Category Archives: Hellenistic History

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.

The Most Crazy History of Ancient Acco (Acre)

Acre or Akko or Acco
The current Acre or Akko or Acco
Heracles
Heracles

Acre, or Acco has really a crazy history and one of the many reasons for that is because Acre is so very old, continuously inhabited since the early Bronze Age (c. 2000-1550 BCE) some 4000 years ago. In Egyptian records, it is mentioned in the Execration Texts, the First Campaign of Thutmose III and the Amarna Letters (ca. 1800 BCE), and today what Acre means is a coastal city with a small harbor and loads of tourism and an absolute crazy history with too many conquers and defeats to count.

In the start of its existence as city, Greek mysteries were at work here. The Greeks referred to the city as Ake, meaning “cure”. According to the Greek myth, Heracles found curative herbs here to heal his wounds. Josephus calls it Akre.

Acre was given to the Tribe of Asher, but ‘poor’ Asher failed to take it(Judges 1:31). Then it was given to Hiram by Solomon (I Kings 9:11-13). If that was not enough, Assyrian monarch Sennecherib took Acre, and another Assyrian monarch Ashurbanipal took it from Sennecherib.

Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great

In 333 B.C., it fell to Alexander the Great, but the city fell under Egyptian sovereignty in 261 B.C., and was renamed Ptolemais after Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who was the king of Ptolemaic Egypt from 283 to 246 BCE. In 219 B.C., the city fell under Syrian sovereignty. The violent history of the port city took a break until 65 B.C.

Cleopatra
Cleopatra

The city was captured by Alexander Jannaeus, Cleopatra and Tigranes the Great. Alexander Jannaeus was the King of Judaea from 103 to 76 BC., who married the wife of his dead brother, was cruel and expanded the kingdom with a bloody civil war. Cleopatra was the last active pharaoh of Egypt, after her death Egypt became a province of the recently established Roman Empire. Tigranes the Great was King of Armenia under whom the country became, for a short time, the strongest state east of the Roman Republic. And who said that history is boring, huh?

Herod the Great

In that year the port city was part of the Roman empire under Pompey, when it became a Roman colony where army veterans were settled and built a Roman naval base. Here Herod the Great and Octavian (Jewish Historian for the Romans) met together and made their peace.

After some time of rest for the poor city, it became suddenly the focus point because of the first Jewish revolt. In fact, Acre is the city, where the actual first Jewish revolt started. In A.D. 66, it was sacked by the Jews in reprisal for the slaughter of the Jews in Caesarea.

The Roman reaction on the Jewish sacking of the port city didn’t sit well by the Roman empire, and the Romans made their headquarters here for the war in the First Jewish Revolt.

First Jewish Revolt
First Jewish Revolt

By the year 190, it had its own bishop. In the Byzantine Period, it became largely Samaritan and was named Samaritiki. In the year 614, the city was taken by the Persian Conquest. In the year 636, it became part of the Arab Conquest.

Baldwin I
Baldwin I

In 1104, the Crusaders took it under Baldwin I who renamed it Saint Jean d’Acre after Joan of Arc and the city often was called Acre – The Crusaders also turned it into a naval base. But it took the Crusaders 4 years of siege of the city to do that. The city provided the Crusaders with a foothold in the region and access to vibrant trade that made them prosperous, especially giving them access to the Asiatic spice trade.

After the Crusader stronghold of Jerusalem fell to the Arabs, it became the Crusader capital and main port for the Mediterranean and various orders set up their centers. The centers were The Knights Templars, The Teutonic Order, Order of Saint Lazarus and the Order of the Knights of Saint John – Hospitallers. The good thing out all of it was that they allowed the Jews to live there too (which was different then normal those times).

Saladin
Saladin

The Crusader centers were filled with proud men, who would die for their order they belonged to. In the beginning, the Crusaders  seemed to be unstoppable and ‘waltzed’ through any defense. Because of politics and betrayal, the Crusader centers were serious weakened.

Saladin came and conquered in the most unusable and unconventional ways possible in ancient and modern warfare. In 1187 Acre was taken by Saladin. In 1191 the Crusaders came back and took the city back under Richard the Lionhearted of England and Philip Augustus of France. In 1192, it became the capital of the Crusader Kingdom because they couldn’t take Jerusalem.

In the times of the Crusaders and Saladin, unusable strategies were applied in the battles about Acre. The city was occupied by Arabs, who were surrounded by Crusaders, who laid siege surrounding the city. Saladin came and surrounded the Crusaders, who surrounded the city. This continued for many years, until the Arabs within Acre fell and the Crusaders managed to penetrate the city and could stop Saladin of attacking the city.

Mameluke
Mameluke

In 1291, the mother of all battles occurred and the Crusaders were defending their last stronghold against Sultan Khalil el Ashraf (Mameluke). In Acre, there were more then 12,000 knights and they swore to fight till the last man against the ‘Arab hordes’.

