It is impossible to overstate the historical importance of northern Israel and the Galilee, and the multitude of deeply significant sites that can be visited in this beautiful part of the world: Bronze Age settlements from the time of King David (e.g. Tel Hazor, Tel Beit She’an); Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine cities (e.g. Beit She’an); the places where Jesus lived and ministered (e.g. Nazareth, Capernaum, Mount of the Beatitudes); Crusader fortresses and citadels (e.g. Nimrod, Akko); and much more.
The Galilee contains many important places of pilgrimage for Christians. However, it should be remembered that Jesus was a Jew and is recognized as a prophet by Muslims. Everyone, irrespective of their religion or beliefs, is welcome at these sites, which offer wonderful and restful locations, often with stunning views, for contemplation, meditation or prayer.
The “Bible Walks” website (www.biblewalks.com) provides a comprehensive historical description of a vast array of sites, together with visitors information and excellent photographs. We highly recommend a recent edition of “The Holy Land: An Oxford Archeological Guide”, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Oxford University Press (We have a copy in the Villa, for guests use) Below, we have highlighted some of our favourites sites listed below in ascending order of distance from Rosh Pinna.
Tel Hazor: 8 km, 9 min drive
Tel Hazor is of one of the largest and most important biblical sites from the Canaanite and Israelite periods (18th to 9th Century BCE) when this mighty city was the gateway between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Described as the “head of all of those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10) Hazor was the largest and most important fortified city in the region. It was noted for its bronze making industry.
The upper city is situated at the top of the Tel and is protected by massive walls, towers and gates that enclose an area of 10 hectares. Gate towers dating back to the time of King Solomon have been partially reconstructed. Inside the walls are the excavated remains of a Canaanite palace (14th to 13th Century BCE) and temple, an Israelite citadel (9th to 8th Century BCE), and numerous other imposing structures including civic and commercial buildings. A very significant and impressive system to store and supply water was constructed in the 9th Century BCE, including a vertical square shaft descending 46 metres into the ground, accessible by 123 steps carved into the rock.
The much larger lower city is some 75 hectares in area, protected by a surrounding rampart. Comparatively little has been excavated, yet it is known to contain the remains of various structures dating from 18th to 13th Century BCE. The lower city is not open to the public. However, it can be clearly seen from the northern side of the upper city. Worth bringing binoculars! http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/Hazor.html
Korazim: 11 km, 12 min drive
“Old Korazim” was a small town established early in the 1st Century CE. According to the Christian gospels, Jesus visited Korazim did not “repent” and was cursed. Korazim was destroyed by an earthquake in the 4th Century CE, though it was subsequently restored and prospered until the 8th Century CE.
Set on a promontory on the northern slopes, the excavated town is approximately 10 hectares in size. In the centre is an important synagogue, partially reconstructed, that dates to the 4th Century CE. There are fine carvings on the lintel and on other stones, including a stone bench (a “cathedra of Moses”) with a Hebrew inscription. Nearby is an underground Mikveh. The town’s water supply was a nearby spring, and a complex network of covered gullies and cisterns distributed and stored the water. An oil press can be seen on the western side of the town. http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/Korazim.html
The Mount of the Beatitudes: 13 km, 14 min drive
Centred about the octagonal Church of the Beatitudes, beautiful and serene gardens and expansive lawns offer wonderful views over the Lake. It is believed that here Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:28) to a very large crowd of Galileans. The sermon contains the eight Beatitudes, including, for example, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
This is truly a wonderful place to sit, think, contemplate and meditate. With plenty of shade, it is a delightful place even in the heat of the mid-Summer.
Nearby are the ruins of a 4th Century CE Byzantine church. http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/Beatitudes.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sermon_on_the_Mount
The Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha: 15 km, 16 min
Below the Mount of the Beatitudes, on the shore of the Lake, is the Church of the Multiplication built, it is believed, on the site where Jesus performed the miracle of the “five loaves and two fish”, also known as the “feeding of the five thousand” (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15). A very large crowd of 5,000 men plus accompanying women and children had followed Jesus from nearby Bethsaida. As evening approached, the crowd became hungry, yet the only food available was five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus gave thanks and broke the bread. Miraculously there became more than enough food to feed the entire crowd.
