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Jerusalem’s history consists mostly of wars and struggles. Its strategic location was desired by many rulers, and attracted many armies. This city has known war and peace, love and hate, poverty and riches, destruction and renewal, pain and happiness.
According to Jewish tradition, the world was created 5766 years ago with the foundation stone on Mount Moriah (under the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount). This is where an important royal Canaanite city was built (about 4,000 years ago) that was conquered from the Jebusites by King David in 1004 BC and became the capital of his kingdom and a holy city. David’s son Solomon built the First Temple and his descendants (Hezekiah, Zedekiah and the Judean Kings) continued to enlarge and fortify the city’s boundaries, and built a water supply system (Hezekiah’s tunnel). These efforts paid off in the long run, and when King Sennacherib of Assyria besieged Jerusalem he could not subdue the city and was forced to withdraw.
Only in 586 BC was the Jewish capital overwhelmed by Nebuchadnezzar. The city was destroyed and most of its inhabitants were exiled to Babylon. In 538 BC Xerxes, the King of Persia, conquered the city, and permitted the exiled Jews to return to Judea and Jerusalem where they built the Second Temple. For 370 years Judea was an autonomous district, first under the Persians, then the Greeks. After the Hasmonean Revolt in 168 BC, Jerusalem became the capital of a Kingdom, which was later conquered by the Roman Empire. King Herod the Great further expanded the Temple in the years 73-74 BC.
At the end of the Second Temple period Jerusalem was plagued with great social and religious tensions. During this period Jesus was preaching in Nazareth. In 66 CE the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire and took over Jerusalem. The suppression of this revolt ended in 70 CE, and the Romans, led by Titus, conquered the capital, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the city’s inhabitants. For the next 60 years Jerusalem was desolate, until the Bar Kokhba Revolt, when the Jews returned. In 135 CE, the Romans rebuilt the city and named it Aelia Capitolina and barred the Jews from living there.
After the Roman Empire accepted Christianity in 324 (and later became the Byzantine Empire), Jerusalem became an important city. The sites connected with Jesus’ life and death were located and declared holy, and many magnificent churches were built, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the Church of the Resurrection) and the “Mother of all the Churches,” on Mt. Zion.
In 638 the Muslims conquered Jerusalem and built the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque. Following the Muslim conquest the Jews returned to Jerusalem, and around the 10th century this city again became the spiritual capital for the Jews of the Land of Israel.
Eventually Europe set their eyes on Jerusalem as well, and in 1099 they conquered the city, massacred the Jewish and Muslim residents, and made Jerusalem their own capital. Less than 100 years later, in 1187, the Crusaders were defeated by Saladin in the battle of Khitin. The Jews then returned to Jerusalem and have been here ever since.
In 1250 the Mamluk dynasty rose to power in Egypt. Its rulers conquered the region and became the new lords of Jerusalem. In 1517 the Ottoman Empire spread to Jerusalem and for 400 years it was under Turkish rule. During the first 100 years of Turkish rule the city flourished, and its walls were rebuilt. In the second half of the 16th century, as the Ottoman Empire began to decline, so did Jerusalem’s fortunes.
By the beginning of the 19th century Jerusalem was a small neglected city inside its walls, and only towards the end of the century did the New City begin to grow thanks to the generosity of British philanthropist Moshe Montifiore who financed the construction of Mishkenot Sha’ananim. The success of this new neighborhood led to more neighborhoods being built outside the walls. More Jews began moving to Jerusalem, and they became a majority of the population in 1873.
In 1917, with the start of the British Mandate period, Jerusalem retained its status as the capital of the land. When Israel was established in 1948, Jerusalem was declared the state capital, and all the major government institutions were built here.
During the War of Independence, following bloody battles and ceasefire agreements, Jerusalem was left divided between Israel and Jordan, until the capital’s liberation in the Six Day War in 1967, when the two parts of the city were united and Jerusalem became Israel’s largest city.
Jerusalem is a city of overwhelming emotions, a city that promises a religious and spiritual experience, excitement and pleasure, interesting tours and entertaining adventures. Here, alongside Jerusalem’s fascinating historic and archaeological sites, there are amazingly modern tourist attractions for all lovers of culture, the arts, theater and music, architecture and gastronomic delights.
The Via Dolorosa
Via Dolorosa is the road Jesus walked from the place of Pontius Pilate’s sentencing to Golgotha, which means “way of sorrows.” The beautiful hymn that begins “On a hill far away…” has led many to picture this last road as a pastoral, quiet scene, a winding path, perhaps among old olive trees, up a mountain to where crosses stand starkly against the sky. Walking on the real street in Old Jerusalem that bears the name “Via Dolorosa” means replacing these images with other, even more meaningful ones that will bring you closer to moments you will always hold precious.