And that’s exactly what they did. Even when many Crusaders were wounded, they would normally be spared by the Arab armies if they surrendered, but they choose to continue to fight until their last breathe. Many Crusaders were praying while they were fighting. Many of them were in a trance, trying to kill one attacker after the other while singing psalms. It scared the Arab armies to their core because of the eerie and sinister sound the Crusaders made.

After the terrible battle was finally over, Acre and the surroundings were covered by thick layers of the dead and a deadly quiet ruled the city and surroundings; only seven Crusaders survived. Many Arab soldiers who also survived this massive battle spread the stories of the terrible deeds of the Crusaders, who managed to kill more then 29,000 Arab soldiers in this battle. It seemed for the Arab soldiers and populations there there was a curse on the land and city. Their victory tasted more then bitter.

For hundreds of years everyone avoided to visit the city and the lands surrounding it and everything laid in ruins and stayed like that. Many locals were telling that they could hear the eerie quiet voices still singing the psalms of those who were killed in that terrible battle.

And after 458 years, Bedouin Sheikh Dehar el-Omar happened. Dehar el-Omar was the administrative head of northern Palestine in the mid-18th century, while the area was nominally part of the Ottoman Empire. He managed to bring the cities Tiberias, Arraba, Nazareth, Deir Hanna together under his rule and finally added Acre to his list.

He built fortifications, but not really rebuilt to city. For this, he invited the Jews to join him, which they did by mass. Bedouin Sheikh Dehar el-Omar hoped that the Jews would rebuild the city to its full splendor, but they didn’t. It looked like the Crusaders curse was still there. The city became a center of the cotton trade instead between Palestine and Europe. Acre had that time a functioning harbor and fortifications surrounding the city with makeshift houses between the ruins of hundreds of years of age. In the mid-1760s, Sheikh Dehar el-Omar refocused on something else and he reestablished the port town of Haifa nearby.

In 1775, Ahmed Pasha the Albanian (El Jazzar) rebuilt the city with its splendor. He also built the Turkish Aqueduct that brought water from the Kabri Stream to Acco. The Crusader’s curse seemed to be broken by El Jazzar, according the locals those times.

In 1799, the French armies arrived under Napoleon, but they manage to withstand the Napoleonic siege. El Jazzar managed that tremendous feat.

The biggest power for the Napoleon’s armies was their artillery, or with other words their heavy cannons. Their strategy was actually first the bombardments, then charge with infantry. They used cavalry as well, but that was useless during sieges. El Jazzar was for sure aware of that, and took care that his men were as protected as possible under the French bombardments; the city walls were thick and strong. The French failure was actually quite simple to explain: the ran out of cannonballs. At the end it would be too costly to attack the city with only infantry and they gave up.

In 1814 Suleiman Pasha became the ruler of Acco and totally rebuilt the aqueduct and it is the aqueduct that is still visible today.

El Jazzar
El Jazzar

During the British Mandate Period, the Citadel was used as the British prison where many of the Jewish freedom fighters such as Jabotinsky were imprisoned and others were hung. In 1947, Jewish commandos breached the walls of the fortress freeing both Jewish and Arab prisoners. In 1948, it was one of the three strategic cities of Galilee which fell to Jewish forces – Captured in May 1948.

From all that history, what’s left to look at?

Ottoman aqueduct to Acre
Ottoman aqueduct to Acre

First, we have the aqueducts in Acre (Helenistic, El-Jazzar and Suleiman Pasha). Those aqueducts gathered its water from Ein Shefa, Ein Giah, Ein Shayara and Ein Zuph.

Acre
El-Jazzar Mosque

Secondly, we have the El Jazzar Mosque, the El Jazzar Fortress (Used by the British as a prison and place of execution for Jewish underground fighters), Saint John’s Crypt, Khan El-Umdan, Tel el-Fukhkhar (Toron), Crusader Subterranean City, Harbor, walls (built by El-Jazzar).

El Jazzar Fortress
El Jazzar Fortress
Saint John’s Crypt
Saint John’s Crypt
Khan El-Umdan
Khan El-Umdan
Tel el-Fukhkhar
Tel el-Fukhkhar
Hospitaller Fortress also known as the Citadel of Acre
Hospitaller Fortress also known as the Citadel of Acre

 

Napoleon
Napoleon

What is interesting is Tel el-Fukhkhar or the Old Testament Tel is this is the oldest part of Acre and since the Crusaders, still important. The Crusaders called it Toron, from here Richard the Lionhearted set out to conquer the city, the French called this the Napoleon’s Hill, because they tried to conquer the city but failed and finally Israeli forces launched their attack on the city in 1948 and succeeded. I guess there was no El Jazzar anymore.

And you, my dear reader, think that’s it? You’re wrong. The current times is nothing else then history for those who study history in the next 50 or 100 years. We are simply part of it.

