosques in Acre there is El-Raml Mosque; El-Mualek Mosque; El-Majadalah Mosque; El-Bahar Mosque and El-Zeituna.Acre ChurchesSan Andreas Church is an early 18th century Greek Orthodox Christian church. The Crusader Period church was built when the community settled in the southwestern part of the city. Next to the San Andreas Church is the Maronite Church. The Maronites are said to have descended from the Armenians and they were banished from Acre at one point only to return under the rule of Facher el-Din II. Facher el-Din allowed the Maronites to renovate their church in 1666. Next to their church is the Notre Dame de Nazareth Monastery. Terra Sancta Church is a Franciscan church. It is believed that the founder of the Franciscan order, Francis of Assisi visited Acre in 1219. Records from 1673 show that Facher el-Din II allowed the Franciscans to settle in Acre and build their church and monastery. The church has a distinct red steeple. St. John’s Church is adjacent to the lighthouse and is used by the Franciscans. It is thought to have been constructed in the 18th century and today is Acre’s only functioning Latin-Catholic church. The Greek Orthodox church of St. Church of St. George is thought to have been the first Christian place of worship in Acre. It was established during the Ottoman Period. The church has a richly decorated traditionally Eastern Orthodox interior.Or Torah Synagogue (Tunisian Synagogue/Jariva)This Tunisian synagogue was constructed in 1955 and inspired by the el-Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba. The building interior has rich mosaics and 140 stained glass windows. The mosaics depict scenes from the Bible, Palestinian flora and fauna, the Israeli Army and more. It is a one-of-a-kind structure because of the interior decoration and has four floors and 7 Torah arks.Khan al-Umdan (el-Odan or Pillars Inn and Clock Tower)This is the country’s best preserved khan (the Persian name for a caravanserais or inn where travelers could rest on the various ancient trade routes). The khan was built under el-Jezzar’s rule in 1784 and was one of four such khan’s in Acre. The khan has multiple columns which earned it the name Caravanserai of Pillars or Inn of Columns. The granite columns were brought to Acre from Caesarea and Atlit. Later this was where Bah’aullah of the Baha’i faith would receive guests. A clock tower was added in 1906 in honor of Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid’s silver jubilee. The Jaffa Clock tower was built for the same purpose. The khan is open 24/7 to visitors and is a major performance venue during festivals.Tomb of CafarelliIn 1969 the tomb of Caffarelli was discovered in what is today the Yad Natan Agricultural College. Caffarelli was a colorful character and an engineer in Napoleon’s army. He lost his left leg in a battle in Europe but continued to serve the French army. The popular general was nicknamed “wooden leg” and “dad on crutches” by his soldiers. Caffarelli was one of the engineers tasked with designing Napoleon’s attack on Acre. He was wounded by a Turkish sniper shot and had to have his arm amputated up to the elbow. Unfortunately the wound turned gangrene and he died two weeks later. Napoleon visited Cafarelli on his deathbed. The French Embassy in Israel hold an annual memorial ceremony by the tomb.Shrine of Baha’u’llah and Bahai GardensMost visitors to Israel know about the Baha’I gardens in Haifa but in Acre you can see where the Baha’i prophet Baha’u’llah lived for 12 years and was buried. The major sites here are the Manor and the Shrine of the Prophet. The shrine is the holiest site in the Baha’i faith and when believers pray they face this site. Baha’u’llah was born in 1817 in Iran and despite his superior position in the Sheikh’s court he chose to devote himself to the poor. The mansion covers 740m²; the ground floor was built in 1821 and the upper floor added by a prosperous merchant in 1870. The merchant fled from Acre during a plague in 1879 and the property was acquired by Baha’u’llah. Similar to the Haifa gardens the Acre Baha’i gardens are exceptional.Treasure in the WallsThis Ethnographic Museum displays artifacts in the northeastern walls of the Old City of Acre. The walls were originally constructed during the Ottoman Era under el-Jazzar following the failed siege by Napoleon in 1779. The Commander’s Tower now holds an exhibition of life in the Galilee during the 19th-20th century. The artifacts on display include furniture, locks, clocks and household items. One wing of the tower has been turned into a recreation of historic artisan workshops and market stalls including a blacksmith, hat maker, pharmacy and carpentry.
By Petal Mashraki
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9 min

