On a wonderful recent visit to the Holy Land, I kept a day free to visit the amazing and important UNESCO world heritage site of Masada. Driving through the Judean Desert I was excited to finally see this place which has become one of the greatest symbols of Israel, due to its being the place which was the last Jewish stronghold against the Roman invasion.
Arriving at the site which is located on a mountain top that overlooks the Dead Sea in the east and a magnificent desert panorama in the west it was evident that the best way to reach it was by cable car. The wonderfully thrilling story of the site affirms the courage of those who defended Masada against the conquering Romans.
The fortress itself was built by King Herod in 30 BCE but was captured by Jewish Zealots in 68 BCE They bravely defended it for four years when Masada was besieged by the Romans who constructed a huge ramp on the western side, only to find that all the 960 defenders had chosen to commit suicide rather than allow themselves to become captives of the Romans.
Even though the remains have been reconstructed beautifully I found King Herod’s northern palace to be the most remarkable structure, built on rock terraces. Nearby I viewed the large Roman style both house with a beautiful mosaic floor and walls with interesting murals.
There are many other fascinating buildings at the site including a Jewish ritual bath (Mikveh), the ancient synagogue and many impressive artifacts all being part of the thrilling story of Masada.
My visit to Masada was a wonderful day during my time in Israel and I believe should be undertaken by visitors to complete their Holy Land experience.
The Beit Shean national park is situated on the north side of the modern city of Beit She’an in the south east corner of the Galilee. Many visitors from around the world during their tours and pilgrimages to the Holy Land are fascinated by the archeological remains of this ancient Biblical city.
This major Biblical city which over time expanded into the large Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine city of Scythopolis was destroyed by a huge earthquake in the 8th century AD and remained in ruins until archeological excavations were recently undertaken and continue to reconstruct this fascinating city.
Amongst some of the many impressive discoveries including the antiquities of this ancient and important city is the amazing and surprisingly well preserved Roman Theater which contained as many as 7000 seats. Visitors can also view a sensational audio-visual presentation about the extremely interesting development of the city of Beit Shean throughout the ages.
Also of great interest is the modern city of Beit Shean. Walking through this city is like a walk through time as scattered amongst the modern residential and public buildings and shopping centers, visitors will notice ancient buildings, amazing archeological sites and equally remarkable ruins.
Visiting this impressive archeological site and equally interesting modern city will be an experience that will be appreciated by all visitors during their Holy Land tour.
Haifa has a number of unique characteristics that make it an attractive and interesting place to visit during your tour of the Holy Land. It is one of the most picturesque cities in the Middle East due to its breathtaking views from the top of imposing Mt. Carmel.
The city has a great deal to offer visitors due to its alluring mix of both modern and old neighborhoods surrounded by lavish nature sites along with churches, mosques, mountain and sea, as well as being the home of the world center of the Baha’i faith. It is also a perfect example of how Jews, Christians and Moslems are able to live side by side and co-exist in tolerance and goodwill.
There is so much to see and do in Haifa resulting in something to suit everyone’s taste. There is a bustling port area that attracts shoppers and tourists, lovely beaches that are popular for all kinds of recreational sports and that are filled with sun lovers especially over summer weekends and excellent surfing and sailing conditions.
Some of the most popular sites in Haifa are the magnificent Baha’i gardens that surround the Baha’i World Center complex on the slopes of Mount Carmel with its gold domed shrine. The Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery situated at the top of the Carmel is holy to Christians with a cave in the church that is believed to be the grave of the prophet Elijah according to Christian tradition. The monastery contains a small museum dedicated to the life of Elijah and on site there is a hostel that is appreciate by many of the Christian pilgrims who visit. There are also other interesting churches and mosques to be found around the city.
Haifa also has numerous culture, art and science institutions. All through the Carmel area around Haifa there are hiking and bicycle paths with beautiful and charming spots.
One of the most exciting sites to see during a Holy Land tour is the ancient City of David. This is the place where King David established his kingdom and is the birthplace of the City of Jerusalem. King David established his capital at this place in the year 1004 BCE and where the people of Israel were united under his rule.