 

The Tour from Hell

This tour was the tour from hell … for me. For the group absolutely not, because they had loads of fun, costing me my hair of course. We are talking about a tour, which shows what Israel actually is, a mixture of culture, adventure, exploration and Israeli sights in all the major touristic centers of Israel. This article is part of the Tour Guide Diaries September 2016.

I’m working on whole range of new tours, like the so called low-budget tours and the tours, which mixes several things together in a more exciting tour then currently exists, and this tour is one of them (for example, we go on concert in the evening, visit festivals, workshops, join even a work camp to dig into the ground with the archeologists, visit the sights, do a little gem-touring, etc.). We were out for 12 days, our group was 50 (originally 30) strong from all over the United States, ages were between 17 and 63, and the group arrived at the airport 13 days ago (from the date of publishing)(so I’m recovering already for three days).

Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport
Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport

We went to the airport in a very good mood, I had my junior guides with me (Igor and Lena or together “the Juniors”), our new bus and the driver with the nickname “the Beast” (he’s small and overly polite and never shows any emotion, so his nickname is “the Beast” and his real name is Eddie) to pickup our new group for our new mixture tours.

One thing about nicknames! I really didn’t gave them their nicknames. I’ve no nickname … except ‘the Sheik’, because of some small misunderstanding last August, where some Bedouin men on the goat market of Be’er Sheba were advising me to take ten women as wives to drink coffee with me, but nobody remembers that, thank goodness for that.

I double checked my nice, sign-board (so people know it’s us) I was holding with our names on it to welcome our group. I really don’t want to repeat that prank from the last time where the driver changed the text into “Here’s the Idiot” or something like that. The board covered our names nicely.

When the people started to stream out of the checkout I held up my board and voila! People noticed and streamed to us with smiles on their faces. I spoke before their flight with them in a conference call over the Internet and I’m happy they were in such a good mood.

Hi Sheik! How are you?!” one yelled cheekily with a big grin on his face (someone has been talking)! And soon we were almost overwhelmed with the thirty people … and some … more? We moved our group from the hall to let them drink something and have maybe a bite to eat, but I realized that the group was much larger then 30! I was already upset about the Sheik thing and now this. Maybe some people they met during their flight? The Juniors were already suspiciously grinning.

It turned out that at the last moment they found more people who wanted to join this tour, but ‘forgot’ to tell me. So, suddenly instead of 30 people, we have now 45 people! And not to forget the payments. And the reservations. And the bus! And my heart! And what’s left of my hair! And not to forget my blood pressure.

You know, I’m just 56 years old and I’m old man and it’s really in those times that I’m thinking about going on pension. Maybe a pension on an island somewhere with nobody else then my wife. Well … when my wife comes with me, then she wants her cats also to come with us. And her aquarium with those bl**dy fish too. And the kids too and they have dogs.

I suddenly realize that we have a problem. The hotel reservation with our hotel is in Jerusalem and I know that they have no additional place; they are booked full (they had place for us of course, but with 30 people, not 45). One of my Juniors grabbed my hand, which was busy to pull out my hair (not joking). While the group was amusing themselves, five more people came in to join the group (they said ‘sorry, we’re late’, carrying large boxes with toys they bought at Duty Free). That’s 50!

I called a colleague, who must find us a hotel in or near Jerusalem, who can place a group of 53 people that same day. In high season! I quickly broke the connection with the swearing colleague (he’s called ‘The Pipe’, because he smokes … guess what? Correct, large cigars).

Feeling better, I processed the extra people, gave a pep talk to the Juniors and moved the army … eh … group to the Beast (to our bus). The poor man’s face lit up when he saw us coming. When the people started to enter his bus, slowly his expression turned from happy into confused … then shocked and was trying to find me … only I was at a safe distance looking at the scene and waiting for the expected eruption of ‘the beast’ soon to be … erupting.

‘The Beast’ came out of his bus and walked straight at me. I pointed at the Juniors with my thumb and blamed them for the problem of overcrowding his new and shiny bus. Before the juniors could react and recover from the shock, I was already moving quickly into the bus to tackle the next problem. That’s called strategical thinking. I don’t remember who advised something like that, but what I do remember was the advise “… never admit you’re wrong, always blame the one next to you …”. It never works with my wife though.

So in the bus, I started to bring the problem in front of our group. They came up right before they left to Israel with an additional 20 people for the group without telling us and we have only reservations for 30 people and the hotel is booked full. There will be no chance in hell that we would find another hotel for 50 people  within a couple of hours, then maybe a beach … but no beach in Jerusalem. And not to forget the damage for the hotel if we cancel at the last moment, the money would not be returned and the tour would be more expensive for all of us.

So the group decided that they would room together for this night. Not that they cared, because it was a rowdy group, who would be visiting a pop-concert that night after dinner in the old city and I saw already several girls checking out several gents. I felt my blood pressure going up when I also saw the expression of several of the people of this group who were already grinning mischievously.

