Apr 10

Israel Cities – Places To Visit – Beersheba

Beersheva (Beersheba) is a Negev desert City in the south of Israel and is the seventh largest city in the country with a population of approximately 200,000.  It is also known as “The capital of the Negev”.

Archeological findings have suggested that people have lived in the area since the 4th millennium BC and that the city has been rebuilt many times over the centuries after being destroyed time and again.

In the Old Testament Bible, Beersheba is mentioned in the book of Genesis in connection with the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac who built an alter there, and Jacob. Later, the area became the territory of Shimon and Judah (Joshua 15:28 and 19:2). Beersheba is also linked in the bible to the prophet Elijah.  King Saul, who was Israel’s first king built a fort in Beersheba during his battle against the Amalekites.

Around the end of the 19th century when Palestine was controlled by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, a police station was built in an effort to keep the surrounding Bedouin population under control.  At that time a town was planned with the streets laid out in a grid pattern and then during the First World War a military railway was laid linking Beersheba to the existing Hejaz line. The rail link remained active until October 1917 when General Allenby’s troops made up of British and Australian cavalry, broke through the Turkish defenses and took control of the Wells of Beersheba.

During the time of the British Mandate of Palestine Beersheba became a key administrative centre. In 1928 during wide scale Arab rioting, 133 Jews were killed and 339 injured.  Many Jews left Beersheba and the rest of the Jewish population left after an Arab attack on a Jewish bus in 1936.

The 1947 U.N. Partition Plan included Beersheba in part of the allotted Arab territory and in 1948 the Egyptian army was stationed in Beersheba.  During Israel’s War of Independence Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who was convinced that Beersheba and the surrounding outposts would be of great importance to the security of the fledgling Jewish State, gave orders for the city to be placed under Israel’s control. On the 21st October 1948 after surrounding the Egyptian forces, Beersheba was in the hands of Israeli soldiers.

Today Beersheba is regarded as the gateway to the Negev and is a thriving modern city with a number of interesting places for local tourists and visitors from abroad to enjoy. Visit the Old Turkish Town with its well preserved old buildings and a wide selection of cheap stores and many ethnic restaurants.  On the edge of the old town there is Abraham’s Well, and the Negev Museum housed in what was the residence of the Turkish Governor. Just next to the Old Town is the British First World War Cemetery where British, Australian and New Zealand troops were laid to rest.

Beersheba also has some colorful and interesting markets, there is the municipal market which can be found in the area between the Old Town and the Central Bus Station and the Thursday Bedouin Market with its wide array of unusual merchandise that is located outside the city on the road to Eilat.

The Tel Beer Sheva Archeological Park outside the city is a Unesco World Heritage Site and well worth a visit.

Apr 05

Northern Israel – Israeli Cities – Caesarea

The town of Caesarea in Israel with its select neighborhoods, lovely gardens and impressive golf course is situated on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Caesarea - Roman TheatreAdjacent to the modern town is the Ancient Roman Port City and amazing archeological park, with the remains  from many periods that were uncovered during archeological excavations that took place during the 1950’s and 1960”s. The excavations uncovered multifaceted remnants of the Roman and Crusader cities that existed there.

Aquaduct in Caesarea IsraelIn the first century BCE King Herod, who was without doubt an architect of exceptional ability, established a city on the site Straton’s Tower which had been a Phoenician outpost and named it Caesarea in honor of Augustus Caesar. He also built a harbor so outstanding that it became a wonder of the ancient world. His planning and building of the ancient walled city included a magnificent palace, and facing the sea he built an Amphitheatre that is used today for concerts and is popular with visiting artists, a Hippodrome where chariot racing took place and a Citadel. The streets were paved and huge statues were placed in various positions.

During the time of Herod, an aqueduct was constructed that supplied water to the city through a network of pipes. It started at the foot of the Carmel at springs about 9 km north of Caesarea and according to the growth of the city it was repaired and enlarged. The aqueduct is clearly visible to this day.

During the Byzantine period a Christian academy was established in the city and churches were built.  At that time Christians, Samaritans and Jews who built synagogues lived side by side. During excavations the remains of a synagogue from the 5th century were uncovered north of the harbor. Found in the ruins of the Synagogue were carved Candelabra (menorot) and parts of an inscription in Hebrew listing the priestly courses in the Temple in Jerusalem, as well as a column with “shalom” inscribed on it.

