I usually travel on my own but this time I decided to buy a package holiday to Israel and Palestine. It was cheaper to go with agency. Besides I had an opportunity to visit more sites than it would be possible to do it on my own. I had a little time for sightseeing at one site. On the other hand everything was organized.
On Holy Land most of the sites were related to Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions. I decided to add suitable quotation from Bible in the following story. The quotations are from http://www.catholic.org/bible/.
Most of the churches, mentioned below, were built in XX century. Some of them were founded in the first centuries AD and they were rebuilt several times.
Nazareth.. Basilica of the Annunciation. Angle Gabriel said to Mary that she would be the Mother of God 'In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. He went in and said to her, 'Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favour! The Lord is with you.' She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, 'Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God's favour. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.'( Lk 1,26-31). There is The Church of St. Joseph's in Nazareth. Joseph got engaged to Mary at the place. There is a stained glass of the engagement ceremony in the church.
Church of the Nativity was built over a cave where Jesus was born 'and everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee for Judaea, to David's town called Bethlehem, since he was of David's House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space. In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night.(Lk 2, 3-7)'
The Grotto of the Nativity is situated in the centre of the church. There is very steep steps down to the room. The Nativity place was marked with a star. The grotto is very small. Only a few people can be inside at once time. There is huge line to the cave. Everybody must wait about one hour to get inside.There is just a 15 seconds to pray, take a picture and look around. Orthodox monk rushes everybody into leaving the place. The huge amount of people make the place tourist attraction. It is very hard to find peace and atmosphere for religious contemplation. In spite of that all Christians are very touched leaving the church.
MILK GROTTO. According to the legend Mary spilt some milk while breast feeding Jesus. The milk dropped to a stone and it changed the colour into white. In IV century A.D. The church was built in the place. It used to be very popular pilgrimage place. These days couples who cannot have children visit the church and pray for having a baby. Sometimes God helps them. Franciscan monks have collected many evidence of the miracles.
Cana of Galilee the place of the first Jesus's miracle. 'On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. And they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the feast had all been used, and the mother of Jesus said to him, 'They have no wine.' Jesus said, 'Woman, what do you want from me? My hour has not come yet.' His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.' There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, 'Fill the jars with water,' and they filled them to the brim. Then he said to them, 'Draw some out now and take it to the president of the feast.' They did this; the president tasted the water, and it had turned into wine. Having no idea where it came from -- though the servants who had drawn the water knew -- the president of the feast called the bridegroom and said, 'Everyone serves good wine first and the worse wine when the guests are well wined; but you have kept the best wine till now.' This was the first of Jesus' signs: it was at Cana in Galilee. (J2,1-11)' Two churches, catholic and orthodox, were dedicated to the first Jesus's miracle. There are very old stone water jars in the orthodox church. At least one of the jar is said to be the one used for the miracle. Outside the churches there are a lot of shops with Cana wedding wine. It is good to taste some wine before other sightseeing.
Tabgha. is famous of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. 'When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, 'This is a lonely place, and time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.' Jesus replied, 'There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.' But they answered, 'All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.' So he said, 'Bring them here to me.' He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples, who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps left over, twelve baskets full. Now about five thousand men had eaten, to say nothing of women and children.' (Mt 14, 17-21) The church of Multiplication was built in V century A.D. There is a mosaic of the fish and loaves in the church. The mosaic is situated next to the large rock where Jesus blesses fish and loaves before feeding the crowd.
Capharnaum - Jesus lived in Capharnaum for a long time. 'Hearing that John had been arrested he withdrew to Galilee, and leaving Nazara he went and settled in Capernaum, beside the lake, on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. ' (Mt 4, 12-13). Jesus made many miracles in Capharnaum. He also taught in synagogue.
JerichoJesus converted tax collector - Zacharias in Jericho. 'He entered Jericho and was going through the town and suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He kept trying to see which Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am to stay at your house today.' And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. 'He has gone to stay at a sinner's house,' they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, 'Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.'' (Lk 19,1-10)
Church of the Pater Noster is situated at site of Jesus's teaching of the Lord's prayer. 'Now it happened that he was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.' He said to them, 'When you pray, this is what to say: Father, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us. And do not put us to the test.'.'(Lk 11, 1-4). There are plaques with Lord's prayer in over 100 language at cloister of the church.