During our talk, my disgruntled Juniors were already in the bus and my driver in his place. When he started the motor, I could hear how upset he was. The bus is exactly for 53 people and we always have a golden rule to have a larger bus then we there are people in the group. Well, technically we still have (three reserve places), but it was not ideal. They will suffer during the tour.

While we were on our way to Jerusalem, I got a phone call with a swearing Pipe (the guide my age checking out hotels) and he said he moved the reservations to another hotel the days after for 52 people and claimed that I could sleep outside and hung up. Funny boy. Oof. Two things down. Now a bigger bus and that would be even perfect. So instead of chatting with ‘the Beast’ myself, I sent him a SMS. Much more manly, not? I could have sent the Juniors, but they were angry at me for some reason.

American Colony Hotel
American Colony Hotel

All went well during our trip to our hotel in Jerusalem. We only had four bathroom stops, so nothing more then normal in such situation (never happened like that, but who cares at that point). We arrived at last at the American Colony Hotel.

We all got out of our bus and we moved into our hotel, with a smiling hotel manager who was looking at us happily and welcomed us in Israel with open arms. That continued – smiling and all – until he realized that there were not 30 of us, but the whole “g&^^%^$^%$%#$%d” US army!  Suddenly he was not smiling anymore and I saw him already looking for me. The cowards of a Juniors ran already in the hotel, so I was forced to confront the manager myself.

After calming the manager down (and pay a fortune to do that), he clearly didn’t care anymore to welcome us to his hotel, he disappeared posthaste. After everyone was checked in, and disappeared into the hotel, I could sit in one of those easy sofas at last.

That evening I discovered that I forgot to check myself in. “Well, sorry, no place!” But I arranged a bigger bus (the bus was called Fat Bertha, like that super gun), the Beast was happy again. The Juniors were alright after they found out I slept on the sofa. What else? Oh yes. One woman hurt her foot during wild dancing (is the Polkas a dance?), another one discovered that she’s pregnant, one man thought he lost his way and was in the wrong hotel, while he was wandering around at the back of our hotel and we experienced yesterday evening an example what Israeli rock sounded.

The concert hall was a cafe and the rock turned out to be House Music, but that was really great and everyone danced and had fun. They didn’t want to go back to the hotel at the end, but the bouncers almost kicked us out. We took Fat Bertha and went back to our hotel, still singing and dancing.

I had pain in my head and my back was hurting because of sleeping on the sofa. The Juniors had fun and were in a good mood, the Beast was still polishing Fat Bertha and our group was in a super good mood after a great breakfast (I ate chips). At the end we moved into Fat Bertha and drove to the Jerusalem markets and shopping streets. Why? We rented off a restaurant for the day, where everyone could demonstrate that they wanted to cook and we suppose to eat what the volunteers would prepare for us. The Chef of the restaurant refused to allow us ‘barbarians‘ in his kitchen alone, so he would stand guard (in the middle of his kitchen).

I skip a couple days of the tour and move to the 5th day, the day that we go to Be’er Sheba. But one more remark about the cooking in the restaurant. It was so much fun and we ate so well that evening after loads of shopping (we went back three times to the market and it was a fortune what they bought). The group didn’t burn down his kitchen nor the restaurant! And the cook hid the large knifes for some reason.

We arrived at our usual hotel in Be’er Sheba. Be’er Sheba is a very nice place, but the choice in hotels is limited and they can’t be compared with the hotels in Eilat, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But this Be’er Sheba hotel would do. And who was there waiting for us while we were checking in the hotel? Right, the same worried looking manager from last August, who was confronted with the fact that there were two small goats running rampage in his hotel in the middle of the night in August and one totally destroyed (or better eaten) room.

Bedouin Goat Market
Bedouin Goat Market

The manager didn’t look pleased. He asked me though if we plan to go to the goat market today. Of course we would go to the goat market and not to forget the chicken market too. And this time I arranged also a small tour on camels and we would maybe see a small auction of buying and selling camels (and we have also chicken speed running organized). I told him that, and he really didn’t look pleased. I guaranteed him that we this time inspect everyone coming in and out of the bus for hidden goats, chickens and camels. The only thing he said was that he would do the same when we would come back to the hotel.

I was happy at that time, because we would only stay one night at his hotel, before we would spent two days in the desert with carts and camels. I really didn’t look forward to meet Fred the Camel again, so I could avoid having a camel tour in Eilat.

Market in Be’er Sheba
Market in Be’er Sheba

We indeed went to the markets in Be’er Sheba (the normal one, and the goat and chicken markets). Nothing exciting happened, except that our group was very hard to keep together (50 rowdy people in a very good mood with loads of energy) with three guides (the Juniors and I). We didn’t pickup any other group, they didn’t buy any goats or chickens, nobody got upset, but there were some people who bought some strange Bedouin dresses for women for some reason. We also tried the camels. That was so much fun that others have problems climbing on camels like I usual have. But no auction of camels, otherwise I could change my Juniors for a camel or three goats maybe, damn that manager.

