Israel 14 Top Tourist Attractions
Here are 14 of the Top Tourist Attractions you should consider when planning your trip to Israel and the Holyland. The selection is in no particular order.
1. MASADA...the mountain top fortress
Situated in the Judean Desert and overlooking the Dead Sea is one of Israel's most popular tourist attractions, the mountaintop fortress of Masada (sometimes spelled Massada). This enduring symbol of Jewish history is the site of the heroic defiance by 967 Jewish Zealots who rose against the Roman Empire in 66 AD and took their own lives when defeat seemed inevitable. A cable car ride or hike up the Snake Path takes one to the top where breathtaking views can be enjoyed over the Dead Sea and the surrounding desert.
2. CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE...Christians holiest site
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest Christian site in Jerusalem, the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection. First constructed in 335 by Emperor Constantine, persistent damage has been inflicted on the structure over the centuries and subsequent repair work has been undertaken by the religious communities that administer it. The Church contains the Chapel of Golgotha and three Stations of the Cross where Jesus was crucified, and the Sepulchre itself marks the place of his burial and resurrection.
3. TEMPLE MOUNT/DOME OF THE ROCK...important to Muslims, Jews and Christians
Temple Mount, known by some as Mount Moriah, is a site of tremendous religious importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. It is one of Jerusalem's most famous landmarks and can be found within the walled section of the Old City. The glinting golden dome of the Rock rises impressively from Jerusalem's skyline and has become the city's most distinguishable feature. Temple Mount is of Jewish and Christian historical importance on two accounts: the large rock is believed to be the place where Abraham offered his son Isaac up for sacrifice, and the First Temple is the place where the Ark of the Covenant was housed.
Even though off limits to Jews today, it is still the focal point of Jewish life and Jews worldwide face the Temple Mount during prayer. For Muslims, the same rock is the place from which Muhammad, in a dream, ascended to heaven. In commemoration, the Dome of the Rock was built over the site in the 7th century. It is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary or Al-Haram al-Sharif, and is one of the three most important sites in Islam. Also located on the Temple Mount are the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum, which houses a collection of Korans and Islamic relics.
Note: The site is temporarily closed to non-Muslims.
4. WESTERN WALL or WAILING WALL...Jews most sacred site
The Western Wall, known to non-Jews as the Wailing Wall, is the most sacred Jewish site of prayer in the world, the place where thousands of worshippers gather year-round to pray and even leave prayers folded into its crevices. The 1, 916ft (584m) wall is all that remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, built in 30BC by King Herod. It is made up of enormous stone blocks and serves as a tribute to the scale of workmanship in past eras.
Following Orthodox Jewish practice the praying sections have been separated for men and women. Men are required to wear a skullcap (kippah) and women must be modestly dressed. On Fridays, the Jewish Shabbat or Sabbath, the men's section particularly pulsates with the songs and prayers of the faithful, for in principle the whole area is an Orthodox synagogue. The wall is also sacred to Muslims who believe that it is where the prophet Mohammed tied up his winged horse, Al Burak, before ascending into heaven.
5. VIA DOLOROSA...Jesus' way to his crusifixion
The Via Dolorosa (Road of Sorrow), also known as the Way of the Cross, is the route Jesus is said to have followed as he carried the Cross to his crucifixion. There are 14 stations along the way commemorating different events, starting at Lion's Gate in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, where Jesus was convicted by Pontius Pilate, and ending at his tomb, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre within the Christian Quarter. Every Friday at 3 pm priests lead a procession and prayers are said at each station. A steady stream of pilgrims remember and honor Jesus' sacrifice by walking the Way of the Cross each year.
6. YAD VASHEM...memorial to the Holocaust
This vital memorial to the Holocaust provides a multifaceted tribute to the millions of Jews who died during World War II. The focus of the museum is to commemorate and document the events of the Holocaust and provide ongoing research and education. The Museum's archive collection is the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of material containing documents, photographs, films and videotaped testimonies of survivors. These can be read and viewed in the allocated rooms and is a sobering experience. An inspiring tribute to the victims is The Hall of Names, which details the names of the holocaust victims. Symbolic gravestones are created from the 'Pages of Testimony' that record the biographical details of millions of deceased.
Yad Vashem's library contains an impressive collection of material in many languages. The Historical Museum chronicles the history of the holocaust from the implementation of the Nazi's anti-Jewish policies to the mass murder of millions of people. The display includes photographs, artifacts, documents and audio-visual material. An important collection of Holocaust art is displayed in Yad Vashem's Art Museum.
The International School for Holocaust Studies and Holocaust Research provides education and ongoing research on the Holocaust at both national and international levels. Other facets of the Yad Vashem experience include the Righteous Among the Nations, honoring the non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews; and the Encyclopaedia of Communities which records the historical-geographical communities of Jews destroyed or damaged during the Nazi regime.
7. THE ISRAEL MUSEUM
The Israel Museum has achieved world-class status with its remarkable collections spanning prehistoric archaeology to contemporary art. These include displays of archaeology from the Holy Land, a comprehensive compilation of Judaica and ethnology of Jewish people, and a fine art collection encompassing the Old Masters to renowned contemporary works. Perhaps the most famous exhibit is the Dead Sea Scrolls, they date from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD, and were unearthed in 1947.
