Category Archives: Crusader History

The Foundation Stone of the World

The Foundation Stone is the name of the rock at the heart of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Jews traditionally face it while praying, in the belief that it was the location of the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Muslims believe that angels visited the site 2,000 years before the creation of Adam, the place to which Muhammad traveled in the Night Journey and it’s the place where Israfel, the angel of the trumpet, will sound his horn on Resurrection Day. Map.

Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone

Many sages from the Talmud were mentioned about the Foundation Stone.

  • God took the Foundation Stone and threw it into the depths and from it the world expanded. It’s the center point of the world and the first part of the Earth to come into existence.
  • Also it was close to the Foundation Stone, that God gathered the earth and created Adam.
  • It was on this rock that Adam—and later Cain, Abel, and Noah—offered sacrifices to God.
  • Jewish sources identify this rock as the place mentioned in the Bible where Abraham fulfilled God’s test to see if he would be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.
  • It is also identified as the rock upon which Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending on a ladder and consequently consecrating and offering a sacrifice upon.
  • When (according to the Bible) King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite (Canaanites), it is believed that it was upon this rock that he offered the sacrifice mentioned in the verse.
  • He wanted to construct a permanent temple there, but as his hands were “bloodied”, he was forbidden to do so himself. The task was left to his son Solomon, who completed the Temple in c. 950 BCE.
  • Situated inside the Holy of Holies, this was the rock upon which the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the First Temple.
  • During the Second Temple period when the Ark of the Covenant was not present, the stone was used by the High Priest who offered up the incense and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices on it during the Yom Kippur service.
Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone

The rock itself is 90-million-year-old and quite different compared with rocks surrounding it. The southern side of the Foundation Stone forms a ledge, with a gap between it and the surrounding ground; a set of steps currently uses this gap to provide access from the Dome of the Rock to the Well of Souls beneath it.

Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone

The rock has several human-made cuts in its surface, created by the Crusaders. Flat sections on the stone indicates foundation trenches on top of which the walls of the original temple were laid.

Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone

The Mysterious Well of Souls, the Holy of Holies

The Well of Souls is a partly natural, partly man-made cave located inside the Foundation Stone under the Dome of the Rock shrine in Jerusalem. For Muslims, the spirits of the dead can be heard awaiting Judgment Day. For Christians, the site is known as the Holy of Holies and is venerated as a possible “site of the annunciation of John the Baptist”. The Well of Souls has also other names: Pit of SoulsCave of Spirits, and Well of Spirits in Islam.

There was never an archeological investigation because of political and diplomatic sensitivities. And that means that the mystery only gets more mystified!

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

For Christian Pilgrims it’s one of the places to visit. It’s not for nothing the Holy of Holies. It’s also the place covered in mysteries …

The Well of Souls, located on Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, may contain the fabled and elusive Ark of the Covenant. This is the sacred vessel that, according to biblical account, contained the original Ten Commandments tablets that God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai as the ancient Israelites wandered the desert.

The Well of Souls is purportedly located below a natural cave under the rock upon which Jewish tradition says Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Islamic tradition indicates Muhammad ascended to heaven from this same stone.

No one knows with absolute certainty whether the Well of Souls—or the Ark of the Covenant—actually exists. Though knocking on the floor of the cave under the Muslim Dome of the Rock shrine elicits a resounding hollow echo, no one has ever seen this alleged chamber. The Temple Mount itself is rife with a network of some 45 cisterns, chambers, tunnels, and caves.

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

There has never been any proper archaeological exploration of the site, which is under control of the Waqf Muslim religious trust.

The famed 19th-century British explorers Charles Wilson and Sir Charles Warren could neither prove nor disprove the existence of a hollow chamber below the cave. They believed the sound reportedly heard by visitors was simply an echo in a small fissure beneath the floor.

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

Shimon Gibson, senior fellow at the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, published a definitive review together with colleague David Jacobson called Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: A Sourcebook on the Cisterns, Subterranean Chambers and Conduits of the Haram Al-Sharif. “Since the 19th century, no Westerner has been allowed access to the subterranean chambers on the Temple Mount,” Gibson said.

The Temple Mount and the natural cave below the Dome of the Rock are periodically open to tourists, depending upon the local security and political situation.

History

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

Both Jewish and Muslim traditions relate to what may lie beneath the Foundation Stone, the earliest of them found in the Talmud in the former and understood to date to the 12th and 13th centuries in the latter.

The Talmud indicates that the Stone marks the center of the world and serves as a cover for the Abyss containing the raging waters of the Flood.