Bedouin Goat Market
Bedouin Goat Market

We met those same Bedouin men who were asking about my 10 women and again explained to the group that I’ve a harem and 20 children, but I got my coffee. That reminded me about ordering the evening amusement and this time we had real Bedouin musicians not such phony flop of a so called d^&&*^*%&^$%^ magician and his sexy belly dancer like back in August during the goat disaster. The Juniors were giggling! I was highly suspicious seeing that, but at that moment my attention was drawn to my camel, who was trying to bite me. All camels in the world only try to bite me and nobody else.

In the evening back to the hotel, we met the manager, who was indeed inspecting everyone (I forgot to check anyone for hidden goats, chickens and camels), but he obviously not. After that, he insisted in inspecting Fat Bertha and when The Beast finally understood what the manager wanted, they together almost tore the bus apart for their ridiculous quest for goats, chickens and camels! Honestly, who do they think we are?

That evening there was no original Bedouin music, but that belly dancer and her bl**dy so called magician who was loudly calling me “The Sheik” again. I will get my revenge on my Juniors for that!

But thank goodness, I slept wonderful (even when the Beast was snoring loudly), no goats on the rampage, but I heard in the morning that the manager couldn’t sleep all night.

Ramon Crater
Ramon Crater

The next day we visited the Ramon Crater and met our Bedouins. Guess who? My old Bedouin man and his many children and camels and … Fred the Camel. Fred the Camel was the camel only for me, according the Bedouin. Damn him and his camel. The same for the Juniors. I will cook them and feed them to Fred the camel. Never met something so smelly and with such awful sounds he makes when he sees me. Always in a bad mood too. And he bites. And tries to throw me off when I finally manage to climb on his back.

Experience Eilat's Mountains

We moved to the desert with the group on the back of the camels. I knew that the Bedouin with his many children were waiting somewhere with jeeps. They suppose to pick us up tomorrow evening for a big party with the Bedouins. That evening we finally could sleep at 3 am, after I translated again the campfire stories of the old Bedouin. Instead of his usual horror theme, he was telling about the old caravans of ancient times, who were stranded in the middle of the desert and were forced to eat their own camels … and scorpions and other insects to survive.

Experience Eilat's Mountains

I changed the story and translation somewhat (the man speaks only Arabic) and told the group that camel meat tasted just like what we all ate that evening (we ate lamb). The woman who discovered (at the beginning of the tour) that she was pregnant started to puke and the Bedouin who didn’t understand English was looking at me and pointed threatening at Fred the camel and shook slowly his head, frowning and all that jazz.

So he was telling another story about the young Bedouin woman, who fell in love with a boy her age from another tribe, while her father promised her to someone else (three times her age). He translated dutifully, but every time I wanted to make his story sound more … juicy (?), the old Bedouin man (who didn’t understand English?) was pausing and frowning at me. No fun like that.

Under the stars of the desert, it would quiet anyone, so impressive it was. The old Bedouin suddenly had deep knowledge of the stars and demonstrated it. He was trying to explain to us how you could navigate in the desert and with only the stars.

The next morning was a disaster. Fred the camel managed to bite me straight in my behind and couldn’t sit very well any more after that. According Junior, Fred’s teeth were visible for days after that. It seems to be funny for the group though.

Eilat
Eilat

When we finally arrived at our hotel in Eilat, I could find relieve there. For whatever reason, the group tipped the Bedouin man extra! Not fair. They can’t handle some teasing? Especially when everyone was calling me Sheik.

Hilton Eilat Queen Of Sheba Hotel
Hilton Eilat Queen Of Sheba Hotel

I skip the tour here to the tenth day and we are in Jericho. Until then we survived, we didn’t pick additional guests up in our group, we didn’t loose anyone, neither additional goats or any other animals, my behind was alright again and could sit (tenderly). We still were using Fat Bertha the bus and the Beast our driver was still happy. I couldn’t exchange my juniors for camels or goats, so they were still there, looking wearily at me when I could prank them back.

Tel al-Sultan near Jericho
Tel al-Sultan near Jericho

But now we arrived in Jericho and that’s a special place in Israel. Not only it’s the oldest place you can find anywhere in Israel and surroundings, but also very mysterious. There were so many cultures and civilizations arriving and disappearing in Jericho over the many thousands of years, nobody really could even count them. There are hundreds of layers of different buildings built once in Jericho and the archeologists are still counting.

The Canaan were a bunch of wild people, who believed in all kind of gods, who are now classified as demons or devils. So everyone was interested in my horror stories and that I did. So they were already in the proper mood for the Mount of Temptation!

Mount of Temptation
Mount of Temptation

Then we came to the Mount of Temptation near Jericho, where everyone was highly impressed about my strange stories. They wanted to see proof and so we did. We didn’t take the cable cars but walked and climbed the mountain.

