A brief reference to the most commonly visited places on a tour of the Holy Land and Jordan.
Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
The most sacred city for Christianity and Judaism and one of the three most holy cities in Islam, Jerusalem is also considered the capital of Palestine. The Old City of Jerusalem is designated by a wall encircling its Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian Quarters along with the Haram-Al Sharif. The Christian Quarter includes the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa, the Mosque of Omar, the Church of Saint Anne and the Pools of Siloam, the Saint Saviour convent of the Franciscan Custos, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer as well as the Greek Orthodox and Latin Patriarchates, alongside innumerable Christian churches, chapels, convents and religious schools. The Jewish Quarter includes the Roman Cardo, the Kotel and the Western Wall, while the Muslim Quarter includes the Cotton Market, several distinctive Mamluk and Ottoman structures all of which border the Haram Al-Sharif, comprised of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The Armenian Quarter is a virtual city within a city, comprising a compound of the Cathedral of Saint James, the Apostolic Armenian Patriarchate and its seminary, and the majority of the homes of the Armenian community of the Holy Land. Adjacent to the Armenian Patriarchate is Mount Sion, with the Cenacle (the place of the Last Supper of Christ and the Twelve Apostles), the Tomb of King David, and the Benedictine Dormition Abbey. Throughout the Old City, opportunities abound to shop in the various markets, to eat and drink in cafes and restaurants of all kinds, or to simply take in the impressive view on any number of verandas and observation points from rooftops and church steeples. In the vicinity of the Old City lies the Rockefeller Museum, formerly the Palestine Archaeological Museum, where the ancient history of Palestine is immaculately preserved, and the Garden Tomb, offering a moment of peaceful reflection away from the modern bustle of Jerusalem. To the east of the Old City and across the Kidron Valley lies Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus, where the place of the Ascension, Church of All Nations, Dominus Flevit, and the twin Russian Orthodox convents of Mary Magdalene and the Ascension are almost daily illuminated each dusk in a glorious Jerusalem sunset. On the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives lies Bethany, place of the resurrection of Lazarus. To the west of the Old City is the modern metropolis of west Jerusalem, including the Israel National Museum and the Shrine of the Book, as well as many cultural and historical places of interest. Interspersed throughout the metropolis are the many peoples of the Holy Land who call Jerusalem, past, present and future, their home.
“The little town of Bethlehem” is located to the immediate south of Jerusalem. The northern entrance is marked by Rachel’s Tomb, also known as the Belal Bin Rabah Mosque. Once inside Bethlehem, it is a short distance to the Church of the Nativity, the second-most visited Christian pilgrimage site in the Holy Land after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A brief stroll around Manger Square leads tourists to the Bethlehem Mosque of Omar opposite the Church of the Nativity, as well as a cobbled road that winds its way to the Milk Grotto, where the Virgin Mary first nursed the infant Jesus. Not far away are David’s Wells and the Salesian Artistan Center, with its permanent exhibition of Nativity scenes. In neighboring Beit Sahour, two beautiful monasteries set in a pastoral landscape commemorate the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the simple shepherds of the land. Other regional sites of interest include Herodium, the mountaintop fortress of the Hasmonean despot, King Herod of the Bible, the ancient Greek Orthodox monasteries of Mar Theodosios and Mar Saba, Solomon’s Pools, and the Catholic monastery of Hortus Conclusus in Artas. A lesser-known holy site of Bethlehem district is the Church of Saint Nicholas in Beit Jala, where the real-life inspiration of the “Santa Claus” story lived in a cave with a view of the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem more than a millennium and a half ago. The cities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour are also home to more than half of the Christian peoples of Palestine, with each city possessing a rich cultural history and identity, as well as interesting urban centers with numerous churches, markets, souvenir shops and olive wood handicraft factories.
Known as the hometown of the Holy Family, the city of Nazareth lies nestled in an elevated region of the lower Galilee. The Old City of Nazareth includes the towering Basilica of the Annunciation, the largest Christian church in the Middle East, and a stunning landmark in the modern Catholic architectural tradition. The neighboring Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation includes Mary’s Well, while the adjacent Melkite “Synagogue Church” holds a uniquely Judeo-Christian history. A jaunt through the Old City of Nazareth leads to the discovery of its rich Arab cultural history, with cafes, spice shops, churches and religious schools, mosques and monasteries. Nearby Cana features churches of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Melkite traditions which commemorate the miracle of the Wedding at Cana.
A journey to Mount Tabor to the place of Ascension is a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage, with a winding road leading up to the place of the Transfiguration of Christ, commemorated through the presence of both a Franciscan and Greek Orthodox convent on the northern and southern sides of the hilltop. Driving to Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee shines as tour boats travelling along the same body of water give pilgrims a moment of reflection as the retrace the footsteps of the ministry of Christ. Along the shores and hillside of the Galilee lie the Churches of the Multiplication, the Primacy of Peter and the Mount of Beatitudes. The city of Tiberias, found on the western shore of the Galilee, is a popular destination for both local peoples and pilgrims alike, with its agreeable climate and waterfront promenade. Additional regional sites of interest include Caesarea Philippi, site of the ruins of a Roman pagan temple then later a place of Christian pilgrimage, and the archaeological site of Zepphoris.
The oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, located to the immediate east of Jericho, may be of modest size, but boasts an impressive list of religious and cultural heritage sites, including the archaeological ruins of Biblical Jericho, the Mount of Temptation, Hisham’s Palace, the Tree of Zaccheus, the Greek Orthodox monastery of Saint Gerasimos near the Baptismal Site, and the Spring of Elisha. While visiting, try some of the delicious Jericho dates while taking a ride up to the Mount of Temptation on the cable car.