Muslim tradition likewise places it at the center of the world and over a bottomless pit with the flowing waters of Paradise underneath. A palm tree is said to grow out of the River of Paradise here to support the Stone.

Noah is said to have landed here after the Flood. The souls of the dead are said to be audible here as they await the Last Judgment.

Well of Souls
Well of Souls

The Crusaders recaptured Jerusalem in 1099 and converted the Dome of the Rock into a church, calling it the Templum Domini, or the Temple of the Lord.

They were cutting away much of the rock to make staircases and paving the Stone over with marble slabs. They enlarged the main entrance of the cave and probably are also responsible for creating the shaft ascending from the center of the chamber. The Crusaders called the cave the “Holy of Holies” and venerated it as the site of the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth.


Reference

  • The earliest reference to a “pierced rock” (the shaft in the cave’s roof) may be that in the Itinerarium Burdigalense by the anonymous “Pilgrim of Bordeaux” who visited Jerusalem in 333 AD.
  • References to the “Well of Souls” under the Foundation Stone date back at least to the 10th-century Persian writer Ibn al-Faqih who mentions it as an Islamic sacred site.
  • The 11th-century Persian writer and traveler Nasir-i Khusraw related the traditional story of the origin of the cave in his classic travelogue Safarnama:

They say that on the night of his Ascension into heaven, the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, prayed first at the Dome of the Rock, laying his hand upon the Rock. As he went out, the Rock, to do him honor, rose up, but he laid his hand on it to keep it in its place and firmly fixed it there. But by reason of this rising up, it is even to this present day partly detached from the ground beneath.

  • The 16th-century rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra attested to the existence of a cave found under the Dome of the Rock and known as the “Well of Souls”.
  • The definitive modern review of the Well of Souls, along with other underground openings beneath the Temple Mount, is in Shimon Gibson and David Jacobson’s Below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: A Sourcebook on the Cisterns, Subterranean Chambers and Conduits of the Haram Al-Sharif.

 

Culture and History, 12 Days Tour

Ottoman surrender of Jerusalem

This is not a conventional tourist tour, it’s almost a fact finding tour. You will dive into the hundreds of thousands of years of history about the country of Israel. We will not only see the origins of the three or four major religions in Israel, but far before that. We will see the birth of many civilizations and how they are still alive in some form. Not only the history, but also the cultures of the past and the current day. This is the way how to understand such complex country as Israel. You will learn, see, hear, feel and taste more then you can ever learn at any school for many years … and that all in such a short time.

This tour is for anyone (except children and only adults), but also for students, teachers, professions, historians, politicians (maybe they learn something), etc.


Day 1 – Arrival
Day 2 – Tel Aviv, Jaffa
Day 3 – Be’er Sheva, Negev
Day 4 – Negev, Dead Sea, Masada
Day 5 – Jerusalem Old City
Day 6 – Jerusalem Old City
Day 7 – Jerusalem New City
Day 8 – Sea of Galilee
Day 9 – Golan Heights
Day 10 – Golan Heights
Day 11 – Acre, Haifa
Day 12 – Departure

What do you see?

  • Day 2 – Start with Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Galleries, Neve Tsedek, Rothschild Blvd, Nahalat Binyamin, Tel Aviv Museum of Art
  • Day 3 – Be’er Sheva, Negev, Judean monarchy, Sde Boker, Tsin Valley, Avdat, Mitspe Ramon, Makhtesh, Ramon Crater Visitor Center
  • Day 4 – Ramon Crater, jeep tour, Saharonim Fort, Dead Sea, Masada
  • Day 5 – Jerusalem, Tower of David Museum, Jewish Quarter, Broad Wall, the Herodian Mansions, Cardo, City of David, Hezekiah’s Tunnel
  • Day 6 – Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Western Wall, Southern Wall Excavations, Davidson Center, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, tomb of Jesus, Russian Orthodox Church, Ethiopian courtyard, Old City markets.
  • Day 7 – Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Children’s Memorial, Hall of Remembrance, Knesset, Supreme Court building, Israel Museum, Dead Sea Scrolls, Shrine of the Book, Second Temple Model
  • Day 8 – Iron Valley, Tel Megiddo, walls of Solomon, Armageddon, Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabha, Mount of the Beatitudes
  • Day 9 – Golan Heights, Gamla, Katsrin, Talmudic Village, Golan Antiquities Museum, Druze villages of Buq’ata and Mas’ade, pool of Birket Ram, Druze shrine of Nebi Yafouri, Jordan River, Hula Valley.
  • Day 10 – Hula Valley Nature Reserve, Oforia, Tel Hazor, Safed
  • Day 11 – Rosh Hanikra, Acre, Knights Halls, Al-Jazaar Mosque, Haifa, Bahai Gardens

Day 1 – Arrival

Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport

This is the day that you arrive in Israel. Well, it’s not the case for those who are already here or who are living in Israel.