The Arabs conquered Caesarea and both the population and the importance of Caesarea declined. Remains of a 3 meter thick wall that surrounded the Arab town in the 10th century were uncovered during excavations.

Restaurant in Caesarea IsraelDuring Crusader times King Baldwin I with the Frankish army conquered Caesarea and Eastern Christians and Muslims came to settle. Then in 1187 it was captured by Saladin, but retaken in 1191 by the English King Richard the Lionheart who exiled all the Muslim inhabitants. Caesarea remained a Crusader city until 1265 when it was captured by the Mamluks and its fortifications razed to the ground.

Visitors to the ancient city of Caesarea with its enthralling history will need plenty of time to walk around the ancient sites. It is a good idea to start the visit at the Travel and Time display with an interesting 10 minute visual multimedia experience leading the visitor from Phoenician times right up to Zionistic period. Then take in the Time Tower that has huge screens that enables visitors to take a virtual tour of the city.

For those interested in snorkeling or Scuba diving a visit Caesarea’s underwater museum which is unique in the world is a must. Other centuries old ruins and the great harbor that Herod built can be viewed here as well as a Roman Shipwreck and a ruined lighthouse.

Apr 01

Israel – biblical and historical sites – Capernaum (Kfar Nahum)

Capernaum (Kfar Nahum) is situated on the shores of Lake Kinneret (The Sea of Galilee), in the north of Israel. This ancient fishing village was inhabited between the years of 150 BC up to approximately AD 750.

Capernaum in IsraelCapernaum is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament however the earliest references to the ancient town were made by the Jewish historian Josephus who at the time of the Jewish-Roman war spent a night there and wrote about a connection with the village to a fertile spring.

Remains of a Synagogue in Capernaum IsraelIn 1838 the biblical scholar Edward Robinson while visiting the holy land identified correctly the remains of a synagogue at the place that is now known to be Capernaum. A partial excavation took place around 1865 but it was only in the early 20th century that more extensive excavations began to take place and the Synagogue was partially restored.

More recently it has been discovered that there were in fact two synagogues, the earliest from the first century CE and built from Black Basalt, the later one built sometime around the 4th century CE and built from white limestone. A major discovery was also made of a house believed to be St Peters house and an octagonal church.

The Franciscans and Greek Orthodox Church own and control the ruins. The area itself is considered holy by Christians and Jews alike however it has special interest for Christians because Jesus made it his home after he left Nazareth and the place where he performed a number of miracles.  He also chose his first four disciples from Capernaum, Peter, Andrew, James and John, and later on Matthew.The modern Franciscan church was built in 1990 on the site of St Peters house.Capernaum with and the Sea of Galilee in the background

The area of the Capernaum National Park is operated under the auspices of The Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the archeological part with the ruins is managed by the Franciscan Church. The Parks authority has constructed a walkway of about 3 ½ km connecting Capernaum to the Taghba churches that are situated nearby as well as a landing for boats that bring visitors from Tiberias.

When Pope John Paul II was in the Holy Land in March 2000, he paid a visit to Capernaum.

Mar 01

Israel – Holy Land Biblical Sites – Megiddo

Megiddo also known as Armageddon (mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible), is a Unesco World Heritage site situated in Northern Israel’s Jezreel Valley and is extensively regarded as the Holy Land’s most significant Biblical period site.

Megiddo in Northern IsraelArcheologists have uncovered the remnants of 26 civilizations at Tel Megiddo covering a period of 35 centuries and each surrounding valley and hill tells a biblical tale. Every army crossing this land in the past clashed in the area of Megiddo and in many cases decided the fate of empires which could explain why, in the Book of Revelation, Armageddon is named as the place where the great battle of “The End of  Days” will take place, when good will triumph over evil.

The excavations at Megiddo began in 1903 and it has since become the cradle of Israeli archeology answering practically every question that relates to the Iron and Bronze Ages in the Land of the Bible. The history of the city of Megiddo goes back approximately 5000 years but was completely destroyed during the Persian Invasion about 2,300 years ago, the only thing left is the ruins of King Solomon’s stables and fortress and the excavations of 26 civilizations.

Tel Megiddo - IsraelTunnel at Megiddo IsraelIn 2005 only a short way down the road from Megiddo an astonishing discovery was made. When digging was carried out for the purpose of expanding a prison in the area a mosaic floor was discovered which had inscriptions written in Greek.  One was in honour of a woman called Akeptos which read “lover of God, who contributed the Table to God, Jesus Christ as a memorial”   Archeologists are in the process of renovating the site and believe that the inscriptions could make this the oldest Christian Church that has ever been found.