Mount of Temptation, the mountain and the monastery
Mount of Temptation, the mountain and the monastery

Half way some people were murmuring something bad of course, until we reached the promised caves and showed them the scratches the devil once had made thousands of years ago, when Jesus was tempted by the same devil to make bread from stone. I showed them the caves of the hermits of old, who dedicated their lives to live there and to pray, never talked to anyone else anymore for more then 40 years.

Or the Hermit who became mad after seven years in a narrow cave and who received food from people from Jericho. He became too fat to exit his cave and he died there. His spirit still haunts the cave, some believe.

Mount of Temptation, inside in the monastery
Mount of Temptation, inside in the monastery

When we finally arrived at the Monastery, everyone was looking a bit sketchy, especially my two Juniors. The Monastery is amazing where you can see the personal cells of the Monks still working there. It’s still not too late to allow the Juniors to dump them there for some month or so, I was joking of course, but one Junior thought I meant it. Ha!

At day 12 we said good bye to everyone. All went well after the disasters at the beginning when suddenly our group grew from 30 till 50. Nobody bought or smuggled any goat or camel, nobody destroyed or ate a room, I got finally my revenge on my Juniors and I had one happy large group of people who felt bad that they needed to go home.

I still have my hair (mostly), I will not see Fred the camel for at least one week and I’m dead on my feet. Now I go back home to see if my wife is still there.

I also discovered that Eddie (‘The Beast’) decided to sleep in Fat Bertha his new bus when I finally came home. My wife hid my phone after that, so I could not help him out. I discovered the day after that he changed our old new bus with Fat Bertha and the bus company was not happy.

Jericho, the Ancient City, where Time Stood Still

Local authorities proudly call Jericho the ‘world’s oldest continuously inhabited city’ and this is no idle boast – archaeological evidence traces the city’s history back over 10,000 years. Earthquakes proved Jericho’s biggest challenge, leveling many of its most fantastic sites – such as Hisham’s Palace – over the centuries.When you visit Jericho, you will see it frozen in time; not much has changed since those times. Click here for maps of Jericho.

This article reads like an itinerary for a tour in and around Jericho. This article gives you enough information to go around this ancient city. But if you want or need more input and deeper background information, or if you are a Pilgrim and want deeper information about the Christian penetration of this place, talk with Wim the guide. Jericho is one of his many specialties.

In this article you find information what’s to see and where to sleep and eat.

Map Of Jericho
Map Of Jericho

Jericho has modernized somewhat since the Canaanite period, but not much. Small-scale farming still makes up a significant portion of the local economy, although tourism is making inroads. The town is rather scruffy and unkempt but retains a raffish charm and a smiley demeanor. Most visitors just stay long enough to ascend the Mount of Temptation and marvel at the archaeological remains of Tel al-Sultan (Ancient Jericho).

Brief History
Settled history in Jericho dates to around 10,000 BCE when hunter-gatherer groups settled here around a spring. Mudbrick buildings were erected at the site and by 9400 BCE it’s believed that some 1000 people lived here.

For the biblically astute, Jericho is known as the first city the Israelites captured after wandering for 40 years in the desert: shaken by horn blasts and the Israelites’ shouts, the city walls came crashing down (Joshua 6). Following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the region in the 4th century BCE, Jericho became his personal fiefdom.

Further waves of occupiers arrived and departed until Jericho fell into the hands of Mark Antony, who gave it to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. Herod later leased it from Cleopatra and improved its infrastructure with aqueducts and a hippodrome. The 1st-century aristocracy of Jerusalem used the city as a winter getaway.

Christians celebrate Jericho as the place where John the Baptist received his own baptism in the Jordan River and where the temptation of Jesus took place on the mountain.

In the 1967 Six Day War Israel captured Jericho from Jordan. After the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, it became the first city to be handed over to Palestinian Authority control. During the Second Intifada, the Israeli army attacked the Palestinian Authority prison and security headquarters in Jericho.

Today Jericho has returned its attention to tourism and daily trade, and though you won’t find a great many foreign visitors in town, it makes an interesting stop for a night or two.

Sights

Tree of Zacchaeus
Tree of Zacchaeus

A gaggle of storefronts and restaurants with colorful bouquets of household products, fresh produce and roasting snack foods spilling into the streets marks Jericho’s diminutive and dusty town center. The Tree of Zacchaeus, nearby on Ein as-Sultan St (a sycamore said to be more than 2000 years old) received its name from the story of the wealthy tax collector who was too short to see Jesus amid the crowds and thus climbed this very tree to get a better view. Seeing this, Jesus asked the tax collector if he could visit his home, a gesture that so moved Zacchaeus that he decided to dedicate himself to a life of charitable deeds.

Jericho
Jericho

Many of Jericho’s sights are outside the city, making for good drives, hikes or cable car rides into the surrounding area. The best way to see these sites is to hire a driver for the day – 30NIS to 40NIS an hour is a fair price.

