Our first stop as we headed north of Jerusalem was Beit Shean...one of the most ancient cities in the country.
We passed through a residential and commercial area of the modern day city...and on to the National Park of Beit She'an which lies just north of the city. Here we will took a walk through time...at an excavation of the city as it was during the Roman era.
Our tour guide led the way to the amphitheater (built around 200 AD)...once used for gladiator fights and able to seat more than 5,000 spectators.
That is definitely the oldest seat I have ever sat on!
Beyond the main street of that ancient Roman city lined with white columns...is the Tel (mound) which was the site of the ancient Biblical Beit Shean that we read of in the Old Testament. It was a Philistine city during the time of Saul and we read in 1 Samuel 31 that King Saul's head was displayed on the wall of the city following his death. Later King Solomon made Beit Shean a main administrative centre. A major earthquake destroyed and buried the city in 749 AD...and so it remained until modern times. Excavation began in 1949 and continues to today.
Here at Beit Shean archaeologists have marked different times in Israel’s history...under the Jebusites, Canaanites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, Maccabees, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Ottomans, Brits and anyone else who ever raised their flag here over the last 5,000 years.
Next we stopped at Nazareth...where Mary and Joseph made their home and where Jesus grew up. Though it was just a small village at that time...it now is a large city of some 75,000.
We toured the Basilica of Annunciation...a Roman Catholic church built in 1969 and the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East.
On the church walls (as well as in the outer courtyard) are many mosaic murals...each one given by a different country and reflecting the flavour of the nation that gifted it. Though most were tile mosaic...it seems Canada and the USA presented quite unique gifts. The Canadian artwork is a wood carving...appropriate, I guess!
In northern Galilee we visited Israel's highest city, Safed...located at an elevation of 900 meters. If we go back to the Old Testament, we learn that Safed belonged to the Naphtali tribe after Joshua's conquest.
Now it is a picturesque mountaintop city with ancient cobblestone alleyways...a gathering place for Jewish mystics and artists.
Wherever there are hills in Israel...there are caves. Seeing them makes it easy to picture all those Old Testament stories that involved kings and prophets hiding in caves.
Capernaum...a place Jesus called home after being rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. It was where he called some of his disciples...where he healed Peter's mother, the leper and the Centurion's servant...where he cast out an evil spirit...raised a child from the dead...and where he taught in the synagogue.
It was where we visited the ruins of the synagogue...believed to have been built around 300 AD. It is built above the foundation of a previous synagogue...thought to be the one where Jesus taught. How surreal it feels to know that Jesus once walked, talked and lived right here!
Before I finish this post on Galilee...let me include a little trip north and east of the Sea of Galilee to the Golan Heights...where much of the conflict we hear of has taken place.
We stopped at the Quineitra Viewpoint (situated on the flanks of a dormant volcano)...from where we could easily see the Syrian border just a short distance away. Just last week I saw photos of Israeli government officials meeting right at this very location. A visit to Israel makes ancient history come alive...and gives insight into what is happening there today!
Above and behind us was Mt. Avital...where the many eyes of Israel's top-secret military defense program peer into Syria.
Residents of the Golan depend primarily on agricultural income. Most of the farming in Israel is done on collective farms. We passed by dairy farms, chicken farms, and many crops being grown beneath white netting called Antivirus net...a mesh that blocks the insect's physical access to plants, while allowing sunshine in and enabling air circulation.
The next stop along our tour will be Haifa, Caesaria, TelAviv...places along the Mediterranean coast. It has been a good exercise to document some of the photos I took...since it seemed impossible to process it all as we toured.