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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Israel.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Israel.
This isolated mountaintop fortress, around 1,300 ft (440 m) above the banks of the Dead Sea, is believed to be the location of the oldest synagogue in the world. Masada was fortified as early as the 1st or 2nd century BC and then enlarged and reinforced by Herod the Great, who added two luxurious palace complexes. On Herod’s death, the fortress passed into Roman hands, but it was captured in AD 66 during the First Revolt by Jews of the Zealot sect. After the Romans crushed the rebels in Jerusalem, Masada remained the last Jewish stronghold. It was heroically defended for more than two years before the walls were breached by the Romans in AD 73.
The cliff-top plateau of Masada is surrounded by two walls, 4,593 ft (1,400 m) long and 13 ft (4 m) wide. Within, King Herod built palaces, barracks, and storehouses. His private retreat, the splendid northern Hanging Palace, extended over three terraces, ait into the cliff face and connected by steep staircases. The rooms were lavishly decorated with mosaic floors. Walls and ceilings were painted to resemble stone and marble, and elegant columns surrounded balconies and courtyards. His other residence, the larger Western Palace, served as the administrative center and contained Herod’s throne room and apartments.
Around the time of Herod’s death in 4 BC, the inhabitants of Masada became embroiled in a rebellion against Rome. The uprising was led by Judas of Galilee, founder of the Zealots, a militant Jewish sect that vehemently opposed the Romans because of their pagan beliefs.
The Romans crushed the rebellion and took Masada. In AD 66, at the start of the First Jewish Revolt, the Zealots regained the mountaintop. They lived among the palaces, using the fortress as a base to conduct raids against the Romans. At the time of the Roman siege of Masada, there were 1,000 inhabitants.
Herod was born in 73 BC, the son of a Jewish father, Anti pater, and an Arab mother, Cyprus. Herod, like his father, was a practicing Jew. Antipater was the right-hand man of Hyrcanus, King of Judaea (r. 76-30 BC), and instrumental in Herod’s first appointment at the age of 16 as governor of Galilee. With cunning and ruthlessness, Herod moved up the political ladder. He married the king’s daughter, found favor with his Roman overlords, and was ultimately crowned king of Judaea himself in 37 BC. He embarked on a massive building program, which included a modern port, Caesarea, fortresses such as Masada, and the grand reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Orthodox Jews, however, considered him racially impure and were incensed by his tyrannical rule and his excessive taxes.
This stands at the head of a winding path that leads to the reservoirs below.
Masada’ shot baths are one of the best-preserved parts of the fortress. The columns on which the original floor was raised, to allow hot air to circulate underneath and heat the room, can still be seen.
Part of the large Northern Palace complex, this was Herod’s private residence. It was built on three levels; the middle terrace had a circular hall used for entertaining, the lower terrace had a bathhouse.
As an alternative to the cable car, visitors can reach the fort by hiking up the steep winding path on the mountain’s east side.
This is a small building with niches for funerary urns; it is thought the urns held the ashes of non- Jewish members of Herod’s court.
A large number of pilgrims visit this rocky mountain citadel every year. The cable car was in stalled to ease their tiring journey.
At the foot of the mountain, Herod built dams and canals that collected the seasonal rainwater to fill cisterns on the northeastern side of the fortress. This water was then carried by donkey to the cisterns on top of the rock, such as this one in the southern part of the plateau.
Possibly built by Herod, this synagogue is thought to be the oldest in the world. The stone seats were added by the Zealots.
Used for receptions and the accommodation of Herod’s guests, the Western Palace was richly decorated, with mosaic floors and frescoes adorning the walls.
The story of the Roman siege of Masada, and the mass suicide of the Jewish inhabitants, was told by two women survivors. They had escaped the killings and the devastating fire lit by the last man before he, too, took his life, by hiding with their children in a cave.
According to a 1st-century account by Roman historian Flavius Josephus, the Roman legions laying siege to Masada numbered about 10,000 men. To prevent the Jewish rebels from escaping, the Romans surrounded the mountain with a ring of eight camps, linked by walls-an arrangement that can still be seen today.
