The past and present are mixed and merged into a miraculous world in which there are many rules.
But one of them stands out: Israel is a Holy land.
More precisely, in Israel, there are the largest sacred sites of three religions and a place of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Today’s state of Israel is located on the southeast coast of the Mediterranean Sea and on the northern coast of the Red Sea. It borders with Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan in the east, Egypt in the southwest, as well as with the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the east and west.
Although the country covers a small area and has an unusual shape, it is very rich, geographically speaking. Israel has a fantastic coastline with long sandy beaches, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, heights, mountains, and the Negev Desert, which covers a great part of the country.
Legends and biblical stories interwoven with historical facts can be told for days and weeks to describe numerous archaeological and cultural sites.
When you land at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, you can say to yourself: my story about Israel has just begun.
And Israel has a lot of things to say …
What to see and visit in Israel?
Well, there are so many places to visit in Israel. So, let’s talk about the most important sights.
Tel Aviv is the second-largest city (after Jerusalem). It is the main economic and business (a large number of hi-tech companies) center of today’s Israel. The city that lives 24 hours a day has an intensive nightlife, numerous restaurants, exclusive boutiques, hotels, modern business and residential buildings.
Jaffa is the old part of the city and one of the oldest ports in the world. In 1950 Jaffa was united with Tel-Aviv, in the form of the city of “Tel-Aviv-Jaffa“. The legend says that the city got its name from its original founder, Yafet, one of the three sons of Noah, who founded the city after fleeing from biblical floods.
At the top of the hill is the HaPisgagarden, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s a wonderful feeling to walk around the old town, intertwined with narrow streets marked by astrological signs, in which you can find art studios, galleries, antique shops, restaurants and archaeological remains of ancient ruins.
Today in Jaffa you can see the Mahmudia mosque and the clock tower from the time of the rule of Turkish sultans. Then there is a synagogue, the Franciscan church of St. Peter, the Wishing Bridge, modern Kedumum square, the Statue of Faith, a sculpture resembling the gate, and Shuk Hapishpeshim bazaar.
You can read more about Jaffa here.
The meaning of the word Jerusalem is a city of peace. But for centuries it has been the place of many battles, devastations, and conquests. Everyone wanted to own it and claimed their right on it. I just know that when you visit it, you’re no longer the person you used to be. Jerusalem has changed you with its energy and something that you cannot explain to yourself or to anyone else!
The old part of Jerusalem is a real labyrinth built of stones. It is filled with narrow streets, high walls, small shops, churches, and temples. And it is divided into 4 unequal parts and quarters: Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim.
The Mount of Olives and Mount Zion
Opposite the old part, on the eastern side, there is the Mount of Olives, the place of the ascension of Jesus. On the mount, there are several churches, a large Jewish cemetery, Getsiman’s garden with very old olive trees, and the Church of all Nations.
Going towards the old part of the city, there is Mount Zion, where once was the King David’s citadel city, and the house where the Secret Dinner was held, as well.
The main part of the old city is the Temple Mount and it is a holy place for Jews and Muslims.
Once there was a famous Solomon’s temple, from which only a small part remained: the Wailing Wall or the Western Wall. Every day, thousands of people pray in front of it, in two separate parts for men and women.
From the Mount of Olives, there is a fantastic view of Jerusalem.
There are two most important Islamic shrines on this plateau.
On the left side is the Al Aksa mosque with a silver dome, next to it there is the Dome of the Rock. According to Islamic tradition, this is the place from which Muhammad ascended into heaven.
For Christians, it is a special experience to walk on the path that Jesus walked with the cross on the way to his crucifixion.
During all day, “Via Dolorosa” or “Way of Sorrows” is filled with pilgrims and tourists. All of them want to visit Golgotha, where the greatest Christian sanctuary is located: Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Sometimes you have to wait for hours to visit the church and say prayers with outstretched hands on the Stone of Unction. Everybody wants to worship the Holy Tomb Chapel, and also light 33-piece candles, which represent the number of years Jesus had.
A dozen kilometers from Jerusalem is the city of Bethlehem, under the Palestinian control. It is considered to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ and today it is one of the most famous pilgrimage sites. At the site of the former cave in which Jesus was born, Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena erected the Church of the Nativity.
The birthplace is marked by a hole with a fourteen-pointed silver star. Today, Greek, Armenian and Roman Catholic priests take care of the church.
Going to the north, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa there is Caesarea Maritima.
This ancient city and harbor were built by King Herod the Great about 2,000 years ago. He dedicated it to Emperor Augustus, after whom the city was named.
And after so many years, the remains of the ruins from the Roman period and the period of Crusades are fascinating: aqueduct, amphitheater, pools, Roman mosaics on the floors of the palace, hippodrome…
The ancient amphitheater has been restored and used today for concerts.
Haifa is the third-largest city in Israel and its main port. It is located at the foot of Mount Carmel and has a history of over 1,000 years. Today Haifa is a modern industrial city.