Top Water Parks in Israel

The Israeli weather is so good that you can virtually visit a water park in Israel at any time of year – well almost! There are parks throughout the country from the north to the south; here is a list of some of the best!Shefayim ParkMay-October, 09:00-17:00/18:00, Kibbutz Shefayim, 106ILS for all visitors over 2 years, check your credit card company and the Shefayim website for discountsMarketed as one of the best water park in the country, the site covers 24 acres and includes water activities and pools, a motor park complex and a paintball complex. On site are restaurants and booths selling a number of water-related products. The park offers a photo service where candid shots are taken of visitors splashing in the water and then sold at a kiosk at the exit. Shefayim has a large wave pool, open and enclosed water slides, inner tube rides, a regular swimming pool and a large kid’s pool with mini-water slides.MeymadionGanei Yehoshua Park Tel-Aviv (opposite the Luna Park), 31st May – 27th September,09:00-16:30/17:00 closing times vary, 109ILS or 93ILS when entering after 13:00, all visitors over 2 years old require a ticketThis large water park covers more than 25 acres and includes perhaps the widest variety of water activities in the country. There are pools in all shapes and sizes and for all age groups. There is a meteor slide, slalom slides, inner tube slides, a wave pool, toddler’s pool area and a lazy river. In addition there are a number of dry activities like basketball courts and beach volleyball courts. There are restaurants and a small store. There is a games arcade with about 30 video games for those who are tired of the water.Gai beach Water ParkGai beach Water ParkGai Hotel Tiberias, Sea of Galilee, Open from Mid-March (Passover) – end of October, 09:30-17:00, free for Gai Hotel guests and visitors under 3 years old, 70ILSThis water park is part of the Gai Hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee but non-hotel guests can also visit the park. Visitors to the water park also get use of a private sandy beach on the Sea of Galilee. In the park there are 7 water slides, a unique wave pool, loop-the-loop slides, 70° slide, kid’s slides, playgrounds and expansive lawns.
By Petal Mashraki
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2 min

UNESCO Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel

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

Water Skiing in Israel

Israelis love water sports and having fun in the water. Luckily Israel has sunny weather most of the year so the water sport season is longer than in most countries. Almost all year round you can find places to water ski in Israel. Here are the top water ski hot sports in Israel.skiing in the seaWater skiing in the see of gallileMost of the beaches around the Sea of Galilee offer water sports including water skiing. Water Skiing on the Sea of Galilee is possible from Dugal Beach (972 4 673 2226), the beach at kibbutz Ein Gev and Tsemach Beach among others. At Amnon Beach B-Oz Extreme offers water ski and wake board lessons for those 5 years and up. Golan Beach on the eastern shore is also a popular family beach where there are water sports available and a beach bar and restaurant. This is only a small sample of the beaches along the Sea of Galilee where you can water ski.Tel-AvivMenachem Begin Park (Drom Park or South Park) at 27 Biranit Street, is the site of a cable water ski drive within an artificial lake covering 50 acres. Skiing and wake-boarding is available daily except in winter. Even those with no experience can take ski lessons here although it is more popular with experienced skiers. An hour’s ski time costs about 90ILS. B-Oz Extreme Lifestyle offers ski, wakeboard and other water sport lessons in Eilat, on the Sea of Galilee and here in Tel-Aviv. In Begin Park there is a ski camp for 7 to 17 year olds in the summer, private and group ski lessons. Park Drom is the site of annual ski tournaments and a hang-out for professional skiers. There is a kiosk for food and shaded areas to sit around the lake. The park in general is a great place to visit.EilatEilat is Israel’s ultimate water sport destination. There are several beaches along the coast of Eilat on the Red Sea where you can water ski and also participate in other water sports. Among the most popular is Kisuski on the Northern Beach next to the Eilat Mall. Hashmal Beach is a quiet beach where a company is based which offers a range of water experiences including paragliding, kayaking and skiing. No need to book, just arrive and they will organize your skiing experience. They also offer catamaran rental and windsurfing lessons. Check out the Water Ski Center (972 8 637 1602) and the Eilat Sport Company (972 8 634 1144).
By Petal Mashraki
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2 min