In order to make their attack, the Romans built an enormous earthen ramp up the side of the mountain. Once this had been completed, a tower was constructed against the walls. From the shelter of this tower, the Romans set to work with a battering ram. The defenders hastily erected an inner defensive wall, but this proved little obstacle and Masada fell when it was breached. Rather than submit to capture, slavery, or execution, the Jews inside the fortress chose to commit mass suicide. Josephus relates how each man was responsible for killing his own family.
37-31 BC: King Herod starts his grandiose building project.
1963: Excavations of the Masada stronghold begin.
2001: UNESCO declares Masada a World Heritage Site.
Considered one of the first and greatest achievements of Islamic architecture, the Dome of the Rock is a shrine constructed in AD 688-91 by the Omayyad caliph Abd el-Malik. Built to proclaim the superiority of Islam and provide an Islamic focal point in the Holy City, the majestic structure now dominates Jerusalem and is its symbol. The mathematically harmonious structure echoes elements of Classical and Byzantine architecture.
MOHAMMED’S NIGHT JOURNEY
The Koran, the holy book of Islam, is regarded as the exact word of Allah. Muslims believe that it can never be truly understood unless read in Arabic; translations into other languages can only ever paraphrase. The Koran is divided into 114 chapters, covering many topics. One of the core episodes recounts the Night Journey of the Prophet Mohammed. In this, he is carried from Mecca to Jerusalem and from there makes the Mira], the ascent through the heavens to God’s presence, returning to Mecca in the morning.
The story is illustrated with geometric tiling and verses on the exterior of the drum of the Dome of the Rock.
The Temple Mount, or Haram ash-Sharif, is located in the southeastern part of the Old City of Jerusalem It is a major Islamic religious sanctuary and home to a number of important buildings, including the Dome of the Rock. Traditionally the site of Solomon’s Temple, it later housed the Second Temple, enlarged by Herod the Great and destroyed by the Romans. Left in ruins for more than half a century, the Haram ash-Sharif became an Islamic shrine in 691 with the construction of the Dome of the Rock.
Just east of the Dome of the Rock stands the small Dome of the Chain, set at the approximate center of the Hararn ash-Sharif. The reasons given for its construction are varied. According to one theory, it sits at the site of the Holy of Holies (the most sacred and inaccessible place in Herod’s Temple), which is thought of in Jewish tradition as the omphalos, the navel of the universe. The Dome of the Chain is a simple structure with a domed roof supported by 17 columns. It is famous for its marvelous 13th-century interior tiling, which surpasses even that of the Dome of the Rock. Its name derives from the legend that a chain once hung from the roof and whoever told a lie while holding it would be struck dead by lightning. Farther east is the Golden Gate, one of the original Herodian city gates. Jews believe the Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this gate.
This is adorned with original mosaics (AD 692) and an inscription inviting Christians to recognize the truth of Islam.
The space between the inner and outer arcades forms a corridor around ltle Rock . The shrine’s two corridors recall the ritual circular movement of pilgrims around the Qaaba in Mecca.
This staircase leads down to a chamber under the Rock called the Well of Souls. The dead are said to meet here twice a month to pray.
The area just below the golden dome is the drum. It is decorated with tiles and verses from the Koran that tell of Mohammed’s Night Journey.
Crescent Finial and Dome
The dome was originally made of copper but is now covered with gold leaf, thanks to the financial support of the late King Hussein of Jordan.
Interior of the Dome
Inside the dazzing golden dome are elaborate floral decorations, as well as various inscriptions. The large text commemorates the Muslim sultan Saladin, who sponsored restoration work on the building.
Green and gold mosaics create a scintillating effect on the walls below the dome.
The multicolored tiles that adorn the exterior are faithful copies of Persian tiles that Suleyman the Magnificent added in 1545 to replace the damaged original mosaics.
The Rock is variously believed to be where Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, where Mohammed left the Earth on his Night Journey, and the site of the Holy of Holies of Herod’s Temple.