Dominus FlevitThe church is situated on Mount of Olives and has a shape of teardrop. It symbolizes tears of Christ when he wept over the Jerusalem. 'As he drew near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it and said, 'If you too had only recognised on this day the way to peace! But in fact it is hidden from your eyes! Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all round you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will dash you and the children inside your walls to the ground; they will leave not one stone standing on another within you, because you did not recognise the moment of your visitation.'' (Lk 19, 41-44)
Mount of Olives Olives Jesus was betrayed by Judas and cuptured by Jews on the mountain. 'He then left to make his way as usual to the Mount of Olives, with the disciples following. When he reached the place he said to them, 'Pray not to be put to the test.' Then he withdrew from them, about a stone's throw away, and knelt down and prayed. 'Father,' he said, 'if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.' Then an angel appeared to him, coming from heaven to give him strength. In his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. When he rose from prayer he went to the disciples and found them sleeping for sheer grief. And he said to them, 'Why are you asleep? Get up and pray not to be put to the test.' Suddenly, while he was still speaking, a number of men appeared, and at the head of them the man called Judas, one of the Twelve, who went up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said, 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of man with a kiss?' His followers, seeing what was about to happen, said, 'Lord, shall we use our swords?' And one of them struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. But at this Jesus said, 'That is enough.' And touching the man's ear he healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and captains of the Temple guard and elders who had come for him, 'Am I a bandit, that you had to set out with swords and clubs? When I was among you in the Temple day after day you never made a move to lay hands on me. But this is your hour; this is the reign of darkness.' They seized him then and led him away, and they took him to the high priest's house. Peter followed at a distance. ' (Lk 22, 39-54).
There is a Church of All Nations (Church of the Agony) situated on the Mount. The church was found by donors from many countries in 1922-1924
There is very nice panorama view on Jerusalem from Mount of Olives.
Ein Kerem The site where John the Baptist was born and his mother - Elizabeth lived. ' Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, 'Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. ' (Lk 1, 39-44)
St. Ann's Church dedicated to parents of Mary - mother of Jesus. It was build in XII century. Next to the church there is Pool of Bethesda. The pool was famous of healing properties. 'Now in Jerusalem next to the Sheep Pool there is a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people, blind, lame, paralysed. One man there had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and when Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in that condition for a long time, he said, 'Do you want to be well again?' 'Sir,' replied the sick man, 'I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets down there before me.' Jesus said, 'Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk around.' The man was cured at once, and he picked up his mat and started to walk around. ' (J 5, 1-9)
Cenacle This is very important place for Christian. The Last Supper took place at Cenacle. During the Supper Christ instituted Eucharist 'Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples. 'Take it and eat,' he said, 'this is my body.' Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he handed it to them saying, 'Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall never again drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.' .
Confession was instituted at Cenacle too. In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, 'Peace be with you,' and, after saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord, and he said to them again, 'Peace be with you. 'As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.' After saying this he breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone's sins, they are retained. (J20, 19-23).
Jesus emphasised Great Commandment by washing feet of his disciples at Cenacle. '.. and he got up from table, removed his outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing..' (J 13, 4-5)
VIA DOLOROSA . This is obligatory point of every Christian pilgrimage. Many of 14 stations are directly on the streets of old city of Jerusalem. The last 5 stations are situated in Church of the Resurrection. Stations of the Cross: :
Church of the Resurrection. . This is the hollies site for Christians in the world. The church was founded in 336 A.D. Later it was destroyed and rebuilt several times. The church is managed by Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic Churches, Greek Orthodox Church, Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox. The painful schism of the Christianity is very visible in the church. All Christians believe in dead and resurrection of Jesus Christ and all of them want to see the Tomb of Jesus. There is a long line inside the church every day. It takes about one to two hours to get there. At least everybody enters the chapel of the Tomb of Jesus. It is very emotional experience for Christians to visit and prey next to the tomb of Jesus. 'After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus -- though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews -- asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well -- the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time -- and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.'(J 19, 38-42)
Western Wall - the holiest site for Jews. The wall is the only survived part of Jerusalem Temple. Jews prey standing next to the wall. Sometimes they swing during the prey. The atmosphere is different from Christian churches. Some Jews prey, some of them talk to each other and the other make a mobile phone call. The hat on a head is obligatory for men in wall district.