The street can be noisy – with vendors vying for your attention, shouting out their products. Old stone buildings rise up on either side, and instead of a tree-lined country lane, seemingly endless stone steps ascend through the city. Christian visitors are sometimes overcome with the realization that this is almost exactly what Jesus would have seen that Friday. “It was Passover week; Jerusalem was bursting at the seams with pilgrims. Many would have looked away for fear of the Romans. Indeed, the Romans forced Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross” (Mark 15:21).
For as long as Christians have been coming to the Holy City, they have followed Jesus’ last steps. At least for the past 1,000 years, it is the same path visitors walk today. As time went on, the sacred stories became sacred landmarks – the Stations of the Cross.
“There are fourteen stations. The first is the Praetorian, where Pilate condemned Jesus and Jesus took up the cross” (Mark 15:15). “A convent now stands over a small part of this huge fortress. In its basement are ancient flagstones, by tradition known as the Gabata” (John 19:13), or stone pavement. “Beneath the pavement is a gigantic water cistern built by Herod the Great, which might have quenched the thirst of the Roman soldiers who taunted Jesus” (Matt. 27: 27-31).
Emerging from the antiquities, about 20 feet below the present road, visitors find the Stations of the Cross modestly marked. When the Jerusalem Municipality found ancient stones during maintenance work some years ago, they repaved the present Via Dolorosa with them. Past the Praetorian is station three, where Jesus fell with the cross; local tradition says this event recurred, and it is marked by stations two more times. The fourth station is where Simon took up the cross. Each station represents a part of the story: “Jesus meets Mary, a noble woman of Jerusalem wipes the sweat from Jesus’ brow; Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem” (Luke 23:27-30), and onward to the last stations the crucifixion and burial, located within the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Via Dolorosa setting, despite – or because of – its present-day atmosphere, imparts an authentic sense of Jerusalem as Jesus experienced the city in those last hours.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
This is where Orthodox and Catholic Christians mark the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Christians of other denominations can also explore the world of what scholars call the “historic churches.” Six denominations celebrate their rites in and around the cavernous house of worship. These communities are some of Chistianity’s oldest groups. Among the lesser known churches in the West, the Ethiopians, for example, trace their Christian origins back to Philip’s conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-34), and listen to the Syriac Orthodox prayers in Aramaic, which might be the only chance you’ll ever have to hear the language Jesus used on a daily basis.
Some Christians prefer to relate to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus at the Garden Tomb. Moreover, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre can be a significant stop in understanding both contemporary Christianity and its long and complex history. When inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you’ll need a flashlight to see the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The tomb of Jesus, church historians say, was destroyed by the Muslim Caliph Hakim in 1009. Its surviving portions were covered up by the Edicule, a structure built in the Rotunda by the Russian Orthodox in the early nineteenth century when they wielded major influence in the church.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is said to be one of the most complex structures in existence. The first structure built was, of all things, a pagan shrine built in the second century by Emperor Hadrian. The emperor used stones from the ruined Temple as a reminder to both Jews and Christians that the Romans were in charge of their holy places. When Constantine built the first church here in the fourth century, he placed it where his mother, Queen Helene, is said to have found a piece of the cross. That church eventually extended across the equivalent of two blocks of what is now today’s Old City.
The Old City
At Jerusalem’s heart is the Old City, which is surrounded by a wall and divided into four quarters – Jewish, Armenian, Christian, and Muslim. Inside the walls are the important holy sites of the three major religions: the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. The Western Wall plaza is visited by millions of worshipers every year. The Wall is a remnant of the Holy Temple, where prayers are offered and notes containing heartfelt wishes are wedged between the crevices.
Surrounding the Western Wall are other important Jewish sites – the Western Wall Tunnels, the unique Davidson Center, the Jewish quarter with its magnificent Cardo and David’s Citadel towering proudly in its beauty. South of the Old City is the City of David, from which the ancient Canaanite and Israelite Jerusalem grew. This is a fascinating site with amazing findings that provide an unforgettable experience.