Each wall is 67 ft (20 4 m) long. This exactly matches the dome’s diameter and its height from the base of the drum.
One of the oldest and most beautiful of all Islamic monuments, the Dome of the Rock is the third holiest site of Islam after Mecca and Medina. The shrine is also important in Judaism, since it stands on the site of the two temples of the Jews-the first built by King Soloman and the second by King Herod.
691: Building work on the Dome of the Rock is completed.
1500S: Suleyman the Magnificent commissions the dazzling tile work on the exterior.
1981: The Dome of the Rock joins UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Built around what is believed to be the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, this complex church is the most important in Christendom. The first basilica here was built by the Roman emperor Constantine between 326 and 335 at the suggestion of his mother, St. Helena. It was rebuilt on a smaller scale by the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachus in the 1040s, following its destruction by Fatimid Sultan Hakim in 1009, but was enlarged again by the Crusaders between 1114 and 1170. A disastrous fire in 1808, and an earthquake in 1927, necessitated extensive repairs.
Inside the church, two staircases lead up to Golgotha, meaning “Place of the Skull” in Hebrew. On the left is a Greek Orthodox chapel, with its altar placed directly over the rocky out-crop on which the cross of Christ’s Crucifixion is believed to have stood (Rock of Golgotha). The crack in Golgotha, visible from the apse of the Chapel of Adam below, is believed to have been caused by the earthquake that followed Christ’s death. To the right is a Roman Catholic chapel containing a silver and bronze altar made in 1558 and donated by Cardinal Ferdinand de Medici. In between the two altars is the Stabat Mater, an altar commemorating Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the cross.
No fewer than 17 churches are represented in Jerusalem, a result of many historical schisms. The long, fierce disputes between Christian creeds over ownership of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were largely resolved by an Ottoman decree issued in 1852. Still in force, and known as the Status Quo, it divides custody of the church among Greeks, Armenians, Copts, Roman Catholics, Ethiopians, and Syrians. Some areas are administered communally. Every day, the church is unlocked by a Muslim keyholder acting as a “neutral” intermediary. This ceremonial task has been performed by a member of the same family for generations.
For the construction of the first church, builders dug away the hillside to leave the alleged Christ’s Tomb isolated, with enough room to build a church around it. To achieve this, an old temple had to be cleared from the site, and in the process, the Rock of Golgotha, believed to be the site where Christ was nailed to the cross, was found. A succession of shrines replaced the original 4th-century one. The present shrine, with two chapels, was rebuilt in 1809-10 after a fire. The outer Chapel of the Angel has a low pilaster with a piece of the stone said to have been rolled from the mouth of Christ’s tomb by angels. A low door leads to the inner Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses the place where Christ’s body was said to have been laid.
This dates from the early 12th century. The right-hand door was blocked up late in the same century.
Stone of Unction
This is where the anointing and wrapping of Christ’s body after his death has been commemorated since medieval times. The present stone dates from 1810.
Crusader Bell Tower
This tower was reduced by two stories in 1719.
The most majestic part of the church, this was heavily rebuilt after the 1808 fire.
Rebuilt after the 1927 earthquake and decorated with an image of Christ, this dome covers the central nave of the Crusader church. This part of the building is now used for Greek Orthodox services.
Seven Arches of the Virgin
These are the remains of a colonnaded courtyard built in the 11th century.
Center of the World
Jerusalem was once viewed as the spiritual center of the world, as marked by a stone basin in the katholikon.
The main entrance courtyard is flanked by chapels. The disused steps opposite the bell tower once led to the Chapel of the Franks, the Crusaders’ ceremonial entrance to Golgotha.
For Christians, this is the most sacred site of all. Inside the 1810 monument, a marble slab covers the rock on which Christ’s body is believed to have been laid.
Living in the cluster of small buildings on the roof of the Chapel of St Helena is a community of Ethiopian monks.
Rock of Golgotha
The outcrop of rock venerated as the site of the Crucifixion can be seen through the glass around the Greek Orthodox altar.