There are check points around the wall. Everybody, except Jews, is carefully checked.
Temple Mount. This is very important place for Jews and Muslims.
According to Jewish religion from this site the world extended to present form. Muslims believes that angel Gabriel took prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Temple Mount. They also believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Mount. Muslims used to turn towards Temple Mount while they preyed.
At the site Abraham wanted to sacrificed his son for God: 'It happened some time later that God put Abraham to the test. 'Abraham, Abraham!' he called. 'Here I am,' he replied. God said, 'Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you.' Early next morning Abraham saddled his donkey and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place which God had indicated to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, 'Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I are going over there; we shall worship and then come back to you.' Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. 'Father?' he said. 'Yes, my son,' he replied. 'Look,' he said, 'here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?' Abraham replied, 'My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.' And the two of them went on together. When they arrived at the place which God had indicated to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven. 'Abraham, Abraham!' he said. 'Here I am,' he replied. 'Do not raise your hand against the boy,' the angel said. 'Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your own beloved son.' ' (G 22, 1-12)
Temple Mount is administrated by Palestinian. The entrance for tourist is very limited. They can visit the site only 2-3 hours a day. Any religious symbols are prohibited.
Mount Sinai and Monastery of St. Catherine - Egypt. This is very popular excursion. Many tourists want to watch sunrise from the top of Mount Sinai.
Our excursion started at 10 p.m. previous day. There were 25 people in our group. Bedouin was our guide. We had to climbed up to 2285 meters a.s.l. It was dark on the desert but nobody lost the way because there were a lot of people on the trail. The trail was not very hard. It went up but it was not very steep. Most tourist managed climbing without special problems. Some of them had to hire camels. The camels was some disadvantage of the climbing. The trail was narrow. It was not very comfortable and safe to go together with the camels. The other disadvantage was the temperature. It was very cold in the desert at night. When I went up it was nice but I shivered with cold during the stops. It is essential to take warm clothes. At least we climbed at top almost at sunrise time. There were plenty of people on the mountain. It was difficult to find good place to watch the sunrise. The sun rise was nice but in my opinion it was to many people to admire it with full satisfaction.
At the Mount Sinai God gave laws to Moses, the leader of Israelites: 'Yahweh said to Moses, 'Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready at dawn; at dawn come up Mount Sinai and wait for me there at the top of the mountain. No one may come up with you, no one may be seen anywhere on the mountain; the flocks and herds may not even graze in front of this mountain.' So he cut two tablets of stone like the first and, with the two tablets of stone in his hands, Moses went up Mount Sinai in the early morning as Yahweh had ordered. And Yahweh descended in a cloud and stood with him there and pronounced the name Yahweh. Then Yahweh passed before him and called out, 'Yahweh, Yahweh, God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy, maintaining his faithful love to thousands, forgiving fault, crime and sin, yet letting nothing go unchecked, and punishing the parent's fault in the children and in the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation!' Moses immediately bowed to the ground in worship, then he said, 'If indeed I do enjoy your favour, please, my Lord, come with us, although they are an obstinate people; and forgive our faults and sins, and adopt us as your heritage.' He then said, 'Look, I am now making a covenant: I shall work such wonders at the head of your whole people as have never been worked in any other country or nation, and all the people round you will see what Yahweh can do, for what I shall do through you Mark, then, what I command you today. I am going to drive out the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites before you. Take care you make no pact with the inhabitants of the country which you are about to enter, or they will prove a snare in your community. You will tear down their altars, smash their cultic stones and cut down their sacred poles, for you will worship no other god, since Yahweh's name is the Jealous One; he is a jealous God. Make no pact with the inhabitants of the country or, when they prostitute themselves to their own gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will partake of their sacrifice, and then you will choose wives for your sons from among their daughters, and their daughters, prostituting themselves to their own gods, will induce your sons to prostitute themselves to their gods. 'You will not cast metal gods for yourself. 'You will observe the feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you will eat unleavened bread, as I have commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you came out of Egypt. 'All that first issues from the womb belongs to me: every male, every first-born of flock or herd. But the first-born donkey you will redeem with an animal from the flock; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. All the first-born of your sons you will redeem, and no one will appear before me empty-handed. 'For six days you will labour, but on the seventh day you will rest; you will stop work even during ploughing and harvesting. 'You will observe the feast of Weeks, of the first-fruits of the wheat harvest, and the feast of Ingathering at the close of the year. 'Three times a year all your menfolk will appear before Lord Yahweh, God of Israel, for I shall dispossess the nations before you and extend your frontiers, and no one will set his heart on your territory when you go away to appear before Yahweh your God three times a year. 'You will not offer the blood of my sacrificial victim with leavened bread, nor is the victim offered at the feast of Passover to be left until the following day. 'You will bring the best of the first-fruits of your soil to the house of Yahweh your God. 'You will not boil a kid in its mother's milk.' Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Put these words in writing, for they are the terms of the covenant which I have made with you and with Israel.' He stayed there with Yahweh for forty days and forty nights, eating and drinking nothing, and on the tablets he wrote the words of the covenant -- the Ten Words.'(Ex 34).