The beautiful and serene modern church is built on the site of the original 4th Century CE church and contains many of the original features, including a series of the original floor mosaics. These stunning figurative mosaics and are the earliest know examples of their kind in Israel. A limestone block, under the altar, is venerated as the stone on which the miraculous meal was laid. http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/tabcha.html
A short walk from the Church of the Multiplication is the Church of the Primacy of Peter. Situated on the shore of the Lake, the modern Franciscan chapel is built on the foundations of a 4th Century CE church, still visible at the base of the modern walls.
The modest chapel, quiet and reflective, houses a large rock set into the floor, the “mensa Christi”, on which Jesus and the disciples had breakfast. On the lake side of the church are some carved stone steps (2nd Century BCE?) that lead down to a small beach. Early in the morning it is still possible to see fishermen casting their nets into the Lake. Warm springs flow into the Lake close to this point, attracting large numbers of fish to this place.
Nearby, a small jetty, shaded by an awning, has some picnic tables – an ideal location for contemplation and a spot of lunch. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/tabgha-church-of-primacy-of-peter
Capernaun (Kefar Nahum): 18 km, 20 min drive
Capernaum was a fishing village on the north shore of the Lake, inhabited from the 2nd Century BCE to the 11th Century CE. An important Jewish centre, it was the centre of Jesus’ public ministry and is mentioned on numerous occasions in the Gospels (Matthew 4:13, 8:5, 11:23, 17:24, Mark 1:21, 2:1, 9:33, Luke 4:23, 31,7:1, 10:15, John 2:12, 4:46, 6:17, 24,59).
The narrow network of streets and buildings that formed the village has been excavated. At the centre is an octagonal church built over an ancient house believed to have been the house where the apostle Peter lived. A modern church is built on pillars over this site, with a glass floor through which the remnants of this ancient church can be viewed. There are also the remains of a 4th Century CE synagogue, one of the most magnificent ancient synagogues in Israel.
Nearby is the Church of the Seven Apostles, a beautiful modern Greek Orthodox church. http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/capernaum.html
Tel Bethsaida: 20 km, 20 min drive
This rarely visited archeological site is located in Jordan Park Nature on the north-east of the Lake, just east of the Upper Jordan River. The site is the probable location of the town of Bethsaida (“Beit Tsaida”) where Jesus healed a blind man (Mark 8:22) and the birthplace of the apostles Andrew, Peter and Philip (John 1:44). Though now some 1.5 km from the Lake, it once have sat on its north-eastern shore until earthquakes shifted the course of the Upper Jordan and raised the northern banks.
Recent excavations have revealed an extensive walled town dating from the 3rd Century BCE, that has yielded a multitude of archaeological treasures, including a fisherman’s house, a winemaker’s house amongst other structures and artifacts.
You can walk the network of cobbled streets, flanked by shops, houses and a temple.
However, the excavations also revealed that beneath this Hellenistic and Roman town lies a much older Bronze Age city, likely the city of Geshur. King David’s third wife, the mother of Absalom, came from here (2 Samuel 3: 3). Archaeologists have reconstructed the massive city gate complex at the southern end of the city.
Tel Beit Tsaida is a tranquil refuge with wonderful views over the Lake and the Upper Jordan. Hard to find, access to the site is from the gate to the Jordan park. Right after passing the gate, turn left and reach the parking lot on the north side of the ruins. We recommend combining a visit to this archeological site with a visit to the nearby Bethsaida National Park Reserve (see î Bethsaida) http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/Bethsaida.html
Kursi: 31 km, 34 min drive
Further round on the western shores of the Lake, are the excavated ruins of the Byzantine church and monastery of Kursi, commemorating Jesus’ so-called “miracle of the swine” (Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39). Dating back to the 5th Century CE, it is the largest Byzantine monastery in Israel. According to 1st Century CE Jewish records, Kursi was a gentile town, hence the keeping of pigs.
Kursi is a beautiful place to visit, lush and green and with wonderful views over the lake. http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/Kursi.html
Montfort Castle: 48 km 47 min
The Montfort is a 13th century Crusader fortress built during the times of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The ruins of the fortress is perched majestically on a narrow and steep cliff above the southern bank of Nahal Kziv (Kziv River). The fortress is a fantastic family outing combining striking natural scenery and historical insight.
Unlike many other crusader fortresses in this region, this fortress had not been originally built for military purposes but begun its way as an agricultural farm, prior to its becoming one of the finest examples of fortified building architecture in crusader states.