Jerusalem is also very important to Christianity, as Jesus Christ lived and died there. The Christian quarter alone houses some 40 religious buildings (churches, monasteries and pilgrims’ hostels). One of the most prominent and important sites in the Christian quarter is the Via Dolorosa, the “Way of Sorrows,” Jesus’ final path, which according to Christian tradition led from the courthouse to Golgotha Hill, where he was crucified and buried. Many pilgrims come to Jerusalem to follow Jesus’ footsteps along a route that starts in the Muslim Quarter, at Lions’ Gate, and passes the 14 stations of the cross, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Several of the most important Christian relics are housed in this church, including the anointing stone (on which Jesus’ body was laid before his burial) and Jesus’ grave. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a pilgrimage site for millions of Christians from all over the world.
Southwest of the Old City is Mt. Zion, where the Dormition Abbey was built which according to Christian tradition is where Mary spent her last night. The abbey was re-built about 100 years ago and in the basement there is a statue of the sleeping Mary. Beside the abbey is the Room of the Last Supper, where Jesus ate his last meal.
East of the Old City is the Mount of Olives, where there are other important Christian sites and several churches: The Ascension, Pater Noster, Dominus Flevit, Mary Magdalene, Gethsemane, Lazarus, and Abraham’s Monastery. According to Christian tradition, Mary’s tomb is in the Kidron Valley, below the Mt. of Olives.
Apart from the holy places throughout the Old City, there are several charming sites that are well worth visiting. There is a wonderful market, which is one big sensual celebration. Here you can buy Armenian-style decorated ceramics, beautiful strings of beads, authentic clothing, embroidered cushions, colorful wool carpets, candles and amazing glassware, and countless different souvenirs. From the promenade along the tops of the Old City walls you can look out over the Old City and the New City. Tours along the walls are a wonderful night-time activity, too, when the city’s lights sparkle making the sights even more unforgettable. The Armenian Quarter has its own unique charm and is well worth visiting.
The Temple Mount
When King Solomon constructed his first Temple in Jerusalem, it became the most important cult site of the monotheistic world, and is still revered by Jews and Muslims today. Solomon (960 – 900 BC) built the temple that David was not allowed to, using Phoenician craftsmen from the neighboring kingdom of Tyre (See the lengthy account of the process in 1 Kings).
In 586 BC the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians as Israelite's continued to be trapped between warlike Southern and Northern empires. The inhabitants of Judea were killed or taken into exile (excepting the farmers). It was only after fifty years and the auspicious intervention of Persia, the new inheritors of imperial power, that they had the opportunity to return and rebuild the Temple, the thought of returning had sustained many of them during their exile (See Ezra and Nehemiah).
This hastily constructed Temple stood until the Hasmonaeans shored it up in 186 BC, but was pulled down by Herod the Great in 20 BC who began a brand new building that was finished sixty years after his death. He also constructed a much larger square platform around the hill to allow the Gentiles to go there without profaning the sacred areas towards the temple itself, and it is this platform that is the “Temple Mount” to this day.
This temple was destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish revolt in 70 AD, just six years after its completion. The platform was, however, allowed to remain and it became the basis for a temple to Jupiter in the new Hadrian city of Aelia Capitoline, surviving until the Byzantine period when the area was turned into a rubbish dump, proving visibly to the recently pagan that God had turned his favor from Jew to Gentile Christian. Such was the state when Omar the first caliph marched triumphantly into the city and, having forced the Christian Patriarch to crawl on his hands and knees from the Holy Sepulcher to the Mount as penance for desecrating it,and built the Dome of the Rock where the temple had stood six hundred years prior.
The Dome of Rock
This magnificent octagon that dominates the Old City is a shrine for Islam's third most holy site. The piece of black stone it covers is the mountain where Abraham tried to sacrifice Ishmael (not Isaac as Jews and Christians believe), the site of the temple of Solomon, and the place from whence Mohammed departed skywards for his famous encounter with the heavenly - ”Night Journey”.
The building took three years to complete, from 688 to 691, and was erected as a deliberate snub to Christians and Jews, whose faith Islam was supposed to supersede. The location had borrowed Judaism’s heritage and most holy sight—the Temple Mount— the building was constructed to have a larger dome than that of the Holy Sepulcher’s, and Syrian Christians were forced to Lay mosaics inside containing verses taken from the Koran about Christian misguided belief in the Trinity.
The Dome of the Rock has survived multiple earthquakes thus far, being built firmly on rock, and has never been destroyed, merely renovated. The new external tiling was put on in 1963 and the dome was re-gilded in 1993-94.
The Western Wall
The Western Wall is the last remnant of the Jerusalem Temple that was destroyed 2,000 years ago by the Romans. The sight of crowds at prayer here inspires many visitors to send up a prayer of their own, in the spirit of King Solomon’s petition that God hear everyone at this sacred place (1 Kings 8:41-43).