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.The 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 Tutankhamen, 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. In 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 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-Jazar 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.Highlights of the Old City of AcreAcre Market - As you enter the Old City of Acre you will be immediately met with a busy market street lined with venders 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.Acre Crusader City - 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, tunnels and chambers.Acre Turkish Baths - The Turkish Hamam el-Basha, a public hot bath and sauna complex has been restored and enhanced by metal figures of men enjoying the different sections of the baths.Underground 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 the British the Citadel was converted into a Prisoner. 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 was 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 el-Jazar 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 el-Bahar Mosque, built in the 16th century; el-Majadalah Mosque built in 1809; el-Mualek Mosque constructed in 1748; el-Ramal Mosque, the first Muslim place of worship built in Acre and el-Zeituna Mosque.Acre 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 in Acre. One of the latest additions to the attractions of Acre is a ferry ride along the coast from Akko to Haifa.
By Petal Mashraki
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5 min

Caesarea

Caesarea is an affluent modern city along the northern Mediterranean coast of Israel between Tel Aviv and Haifa. It is also the site of extensive archaeological remains. Along the seafront are the remains of the Roman port city of Caesarea Maritima and subsequent Byzantine, Muslim and Crusader structures.A Brief History of CaesareaIn the 4th century BC the Persians (Phoenicians) established a trading station and small settlement where Caesarea stands today; they called their town Strattons Tower. In 90BC the town was annexed to the Hasmonean Kingdom and in 31BC the Romans won Strattons Tower in battle. Caesar then gifted the town and shoreline to Herod.In 25-13BC the Rome-appointed King of Judea, Herod the Great commissioned the construction of a large port. The port city of Caesarea Maritima became the administrative center of the Judaea Province. The Romans built a complex aqueduct system bringing fresh water to the city from an inland spring. Following the Byzantine era the Muslims conquered the city in the 7th century AD.From 1101 to 1187 and 1191 to 1265 the Crusaders ruled the city. With funding from French King Louis IX they built a large fortress and a smaller port on the remains of the Roman port. The Mamluks took the city from the Crusaders in 1291. Fearing the return of the Crusaders the Mamluks practiced a “scorched earth” strategy burning and destroying the coastal cities and ports. The city lay in ruins for many years after that. In 1884 a small group of immigrants from Bosnia settled in Caesarea and established a fishing village and in 1940 the Jewish Kibbutz Sdot Yam was founded alongside the village. In 1952 the present Jewish community established the town we know today as the city of Caesarea. The city is known for the world-class golf course; the Roman amphitheatre which hosts top performers, the annual Caesarea Jazz Festival, a beautiful beach and the Caesarea National Park that protects the archaeological sites.Caesarea National ParkRoman Amphitheatre - The main attraction of Caesarea is the Caesarea National Park. The ancient Roman history of this site is recorded by Roman historian Josephus Flavius. On the edge of the national park is the massive Roman Theater. This classic Roman amphitheatre is perfectly preserved. It has the typical semi-circular shape with seating on staggered stone steps facing the stage and sea beyond. In Roman times the theatre would have been important in entertaining the many foreigners and sailors who came into port. The theatre was originally built under