The City of David is the place where the Holy Ark was brought and where the first temple was built by King Solomon. It is situated only a short walk away from the Western Wall and borders the Kidron valley to the east and it is here that visitors from around the world come to see, what is now an archeological park, that tells the story of the founding of Jerusalem. It is here also that you can learn about the City’s wars and difficult times, its kings and prophets and especially about the history of the Jews during Biblical times.
The remnants of the city can be seen amongst the ancient stones forming the pathways between the buildings and the archeological ruins reveal the large extravagant houses that signify the high social status of the residents of the city.
The tunnel of Shiloh is a captivating and phenomenal engineering achievement that extends for 533 meters from the city and carved through solid rock during the time of King Hezkiyahu. Visitors are able to walk through the partially water filled tunnel to come out at the pools of Shiloh. The historical relevance of the City of David and its remains have made it an important site for visitors to the Holy Land.
After a number of successful productions that began in 2010 the Israeli Opera Festival at Masada has without doubt earned itself a position on the International summer open air Opera circuit. In June this year the opera festival returned, with a magnificent production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, conducted by Daniel Oren, which was held at the foot of Masada which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
La Traviata has significant meaning to Israel’s music history as it was the first Opera to be staged in Tel Aviv in 1923 and has been performed regularly ever since.
Following previous highly successful productions of Aida and Carmen that were presented at Masada, this year once again thousands of cultural tourists joined tens of thousands of Israelis who all enjoyed this very unique and unforgettable experience. This year visitors were also able to appreciate an outstanding performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the Baton of Kent Nagano and the participation of International Soloists.
All this was immediately followed by a wonderful weekend of Mozart in a spectacular setting that took place in Acco in the subterranean Crusader Halls, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 2015 the Israeli Opera Season at Masada will present Puccini’s Opera Tosca with the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Le Zion, conducted by Daniel Oren
The beautiful Banias Nature Reserve in the Northern Galilee area of Israel includes the archeological site of Caesarea Philippi. The striking Banias Waterfall is also located in this place of outstanding natural beauty. In the scriptures Caesarea Philippi is mentioned as the site where Jesus demanded that his disciples tell him who people were saying he was.
Visitors to the Holy Land will find, when visiting this place, that any misconceptions they had about all of Israel being a desert, were incorrect, after seeing the luxuriant green surroundings in this Northern Nature Reserve. The name Banias is derived from Panias after the God Pan, but later after the Romans conquered the area, a temple was built by King Herod and dedicated to Augustus Caesar. Later Phillip (Herod’s son) changed the name to Caesarea Philippi, which is the New Testament name for Banias, and it was at this place that “Jesus charged Peter with founding he Church” (Matt. 16 13-20)
The cave and the remnants of Herod’s temple can be viewed by visitors. The graveside of the Druze Saint Nebe Hader can also be reached by walking along a short path. There is also a trail to the Banias waterfall.
The area of Banias is a relaxing and beautiful place for tourists to the Holy Land to spend time during their visit.
Visitors to the Holy Land should not miss the opportunity of touring the beautiful Galilee mountainous region with its lovely landscapes and numerous Jewish and Christian historical holy sites. This fascinating area offers a large variety of touring and entertainment options.
Christian pilgrims will find the area of particular importance as this is where Jesus had lived a large part of his adult life and performed his miracles, preached his lessons and ministered to the people. This area includes Nazareth where Jesus spent his childhood. Visitors can also travel further north to Mt. Tabor, the Sea of Galilee and the city of Tiberius. Boat trips are available across the Sea of Galilee to the Mount of the Beatitudes, the site of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. Other places of interest are Capernaum, Peter’s home town and Tabgha where Jesus restored Peter. Also visit the place on the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized.
Due to the fertile soil and profuse water supply in the area the region has been quite heavily populated throughout the centuries and has a diversity of ethnic communities, consisting of Druze and Circassian (who still preserve their ancient traditions). There are also Arab villages some with Muslim majorities and others mainly Christian.
There are national antiquity parks, lovely nature reserves and a number of interesting Jewish holy sites with ancient synagogues situated in both Tzfat and Tiberius. The outstanding scenic beauty and surroundings together with the many places of interest to such a wide variety of visitors makes the Galilee region of Israel a must on the itinerary of all tourists to the Holy Land.
