Visiting Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jericho

Israel is the land of ancient cities, sprawling mountains and arid deserts. There aren’t many places in the world that are shrouded with so much mystery. For some reason, Israel seems to call to us, whatever our religious background may be. Countless travelers throughout the pages of time have answered the tiny Middle Eastern country’s call.

What is it about Israel that’s so fascinating? Tales of miracles and holy happenings? Desert and rocky mountain ridges as far as the eye can see? Colorful cities and villages where life goes on just as it did 2,000 years ago?

It may seem that being so small, there wouldn’t be a lot to see in Israel; you may say “I’ll see everything in a few days.” That’s a mistake many travelers have made! It may be small, but there is an abundance of attractions most people aren’t even aware of. From ancient churches and tiny streets to quiet streams and hillside caves, you won’t walk away disappointed if you know what to see. As always when traveling to a volatile area of the world, be sure to check state department warnings before any such trip.

Bethlehem. Known as the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem has been a site of interest to Christians for thousands of years. It is located in an area known as Judah and has a great many sites to fascinate the faithful. Some things to see:

1. Church of the Nativity. This medieval church, which has since been renovated, is said to have been built over the spot of Jesus’ birth. Constantine, the Roman emperor famous for his conversation to Christianity, built the original church here in the 4th century, and a grotto known as the Holy Crypt was named as the actual place the birth occurred.

2. Mar Saba Monastery. Although the monastery lies somewhere around nine miles away from Bethlehem, it’s still a wonderful short side-trip and part of Bethlehem’s history. It is an ancient monastic community rumored to be one of the oldest in the world. Unfortunately, if you are female, you will not be able to actually enter Mar Saba, but there is an observation point called the “Women’s Tower.”

Jericho. The name conjures up images of one of the oldest Jewish cities, and quite likely one of the oldest cities in the world. It’s located in the West Bank and will be well worth your visit. There are quite a few factors that upkeep its title as one of the oldest cities such as:

1. Neolithic Tower. No one is sure when the huge tower (now in ruins) was built, but archaeologists are sure it is thousands of years older than even the ancient civilizations in Egypt. Come and explore the ruins for yourself, standing in awe when you realize that people probably lived here before the majority of the Biblical patriarchs began their lives.

2. Elisha’s Spring. The mountains that run from Jericho to Jerusalem are some of the beautiful natural scenery you can hope to find in Israel. Behind Jericho is a place known as Elisha’s Spring. It is a small, marshy place that appears unchanged since the days of the patriarchs.

Nazareth. The meaning of the word Nazareth is unknown; some say “guardian” and others believe it is “branch.” Whatever the meaning, it’s a town best known as the childhood home of Jesus. In the Bible, it is said that a man quipped “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Unfortunately the town may still have a bad reputation, partially by tourists who think of it as a tiny “hick town” was nothing to see and do. They couldn’t be more wrong!

1. Old Market. A trip to the Middle East isn’t complete until you empty your pockets at a bazaar! Nazareth’s Old Market will help your souvenir dreams come true. This is not a flat city, so be prepared to bring your good walking shoes. It will be well worth the effort! Find gold items, vegetables, bride’s necessities, and all other sorts of interesting souvenirs here.

2. Stop on the outskirts of Nazareth to see Megiddo, another name for Armageddon. Layer after layer of construction shows just how ancient the site truly is. Seek out the Jezreel Plain, the site of many fierce engagements.

There are too many Jerusalem attractions to write about in one place! I will continue my Israel travel tips in the future with things to see and do in Israel’s most famous city. Stay tuned to find out where to best spend your time in Jerusalem.

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