Emperor Vespasian and later expanded by King Herod.Herod’s Reef Palace - Several pillars remain from the inner courtyard of King Herod’s Reef Palace. The opulent palace would have had two stories and was partly built on the marine reef jutting out onto the sea. Today parts of the palace can still be seen and parts are submerged beneath the sea. Experts differ in opinion as to whether this was Herod’s palace or a later construction. We can also see the remains of a swimming pool alongside a floor mosaic and ritual bath.Hippodrome - Among the archaeological remains there is a large hippodrome with reconstructed frescoes. Here the Romans would hold horse and chariot races. Another surviving piece of the ancient structure is the public toilets – a row of stone seats with holes in them. Throughout the park there are large Roman columns, capitals, sculptures, gravestones and carved architectural features attesting to the importance and opulence of this former Roman city. Also at the site we can see where the bath house, temples, store rooms and homes once stood. Of particular interest among the many archaeological findings was an inscription naming Pontius Pilate. This was the first recorded mention of Pilate’s name dated within Jesus lifetime.Structures remaining from the Byzantine era include a villa with floor mosaics and the ruins of a Byzantine church. Remains dating back to the Crusader era include the reconstructed Crusader Gate; a large moat that encircled the Crusader fortress, a high defensive wall and arched entrance ways.Caesarea PortUp until the construction of Herod’s port at Caesarea only natural bays were used to land on the Mediterranean shore of the Holy Land. Herod’s port was the first quay-based port along this stretch of coast. It was one of the largest and most sophisticated ports at the time. The port consisted of submerged quays on wooden rafts; a lighthouse and breakwater stone wall. Vessels came and went from Caesarea port to cities across the Mediterranean. The port provided services necessary to the visiting vessels including ship repair and supplies. All this did not come without a price and the ships were taxed by the Romans making the city even richer. The downfall of Herod’s port was a lack of engineering know-how. Over the course of several years the quays collapsed and by the Byzantine era the port no longer functioned. Multi-Media Experiences at CaesareaIn addition to the archaeological site itself there are three multi-media displays to help visitors understand the history of Caesarea.The Caesarea Experience is a cinematic display taking you back in time through the history of Caesarea for a look at different periods and the cultures of those times.Caesarea Stars brings to life prominent figures from Caesarea’s history so that visitors can “meet” them and hear their stories. This attraction includes a 3D view of Caesarea showing the physical changes it has undergone over the centuries. Time Tower is a computerized animated presentation in the Crusader Tower. Scenes from Caesarea’s history are shown with a focus on how the Roman port city was constructed.Visiting CaesareaToday the port area is a lively entertainment area where the ancient structures are home to galleries, cafes, stores and restaurants. Many activities take place in Caesarea. During Passover the hippodrome hosts “Horses in the Hippodrome” where horses and their riders perform in Roman costume. The Festival of Ancient Times is held during the Succoth holiday (usually in September). This is a theatrical festival with shows that present stories of ancient times. Visitors can take tours of the National Park and in the summer there are even candlelight tours at night. The Roman amphitheatre hosts the biggest Israeli and international stars.Divers visiting Caesarea are treated to an underwater archaeological park. They can dive among the remains of Herod’s port in an “Underwater Museum.” Visitors enjoying the beach at Caesarea will be just meters from the ancient Roman aqueduct that runs the length of the beach.
By Petal Mashraki
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4 min