Israel’s mountainous Golan Heights region is situated in the north of the country. Its outstanding beauty and superb landscape, combined with attractive nature reserves and interesting archeological sites have made it one of the most visited parts of Israel.
Visitors to the Golan area will find a wide variety of activities available throughout the year in winter months skiing on the slopes of Mount Hermonand in spring and summer, enjoying the beauty of the multi colored flowers that cover the plains. Many hikers enjoy swimming in the many cool streams while generally enjoying the magnificent surrounding scenery. The loveliness of the Golan is so enchanting that many tourists return over and over again.
For those interested in history the Golan is an area of continual enthrallment, with its Crusader castles and Roman fortresses and for pilgrims this is the place where Jesus spent his last moments before leaving on his last journey to Jerusalem. A number of miracles also took place here and it is the place where Jesus bestowed the stewardship of the Kingdom of God on Peter.
Also of interest is Gamla often referred to as the Masada of the North. This ancient Jewish city was besieged by the Romans in 67 CE. According to the writings of Josephus, when the Romans overcame the walls of the city, the remaining 9000 inhabitants fought until they reached the top of the cliffs when they threw themselves into the gorge below.
In 1976 the Golan Area was found to be ideal for the growing of grapes for quality wine and today there are many outstanding wineries that tourists to Israel can visit and taste the excellent internationally acclaimed wines that are available.
An important part of experiencing Israel is a visit to the old port city of Akko (Acre). Declared a UNESCO World heritage site this unique city is a mixture of ancient and modern where east and west meet and offering a wide variety of sites to be enjoyed by tourists as well as local visitors.
The very thick sandstone walls surrounding the old city pounded by the waves of the Mediterranean Sea, have survived the centuries and the old city of Akko is an ideal location to stroll around soaking up the bountiful history left by the Crusaders as well as the Turks and the British as well as other various conquerors.
There are so many sites to see while exploring the alleys; you will come across a Christian monastery, a very large mosque, an old inn as well as Turkish baths. The Knights Templars built huge halls with an astonishing tunnel and many archeological discoveries.
You can visit the many churches and fascinating museums and then relax on the attractive beaches. Then visit the picturesque fishing port with a marina and a number of excellent restaurants serving freshly caught fish.
Amid the ancient alleyways of Akko there is a bustling open market and a variety of restaurants including one of the country’s most famous hummus restaurants.
When visiting Akko it is worthwhile visiting the Underground Prisoners Museum which is the place where the Jewish fighters were imprisoned during the British mandate and where several of them were executed..
It is possible that a large percentage of visitors to the Holy Land do not schedule the amazingly restored ancient city of Caesarea into their Itinerary, I can assure visitors however that it is well worthwhile taking some time to explore this incredibly interesting place. Not difficult to get to, Caesarea is situated between Tel Aviv and Haifa on the shores of the Mediterranean.
In the first century BCE Herod the Great had visions of Hellenizing the Holy Land and began planning a Port City which would be Greek classical in style. He chose the site of what was then called Stratton’s Tower which had in times past been a Phoenician Port of no great consequence. Herod planned the city to include an amphitheatre and stadium as well as an artificially built harbor.
Today the excavations stretch from the Roman city, all the way to the Crusader City that was built later. The awesome Amphitheatre still stands today and continues to be used for performances; also still standing is the original aqueduct, hippodrome and a network of streets amongst many other fascinating archeological treasures.
During the Bar Kochba revolt of 135 CE, Caesarea was the place where Rabbi Akiva was tortured and then executed by the Romans. It also marks some important events in Christian history. It was here that during the time of Jesus, Pontius Pilate established his seat of government. It was the place where Paul was imprisoned and became a centre of Christian learning in the 3rd century.
Caesarea is also a city of the future. Tourists can not only enjoy viewing the ruins of ancient exceptional buildings, relax on the sandy beach and maybe have a meal at one of the charming cafes and restaurants flanking the ruins, but can also drive through the quiet and tranquil streets of modern Caesarea with its beautifully designed modern homes, luxuriant golf course or browse through the Ralli art museum.
Caesarea is a truly wonderful and enjoyable place to spend some time during a visit to Israel and in my opinion should not be missed. So make sure that it it is part of your itinerary when you plan your next tour of the Holy Land