For those who are arriving in Israel, will be picked up from the airport by the guide and driver from Shalom Israel. And here it becomes complicated.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel and for this tour it means Tel Aviv.

During the drive to your hotel, the bus will stop multiple times if the group requires so. One stop is for stretching your legs and to be fed real food and drink. That is included in the tour! So, please don’t spend your money on that.

Day 2 – Tel Aviv, Jaffa

Places: Start with Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Galleries, Neve Tsedek, Rothschild Blvd, Nahalat Binyamin, Tel Aviv Museum of ArtTel Aviv

Tel Aviv in 1909
Tel Aviv in 1909

Tel Aviv was founded on April 11, 1909. On that day, several dozen families gathered on the sand dunes on the beach outside Yafo to allocate plots of land for a new neighborhood they called Ahuzat Bayit, later known as Tel Aviv. As the families could not decide how to allocate the land, they held a lottery to ensure a fair division. Akiva Arieh Weiss, chairman of the lottery committee and one of the prominent figures in the city’s founding, gathered 66 grey seashells and 66 white seashells. Weiss wrote the names of the participants on the white shells and the plot numbers on the grey shells. He paired a white and grey shell, assigning each family a plot, and thus Tel Aviv’s founding families began building the first modern, Hebrew city.

We start the tour with Tel Aviv-Jaffa:

Jaffa

We will wander through the lanes of ancient Jaffa and enjoy the galleries, the underground archaeological display and the picturesque fishing port.

Neve Tsedek Neighborhood

Proceed to Neve Tsedek, the first Jewish neighborhood outside ancient Jaffa. Neve Tsedek is the home of the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, the world-famous Bat Sheva Dance Company and a number of restored homes and shops with interesting architecture. Among these is the museum dedicated to the works of the early Tel Aviv artist who captured its spirit in the early days, Nahum Gutman.

Speaking of architecture, in July 2003, UNESCO proclaimed the cluster of homes and public buildings of Tel Aviv’s founding days as a World Heritage Site. A stroll through the main area of these monuments, known as the “White City,” along Rothschild Blvd. and its side streets is a wonderful opportunity to savor life in the first Hebrew city, past and present.Nahalat Binyamin

Nahalat BinyaminOn Tuesdays and Fridays, see the Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall come alive with stalls selling handicrafts of every type. Proceed to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and visit the Israeli Art section for a taste of Israel’s finest art from the past 100 years.

Enjoy the nightlife of a city that never sleeps.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Tel Aviv.

Day 3 – Be’er Sheva, Negev

Places: Be’er Sheva, Negev, Judean monarchy, Sde Boker, Tsin Valley, Avdat, Mitspe Ramon, Makhtesh, Ramon Crater Visitor Center

Be’er Sheva
Be’er Sheva

The capital of the Negev, the Old City, the university, the Turkish railway station, and the Bedouin market represent only a part of the colorful mosaic offered by the city of Be’er Sheva, a city full of life and proud of itself, as you will be told by any of its 185,000 inhabitants.

Be’er Sheba, spelt Beersheba in most English translations of the Bible, is a major crossroads whose potential was felt by Abraham, father of the Jewish and Muslim people, who arrived here 3,700 years ago. He dug a well to water his flock, made a covenant of peace with Abimelech, the king of Gerar in those days, and the two swore allegiance to one another.

Abimelech
Abimelech

“Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath” (Genesis 21, Verse 21). To symbolize his ownership of the well, he planted a tamarisk tree. Thus the city of Be’er Sheba struck roots at that place and at that time. Abraham’s descendants continued to live here, in a place that was the cradle of monotheism.

Drive south to Tel Be’er Sheva, another of the many UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites on this itinerary. This ancient town, overlooking the modern capital of the Negev that has retained the ancient name, functioned as the administrative center for the Judean monarchy during the Iron Age, beginning some 2,800 years ago. Among the most impressive finds here are the corner stones of an altar and a large-scale water project that served the city during both war and peace.

Continue south to Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the central Negev and the home of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. Visit Ben-Gurion’s modest home and the nearby exhibition portraying his life and his vision for this region, and stop at his tomb, overlooking the magnificent Tsin Valley.

Sde Boker

Proceed to Avdat, once a central city on the Nabatean trade route (known as the Incense Route) connecting Petra and the port of Gaza.