Monastery of St. Catherine is located at food of Mount Sinai. At the beginning it was a chapel. It was built in IV century AD. It was located at the site where Moses had seen God as burning bush. 'Moses was looking after the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led it to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush. Moses looked; there was the bush blazing, but the bush was not being burnt up. Moses said, 'I must go across and see this strange sight, and why the bush is not being burnt up.' When Yahweh saw him going across to look, God called to him from the middle of the bush. 'Moses, Moses!' he said. 'Here I am,' he answered. 'Come no nearer,' he said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.' (Ex 3)
The monastery was built in VI century AD. At these days it is administrated by Greek Orthodox Monks. There is very old collections of icons and manuscripts in the monastery.
Masada the ancient fortress built by Romans in 40 BC. During the Jewish uprising against the Roman the fortress were capture by Jews. At the end the uprising was defeated by Roman. The fortress was one of the last pocket of resistance. When Roman's siege was close to success Jews committed mass suicide. They preferred to die than to be Roman's slaves. This is very important symbol for Jews. There is military oath ceremony of Israeli soldiers at the top of Masada.
The ruins are preserved well. It is very nice view from the fortress on a desert.
Qumran ruins of ancient Jewish sect settlement. Qumran is famous of Dead Sea Scrolls. They have been found in cave near the ruins.
The ruins were not interesting for me.
Dead Sea. It is great experience to take a bath in the sea. The amount of salt in water is 34%. It means that the sea is one the most saltiest water body in the world. Thank to the level of salt it is possible to seat on water without any risk of drowning. You can read a book sitting on the water. Dead Sea is famous of health effects. There are many spa resorts around the sea. I would recommend mood bath. It is good for skin
Isreal Border welcome to police state. Every tourist is controlled very carefully. Jewish military and police people checked every piece of luggage. Everybody is interviewed. They asked stupid questions like: 'Are you terrorist?, Do you have bomb or any weapon in your luggage?'. To avoid any problems, it is better to be serious and gave short answers yes or no.
Soldiers There are many soldiers on the streets in Israel. They usually have automatic weapon. Most of the soldiers are 17-19 years old. They are children. The military service is compulsory for men and women in Israel. It lasts a 2-3 years. Military duties gave them great power e.g. at check points on the West Bank border they decide if Palestinian or tourist may cross the border or not. When they complete military service they will have problem to adopt to civil world.
Jewish Wall (Israeli West Bank barrier) separates Israel from Palestine. Total length of the barrier is going to be 800 km. Israelites have already built about 400 km. The construction has a network of fences with vehicle-barrier trenches surrounded by an on average 60 meters wide exclusion area and up to 8 meters high walls. The wall made a lot of difficulties to Palestinian. Many of them have lost a job in Israel.
Jews suffered a lot during the Second World War. Many of Jews were killed by German. All Jews had to live in ghettoes. The ghettoes were surrounded by wall. These days Jews have built the same walls and ghettoes. for Palestinian. It is very sad.
Prices in Egypt. .Whatever you buy don't forget to negotiate the price. First price is usually two or three times higher then the last one.
Appropriate clothes.It is necessary to wear appropriate clothes in church in Jerusalem. Knees and arms should be covered.