The rest of the wall’s 1,455 feet await you at the nearby Western Wall Tunnel. A fascinating moving model reminds you of a Passover pilgrimage of the child Jesus (Luke 2:46); you will see where Peter healed a beggar (Acts 3:7) and where Jesus confronted the merchants and money- changers (John 2:3-6; Matt. 21:12-13).
The tunnels were created by numerous arches and side-by-side supporting staircases going from the city to the Temple Mount. In ancient times there was a shallow valley called the Tyropaean running along the Western side of the Temple Mount (now filled in due to constant demolition and rebuilding) that separated the rich Herodian quarter from the Temple. These pathways still hold up the streets today, and the tunnel goes directly underneath the Muslim quarter.
Garden of Gethsemane
Visitors to the Garden of Gethsemane are amazed when they learn that the gnarled olive trees they see were just young saplings when Jesus came here with the disciples on that fateful night after the Last Supper (Matt. 26:36; Mark 14:32; John 18:1). Today the ancient trees rise from manicured flower beds; in Jesus’ time this would have been an olive grove where an olive-oil press – Gethsemane in Greek – was located.
The impressive Church of All Nations, built in the 1920’s over earlier churches, relates the events of this place in brilliantly detailed floor-to ceiling mosaics: Jesus praying alone (Mark 14:35-36); Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (Matt. 26:48); the cutting off of the ear of the High Priest’s servant (Mark 14:47).
Mount of Olive
Located east of Jerusalem’s Old City and separating it from the Judea Desert, the Mount of Olives is one of the most prominent sites in the vicinity mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. It’s first mentioned as King David’s escape route during the rebellion of his son Absalom, then later by the prophets; but it is most often referred to in the New Testament as being the route from Jerusalem to Bethany where Jesus taught his pupils and where he wept over Jerusalem. Here, the Dominus Flevit Church was built by the Franciscan order in 1954 and was designed by A. Barluzzi in the shape of a tear atop the remains of a Byzantine church.
At the foot of the mountain, adjacent to the Church of All Nations, is the Garden of Gethsemane (Gat Shemanim- oil press in Hebrew), in which one can find the golden, turreted Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalene. Beside the compound of churches, adjacent to Mount Scopus to the north, where the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Basilica Eleona, and the convent of Pater Noster are located, is a cemetery that faces Jerusalem all along its western slopes.
It is believed to be the place where God will begin to redeem the dead when the Messiah comes, Jews have always sought to be buried here. The most well known of these graves actually lie at the foot of the mountain, flushed against the Old City walls, including the Tomb Of Zechariah, the tombs of the sons of Hezir and Yad Absalom. Further up, among the 150,000 graves in the Jewish cemetery, one may find the final resting places of Jewish philosopher Nahmanides, Hebrew language reviver Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Chief Rabbis Avraham Isaac Kook and Shlomo Goren and media mogul Robert Maxwell.
Presently, the Jerusalem Municipality in conjunction with the Prime Minister’s Office is embarking upon an ambitious renewal and development project for the entire site. The 100 million shekel project includes the renovation of thousands of graves destroyed during the Jordanian rule over Eastern Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967 and the development and maintenance of roads, fences and a tourist information center. The project is expected to last for five years, due to the religiously sensitive nature of the area, which inhibits the use of heavy machinery.
The City of David
The City of David is the birthplace of the city of Jerusalem, the place where King David established his kingdom, and where the history of the People of Israel was written. It is within walking distance from the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, and is one of the most exciting sites in Israel. Visitors come from all over the world to see the physical connection between the stories of the Bible and reality, the place where the Holy City started.
In the year 1004 BC, King David conquered the city from the Jebusites and established it as his capital. It was here the People of Israel were united under King David’s rule, where the Holy Ark was brought, and where the First Temple was built by King Solomon, King David’s son.
Today the City of David is an archaeological park that tells the story of the establishment of Jerusalem, its wars and hardships, its prophets and kings, and the history of the Jews during Biblical times. The remains of the city are present in the ancient stones and the thousands of shards that cover the pathways between the buildings. Among the archaeological ruins are large elaborate houses that bear witness to the high social status of the city’s residents, Warren’s Shaft leading to the water tunnel that was used to transport water from the Gikhon spring outside the city, and the remains of one of several towers that was used to defend the well. It is thought that King Solomon was anointed and crowned king of Israel at this site. Among the ruins found in the city were personal seals for signing letters and documents bearing the names their owners – people who were mentioned in the bible.