During the first ever visit of a Pope to the Holy Land in 1964, Megiddo was chosen as the place for the historic meeting of Pope Paul the VI and the President of the State of Israel.

It also was the archeological site used as the background of James Michener’s famous bestselling book “The Source”.

Oct 23

Historical Sites in Israel – Israeli Cities – The Old City Of Jerusalem

The ancient city of Jerusalem has been continuously inhabited for over 3000 years and is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Outside Wall of the Old City Of JerusalemFor the Jews it is the place where the Jewish Patriarch Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah.  In approximately 1000 BCE King David proclaimed Jerusalem as the eternal capital and spiritual centre of the Jewish people.  It is also the spot where King David’s son King Solomon built the First Temple in about 670 BCE directly over the rock of Mt Moriah.

Jerusalem is also holy to Christians as this is the place where Jesus’ ministry was marked by miracles as where he made a triumphal entry into the city and where the “Last Supper” (Passover Seder) took place on Mt Zion in 30 CE. This is also where Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane took place, followed by the trial, condemnation and the route of the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross) to Calvary or Golgotha. Christian Pilgrimages to the Holy Land always include a visit to  the Old City of Jerusalem including a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

More than a thousand years after The First Temple was built,  the Dome of the Rock was built over the site of Solomon’s Holy Temple, on what is known as the Temple Mount (Mt Moriah), as a shrine for Islamic pilgrims who believe that it was the site where Mohammed ascended to heaven and is thus holy for Muslims.

There is a mystical quality about Jerusalem that is unique and does not exist anywhere else in the world perhaps because of its exciting and splendid history and the hallowed atmosphere that surrounds all the holy sites. The captivating feeling in Jerusalem also probably emanates from the narrow alleys, vivid markets, magnificent stone walls and ancient buildings.

The city is surrounded by a wall which is nearly 4 km long and has seven gates. There are many towers including the Tower of David and the city is divided into 4 quarters:

The Jewish Quarter
The Christian Quarter
The Armenian Quarter
The Moslem Quarter

Sep 11

Tourist Sites in Israel – historical places in Israel – Masada

The Unesco World heritage site of Masada is situated not far from the shores of the Dead Sea in Israel. This ancient and majestic fortress is located on the top of a sheer rock cliff that rises 400 meters above the desert that surrounds it.

View from MasadaThe fortress was built originally in the second century BCE by a Judean King and at that time was one of eight other strongholds in the desert which were used to protect the land against the Seleucid armies.

In the first century BCE Herod continued the development of these fortresses and Masada in particular by adding bath houses, huge storage areas to keep supplies in and even swimming pools and turning them into magnificent and bold palaces.

The most dominant buildings at the site are the Western Palace with its lovely geometric mosaic floor and without doubt the palace on the north end which balances down the rock in terraces. This palace still has a few stunning marble columns and attractive frescoes that remain from the original construction.

The story of Masada was recorded by the famous historian Josephus Flavius; he wrote that about 75 year after the death of Herod the Great, a Jewish revolt against the Romans began and a group of Jewish rebels took control of the fortress of Masada. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE these rebels were joined by a group of Zealots and their families who had escaped from Jerusalem.

For a period of time the rebels harried and attacked the Roman forces wherever and whenever it was possible and eventually  Roman soldiers under the command of Lucius Flavius Silva besieged Masada. The Jewish Zealots managed to hold out for about 3 years during which time the Romans built a rampart up the cliff side.

MasadaJosephus described how when the Romans broke through the defenses they found that all 950 Jewish rebels defending Masada had taken part in a mass suicide. The fall of Masada brought an end to the Jewish State that lasted for nearly 1,900 years

During excavations of the site that took place in the early 1960’s under the direction of Yigal Yadin and conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem a great deal of evidence for the siege was found, however only about 30 skeletons were uncovered during the dig.

Today Masada holds a special legendary status for the Jewish people and after Jerusalem it has become one of the most popular tourist sites. When Moshe Dayan was chief of staff he introduced a practice for soldiers completing their basic training to hold their swearing in ceremony on the top of Masada. This ceremony begins with the soldiers climbing Masada during the night and ends with the declaration that “Masada shall not fall again”