In Part One, we toured the northern region of Israel, focusing on Nazareth and Jerusalem. Today, we will head outside of Jerusalem, toward Tel Aviv, and then down south.
A Christian tour to the Holy land would not be complete without a visit to one of the most sacred Christian sites - Bethlehem. Home to one of the largest Palestinian-Christian communities, it is the site of the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus. The focal point of the Church is the Grotto of the Nativity, the exact place Jesus is thought to have been born. An inscribed silver star on the floor marks the precise spot of the birth. Christmas, of course, is high season in Bethlehem and the city is filled with both locals and tourists attending Christmas rites and processions, which pass through Manger Square. Bethlehem is also home to Rachel's Tomb, and is the site of the birthplace and coronation of King David.
Enjoy an invigorating trip into the ancient past through the unique perspective of nature. Neot Kedumim is a biblical nature reserve located in the center of Israel, in the Ben Shemen forest, not far from the birthplace of the Macabees. Dedicated to bringing Biblical flora and fauna to life, Neot Kedumim boasts unique plants, flowers, and animals that are mentioned in the Bible, allowing you a glimpse of life as it was in ancient times. Visit the reconstructed olive and grape presses, and even take a turn pulling the giant press yourself!
St. Peter's Church
With its distinctive brickwork and towering belfry, St. Peter's Church is easy to spot in the city of Old Jaffa, part of greater Tel Aviv. Step inside the church and admire the exquisite stained glass windows, which depict episodes from the life of St. Peter. The church is open to the public every day, and Masses are conducted in five different languages. Take the time to look around Old Jaffa, one of the most interesting and scenic cities anywhere.
Heading south, out of Jerusalem, toward the Dead Sea, stop at Massada, the ancient fortress overlooking the Dead Sea. Built by Herod the Great as a refuge for himself, it became just that for Jews rebelling against the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple. Make your way to the top of Massada on foot via the Snake Path (best done early in the day), or take a cable car to avoid the hot (and we mean hot!) walk. Take a peek inside the Roman-style bathhouses, ancient synagogues, as well as wall paintings from Herod's palace. Twice a week, a spectacular, surreal sound and light show highlights the history of Massada, and in 2007 a new museum opened up at the site.
Are you hot and sweaty from your hike up Massada? Time to visit beautiful Ein Gedi, located in the Dead Sea region, renowned for its refreshing waterfalls and exotic flora and fauna. Mentioned in the Song of Songs, it is a thriving oasis set against a harsh desert. Watch a family of ibex tiptoe quietly by, as they peer interestedly at you. Splash around in the cool water of the lakes and waterfalls that dot the trail. There is also a nearby kibbutz offering various tourist attractions throughout the year.
Beersheba, the "Gateway to the Negev," is the capital of the southern portion of Israel, and is one of the most ancient cities in Israel, boasting a history which dates back to the patriarch Abraham. On your next Christian tour to the Holy land, we recommend you visit Tel Beersheba, a fascinating archaeological site right outside the city. Within the city, you can visit the Negev Museum of Art, the Center for Ethiopian Craftsmanship, and the famous Bedouin market, in which modern goods are offered right next to authentic, unique Bedouin items.
Whether in the north, south, east, or west of the Holy Land, you are in the birthplace of Christianity, immersed in ancient traditions, walking in the literal footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles. You will leave feeling connected to Christianity in a new and profound way - and you will leave wanting to book your next trip…soon!