The Galilee is a mountainous ridge in northern Israel, with a long, rich history and some beautiful scenic destination. In the western world, the Galilee is mostly known as the homeland of Jesus of Nazareth. Being so, our private tour’s first stop will be Nazareth. As we head north, we pass by the ruins of ancient Caesarea, Roman period metropolis, and Megiddo, probable location of Armageddon (Apocalypse 16:16).
Upon reaching Nazareth we park the car near the main attractions, dress modestly, and continue on foot. Today Nazareth is mostly Muslim, but its main attractions for most visitors relate to Jesus and Christian history. We first visit the remarkable Roman-Catholic Church of Annunciation. This church is believed to be over the home of Mary Mother of Jesus. It also sanctifies the very place where, by Christian tradition, an angel appeared to Mary and announced that she has been impregnated by the holy spirit. The Church of Annunciation is the biggest church in Israel possibly in the Middle East and is quite a remarkable structure. It also has a display of numerous icons devoted to Mary. They are donations from many countries all over the globe.
Near by is another, humbler in size, church devoted to Joseph, the (step) father of Jesus. It is said to also be the place where Jesus grew up. It bears some archaeological finds, some of which can be appreciated at the local archaeological museum.
Behind the churches, lies the market of the old city of Nazareth (the “Suq”). In addition to the butcher, the coffee grinder, and pickled olive stands, the market is also where another holy Christian site located, (with a one-of-a-kind name), the “Synagogue Church“. This church is said to be built over the very place where a synagogue stood in the time of Jesus, and where Jesus preached for the first time about his Messianic role (Luke 4). Time permitting, we could also visit Mary’s Well, the Greek-Orthodox Saint Gabriel Church, or Mount of Precipice.
See Cana – Site of the First Miracle
Located 6 miles north of Nazareth, Cana is recorded in the New Testament as the place Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine during a wedding (John 2). Enter the Roman Catholic “Wedding church,” in the heart of Cana. It is built over an ancient synagogue. Among others, it presents a big stone vat that was used in the wedding, according to local tradition. The Greek-Orthodox church across the road presents another stone vat that claims to be used in the wedding. Conveniently, several souvenir shops offer local wine from the region.
Sites around the Sea of Galilee
As we drive towards the Sea of Galilee, we pass by the medieval battle field of Horns of Hattin. This is where Saladin set a deadly trap to the Crusader forces about 800 years ago. Upon reaching the lake we might consider a lunch break in one of the fish restaurants (Saint Peter Fish anyone?), and then check out some of the Holy Christian sites in the area.
At Tabgha, we can review the church that marks the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish (Luke 9), and near it, the chapel marking where Jesus appointed Peter to lead the early church (John 21).
On the hill above lies a magnificent set of gardens around an octagonal church that marks the Sermon on the Mount. The site, known also as “Mount of Beatitudes” is a great place to read Matthew 5 and contemplate on the revolutionary and social messages of Jesus.
The most significant site in the area for Christianity is undoubtedly Capernaum. About 2,000 years ago, Jesus settled in this small fishing village by the Sea of Galilee and laid the foundation of Christian faith. We will review the main archaeological discoveries at the site, including the ancient synagogue of the village, and the church believed built over the home of Peter. Time permitting, we can also visit Capernaum’s Greek-Orthodox Church of the Twelve Apostles and a hidden gem – Capernaum’s Mausoleum.
Before heading back, we have several optional sites we could visit:
Bethsaida and Chorazin
Bethsaida was the home of three of Jesus’s disciples (John 1:44). Perhpas, due to some opposition to Jesus both, Bethsaida and Chorazin were cursed by him (Mat. 11). Both were then later abandoned and their location was forgotten. Ancient Chorazin was discovered in the 19th century, and is now a national park. The location of Bethsaida is still an archaeological mystery. However, two archaeological expeditions are claiming to have found ancient Bethsaida.
Magdala and the Ancient “Boat of Galilee”
Another optional way to end the tour is visiting the hometown of Mary Magdalene – Magdala. This thriving Jewish city was conquered by the Romans in 67 CE and later abandoned. Archaeological research in recent years at the site yielded a wealth of finds, including a 2,000 year old synagogue. This synagogue may have been attended by Mary Magdalene, and maybe even Jesus himself. Near the shores of ancient Magdala, another rare archaeological discovery was made in 1986, when the water level was low. Traces of a small wooden vessel proved to be of a first century CE fishing boat. Known as Sea of Galilee Boat, this exceptional find is a good illustration of boat making and fishing in the time of Jesus. The boat is on display in a Kibbutz, where one can also join a short Sail on the Sea of Galilee experience.
Tiberias and a Baptism Ceremony
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More Activities in the North
Baing a private tour, the schedule can be modified any way you want. If you have visited some of the proposed destinations in the past, you may want to consider including other points of interest in the tour. See here a list of alternative destinations.