One of the most fascinating parts of the City of David is the tunnel of Shiloh – a 533-meter-long tunnel that was carved during the time of King Hezkiyahu. The tunnel extends from the city to the well at Shiloh, and is an astounding feat of engineering. Its builders carved the tunnel through solid rock beginning from opposite ends and succeeded in making the two sides meet in the middle. Visitors can walk through the tunnel which is partially filled with water, and come out at the pools of Shiloh.
The City of David and its remains and historical significance have made it an important and exciting tourist site.
More information about the City of David is available at the website: http://www.cityofdavid.org.il
The Garden Tomb
Some historians thinks this is the site of the burial and Resurrection of Jesus, and despite doubts of veracity, it is well worth a visit for any tour group simply for the atmosphere of peace and the beauty of the gardens. The guides are warm and kind, and there is ample room to hold church services.
The location was decided upon in 1884 by General Gordon when he found the “corruption” of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by the historic denominations intolerable. Gordon was looking for “A green hill far away without a city wall”, and upon finding the Sepulcher within the walls became convinced it was in the wrong place. Looking out from Damascus gate he saw a skull-like hillside opposite and felt certain it was “Golgotha”: subsequent excavations at the site found a tomb close by that was immediately declared to be Jesus’ and the picture as found in John 19 was complete. It was all confirmed except for some disagreements over the line of the wall from First Century Jerusalem. Questions regarding the nature of limestone’s decay and the layouts of First Century CE tombs versus Eighth Century BC tombs still cause major disagreement today.
Monastery of the Order of the Sisters of Zion
The Monastery of the Order of the Sisters of Zion is located on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City. According to a later tradition, Jesus was brought here after his trial, and it was here that Pontius Pilate presented him to the people. The monastery also has an underground pool, a small archaeological museum and a balcony that overlooks the Temple Mount.
Nazareth, or Natsrat in Hebrew, is the cradle of Christianity. Its where, according to tradition, the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the place where Jesus spent his youth. Nazareth, in the lower Galilee, is located in the heart of a valley surrounded by mountains that embrace several of the most important Christian sites in the world. Although this is a city of religion, faith, spirituality, and holiness, it is also has a rich history, fascinating archaeology, modern culture, and a Middle Eastern charm.
Nazareth, which began as a small Jewish village about 2,000 years ago, became a stronghold of Christianity during the Byzantine period, just a few hundred years later. During that time the name Nazareth spread far and wide, and the yearnings to see the place where the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ had lived turned the city into a popular pilgrimage site. These visits led to the building of the city’s first church – the Church of the Annunciation at the traditional site of Joseph and Mary’s home. Many more churches have been built throughout the city, but they were destroyed and rebuilt several times with the changes in Muslim and Christian rulers over the centuries. In the 19th century Nazareth attracted a renewed interest from the Christians who then returned to the city and rebuilt the churches and monasteries. Today Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel and has about 30 churches and monasteries, as well as mosques and ancient synagogues.
A tour of Nazareth is like reliving its various periods. Every era left behind it a powerful symbol that has become a delightful and popular tourist site in the modern day. Most of the sites are located in the Old City, which were built in the mid-19th century in a charming, Middle Eastern, architectural style.
There are many ancient churches in the Old City, with the Church of the Annunciation heading the list. The rebuilt church kept parts from the previous churches from the Crusader and Byzantine periods. The church also houses an impressive collection of paintings.
Right next to this church is the Church of Saint Joseph which was built on the ruins of agricultural buildings where, according to tradition, Joseph, Mary’s husband, had his carpentry shop. While the Church of the Annunciation was built on the site of Mary’s home, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation is built over Mary’s Well, from which Jesus mother is said to have drank. This structure is from the Crusader period and contains several interesting frescoes. Right next to Mary’s Well is the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, and inside it, a Crusader hall. According to tradition, this is the location of the synagogue in which Jesus prayed.
Among the many churches in Nazareth are the Mensa Christi Church, the Maronite Church, St. Gabriel’s Church, and the Salesian Church. The Old City also has important buildings from the Ottoman period, including the Saraya, or Government House, built by Daher el Omar, the governor of the Galilee in the 18th century, and the White Mosque, which is used today as a house of prayer and an education and culture center. The White Mosque also houses a museum that exhibits Nazareth’s history.