The fortress is only accessible by foot, but the hike to the fortress is fun and beautiful and does not take very long. The hike is of medium difficulty and suitable for children ages 4+. http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/Montfort.html
Nimrod Fortress: 50 km 45 min drive
Nimrod Fortress is a very important Crusader-era castle, the largest in Israel, built between 1229-1290 AD to defend the route from Damascus to Jerusalem. A mountain-top citadel, impressive in its own right, Nimrod commands fantastic
views up to Mount Hermon and down the steep ravines to the Hula valley below. Some 65 dunams in area, the outer walls connect a series of defensive towers, each containing various rooms and halls in which the defending soldiers would have lived and from where they would have fought. A large underground reservoir, fully accessible, would have provided enough water to sustain the castle through a prolonged siege. The central Keep (Donjon), the strategic heart of the castle, likes on the highest point of the castle and offers some of the best views of Nimrod as a whole and of the surrounding landscape. At 800 m above sea level, the site can be pleasantly cool in the heat of mid-Summer, but can therefore be cold in the Autumn and Spring. It is not somewhere to visit in Winter! https://www.touristisrael.com/nimrod-fortress/6010/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimrod_Fortress
The nearby Witches’ Cauldron restaurant is a great place to have a hearty lunch or evening meal, particularly when the weather is cold. The restaurant has magnificent views over the beautiful crater lake of Birkat Ram. http://www.the-witch.co.il/home.asp
The drive to Nimrod, once you have passed through Kiryat Shimona and start the climb into the Golan Heights, is beautiful. It is well worth taking your time and stopping at the various viewing points along the road. It is also worth considering visiting some of the Druze settlements such as Majdal al-Shams (less than 10 km away) whilst you are in the Heights. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belvoir_Fortress https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montfort_Castle
Nazareth: 52 km, 53 min drive
A small town in the time of Jesus, Nazareth became a major Christian stronghold during the Byzantine period. It has been continuously occupied ever since. Centred about the Old City and its market (mainly dating to the 19th Century CE), Nazareth today is a bustling mixed Christian, Muslim and Jewish city. Full of fascinating and beautiful corners, its 30 churches, many mosques and ancient synagogues are testament to its history and spiritual significance.
At the heart of the city is the Basilica of the Annunciation, commemorating Gabriel’s visit to Mary. A stunning modern church, it is built over the grotto believed to be Mary’s house, now an important shrine. The floor contains a 5th Century CE mosaic. The adjacent St Joseph’s Church is built over a grotto believed to be Joseph’s carpentry workshop. St Gabriel’s Church, close to Mary’s Well, is a Greek Orthodox church that commemorates the Annunciation. The 12th Century CE Synagogue Church, built by the Crusaders, is built on the site of an ancient synagogue where it is believed that Jesus prayed and studied as a boy. Other churches worth visiting include the Greek Catholic Church, Christ Church, Our Lady of the Fright, Mensa Christi, and the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth.
No visit to Nazareth would be complete without a visit to the bustling market, a traditional Arab souk in many respects, selling food, spices and fabrics as well as artwork and souvenirs and with many nearby cafes and restaurants.
Mount Tabor and The Church of the Transfiguration: 53 km, 51 min drive
Mount Tabor, 9 km east of Nazareth, was a strategically important fortress dating back to the Bronze Age and has numerous references in the Old Testament (Joshua 19: 22, Judges 4: 6-14 and 8: 18, 1 Samuel 10: 3, 1 Chronicles 6: 77, Psalms 89: 12, Jeremiah 46: 18, and Josiah 5: 1). The summit of the Mount (575m) has extensive Roman and Crusader ruins, clearly visible today.
It is here that Christians believe that Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus who had become “transfigured” (Matthew 17: 1-13), commemorated by the Church of the Transfiguration. A modern church, it built over the remains of a Crusader church, including 3 accessible grottoes. There is also Greek Orthodox church and monastery.
We recommend taking the short hike (2.5 km) from the Gate of the Wind parking lot beside the wall and begin to climb on foot up to the Franciscan monastery. The walk along the hillside paths reveals a wealth of magnificent scenery: plowed fields, ponds and communities hidden amid the tangle of greenery are disclosed one after another cumulating to a wide panorama from different successive angles. A gentle breeze blows on the hill in both winter and summer. From the summit there are fabulous views over the Jezreel valley and is a wonderful place for a picnic.