Further south, at Mitspe Ramon, you’ll find a small desert town built on the edge of a fascinating geological formation known as a makhtesh, or crater. Stop at the Ramon Crater Visitor Center to understand how this unique water-erosion formation, found only in Israel, came into being, and learn more about the region’s nature and wildlife, as well as the peoples who called it home in centuries past.

  • Everyone will be driven by bus to their hotel in Mitspe Ramon or Be’er Sheva.

Day 4 – Negev, Dead Sea, Masada

Places: Ramon Crater, jeep tour, Saharonim Fort, Dead Sea, Masada

Map of Negev

The Negev, which extends over Israel’s southern region, accounts for over half of Israel’s land area. Due to its desert character, however, this region is sparsely populated.

Even so, the Negev has seen its share of history. Abraham built his home in Be’er Sheva, the Nabateans passed through here on caravans of camels laden with precious trade goods. For these and other reasons, the Negev has become one of Israel’s popular tourism sites.

Various peoples have lived in the Negev since the dawn of history: nomads, Canaanites, Philistines, Edomites, Byzantines, Nabateans, Ottomans and of course Israelis. Their economy was based mainly on sheep herding and agriculture, and later also on trade.

Saharonim Fort
Saharonim Fort

Get an early morning start with a hike in the Ramon Crater or a pre-arranged jeep tour, which you can book through the Visitors Center or area hotels. Stop at the Saharonim Fort, once a caravan on the Incense Route.

Dead Sea

Drive northeast to the Dead Sea, to explore Masada, scene of epic stand by Jewish rebels at the end of the great revolt against Rome nearly 2,000 years ago. The new museum at the visitors’ center reveals the secrets of the daily lives of the rebels, tells the story of the excavations, and shows why the site became one of Israel’s most important symbols.

Palace-fortress at Masada

Finish the day with a dip in the saltiest, lowest body of water in the world, enjoy a health treatment and spend the night at one of the fine hotels along the shores of the Dead Sea.

  • Everyone will be driven by bus to their hotel in Dead Sea.

Day 5 – Jerusalem Old City

Places: Jerusalem, Tower of David Museum, Jewish Quarter, Broad Wall, the Herodian Mansions, Cardo, City of David, Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Travel to the Old City of Jerusalem:

Old City Jerusalem
Old City Jerusalem

During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BCE, making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world.

Given the city’s central position in both Israeli nationalism and Palestinian nationalism, the selectivity required to summarize more than 5,000 years of inhabited history is often influenced by ideological bias or background. For example, the Jewish periods of the city’s history are important to Israeli nationalists, whose discourse states that modern Jews descend from the Israelites and Maccabees, while the Islamic periods of the city’s history are important to Palestinian nationalists, whose discourse suggests that modern Palestinians descend from all the different peoples who have lived in the region. As a result, both sides claim the history of the city has been politicized by the other in order to strengthen their relative claims to the city, and that this is borne out by the different focuses the different writers place on the various events and eras in the city’s history.

Start out with an overview, literal and figurative, of the Holy City, Israel’s capital, as you explore the Tower of David Museum, showcasing the history of Jerusalem from its beginning to modern times.

Old City Jewish Quarter

Continue to the Jewish Quarter which was home to European and Sephardic Jews during the centuries under Ottoman rule, and visit the 2,700-year-old Broad Wall, the Herodian Mansions and the Cardo.

Finish the day at the City of David, including Warren’s Shaft, the new Visitors Center and Hezekiah’s Tunnel, through which water has flowed since the days of King Hezekiah some 2,700 years ago.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Jerusalem.

Day 6 – Jerusalem Old City

Places: Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Western Wall, Southern Wall Excavations, Davidson Center, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, tomb of Jesus, Russian Orthodox Church, Ethiopian courtyard, Old City markets.

The Old City is a 0.9 square kilometers (0.35 sq mi) walled area within the modern city of Jerusalem. Until 1860, when the Jewish neighborhood Mishkenot Sha’ananim was established, this area constituted the entire city of Jerusalem. The Old City is home to several sites of key religious importance: the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims, the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1981.

Traditionally, the Old City has been divided into four uneven quarters, although the current designations were introduced only in the 19th century. Today, the Old City is roughly divided (going counterclockwise from the northeastern corner) into the Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Jewish Quarter. The Old City’s monumental defensive walls and city gates were built in the years 1535-1542 by the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The current population of the Old City resides mostly in the Muslim and Christian quarters. As of 2007 the total population was 36,965; the breakdown of religious groups in 2006 was 27,500 Muslims (up from ca. 17,000 in 1967, with over 30,000 by 2013, tendency: growing); 5,681 Christians (ca. 6,000 in 1967), not including the 790 Armenians (down to ca. 500 by 2011, tendency: decreasing); and 3,089 Jews (starting with none in 1967, as they were evicted after the Old City was captured by Jordan following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, with almost 3,000 plus some 1,500 yeshiva students by 2013, tendency: growing).