Safed

Safed (Tsfat) is a city in the Galilee built on hilltops surrounded by idyllic countryside. Safed’s high elevation gives the city warm, pleasant summers and cold winters often with snow. Safed is one of Israel’s four sacred Jewish cities.History of SafedSafed is identified with the 1st century fortified town of Sepph and is mentioned in the Talmud as one of the elevated towns where fires were lit to indicate the new moon during the period of the Second Temple. Under the Crusaders in the 12th century Safed was the fortified city of Saphet and the Mamluks turned Safed into an administrative center for the region. The Ottomans made Safed their capital of the Galilee and since the 16th century Safed has been associated with Kabbalah Jewish mysticism.Safed and JudaismIn the 16th century Rabbi Isaac Luria (1531-1573) headed the Kabbalah movement in Safed and the city has remained a center of Jewish mysticism and study. The primary Kabbalistic text, the Zohar states that the Jewish messiah will reveal himself in the Galilee and probably Safed. Points of Interest in SafedSafed’s Old City consists of meandering stone-paved narrow lanes flanked with stone houses. The Old City is divided into a Jewish Quarter and the Artists’ Quarter. The steep hillside means that stairways are necessary in some places to connect street levels. Window boxes bloom and vines adorn many of the buildings. The ruins of the former Crusader and later Mamluk fortress stand on the edge of the Old City. Safed’s Artists’ Quarter is home to artists who work and sell their creations along the lanes of the Old City. Their work is unique, often inspired by the Kabbalah. Many artists are attracted to Safed by its extraordinary beauty, the tranquil countryside and the spirituality of Safed.In the Jewish Quarter you can visit a number of historic synagogues (there are 32 synagogues in this neighborhood) including the two synagogues named after Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as Ari after his initials in Hebrew). Other noteworthy synagogues include the Abuhav Synagogue and Yosif Karo Synagogue named after the author of the book Shulchan Aruch.
By Petal Mashraki
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2 min

Hamat Gader

Hamat Gader (Hebrew for “hot springs of Gadara”) is a hot spring site on the Golan Heights about 10km from the tripoint of the Israeli, Syrian and Jordanian borders. Archaeological evidence shows that the hot mineral springs of Hamat Gader were known to man at least 1800 years ago. Today, just like the ancient Romans, people come to Hamat Gader to enjoy the therapeutic waters of the hot mineral springs and other attractions of the area.History of Hamat GaderReferences to Hamat Gader were found in the writings of Strabo, a Greek geographer, historian and philosopher (c.64BC-c.24AD); Greek writer Origen (c.184AD-c.253AD) and in 1st century Rabbinical texts. The remains of an ancient Roman bath complex was uncovered at Hamat Gader dating back to the 2nd century. The baths would have served Roman soldiers from the nearby army garrison at Gadara. Later during the Muslim period changes were made to the baths and the original Roman structures were extended. Archaeological excavations have uncovered a Roman theatre from the 3rd century and a 5th century synagogue. An earthquake destroyed the baths in the 7th century and they were rebuilt by Umayyad Caliph of Damascus only to be damaged again by an earthquake in 749. By the 9th century the Roman baths of Hamat Gader were abandoned and the ruins eventually became covered in a layer of silt that rose up from the springs.More recently Hamat Gader was the location of a Palestinian village called Al-Hamma. In 1923 boarders were created between French Mandate Syria; British Mandate Palestine and Lebanon placing Al-Hamma within Palestine. Following the 1948 Israeli War of Independence a demilitarized zone was demarcated along the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel. From 1949 to 1967 Hamat Gader stood abandoned within the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria. During the 1967 Six Day War Syria attacked Israel at the Golan Heights but instead of gaining land they were pushed back beyond the demilitarized zone and Israel captured the Golan Heights including Hamat Gader. Since 1967 the Golan Heights, including Hamat Gader, has been in Israeli territory.Hamat Gader TodayToday the Golan Heights and Hamat Gader are safe, prosperous areas with thriving farms, tourist attractions, cities and villages. Hamat Gader is a major tourist attraction offering fun and recreation as well as a chance to see the ruins of the original Roman baths.Just as the Romans enjoyed the hot springs of Hamat Gader today tourists can indulge in the mineral pools of the Hamat Gader Spa Complex. The spa’s natural thermal pools contain a concentration of 4.7% sulphur and a constant temperature of 42°C. The thermo-mineral waters are known for their therapeutic qualities especially for skin conditions and respiratory ailments. At the Hamat Gader Hot Springs there are several spring water pools of various sizes and temperatures; Jacuzzis and spa treatments are available. The site also has a boutique hotel where you can stay while receiving spa treatments.Hamat Gader is home to organic fishing ponds where you can go fishing and to excellent restaurants. Hamat Gader Splash Site is a mini- water park where there is a 10m high splash water slide; a large pool; water cannons and a waterfall. Animal World is a natural reserve for 200 crocodiles and a mini-safari where you can see kangaroos, deer, iguanas, raccoons, antelope and other creatures. Animal World has a petting zoo where you can get up close to domestic and farm animals. During peak seasons there are also parrot shows.
By Petal Mashraki
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3 min