No tour of Nazareth’s Old City would be complete without a visit to the local market, which is a popular attraction due to the colorful stalls and its variety of merchandise. In the market you can enjoy a visual feast of fashionable fabrics, taste the spices and local foods, and buy artwork and souvenirs. All the sounds, sights, smells and flavors provide an authentic Middle Eastern experience.
Nazareth is full of fascinating and lovely corners that will touch your heart to their beauty. Another place that is worth visiting is the Nabi Sain ridge promenade. From there you can visit the ancient Turkish bath house discovered during renovations to one of the city’s stores, take a peek at a fancy manor house with a display of the riches and customs of the Ottoman upper class in the 19th century, including some amazing frescoes. Also worth visiting is the Greek Orthodox bishop’s house, where you can walk through a series of underground passages in the courtyard. Another interesting site is the compound built by the Russians as a hostel for pilgrims.
Nazareth, which has welcomed pilgrims for centuries, has Christian hostels and fancy hotels for the comfort of the tourists who throng to this important site, especially around Christmas. Dozens of restaurants serve delicious foods with wonderfully aromatic foods that attract visitors all year long. Nazareth is glorious during Christmas, when the city is decorated for the holiday and its colors and excitement join the holy atmosphere and the sounds of prayer emanating from the city’s churches.
Basilica of Annunciation
The basilica is one of the world’s most holy Christian Liturgical sites, built on the original site of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus by the Angel Gabriel. The central grotto is believed to have been the home of Mary. The basilica was built in 1969 on the site where it is believed that Jesus was enunciated. This church is a must for almost any Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims.
The basilica is one of the world’s most holy Christian Liturgical sites, built on the traditional site of the annunciation by the Angel Gabriel of the birth of Jesus. The central grotto is believed to have been the home of Mary. The basilica was built in 1969 on the site of crusader and Byzantine remains. This church is a must for almost any Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims.
Sea of Galilee
The Kineret, or Sea of Galilee, is Israel’s largest freshwater reservoir, and is also the country’s largest and most important source of drinking water. For this and other reasons, the Kineret has become an important national symbol and also has a wonderful tourist center.
Kineret’s beaches offer a wide variety of beach types. Some have soft sand, while others are rocky; some beaches are narrow while others are very wide. Either way, the beaches are a great place to relax, and they also offer many attractions for all ages. Most of the beaches allow nature-lovers to sleep in camping areas on the sand, while there are also hostels, guest houses, and beachfront hotels. Most of the beaches also offer various types of water sports and water activities, and also has recreational boating, water parks, food, and shopping.
The beaches surrounding the Kineret is also a perfect starting point for wonderful tours of the area. Some of the most popular nature sites are the Jordan Park, the Beit Tsida Nature Reserve, Khamat Gader, and Naharayim. There is also the lower Golan Heights region, which borders on the Kineret and is full of swift flowing streams, historic sites and nature reserves.
The Kineret played an important role in the early years of Christianity and is now a pilgrimage destination for many Christians. According to Christian tradition, Jesus lived, preached and performed his miracles in the Kineret and the surrounding region. It was here that he walked on water, and the miracle of the loaves and fishes occurred in nearby Kfar Nakhum (Capernaum). Other nearby historic sites include Migdal, Tel Hadar, Ubeidiya (Israel’s most important prehistoric site), Beit Tsida, Kibbutz Dganya Alef, Moshavat Kineret and the city of Tiberias.
At Capernaum – also known as Jesus’ “own town” (Matt. 9:1) – “walking where Jesus walked” takes on a thrilling new meaning. As you sit on the stone benches of Capernaum’s ancient synagogue, you’ll be reminded that right here, Jesus taught (Mark 1:21; John 6:59) and healed a man possessed by an evil spirit (Mark 1:23-27).
These ruins, which consist of homes with ordinary tools of daily life to intricately decorated stone carvings, are powerful reminders of Jesus’ prediction about this town (Matt. 11:23). A must visit is the house of Peter, where it is said that Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Matt. 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31). Peter’s house is a simple dwelling, like many others that archaeologists have unearthed in this small fishing and farming village.
But unlike the others, here Christian pilgrims over the centuries left no less than 131 inscriptions on the walls. Jesus’ name appears frequently, as does Peter’s, along with crosses, pilgrims’ names and blessings.
Eventually, in the mid-fourth century, a large church was built, whose mosaic floor you can still see, with Peter’s house as its centerpiece. Some years ago a modern church went up above the ruins. These walls, old and new, attest to the continuing reverence for the site of one of the best-loved healing stories of the Gospels, here in the heart of Capernaum, the center of Jesus’ Galilee ministry.