Temple Mount

Start out with a visit to the Temple Mount, site of the sacrifice of Isaac, the Jerusalem Temples, and the ninth-century Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

See the Western Wall, sacred to the Jewish people as the last remnant of the Second Temple. Visit the Southern Wall Excavations, walking on the original two thousand-year old street and climbing the ancient steps. At the Davidson Center, in the basement of an eighth-century CE palace, make arrangements to see the virtual-reconstruction, high-definition interactive model.

Church Of The Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem

Next, explore the venerable Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of the crucifixion and tomb of Jesus according to Christian tradition. You will notice the many Christian denominations represented in the church, distinguished by their dress and liturgy – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian Orthodox , each in their own corner of the ancient complex. Explore some of the other interesting churches in the Old City, including the Russian Orthodox Church with its basement ruins, and the tranquil Ethiopian courtyard and humble chapel.

Mahane Yehuda Market

Wander through the Old City markets, steeping yourself in its sights, sounds and aromas, and try your hand at hunting and bargaining for treasures.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Jerusalem.

Day 7 – Jerusalem New City

Places: Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Children’s Memorial, Hall of Remembrance, Knesset, Supreme Court building, Israel Museum, Dead Sea Scrolls, Shrine of the Book, Second Temple Model

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum

Start the day with a Visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Walk through the astounding new Museum with its new and moving focus on the individual in the Holocaust, the Children’s Memorial and Hall of Remembrance.

Israeli Parliament Building

Drive through the New City viewing old and new neighborhoods, the Knesset (The Israeli Parliament, open for visits on Sundays and Thursdays) and the beautifully designed Supreme Court building.

Dead Sea scrolls, the secret one

At the nearby Israel Museum, among many other fascinating exhibits discover the mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book and see the Second Temple Model of Jerusalem.

Finish the day with optional evening tours that explore the development of Jerusalem from the 19th century on. (Must be pre-arranged; can be booked through the concierge at your hotel.)

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Jerusalem.

Day 8 – Sea of Galilee

Places: Iron Valley, Tel Megiddo, walls of Solomon, Armageddon, Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabha, Mount of the Beatitudes

Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee, also Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias , is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, and it is approximately 53 km (33 mi) in circumference, about 21 km (13 mi) long, and 13 km (8.1 mi) wide. The lake has a total area of 166.7 km2 (64.4 sq mi) at its fullest, and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m (141 feet). At levels between 215 metres (705 ft) and 209 metres (686 ft) below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake overall (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake). The lake is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south.

In 1989 remains of a hunter-gatherer site were found under the water at the southern end. Remains of mud huts were found which are the oldest known buildings in the world.

Via Maris
Via Maris

The Sea of Galilee lies on the ancient Via Maris, which linked Egypt with the northern empires. The Greeks, Hasmoneans, and Romans founded flourishing towns and settlements on the land-locked lake including Gadara, Hippos and Tiberias. The first-century historian Flavius Josephus was so impressed by the area that he wrote, “One may call this place the ambition of Nature.” Josephus also reported a thriving fishing industry at this time, with 230 boats regularly working in the lake. Archaeologists discovered one such boat, nicknamed the Jesus Boat, in 1986.

Much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on the shores of Lake Galilee. In those days, there was a continuous ribbon development of settlements and villages around the lake and plenty of trade and ferrying by boat. The Synoptic gospels of Mark (1:14–20), Matthew (4:18–22), and Luke (5:1–11) describe how Jesus recruited four of his apostles from the shores of Lake Galilee: the fishermen Simon and his brother Andrew and the brothers John and James. One of Jesus’ famous teaching episodes, the Sermon on the Mount, is supposed to have been given on a hill overlooking the lake. Many of his miracles are also said to have occurred here including his walking on water, calming the storm, the disciples and the boatload of fish, and his feeding five thousand people (in Tabgha).

Arthur_Szyk 1894-1951 - Bar Kochba 1927 Paris
Arthur_Szyk 1894-1951 – Bar Kochba 1927 Paris

In 135 CE Bar Kokhba’s revolt was put down. The Romans responded by banning all Jews from Jerusalem. The center of Jewish culture and learning shifted to the region of the Galilee and the Kinneret, particularly the city of Tiberias. It was in this region that the so-called “Jerusalem Talmud” was compiled.