Living in the cluster of small buildings on the roof of the Chapel of St Helena is a community of Ethiopian monks.
Chapel of St. Helena
This chapel is now dedicated to St. Gregory the Illuminator, patron saint of the Armenians.
Christianity became the dominant religion in the Holy Land in the 4th century, and impressive churches were built Before then, Roman suspicion of unauthorized sects meant that Christians were forced to meet and worship in private” housechurches” called domus ecclesia.
On the Saturday of Orthodox Easter, all the church’s lamps are put out and the faithful stand in the dark-a symbol of the darkness at Christ’s Crucifixion. A candle is lit at Christ’s Tomb, then another and another, until the entire basilica and courtyard are ablaze with light, symbolizing the Resurrection. Legend says the fire comes from heaven.
326-35: Emperor Constantine and St. Helena have the first basilica built.
1114-70: Crusaders enlarge the building in the Romanesque style and add a bell tower.
1981: The Old City of Jerusalem joins the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
We’ve long been fans of the Israeli coastal enclave – cloaked, as it is, in mystery, history and luxury. Tel Aviv is home to the world’s largest display of Bauhaus buildings, vibrant, ancient markets and art, as well as the alluring waters of the Mediterranean. Meander the Old City of Jaffa’s alleyways and Carmel Market, then check out the Neve Tzedek neighbourhood – where brunch, a key aspect of daily Israeli life, is a must at Dallal – before an afternoon cultural fix at the Design Museum in Holon and the Museum of Art. To dine, aim for North Abraxas, Orna & Ella and local celebrity chef Haim Cohen’s Yaffo. The former’s found in the cool suburb of Gan Hahashmal – where the party runs late at places like Ktvot, Kuli Alma and Radio EPGB.
When planning a holiday, there are many reasons one chooses to travel, especially a family vacation. Most of us like to travel abroad in the summer months, when the days are longer and warm and the air is light with a cool breeze, making the weather pleasant, giving us more time to explore the country as we immerse ourselves in its culture. The easiest way to do this is through food, which is a significant part of Israeli culture.
A nation that has absorbed a significant immigrant population, each being represented through culinary traditions which are integrated in the cuisine of their new Mediterranean home. Just like India, each region in Israel offers its own adapted regional cuisine which reach beyond the popular falafel sandwiches, shawarma or shakshuka (a hearty egg dish in tomato and pepper sauce) to tantalize your taste buds, which is evident in the many food markets in the country that are popular among locals and tourists alike.
Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem – A short walk from Jerusalem’s city centre is the Mahane Yehuda market, which should be a must on every traveller’s list, along with all the historic sites that are not to be missed in the Old City. During the day this loud and colourful market is full of vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats and breads, coffee shops and much more. Merchants reel in customers and indulge in dialogues that form a backdrop to the positive energy resonating through the marketplace. In the evening see this market transform into a lively yet unconventional night spot, with bars featuring specialty drinks and live music, most with outdoor seating that will allow you to appreciate the “street-art” gallery on the store shutters. The ambiance, lively people, captivating street art, exceptional food and drinks make Mahane Yehuda trendy and special, so stop by a food joint while you walk down the street, dance a little while enjoying a drink and make your way to the next spot.
Tel Aviv Markets – When in Tel Aviv, do as the locals do. We know that’s not how the saying goes, but here you will find a blend of Asian and European influences in all aspects, beginning with food being sold on in street stalls, shops and restaurants. Shuk HaCarmel (Carmel Market) is open every day except on Saturdays, in observance of Shabbat, (the day of rest in Judaism). If you’re in the mood to bring a flare of Israeli food in to your kitchen by creating your own version (just like the Israelis do), visit the famous Levinsky Spice Market, where you will find a variety of fresh locals cheeses, breads and Mediterranean spices. Don’t be surprised to see Indian lentils and spices lining the shelves, so start up a conversation with the vendors and you may walk away with some prized family recipes!