The new tourist information center in Jericho’s main square is an excellent place to stop at early in your visit. Staff speak fluent English and have a huge variety of information about sights and tours, as well as very useful maps of the area. It is open every day.

Tel al-Sultan (Ancient Jericho) (adult/child 10/5NIS; 8am-5pm)

Tel al-Sultan near Jericho
Tel al-Sultan near Jericho

It is impossible not feel a sense of history strolling around the mounds and ruins at Tel al-Sultan, where remains of dwellings and fortifications dating back some 10,000 years have been unearthed. You will see what look like sand dunes and stairways (the oldest known stairways in the world); underneath, the layers of civilization beneath go back even further into the mists of history.

Tel al-Sultan near Jericho
Tel al-Sultan near Jericho

The remains of a round tower, thought to date from 8000 BCE, indicates that Jericho was possibly the world’s first fortified city; legend has it that the tower withstood seven earthquakes. Though a large portion of ancient Jericho remains unexcavated, Tel al-Sultan is an essential part of any trip to the city, and what has already been identified here is very well explained on signposts throughout the site.

Mount of Temptation & Monastery of the Qurantul (round trip 55NIS; 8am-9pm)

It was on the Mount of Temptation where, so we’re told, Jesus resisted Satan after his 40-day fast in the desert. The Monastery of the Qurantul marks the spot where the Devil urged Jesus to make a loaf of bread out of a stone (Matthew 4:1–11). It’s an incredible feat of engineering, cut into the cliff face with dramatic views over the Dead Sea to Jordan.

Opening times for the monastery are sporadic but as with all tourist attractions in Palestine it is best to go early – or at least a couple of hours before sunset.

Note that the caretaker may lock the door if he is showing big groups around, so it is worth hanging around a few minutes if you find it closed.

Cable cars stop just before the monastery, and even the short climb up the stairs to the front gate can be a struggle in the midday heat. They sometimes stop running without notice, making for a sweaty 400m climb. The juice sellers and a couple of restaurants provide a good spot to catch your breath.

Hisham’s Palace (Khirbet al-Mafjar; admission 10NIS; 8am-6pm)

Hisham’s Palace
Hisham’s Palace

A short drive north of Tel al-Sultan, this is a spot not to be missed. The sprawling winter hunting retreat of Caliph Hisham Ibn Abd al-Malik must have been magnificent on its creation in the 8th century, with its baths, mosaic floors and pillars – so much so that archaeologists have labelled it the ‘Versailles of the Middle East’. It was not fated to last, however – it was destroyed by an earthquake soon after its creation.

The caretaker will direct you to a cinema, where you will be shown a 20-minute video on the history of the site, which gives much-needed perspective for a walk around the ruins. A high point is an amazingly well-preserved ‘tree of life’ mosaic in the entertaining room of the bathhouse. On one side of the tree two deer graze peacefully, while on the other a deer is attacked by a lion. There are various interpretations of the mosaic, including the struggle between good and evil, peace and war, as well as good versus bad governance.

Wadi Qelt & Nabi Musa

Wadi Qelt
Wadi Qelt

The steep canyon of Wadi Qelt links Jerusalem to Jericho and has a number of interesting religious sites along its course, as well as springs, plants and wildlife, and often breathtaking views over the mountains and desert. The whole canyon is hikeable, although it would take a full day, and even in the spring and autumn the heat can be intense. The key sites of the wadi are linked to the highway that connects Jerusalem with Jericho and the Dead Sea, and are well signposted in both directions. See for more information the Wadi Qelt & Nabi Musa article.

Qasr al-Yahud (9am-4pm Apr-Oct, 9am-3pm Nov-Mar)
Qasr el Yahud Jordan River Baptizing8At an isolated spot on the Jordan River, on the border between Jordan and the West Bank, stands the reputed spot of Jesus’s baptism by John (Matthew 3), which began his ministry. John was based here because it was an important crossroads for passing traders, business people and soldiers, but the same cannot be said of the site today. It was only reopened to pilgrims in 2011; you must pass an Israeli checkpoint and drive through a deserted landscape surrounded by barbed wire and  minefields to reach a car park, from where it is a short walk down to the river.

Expect to see dozens of pilgrims, most in white T-shirts or smocks, taking turns in walking to the water and submerging themselves. The Jordan River is divided in the middle by a piece of wood – which denotes the border and prevents people from wading to the other side. Just meters away, armed Jordanian soldiers loll on a bench, facing their Israeli counterparts. Whether you are religious or not, it is a beautiful spot, and the site has been fully renovated with changing facilities, a gift  shop, a food and drink outlet and shaded areas where you can sit and admire the view.

Inn of the Good Samaritan (adult/child 21/9NIS; 8am-5pm Apr-Oct, 8am-4pm Nov-Mar)

Inn of the Good Samaritan
Inn of the Good Samaritan

Located just off the main road between Jerusalem and Jericho, this site is associated with the popular parable told in Luke 10: 25-37. In the story, Jesus describes a man who is robbed, beaten and left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A priest passes by and then a Levite but neither lends a hand to the stricken traveler. Finally, a Samaritan stops to help the stranger, dressing his wounds and bringing him to a nearby inn; thus ‘good Samaritan’ became a byword for  compassionate individual’.