Old city Tiberias

Leaving Jerusalem, drive along the coast and cut through the historic Iron Valley to Tel Megiddo.

Tel Megiddo
Tel Megiddo

Home to a palace and walls of Solomon, a complex water system built by King Ahab, scene of Armageddon and believed to be the backdrop for James A. Michener’s novel “The Source,” Megiddo is one of Israel’s most important and impressive archaeological sites, also a World Heritage Site.

Capernaum at the time of Jesus. Art by Balage Balogh
Capernaum at the time of Jesus. Art by Balage Balogh

Continue to the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee and visit the Galilee’s cradle of Christianity – Capernaum, Simon Peter’s home town, Tabha, commemorating the miracle of the Fishes and Loaves, and the Mount of the Beatitudes, the scene of the Sermon on the Mount.

Tabha

Consider the option of a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee this evening.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Tiberias.

Day 9 – Golan Heights

Places: Golan Heights, Gamla, Katsrin, Talmudic Village, Golan Antiquities Museum, Druze villages of Buq’ata and Mas’ade, pool of Birket Ram, Druze shrine of Nebi Yafouri, Jordan River, Hula Valley.

Map of the Golan

The Golan Heights or simply the Golan or the Syrian Golan, is a region in the Levant.

The exact region defined as the Golan Heights is different in different disciplines:

  • As a geological and biogeographical region, the Golan Heights is a basaltic plateau bordered by the Yarmouk River in the south, the Sea of Galilee and Hula Valley in the west, Mount Hermon in the north, and the Raqqad Wadi in the east. The western two-thirds of this region are currently occupied by Israel, whereas the eastern third is controlled by Syria.
  • As a geopolitical region, the Golan Heights is the area captured from Syria and occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War, territory which Israel effectively annexed in 1981. This region includes the western two-thirds of the geological Golan Heights, as well as the Israeli-occupied part of Mount Hermon.

The earliest evidence of human habitation dates to the Upper Paleolithic period. According to the Bible, an Amorite Kingdom in Bashan was conquered by Israelites during the reign of King Og. Throughout the Old Testament period, the Golan was “the focus of a power struggle between the Kings of Israel and the Aramaeans who were based near modern-day Damascus.” The Itureans, an Arab or Aramaic people, settled there in the 2nd century BCE and remained until the end of the Byzantine period. Organized Jewish settlement in the region came to an end in 636 CE when it was conquered by Arabs under Umar ibn al-Khattāb. In the 16th century, the Golan was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and was part of the Vilayet of Damascus until it was transferred to French control in 1918. When the mandate terminated in 1946, it became part of the newly independent Syrian Arab Republic.

Internationally recognized as Syrian territory, the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel since 1967. It was captured during the 1967 Six-Day War, establishing the Purple Line.

On 19 June 1967, the Israeli cabinet voted to return the Golan to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement, although this was rejected after the Khartoum Resolution of September 1, 1967. In the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel agreed to return about 5% of the territory to Syrian civilian control. This part was incorporated into a demilitarized zone that runs along the ceasefire line and extends eastward. This strip is under the military control of UNDOF.

Gamla Nature Reserve

Ascend the Golan Heights and stop for an overview of Gamla, a Jewish stronghold nearly 2,000 years ago, and also a bird sanctuary where Griffon’s vultures soar overhead.

Ancient Katzrin Park

Proceed to Katzrin, the central town of the Golan, and visit its Talmudic Village, featuring a restored home and synagogue. Then meet the locals over a falafel or pizza at the commercial center at Katzrin, where you can also visit the Golan Antiquities Museum, displaying the impressive archaeological finds discovered through the region.

Buq’ata
Buq’ata

Drive to the northern Golan through the Druze villages of Buq’ata and Mas’ade, stop at the lovely pool of Birket Ram and visit the fascinating Druze shrine of Nebi Yafouri, nestled among apple orchards.

Birket Ram

Descend from the Golan along the tributaries of the Jordan River and settle down for the night in one of Israel’s most beautiful regions – the Hula Valley.

Hula Valley
Hula Valley
  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Tiberias.

Day 10 – Golan Heights

Places: Hula Valley Nature Reserve, Oforia, Tel Hazor, Safed

Start the day with a visit to the Hula Valley Nature Reserve. The reserve has lovely walking trails, including a “floating bridge” over the wetland, and special lookout points where visitors can observe the avian wildlife.

