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Adventure Travel Magazine

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Barely two hours from Jerusalem in northern Israel is the Galilee area which is a sharp contrast to the Old City. Here, beautiful hills and the famous Sea of Galilee (called Kinneret) are the focus of attention and Tiberias is at its center.

A Original Gate recent excavation has discovered the original Roman gate into the city and a 2,000 year-old Roman amphitheater seating over 7,000 people.  Excavations on the shore unearthed a rare coin with the image of Jesus on one side and the Greek words "Jesus the Messiah King of Kings" on the other. It belongs to a series of coins issued in Constantinople to commemorate the First Millennium of Jesus' birth.

The area of Galilee has numerous highlights. My favorite sites included Mount Gilboa, site of the battle between King Saul and David. From here you can see the Golan Heights, Kinneret and Tiberias. Capernaum, mentioned in the New Testament, still captures the atmosphere of two thousand years ago.  Ruins of a synagogue exist, located over the remains of an even older synagogue.  Capernaum is also home to a site known as the house of Peter based on some carvings from the 2nd Century AD.  The ruins are protected by a Catholic Church, cleverly built over the ruins.  You can spend relaxing time walking through the ruins and the gardens that have been created for visitors to sit and contemplate.

Restored antique fishing boatIn 1986 the water of the lake reached an unusually low point at this location. At that time, an ancient fishing boat was discovered measuring 8 meters long and preserved by the mud of the lake. After a difficult unearthing and restoration process, the ancient remains of the boat are now on display at the nearby Yigal Allon Museum (where you can also access free internet).

Another interesting site is Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount (first photo of this article above). The traditional site for the last 1600 years is the hill that faces Capernaum and Tabgha. Its hollow shape serves as a natural amphitheatre, amplifying the speaker's voice.

Tiberias from hillMountain Biking around Kinneret is only one of the recent outdoor activities now available to visitors. You can also do horseback riding, whitewater rafting, jeep or ATV touring and zip lining.  My biking trail included portions of the very new Jesus Trail, a 138 km hiking and pilgrimage route in the Galilee region that traces the route Jesus may have walked, connecting many sites from his life and ministry. The trail begins in Nazareth, and passes through Sepphoris, Cana, the Horns of Hattin, the Arbel Cliffs, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabgha, the Mount of Beatitudes, Tiberias, the Jordan River, Mount Tabor, and Mount Precipice.

The trail is free for anyone who wants to hike it and camp along the way.  It is marked with three stripes painted on rocks along the way (white, orange, and white). When portions of the Jesus Trail combine with other trails (such as the Israel National Trail), an additional orange circle is added to the previous trail marker.

Annunciation Church NazarethOne of the most religious sites in this area is Nazareth, described in the New Testament as the childhood home of Jesus and now the home to a large population of Christian Arabs. According to the Gospel of Luke, Nazareth was the home of Joseph and Mary and the site of the Annunciation (when Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would have Jesus as her son); in the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph and Mary resettle in Nazareth after fleeing to Egypt from their home in Bethlehem. The differences and possible contradictions between these two accounts of the nativity of Jesus are part of the Synoptic Problem. Interestingly enough, archaeological and historical records do not support the existence of a town in this location during the time of Jesus, but the city features many shrines commemorating the biblical association. The most venerated site is the Church of the Annunciation, where Mary received the message she would bear a son. The cave where she received this message is now the centerpiece of the Church, decorated with an altar.

For archaeology enthusiasts, two of the most impressive sites were Acre and Beit Shean.  Acre, with its history including the Ottoman Empire, Cleopatra and Alexander the Great, is truly impressive architecture.  Medieval European remains include the Church of Saint George and adjacent houses at the Genovese Square. There were also residential quarters and marketplaces run by merchants from Pisa and Amalfi.

A Templars Hall highlight within the ancient city are the Knights' Halls. The Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templars' existence was tied closely to the Crusades. Officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church around 1129, the Order became a favorite charity throughout Christendom, and grew rapidly in membership and power. Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades.

Non-combatant members of the Order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, innovating financial techniques that were an early form of banking and building many fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land, including Acre. When the Holy Land was lost, support for the Order faded.  The complex of Halls includes 6 semi-joined halls, one large hall (recently excavated), a dungeon, a dining room and remains of an ancient Gothic church.

At the time of the British mandate, Acre was also a prison for several Arabs and Jews who fought against British control. A group of underground Jewish paramilitary members found a weak spot into the prison through the ancient Turkish baths of the building, and subsequently bombed and was able to release a number of prisoners. The Acre Prison break had a strong moral effect on the Jews and on the fight for foundation of Israel. A full day visit of Acre is highly recommended. In addition to your guides' knowledge, visitors can also rent earphones for an informative a self-guided tour.

Beit Shean at nightThe impressive ruins of Beit She'an can also leave an impression on visitors. Its strategic location the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley allows it to control access from the interior to the coast, as well as from Jerusalem to the Galilee. Beit She'an is first listed among Thutmose III's conquests in the fifteenth century BCE, and the remains of an Egyptian administrative center from the XVIII and XIX dynasties have been excavated. The Bible mentions it as a Canaanite city in the Book of Joshua, and its conquest by David and inclusion in the later kingdom is noted, and large Solomonic administrative buildings were uncovered from this period. Its ninth century BC biblical capture by Pharaoh Shishaq is corroborated by his victory list. 

Excavations at the site are ongoing and reveal no less than 18 successive ancient towns.  Recently, visitors can also schedule a visit after nightfall which includes a very good visual presentation projected over the old walls, representing life as it was and the effects of the numerous earthquakes over the centuries.

View the Photo Gallery for this article here.


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