It is often mentioned that “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays.”
The most important tourist attraction is the Bahai gardens, a beautiful complex of gardens, which is also the seat of the Bahai’s faith. It consists of eighteen terraced gardens and one central terrace with Bab’s sanctuary, the prophet of this faith.
More about Bahai gardens you can read here.
Akko or Acre is a small Mediterranean city with a rich history. Also, it is one of the longest inhabited cities in the world. The greatest flourishing was experienced at the time of the Crusades and the Ottoman rule. The Ottomans literally buried the crusader town in the sand and built a new town over it.
We enjoyed visiting the old and renovated Crusader citadel and the complex of halls under the streets of today’s Akko. And we were returning through a narrow and secret tunnel that was once (and still is) connected with the old town. It was as if we went back in time and took part in a crusade adventure!
Nazareth is the place where Jesus spent his childhood. The old part of the city consists of narrow streets, houses, and a bazaar. It is interesting that Arabs make the majority of the population.
And it is home to the largest Christian church in the Middle East, the Basilica of Annunciation, erected by Catholics.
There is also the Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel, erected by Orthodox Christians.
Both argue that in those particular places, Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to a son, Jesus. Since they could not agree, everyone built their own church.
The region of Galilee is located in the north of Israel. It is mentioned many times in the New and Old Testaments and is also known for numerous miracles of Jesus. Galilee is also known by the Sea of Galilee or Kinneret.
It is the largest freshwater lake in Israel and is 213 meters below sea level. Well, it is a special experience to sail on wooden boats, which are replicas of boats from the time of Jesus.
And the view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes is amazing!
On the north coast of Galilee, there is Capernaum, known as the birthplace of Saint Peter.
Capernaum was a fishing village and a significant Roman fortress.
Among the excavations, the remains of the White Synagogue from the 4th century were found. It is believed that it is one of the oldest synagogues in the world.
Above the archaeological site, believed to be the house of St. Peter, a modern memorial church was built, with a glass floor at the center of the church.
And in the southern part of the Sea of Galilee, there is Yardenit, on the banks of the Jordan River. It is very important for Christianity because it is considered a place where Saint John baptized Jesus. Today, individual and group baptisms are held in this place.
The sea level
On the way to the Dead Sea, in the Judean desert, there is a place that represents a zero point or a place considered to be the sea level.
The area around you is fascinating!
Of course, there is a Bedouin with his camel that patiently tolerates tourists for a small fee 🙂
Then you descend slowly down the road to the Dead Sea, which is 430 meters below sea level.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is one of the most unusual places in the world. It is actually a lake and it is so salty that there are no living organisms in it, except for some bacteria.
You can just float on it and make sure water does not get into your eyes or mouth. It is recommended to stay in water max. 10 to 15 minutes, because after a few minutes your skin will be red and itchy because of salt. It is such an unusual feeling to join a crowd smearing with healing mud from the Dead Sea and jumping along the coast! But after bathing and mud, the skin is soft, smooth and oiled, just amazing!
Because of its medicinal properties, there are spa centers on the shores of the Dead Sea, and a new type of spa tourism starts to develop.
Approximately 15 kilometers from the Dead Sea, there is the city of Jericho, 260 meters below the sea level.
It belongs to the territory of Palestine. And it is believed to be the oldest city in the world.
Near the ruins of the old city, carved in the stone, there is a Greek Orthodox monastery from the 5th century CE. This place is known as the Mount of Temptation and is mentioned in the Bible as the place where the Devil (Satan) tempted Jesus during his 40-day fasting.
Masada is one of the largest tourist attractions of Israel in modern times. The remains of the former Jewish fortress are located on a high stone plateau, above the Dead Sea, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert.
Masada is known for a battle between the Jews and the Roman legionnaires. When Jews realized that they would not be able to defend themselves, most of the defenders and inhabitants of the fortress committed suicide.
Unfortunately, we did not visit it, because it was Friday and Shabbat, a non-working day for the Jews. So we will visit Masada some other time.
Israel, Holy land
Israel is a land of contrasts, a combination of ancient and modern. The history of Israel continues to tickle our imagination. And it awakens your desire to explore even more and more and to walk on its mysterious paths.
For thousands of years, it has been a Promised Land for various conquerors, pilgrims, immigrants, and nowadays tourists. Regardless of whether you have come here for pilgrimage, business or out of curiosity, Israel will make you stare into your soul and ask yourself who you are and what you do for yourself and for others.
Israel is the place where its inhabitants begin their day with prayers.
Jews are praying on the West Wall and synagogues. Christians in basilicas and churches.
The voices of the muezzin echo in the mosques.
And everyone prays in his language and to his God.
But I think that all of them have one desire in their heart: to have peace and love and to live happily with their loved ones.
And in that name, we say Mazel tov!