In the spring of 1994 another stage in the campaign to restore natural balance in the Hula Valley was completed: the re-flooding of 250 acres now known as Lake Agmon, located approximately two kilometers north of the Hula Nature Reserve. Visitors can visit the re-flooded area to appreciate nature’s powers.

While at the Hula Valley Nature reserve don’t forget to stop at Oforia, a fun multimedia display that tells the story of the migratory route across the region and the millions of birds that use it.

Tel Hazor National Park

Continue to Tel Hazor. One of the principal cities on the Fertile Crescent, Hazor engaged in trade with cities in Babylon and Syria. The Bible refers to Hazor as “the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10). As you explore the ruins, including the beautifully restored palace, the water system and other gems, you’ll understand why Tel Hazor, too, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Safed inn

Proceed to Safed, one of the four holy cities in Israel and the home of Lurian mysticism, a branch of Jewish mysticism conceived by the 16th -century Rabbi Isaac Luria, the traditional author of the seminal mystic work, the Zohar. Stroll along the lanes of the Old City and see its many synagogues, as well as its unique artist’s colony.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Tiberias.

Day 11 – Acre, Haifa

Places: Rosh Hanikra, Acre, Knights Halls, Al-Jazaar Mosque, Haifa, Bahai Gardens

Acre or Akko or Acco

Acre is a city in the northern coastal plain region of northern Israel at the northern extremity of Haifa Bay. The city occupies an important location, as it sits on the coast of the Mediterranean, traditionally linking the waterways and commercial activity with the Levant. Acre is one of the oldest sites in the world.

Sack of Acre

Historically, it was a strategic coastal link to the Levant. In crusader times it was known as St. John d’Acre after the Knights Hospitaller of St John order who had their headquarters there. Acre is the holiest city of the Bahá’í Faith, and as such gets many Baha’i pilgrims. In 2011, the population was 46,464. Acre is a mixed city, that includes Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is. The mayor is Shimon Lankri, who was re-elected in 2011.

Acre is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the region. The name Aak, which appears on the tribute-lists of Thutmose III (c. 15th century BC), may be a reference to Acre. The Amarna letters also mention a place named Akka, as well as the Execration texts, that pre-date them. First settlement at the site of Ancient Acre appears to have been in the Early Bronze Age, or about 3000 BC. In the Hebrew Bible, (Judges 1:31), Akko is one of the places from which the Israelites did not drive out the Canaanites. It is later described in the territory of the tribe of Asher and according to Josephus, was ruled by one of Solomon’s provincial governors. Throughout Israelite rule, it was politically and culturally affiliated with Phoenicia. Around 725 BC, Akko joined Sidon and Tyre in a revolt against Shalmaneser V.

Rosh Hanikra Grottoes

Start the day by driving along Israel’s northern road all the way to Rosh Hanikra on the Mediterranean. Here the rocky cliffs descend steeply into the sea, allowing the waves to carve grottos of a thousand shapes. Take the cable car down to the grottos for a short stroll through the rocky passageways.

Drive south to Acre, a historic walled port-city with continuous settlement beginning in the Phoenician period. The remains of the Crusader town, dating from 1104 to 1291, lie almost intact both above and below today’s street level. The remains provide an exceptional picture of the layout and structures of the capital of the medieval Crusader kingdom, along with touches of the Ottoman period during the 18th and 19th centuries, when Acre was a fortified market town.

Hospitaller Fortress also known as the Citadel of Acre
Hospitaller Fortress also known as the Citadel of Acre

Explore the Knights Halls, the Al-Jazaar Mosque, the bathhouse with its multi-media display, and the new ethnic museum, built right into the rooms of the old wall.

Louis Promenade, Haifa

Haifa is the largest city in northern Israel, and the third largest city in the country, with a population of over 277,082. Another 300,000 people live in towns directly adjacent to the city including Daliyat al-Karmel, the Krayot, Nesher, Tirat Carmel, and some Kibbuzim. Together these areas form a contiguous urban area home to nearly 600,000 residents which makes up the inner core of the Haifa metropolitan area. It is also home to the Bahá’í World Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and destination for Baha’i pilgrims.

Mount Carmel Lookout Point

Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel, the history of settlement at the site spans more than 3,000 years. The earliest known settlement in the vicinity was Tell Abu Hawam, a small port city established in the Late Bronze Age (14th century BCE). In the 3rd century CE, Haifa was known as a dye-making center. Over the centuries, the city has changed hands: It has been conquered and ruled by the Phoenicians, Persians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, British, and the Israelis. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the city has been governed by the Haifa Municipality.