Abuhav Synagogue

The Abuhav Synagogue is located in Safed, a sacred Jewish city situated in the hills of the Galilee. The synagogue was built in the 15th century by Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Abuhav.Who Was AbuhavThere were two well-known rabbis with the name Yitzhak Abuhav. One Yitzhak Abuhav is attributed with writing the Meorat Hama’or, an important book of ethics. However it is more likely that the synagogue was named after Rabbi Yitzhak Abuhav a 15th century great sage of Castile and member of the Toledo rabbinate. This rabbi ran a yeshiva for the study of Kabbalah and Jewish philosophy. One of his students was Rabbi Ya’acov Beirav who went on to become one of the great sages of Safed.The Synagogue Torah Scrolls It was Rabbi Ya’acov Beirav who is thought to have brought the synagogue’s famous scroll to Safed. The Abuhav Synagogue scroll is the oldest in Safed and is associate with many legends and traditions. This precious scroll is kept locked in the synagogue Torah Ark and is only used three times a year at Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Shavuot. The synagogue has a second precious Torah scroll brought to the synagogue by 16th century Moroccan Kabbalist Rabbi Solomon Ohana.Design of the Abuhav SynagogueThe synagogue is thought to have been designed by Abuhav while still in Spain before traveling to Safed. The design was created according to Kabbalah principles. Kabbalah is an esoteric school of Judaism which includes the study of numerology where there is a mystical relationship between numbers, our lives and events. For this reason each element of the synagogue design has numerical significance – there is 1 bima, 2 steps and 3 Torah Arks. Using Kabbalah symbolism the bima has six steps representing the 6 days of creation before reaching the top level symbolizing the Shabbat, Torah and spiritual enlightenment.As you approach the synagogue there is an outer entrance, then a courtyard and then an inner entrance. The prolonged entrance and courtyard is designed to give the visitor time to compose himself and prepare to enter the place of worship. The synagogue has three Arks (special cupboards that hold the Torah scrolls) against the southern wall which is the only part of the original building still standing. Other parts of the synagogue were destroyed over the years by earthquakes and wars and subsequently rebuilt. Facing the southern wall and the arks is Elijah’s Chair, an elaborately decorated chair used during the circumcision ceremony. An adult sits in the chair and the baby is places in a small chair attached to the larger Chair of Elijah.A raised platform or bima where the leader of the congregation stands to read from the Torah is positioned in the center of the synagogue. The benches for worshipers are arranged around the edges of the room rather than being lined up as in a modern synagogue or church. The inner surface of the synagogue’s domed ceiling is adorned with images of musical instruments that would have been played by the Levite choir in the ancient Temple; symbols of the 12 tribes of Israel and four crowns – the Torah Crown, Crown of Kingship, Priestly Crown and Crown of Impending Redemption.
By Petal Mashraki
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2 min

Pope will not visit Gaza during his trip next week

Pope Benedict XVI who is expected to be accompanied by an estimated More than 15,000 Christian pilgrims, is to visit Israel and Jordan May 8-15. The pilgrimage will mark the second time a pope has visited Israel. The first was in 2000 when Pope John Paul II made his landmark visit.The pope arrives in Jordan this Friday at the start of a Holy Land pilgrimage promoting peace and interfaith relations in a visit which the Vatican hopes will help improve its strained ties with both Israel and the Muslim world.After spending the weekend in Jordan the pope flies to Israel on Monday for a five-day trip which takes in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem in the West Bank.The visit will provide much needed encouragement for the local Christian community, whose numbers have dwindled to an estimated 170,000.Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Vatican custodian of the holy sites, said the pilgrimage will act as a morale boost for the minority community. “The visit is aimed first and foremost at encouraging Christians in the Holy Land to stay,” he said.The situation is particularly acute in the West Bank, where emigration of members of the relatively well-educated and prosperous Christian community has left even Bethlehem with a large Muslim majority.The pope decided not to visit Gaza, where only about 2,500 Christians live among 1.5 million Muslims. The 200 Catholics in the Strip will travel to Bethlehem to participate in next Wednesday’s Mass in Manger Square, to be celebrated by the pontiff .The visit is also perceived by the Israeli tourist industry as an opportunity to shake off the country’s negative image in the wake of the recent war in Gaza.As stated, More than 15,000 pilgrims are expected to accompany the pope for the trip, and the Israeli tourist officials predicting another 200,000 Christian visitors to Israel over the rest of the year.
By Petal Mashraki
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2 min