Nablus is a journey through the eras of the Holy Land, from the biblical ruins of Shechem to the Ottoman-era family mansions of the Old City. The last of the ancient Samaritan peoples reside on Mount Gerazim, while Christian pilgrims flock to draw water from Jacob’s Well found at the impressive Greek Orthodox basilica of Saint Photini. The Old City market offers everything from spices to olive oil soap, Nablus kanafeh, a renowned delicacy, and plenty more. A short distance up the road to Sebastia and to its archaeological park offers further insights into the rich cultural and religious heritage of the Samarian Hills and the upper West Bank.
Home to the Mosque of Abraham, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the city of Hebron was a major center of Islamic pilgrimage which gave rise to a prosperous merchant community, specializing in such commodities as colored glass-making, ceramics and leatherwork, all of which survive as trades until the present day. The Old City retains its Mamluk and Ottoman architecture, as well as its historic market district leading to the Mosque, while the expansive northern districts include a Russian Orthodox monastery built around the Oak of Abraham, the Byzantine ruins of a monastery founded by Saint Catherine at the dawn of the Byzantine Era, and some of the oldest and best known glassblowing factories in the Holy Land.
The four sister cities of the middle and upper coastal shore of the Holy Land each have their own unique character and appeal. Jaffa, a city who origins extends to Biblical times, includes a well-kept harbor district of with restaurants, churches, and a boardwalk. The modern city of Tel Aviv offers excitement and excellent beaches, while Haifa is home to the famous Bahia Gardens, as well as the Christian pilgrimage site of Stella Maris. Lastly, the Crusader city of Akko is a must for any enthusiast of history and archaeology. Not to be forgotten along the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa is the archaeological site of Ceasaria Maritima, including the seaside remnants of a Herodian aqueduct system.
Just south of Jericho lies the interpretive center of Qumran, where the story of the ancient Essenes people was illuminated through the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls over a half-century ago. Farther to the south, the fortress of King Herod sits perched as an eagle’s nest over the border of the Judean Desert and the Negev. Best known as the site of the Battle of Masada of the Jewish Revolt, it remains a must-see for pilgrims and tourists alike. The city of Eilat offers a host of leisure activities on the Red Sea. Those seeking a different form of adventure may choose to venture out to experience the natural beauty of the Negev Desert, and take their chances riding on a camel at any number of rustic encampments.
Between the West Bank of Palestine and the Kingdom of Jordan lies the Jordan River, the traditional baptismal site of Jesus. From its tributary, the Sea of Galilee, water flows down to the Dead Sea, one of the most salinized bodies of water in the world, whose unique composition allows for its bathers to effortlessly float on its surface and to apply the rich Dead Sea mud as both a therapeutic remedy and skin cream. In between these two unique bodies of water lies the quiet Jordan River, where Christian pilgrims gather to renew their baptismal vows on both banks.
The Rose-Red City and the adjacent valley of Wadi Rum has captured the imagination of world travelers since the arrival of the first modern European explorers in the 19th century. Petra, an expansive archaeological site, was carved out of richly-colored rock by its ancient Nabatean founders before being abandoned for centuries. Along with the natural beauty of the desert expanse of Wadi Rum, both sites have served as the open-air set of several internationally successful films, and are considered premier destinations for independent, experiential and adventure travelers.
The ancient Romano-Byzantine city of Philadelphia is today better known by its modern Arabic name, Amman, but has maintained much of its ancient history and lure. As the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, it is an exciting mix of old and new, a living tapestry of the excitement of an emerging nation retaining much of its traditional Arabic culture, hospitality and tradition.
The Biblical site identified as the place where Moses ascended to view the Holy Land was raised to international prominence with the visit of Pope John Paul II in 2000. It has since become a standard visit on any pilgrimage to Jordan, but is also a popular secular tourist destination due to the impressive view it offers of the West Bank.
The archaeological site of Jerash offers a journey through civilizations from the Bronze Age to the Ottoman Era, before being abandoned, forgotten and then concealed until 19th century excavations unearthed its secrets. Now an archaeological park, its well-kept paved stone streets and towering colonnades leading to the ruins of Roman, Hellenic, Byzantine and Umayyad structures are not to be missed by those seeking to better understand the glorious past of Jordan.
Built as a stronghold of the Crusader vassal state of Oultrejourdain, Kerak Castle tells the story of the ebb and flow of the fortunes of the Crusades as few other sites can. Kerak Castle remains one of the best-preserved Crusader structures in the Middle East, and is an immensely popular tourist attraction for students of Medieval and Crusader military history.
The once-quiet port of the Red Sea is now a thriving tourist destination, offering a rapidly expanding portfolio of resort hotels and leisure activities alongside the natural beauty of the sea.
The re-discovered Byzantine mosaic floor map in the city of Madaba once served as something of a visitor information center to those seeking to journey to the Holy Land; offering illustrations and locational directions of important places of pilgrimage and civilization. While only a portion of it remains, it still captures the imagination of modern pilgrims as it did ages ago.
There’s so much more…..
Once seen as a place for just pilgrimage and sight-seeing, the Holy Land and Jordan offer experiences far beyond their acclaimed religious and historical locations.
Nature and historical hikes, year-round cultural and religious events, culinary, handicraft and performing artist expositions, experiential encounters with local, or just having the courage to see what lays in wait for you…it’s all here in the Holy Land.
HLITOA is working hard with its partners to help promote some of the best of experiential tourism of the region as well as having a hand in developing new experiences. Check back on our website to learn more as we make updates and provide further information as to what more awaits you in the Holy Land and Jordan.
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