Inn of the Good Samaritan
Inn of the Good Samaritan

Historians suggest that an Israelite rather than a Samaritan was the original hero of the story, and that a Greek translator mistakenly swapped the words while compiling the book of Luke.

Inn of the Good Samaritan
Inn of the Good Samaritan

Archaeologists have unearthed a Second Temple-era palace, presumably constructed by Herod, which may have been converted into the inn mentioned in the Bible. A church was added under the Byzantines, and during the Crusader period a khan (travellers inn) was erected. The ruins you can see today are a confection of foundations and mosaics from the different eras of construction. Also on the site is a new Israeli museum housing a collection of mosaics.

Jericho Cable Car (www.jericho-cablecar.com; 60NIS; 8am-8pm)

Jericho
Jericho

The Swiss-made red cable cars that ply the route between Tel al-Sultan and the Mount of Temptation are visible from throughout Jericho. Although they may appear dated, the 20-minute ride is a great way to see the city and the farms that dominate its outskirts. Even when the site is quiet, cars leave fairly regularly.Look out for the network of irrigation ditches that intersect the groves growing bananas and oranges, a technique used in this city for thousands of years.

Sleeping

Jericho’s accommodation scene is hardly burgeoning, but there is a handful of options for each price category.

sami-youth-hostel-2
Outside of Sami Youth Hostel

Sami Youth Hostel (02-232 4220; eyad_alalem@live.com; NIS 120)
The best budget option in Jericho, this guesthouse is nestled deep in the ramshackle refugee camp, with a dozen private rooms in a clean, quiet and enigmatically furnished two-story hostel. Coming into Jericho from Highway 90, take a left at the first roundabout, then continue straight – the guesthouse will be on your right. Failing that, ask any local for ‘Hotel Sami’ and they will point the way. The owner, Sami, speaks perfect English, and can advise on tours to the sights around Jericho.

Inside the Sami Youth Hostel
Inside the Sami Youth Hostel

Oasis Hotel (02-231 1200; http://www.intercontinental.com; d US$120-40, US$200)
Until 2014 this cavernous hotel was the Intercontinental Jericho, and the logo is still visible on the side of the building, one of the tallest in the city. Much of the decor has remained the same, and rooms are clean and modern, with baths and TVs.  The hotel also has two pools, a bar and helpful staff.

Oasis Hotel in Jericho
Oasis Hotel in Jericho

Jericho Resort Village (02-232 1255; http://www.jerichoresorts.com; s/d 350/450NIS, bungalows 500-550NIS)
Out in the north of the city by Hisham’s Palace, this resort hotel has two pools and a range of comfortable and well-furnished rooms, including modern chalets, doubles and singles. In 2014, the owners added two levels to the main building. It is popular with tour groups so be sure to book ahead.

Jericho Resort Village
Jericho Resort Village

Eating

felafel
felafel

The roads surrounding Jericho’s central square are packed with kebab and felafel stands, as well as small coffee shops. A kebab or sandwich is unlikely to cost more than 10NIS, and the park in the center of the roundabout is a lovely spot to sit, eat and watch the locals playing cards and smoking shisha.

Al Essawe (Main Sq; mains 15-45NIS; 6am-11pm daily)
On a corner overlooking Jericho’s main square, Al Essawe’s lovely 2nd-floor terrace is an excellent place to watch the world go by. The owner speaks English and the restaurant serves the usual Arabic fare, kebabs, felafel and mezze. Al Essawe’s speciality is barbecued chicken in lemon sauce. Coffee and shisha are served on the roof terrace.

Abu Omar (Ein al-Sultan St; mains 20-50NIS; 6am-midnight)
Next to the main square, this local favourite serves everything from felafel in pita (4NIS) to a half chicken dinner for two people (50NIS).

Rosanna Restaurant and Café (Jericho-Jerusalem Rd; 35-70NIS; 10am-late)
A good option for those staying either at Sami’s or the Oasis, Rosanna is walking distance from both hotels and serves Arabic and Western food in massive portions. In the evenings, films are projected onto a screen outside in the leafy garden, the centrepoint of which is a bubble fountain. Despite the signs, Rosanna no longer appears to serve alcohol, but the Oasis over the road has a good bar open 24 hours.

Getting There & Away

There are no direct service taxis from Jerusalem to Jericho. A private taxi ride from Jerusalem to Jericho (or vice versa) should cost around 400NIS. The best way to reach Jericho via public transport is from Ramallah, where buses leave regularly throughout the day. Ask around for the bus times, since they vary; they generally take around 90 minutes via a circuitous route to avoid the Qalandia checkpoint.Remember to bring a passport; you’ll need to show it on the way back  to Jerusalem.