Watching Meteor Showers in Israel

One of the fun things my family does during August in Israel is to go out into the nearby farmlands, in the middle of the night, and watch the Perseid meteor shower. To get the best possible view of any meteor shower you need to be away from city lights, preferably in an elevated place, in a dark area and of course be in the right place at the right time.Where to see Meteor showers in IsraelSo if you’re looking for a place away from the city lights to spot meteors in Israel then there are a few well known and popular places where groups gather each year to watch the spectacle. In 2012 about 9,000 Israelis gathered at Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev to watch the Perseid meteor shower.The 914.4km high location makes it even easier to spot the meteors which fall at a rate of one a minute. Club Ramon, in Mitzpe Ramon offers a 3 day program which includes accommodation, entertainment, walking tours and guided sky gazing to see the meteors. The city of Mitzpe Ramon even dims the lights at night to make it possible for the many visitors to get a better look at the meteor shower. If you’d rather have a company handle the logistics of getting to a good viewing spot then there are several options. Astronomy Israel offers Naked Eye and Telescopic Tours of the Night Sky from Mitzpe Ramon. The nearby Arava Desert is another great place to see meteor showers in Israel, mainly because of the intense darkness. In Eilat astronomer Eitan Schwartz takes groups 10km out of the city to a place near Be’er Ora where they can see the shower and even camp under the stars. The Golan Heights and Galilee are also elevated points where the showers can be seen well.The Most Stunning Meteor Showers in Israel From mid-January to mid-April there is no significant show of meteors but after that there are several showers worth seeing. The Lyrids Meteor Shower is in late April (April 16th-25th in 2014) and can reach 100 meteors an hour but averages about 10 – 20 an hour. The Aquarids Shower occurs in early May in Israel (April 19th to May 28th in 2014 with peak on May 5th) this shower can have up to 30 meteors an hour at its peak.Perseid Meteor Shower, this is perhaps the most visible meteor shower in Israel and up to 60 meteors can be seen an hour. The shower runs from July 17th to August 24th with the peak in 2013 on the night of August 11th. 2013 is set to be one of the best years to see the Perseids in Israel as the moon will set not long after midnight leaving a dark sky. The best time to see them is between 11:30pm and 4:30am.Delta Aquarids shower, late July to early August (July 12th to August 23 in 2013 with peak on July 27th) can best be seen after midnight. There can be up to 20 meteors an hour.The Orionids meteor shower in October peaks on October 21st and 22nd and can give a bright show.Draconids meteor shower in 2013 is set to be one of the most spectacular showings ever with up to 750 meteors an hour! The shower runs from October 6th to 10th and peaks on the 8th and 9th.Taurids peaks on November 4th and 5th and is a minor meteor shower and the Leonids gives an average showing peaking on November 16th and 17th but in 2013 will be hard to see because of the light from the full moon.Quadrantids, late December early January (January 1st-5th in 2014), there is usually not a strong showing of this shower in Israel but the shower can reach up to 40 meteors an hour. Look in the direction of the Bootes Constellation.
By Petal Mashraki
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3 min