Numerous temporary exhibitions, publications and educational activities form part of the museum's cultural program and over 950, 000 visitors are drawn to this vast complex each year. Another great attraction of the Museum is its Art Garden which was designed by the Japanese-American sculptor, Isamu Noguchi. It is a fusion of Zen landscaping incorporating the natural vegetation of the area such as rosemary bushes, olive and fig trees. Displayed within this picturesque setting are the famous sculptures of Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol, David Smith, Henry Moore, Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt and James Turrell.
8. CITADEL OR TOWER OF DAVID...a fortress for King Herod
The Citadel was constructed in the 1st century BC as a fortress for King Herod and has since served as a strategic defence position against the Old City. The tallest tower of the Citadel, the Phasael, is the place to appreciate the magnificent view as well as the orientation of the Old City. The Citadel contains the excellent Museum of the History of Jerusalem, featuring fascinating displays of 4, 000 years of the city's past.
9. BETHLEHEM...the birthplace of Jesus
Bethlehem is just six miles (10 km) south of Jerusalem and is a major tourist attraction for pilgrims and visitors alike. The birthplace of Jesus, this is a charming town despite its tourist-centred commercialism.
The Church of the Nativity is the focal point for a visit to the town, erected over the site of Jesus' birthplace. Bethlehem is also a wonderful place to experience the variety of Christian monastics that represent every permutation of Christianity. Christmas is celebrated on three separate dates in accordance with the Catholic and Western Church's calendars, the Eastern calendar followed by the Armenians and the Julian calendar followed by the Greek Orthodox and Eastern churches.
10. THE DEAD SEA...the world's lowest elevation
The Dead Sea and its immediate environment are landscapes abundant with natural wonders. Most notable of these is the high salt and mineral concentration found in the waters that enable visitors to float effortlessly on its salty surface. The therapeutic properties of the black mud found in the region are formed by a mixture of sea minerals and organic elements. For a completely rejuvenating experience, several Dead Sea spa resorts offer a range of health and beauty treatments, and the opportunity to float in the saltiest body of water in the world, and the lowest place on earth.
The Ein Gedi Spa is on the western shore. Equally fascinating are the archaeological sites of the Dead Sea region with traces remaining of Persian, Greek, Roman and other civilizations. Notable historical locations include the notorious biblical city of Sodom which was destroyed along with Gomorrah. Salt pillars emerge from this eight-mile (12 km) geological ridge in the southern part of the Dead Sea.
11. HAMAT TIBERIAS NATIONAL PARK...therapeutic springs
The 17 springs of Hamat Tiberias flow from a source that stretches 33ft (10m) below the ground. Its therapeutic powers have been used since ancient times to cure various ailments. The Hamat Tiberias synagogue, built between 337 and 286 BC, contains the oldest surviving mosaic floor in Israel. The central mosaic is a beautifully preserved design representing a large zodiac with Helios at its center guiding his celestial chariot in the direction of the sun.
12. BEIT SHE'AN NATIONAL PARK...amazing history
Beit She'an was established in the 5th century BC. Its strategic location brought with it many skirmishes in an effort to control this hilltop settlement. It was the seat of Egyptian rule before falling to the King of Assyria and was later resettled as a Hellenistic city during the time of Alexander the Great. A period of conquests then followed until the Romans returned the city to its former residents. It prospered during the time of Hadrian and experienced its golden age after the Bar Kochva revolt.
Numerous buildings were constructed during this time and the residents enjoyed a time of peaceful coexistence. After Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD the face of the city changed markedly. This was followed by further conquests until an earthquake left the city in ruins. Settlements later sprung up around the site of the ruins and the city received an influx of people post-1948 and the establishment of the State of Israel. It is now a thriving city built around the remains of an ancient center. Most notable amongst the ruins are the Roman theatre, Byzantine bathhouse, Roman street and colonnade and the amphitheatre used for gladiatorial battles.
13. CAESAREA.King Herod's tribute to the Roman Emperor
The ancient port city of Caesarea was established 2000 years ago by Herod the Great as a tribute to the Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar. Its rich archaeological heritage includes the remains of Roman architecture notably an aqueduct, theater, houses and palaces. For diving enthusiasts, diving into the ruins of Herod's city provides an extraordinary experience. Modern-day Caesarea has become well known for its fine homes, 18-hole golf course, luxury hotels, galleries and boutiques. Miles of sandy beaches stretch along the Mediterranean coastline and visitors can enjoy the sun-soaked atmosphere amidst this luxurious backdrop.
14. NAZARETH...where Jesus spent most of his life.
Nazareth is one of the most important Christian holy sites attracting pilgrims from all over the world to its parts. It was here that Jesus spent most of his life and it was here that the Miracle of the Annunciation took place. Nazareth is home to both Christians and Muslims (the largest Arab population left in Israel) and is a quaint amalgamation of red roofs and white churches dotted along the slopes of the Galilean hillside. Breathtaking views can be enjoyed from the summit, which looks out onto the Jezreel Valley.
The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth is one of the most important sites in the Christian world, constructed over the location of the Annunciation. The walls of the upper sanctuary are decorated with panels depicting scenes from the life of Mary that have been donated by Catholic communities from around the world. The nearby Church of St Joseph houses the remains of Crusader bas-reliefs, capitals and inscriptions found during the Church's construction. The Synagogue Church in Nazareth is thought to have been built over the site where Jesus preached and read the coming of the Messiah. The Mosque Quarter is an interesting area comprising an elegant mosque within the central market area. The Turkish-style edifice was constructed in 1812 and today belongs to the wealthy Fahoum family.
Israel Travel Information
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