Haifa bay

Continue to the modern port city of Haifa; visit the picturesque restored Templer Colony and the gorgeous terraced Bahai Gardens, and enjoy the view from the top of Mount Carmel.

  • For those, who ordered the hotels, they will be driven by bus to their hotel in Haifa.

Day 12 – Departure

This is the day of the departure. We bring everyone back to the point where we picked them up.

Ramla, the City with the Colorful Markets

It’s not quite as old as nearby Jaffa – history here stretches back ‘only’ 1300 years – but Ramla’s bustling market, underground pools and crumbling Islamic architecture make it an interesting half-day trip from Tel Aviv. Try to visit on a Wednesday, when the market is at its busiest and most colorful. Map.

Ramla
Ramla

Established in 716 CE by the Umayyid caliph Suleiman, Ramla (spot of sand) was a stopover on the road from Egypt to Damascus. Prior to the arrival of the Crusaders in the 11th century, it was Palestine’s capital and it maintained its importance in the Middle Ages as the first stop for the Jerusalem-bound pilgrims who came ashore at Jaffa. Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War the majority of the Arab population were expelled or fled and was replaced by poor Jewish immigrants, mainly from Asia (eg India) and North Africa. It’s now a friendly mix of Arabs (20%) and Jews (80%).

A joint ticket for the Ramla Museum, White Tower and Pool of Al-Anazia costs 22/25NIS adult/concession and can be purchased at the museum. The museum acts as the town’s de facto tourist information centre. For information, see the municipality’s Goramla (http://en.goramla.com) website.

Pool of Al-Anazia (HaHaganah St; adult/concession 14/12NIS; 8am-4pm Sat-Thu, to 2pm Fri, to 6pm Wed & Thu Jun-Aug ) Map.
The name means ‘Pool of Arches’, a reference to the majestic stone structures in this underground 8th century reservoir. The most significant structure left from the Abbasid period, it is sometimes called the Pool of St Helena in reference to a Christian idea that the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine I, ordered its construction. Visitors explore the structure by rowboat.

Pool of the Arches - Ramla
Pool of the Arches – Ramla

Ramla Museum (08-929 2650; 112 Herzl Ave; adult/concession 12/10NIS; 10am-4pm Sun-Thu, to 1pm Fri ) Map.
Housed in a building dating from the British Mandate, this small museum provides an overview of the town’s history. Exhibits include locally excavated gold coins from the 8th to 15th century CE, a collection of traditional products of Arab soap manufacture from the beginning of the 20th century and a display on the 1948 Arab–Israeli War in and around Ramla.

White Tower (Danny Mass St; adult/concession 10/9NIS; 8am-4pm Sat-Thu, to 2pm Fri ) Map.
Experts can’t agree whether this 14th-century tower was built as a minaret or a watch tower. One indisputable fact is that the 30m-high structure was built as an addition to the 8th-century White Mosque (Jamaa al-Abiad), of which only traces remain. The site includes three now-dry cisterns and the shrine of Nabi Salih, an ancient prophet mentioned in the Quran.

Ramla
Ramla

Great Mosque (Al-Umari Mosque; 08-922 5081; admission 7NIS) Map.
Though it doesn’t look particularly impressive from the outside, this is one of the few Crusader buildings in Israel & the Palestinian Territories to have survived almost completely intact. Erected in the 12th century as a Christian church, it was converted into a mosque in the 13th century and the minaret and mihrab (prayer niche facing Mecca) were added at this time. Visits are by appointment only.

Church of St Nicodemus & St Joseph of Arimathea (08-912 7200; cnr Bialik St & Herzl Ave; 9am-noon Mon-Fri)
Constructed in the 19th century on a site that Christians believe to be the site of biblical Arimathea, the hometown of Joseph, this Franciscan church has a distinctive square bell tower and a painting above the altar that is attributed to Titian (The Deposition from the Cross). To visit, you’ll need to call ahead.

Food

Samir Restaurant (08-922 0195; 7 Kehlat Detroit St; mains 40-90NIS; 8am-7pm Mon-Thu & Sat, to 6pm Fri ) Map.
The clock turns back several centuries in historic Samir, an old Arab family-run restaurant hidden in a dusty backstreet behind the market and set in a refurbished Turkish house. It has an English menu and serves various meat kebabs, dips (try the excellent hummus), falafel and salads.

Transport

There are trains to Ramla (map) (13NIS, 25 minutes) from Tel Aviv departing every 20 minutes throughout the day. Buses 450 and 451 depart from Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station every 20 minutes (14.90NIS, 40 minutes).