Golan Heights

Archeological finds on the Golan Heights, which date as far back as the Chalcolithic Age, include Gamla, the Jewish city destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish Revolt between 67 and 70 CE, and Katzerin, the restored city of the Mishnah and Talmud period. Adjoining the historic Katzerin is the modern Katzerin, a city of over 30,000, well-known for the winery producing the prize-winning Gamla, Yarden and Golan wines.There are two National Parks in the north each with hiking trails. Banias (Caesarea Philippi) is particular interesting to Christian pilgrims while the excavations at Dan have uncovered the Canaanite and Israelite cities.Majdal Shams, Ein Kenya, Masada and Bukata are the four Druze villages which came under Israeli control after the Six Day War in 1967 and were formally annexed by a law passed in the Knesset in 1981. The law was condemned internationally and determined null and void by United Nations Security Council Resolution 497.Most of the Druze on the Golan Heights chose not to become Israeli citizens and maintain close relations with their brethren in Syria. Some of apples from their numerous orchards are exported to Syria.In 1964 the Syrians began extensive work to prevent the water of the Snir (Banias), Hermon and Dan rivers from reaching the Jordan River and ultimately the Kinneret. This was contra to international agreements concerning the use of water and threatened Israel’s water source which was at that time dependent on pumping water from the Kinneret.In retaliation for the Israeli attempt to thwart the Syrian efforts, Syria used the entire western ridge which overlooks Israel to fire on Israeli towns and villages in the eastern Galilee and on the shores of the Kinneret. Children on the kibbutzim in range of the Syrian shelling lived in underground bomb shelters, coming out to play only close to the shelters.When the Six Day War began in June 1967 Syria, as the ally of Egypt in the United Arab Republic, increased its bombardment of the Israeli towns and villages from the heights. Due to the strategic and topographic advantage of the Syrian positions and the ineffectiveness of the Israeli bombings Israel was reluctant to undertake a frontal attack on the Syrian bunkers. (Some of these can still be seen at the Gadot memorial)It was only on the fifth day of the war that Israeli began her infantry advance, directly up the slopes under Syrian emplacements. Within sixty hours the entire plateau, the Golan Heights came under Israeli control. Hoping for a peace treaty with Syria, Israel made no move to annex the Golan Heights.in October 1973, in a surprise attack the Syrians attempted to retake the Golan Heights and advance into Israel. When the cease fire agreement between Israel and Syria was signed in May 1974 the Golan Heights were firmly back under Israeli control. Feeling no threat from Israel during both wars, the Druze population of the four villages remained and prospered.Israeli settlement on the Golan Heights began only after the Yom Kippur War when Syria rejected all proposals for direct negotiations with Israel. The town of Katzerin serves as the commercial and administrative center for the kibbutzim and moshavim on the heights.As mentioned above, it was only in 1981, after repeated refusals by Syria to enter into negotiations with Israel, that the Golan Heights, from which Israel had been attacked in 1948, 1964-67 and 1973, were legally annexed.Where is the Golan HeightsThe Golan Heights stretch one hundred kilometers from the Hermon Mountain in the north to the Yarmuk River, which is the border between Israel and Jordan, in the South. The western ridge looks down on the northern part of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, hence the ‘heights’.Although there are a number of mountains and extinct volcanoes on the eastern side it was the ceasefire agreements between Israel and Syria which defined the eastern border. Damascus, the capital of Syria is about fifty kilometers to the east; Kuneitra is immediately across the demilitarized zone. Most of the area is mainly a basaltic plateau. At its widest point, passing through Katzerin, the heights are twenty four kilometers wide.WeatherThe weather in the summer months is peasant during the day and cool in the evening. Holiday-makers can enjoy a variety of activities including cherry picking, hikes in the many streams and waterfalls bird watching on the cliffs of the Gamla Nature Reserve. In the winter months there can be snow on the northern part of the heights, especially on Mount Hermon where there are facilities for skiing.To cater to the many visitors accommodation is available in hotels, guesthouses and at private homes offering small but luxurious bed and breakfast suites.
By Petal Mashraki
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3 min