Food in the North – For a more authentic experience within the smaller communities in Israel, visit the Druze villages in the Golan Heights region in the north of the country. Indulge in the cultural experiences through their version of pita bread or labaneh. Visit the town of Nazareth, for their version of an authentic biblical meal or, what some locals call, the best knafeh (cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup). If you crave a fine dining experience, visit the many restaurants or world renowned chefs in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or the resort city of Eilat and savour their creative fusions.
Cheese, Food, Wine and Beer – Cottage industries of cheese making, boutique wineries and breweries have sprung up all over the country offering seasonal and artisanal products alongside traditional food items presenting an opportunity to expand your food experiences at affordable prices. Local wineries, winning awards in Europe, usually pair their wines with local cheeses, fresh vegetables, breads, or a combination of all when you book a wine tour. If a wine tour isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy a sumptuous Mediterranean meal paired with a delicious wine at wineries’ restaurants. Along with wines, Israel also boasts a strong beer culture, with local breweries offering up a wide variety locally brewed IPAs (India Pale Ales), ciders and stouts, or the more conventional lagers and malts.
Twenty-first Century Food Culture – As in many countries today, Israel has joined in the developing trend of farm to table conscious eating alongside newer nutritional trends like vegetarianism, veganism and gluten free diets. While the delectable locally grown olives and the healthy olive oil is a staple in many homes, farmer’s markets are growing in popularity like the one in the old Tel Aviv Port. Ethnic condiments, spices, old world traditions and everything in between have turned Israel into an international destination for culinary arts. The restaurant style here ranges from family style to top rated chef restaurants with the common denominator being seasonal products and delicious dishes so when in Israel you will create food experiences that are likely to last a lifetime, Be-Te’avon (Good Appetite). Enjoy!
The Galilee is Israel’s most fertile region, a historically rich parcel of rolling land blanketed by an ocean of wildflowers and blossoming trees in February and March.
The terrain is rough and wild and best explored by horseback along ancient trails. But human endeavors have left patchworks of orange groves, rich vegetation, fruit orchards, and vineyards. On a scenic ridge enjoying wide vistas across the blue, freshwater Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights beyond, is Vered Hagalil, the privately owned farm and ranch of Yehuda and Yonah Avni.
Their twenty Arabian and quarter horses can be rented for guided trail rides by the hour and day; or take a weeklong guided pack trip around the harpshaped lake or off into the hills to biblical sites such as Nazareth and the Mount of the Beatitudes, staying in a kibbutz, in an Arab village, or with some of the Avnis’ friends. Although this is the best-organized riding operation in Israel, not everyone comes for the riding. (There are also jeep tours and, for the truly stationary, pool lounging.)
Most guests try to be back in time for the home-cooked meals, an eclectic mix of Middle Eastern and American cuisine. Three generations of the affable Avni family and a young, personable staff imbue their working ranch with an informal hospitality and heartfelt love of the Galilee. It’s a side of Israel that the package tourist rarely sees.
For many visitors, the Old City is Jerusalem, a vessel of more than 4,000 years of human experience. For the three great religions of the Western world, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it is one of the holiest of cities.
Punctuating the massive 16th-century city walls that Suleiman the Magnificent built atop ancient Roman ruins, eight fortified gates provide access to the Old City. The two most important, the Jaffa and Damascus gates, lead into a warren of alleys and the distinctive sights, sounds, and scents of four ethnic districts and their markets: the Muslim Quarter (the largest and most full of character), the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Jewish Quarter. Here in the heart of ancient Jerusalem there are no physical borders, but neighborhood divisions are hard to miss.
Many of the principal sites are practically on top of one another. The sumptuous, silver-domed El-Aksa Mosque is the largest and the most important place of Islamic prayer after Mecca and Medina. Revered by Muslims, the Temple Mount, the biblical Mount Moriah, is marked by the 24-karat-gilded Dome of the Rock, built circa A.D. 690 on the site where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven on a winged horse.
It is also revered by the Jews as the site where Abraham was called upon by God to sacrifice his son (Isaac to Jews and Christians, Ishmael to Muslims), and is believed to have been the site of the altar of the first and second Temples of Judaism, since destroyed by invaders. Nearby is the Western (more descriptively, the Wailing) Wall, the last remnant of the walls that enclosed and supported the Temple Mount, and the holiest place of prayer in the Jewish world.