Mount Tabor is also a popular launch site for hang-glider enthusiasts. http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/tabor.html
Akko: 55 km, 53 min
Akko, also known historically to Arabs as عكّا (‘Akka) and Westerners as Acre, lies on the northern edge of the coastal valley in the Bay of Acre. Akko possesses a long history of various cultures: Canaanites, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders and Arabs. Akko is a holy city in the Bahá’í Faith and has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a site of extraordinary significance to the world’s cultural heritage.
Akko boasts beautiful seashore, a marina and a fishing port. Old Acre, which is situated on a peninsula, is one of the few cities along the shores of the Mediterranean whose surrounding walls have remained intact, aside from two openings that now provide access to motor vehicles.
Akko is our favorite city in the north; there is plenty to see (and hear and taste and smell) above ground and below. Akko also makes a great place to spend a Saturday, as the Old City doesn’t close down and all the sites are open. It is a city brimming with history and bustling multicultural livelihood. One day-trip to Akko may not suffice to enjoy the multiple attraction Akko has to offer, below is a list of our favorite:
- Visit the Hall of the Crusader Knights at the Citadel. Archaeological excavations revealed a complex of halls built and used by the Hospitallers Knights.
- Descend into the Templar Tunnel, which was built by the Knights Templar to provide underground passage between their fortress and the port on the south-eastern side of the city.
- Visit Or Torah synagogue, a Tunisian synagogue, meticulously handcrafted spectacle of stained glass and tile mosaic entirely unique to Akko. (Located a 3-5 minute walk outside the Old City from the Land Gate)
- Shop, eat and linger in the market. There are very good fishmongers (but arrive early) as well as spices, olives, baklava, soap and fresh loofas from the sea. There are some excellent humus eateries in the market.
- Walk atop the city walls, the section from Weizman St. to the Land Gate at the sea shore dates back from the rule of Ahmed Al-Jazzar, This section also houses the Treasures in the Wall Ethnographic Museum.
- Visit the Turkish Bazaar – Newly renovated bazaar in the old city, where several up-and-coming chefs have opened small restaurants.
- Explore Tel Akko – the remains of the ancient city of Acre before it was resettled on the piece of land currently known as the “Old City”. Tel Akko offers incredible views of the Old City, Haifa and the sea. The hill, or “Tel”, results from multiple ancient cities built on top of each other from the Early Bronze Age to the Hellenistic Period. Excavations are on-going, and since few tourist know about it, is well worth a visit if you’re craving some peace and quiet.
- Swim in fine Mediterranean water and relax on one of Akko beaches adorned with soft, fine sand from the Nile Estuary.
- Marvel and contemplate in the Shrine of Baha’u’llah – the holiest place for the Baha’is. The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh is composed of a central room that has a small garden at its centre.
Akko has excellent fish & seafood restaurants, housed in authentic stone buildings, and some with fine views of the sea or the port. If you are looking for something special try Uri Buri or El-Babour & the Sea (booking advisable).
Beit She’an National Park: 1 Hour drive, 78 km.
Beit She’an is one of the oldest cities in Israel, first occupied some 6,000 years ago. The Tel (Tel el-Hisn) contains evidence of Chalcolithic and Bronze Age settlements, and became an administrative centre during the Egyptian occupation (15th Century BCE). Subsequently a Canaanite settlement, the Tel was later captured by the Philistines, who having defeated the Israelites at the battle of Mount Gilboa, hung the body of King Saul from the city walls. The Israelites later captured Beit She’an under the leadership of King David.
At the foot of the Tel lies the deeply impressive excavated ruins of a Hellenistic, Roman and then Byzantium metropolis, once home to a population of 40,000 citizens and covering an area of 1,500 dunam. The colonnaded Cardo is flanked by shops, baths and temples, and evokes a real sense of what it must have been like as a bustling commercial centre some 2,000 years ago. More than that, there is a significant Roman theatre and a full-size a chariot-racing arena. Fantastic views of the Roman city can be seen from the top of the Tel.
Beit She’an continued to be an important city under the Arab caliphate and the subsequent Latin Kingdom. Nearby are the ruins of Crusader-era castle.
Beit She’an can be best reached by driving down the eastern shore of the Lake on the 92. The road passes the holiday resort of Kibbutz Ein Gev, which is an excellent place to stop for a rest and a meal.
The 92 also passes the ruins of a Byzantine Christian monastery at Kursi, commemorating Jesus’ so-called “miracle of the swine” (Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39). Impressive in its own right, it is a beautiful location an offers another lovely place to break to the journey to Beit She’an.