Jews were barred from the area while it was under Jordanian control from 1949 to 1967. Try to be here when Orthodox Jews welcome Shabbat with prayer, song, and dance as the sun sets every Friday evening and it becomes an open-air synagogue. Each year tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims follow the Via Dolorosa past the Stations of the Cross on the route Christ is believed to have taken as he carried his cross to his crucifixion. Standing above Calvary (biblical Golgotha), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is Christianity’s holiest place, covering the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.
After a day spent wandering the densely packed maze of the Christian Quarter’s souk, rich in the scents of spices and sizzling shashlik, there is no better respite than to collapse at one of the Formica tables of Abu Shukri for a sampling of his hummus.
Everyone in Israel begins a meal with hummus (mashed chickpeas seasoned with tahini, a sesame seed paste) and no one tires of something so simple and delicious. After mopping up your plate with warm pita bread (bring your own napkins), you’ll understand why. The new Israeli cuisine may be poised to take off, but basic Arabic street fare has been a Middle Eastern favorite for a few thousand years. The best dishes are the mezes, or appetizers, which invariably include the celebrated hummus.
Locked within massive Ottoman-era walls, Old Akko (Acre) is genuine. It has not been gentrified, tidied up, reconstructed, or reborn as an artists’ quarter.
St. Francis and Marco Polo dropped by when Akko was the regional seat of the Crusaders in the Holy Land. The present Old Akko was built in the 18th century on top of the Crusaders’ city. The veritable warren of underground corridors, recently excavated, was once the home of 50,000 knights and inhabitants. Aboveground, the silhouettes of mosaic-adorned mosques, towering minarets, a Turkish bath, and caravansaries are monuments to the Ottoman influence and evoke the Arabian Nights.
Old Akko teems with real life, not tourists; the souks sell spices and household wares, not souvenir tchotchkes and postcards. The importance of Akko as a principal Mediterranean port can be traced to records dating from A.D. 1. Enjoy dinner at one of the many waterfront restaurants and admire the muscular seawalls. Hope for a table on the reed-shaded terrace of Abu Christo and order a feast of Middle Eastern appetizers and grilled fish fresh off the boat.
A fascinating window into the world community of the Jewish people, this museum illuminates Israel’s collective history and heritage. As Jerusalem embraces its millennia of history, the younger metropolis of Tel Aviv looks to the future: A museum with modern-day, state-of-the-art methods used to weave the story of a people scattered around the globe could be found only here.
That Jewish customs, costumes, music, and traditions are so diverse is enlightening but not surprising; the real surprise is the realization that all these communities stem from the same tribes. Though the recurring theme of “uniformity with variety” is explored in a number of educational and absorbing ways, this museum is also fun.
If you’ve never been to a Jewish wedding, you can experience one by using the many interactive multimedia exhibits here. Other exhibits offer intriguing glimpses of Jewish life in eighty different nations around the world, where Jews now speak 100 different languages.
The haunting rock fortress of Masada is on a sheer-sided plateau surrounded by desert as desolate and dramatic as a moonscape.
A palace complex and fortress built by Herod the Great 1,440 feet above the shores of the Dead Sea, it was all but abandoned after his death. Eventually it became the stronghold of Jewish partisans in a battle against Rome in A.D. 73, when 967 Jewish men, women, and children defied their Roman attackers here for three years. When it was clear that they would be taken by more than 15,000 troops camped at the foot of the mountain, the Jews committed mass suicide.
It is a national tradition to make the ascent on foot at least once to pay homage to one of the most tragic and heroic incidents in Jewish history. It is also a beautiful location from which to watch the sunrise.
Arrive as early as possible if attempting either of the two footpaths, a must if you intend to beat the desert heat, or watch the sun levitate over Jordan and the Dead Sea. (You can descend by cable car.) An evening sound-and-light show at the foot of the mountain is as dramatic as you might expect.