The Holy Land has a long and rich history (a brief review is presented here). It is Holy to several religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Samaritanism, Druze Faith, and Baha’i), and so bears many significant places of worship. Also being the state of the renewed Jewish presence in the land of Israel in modern times, it presents several very significant sites relating to the history of the State of Israel. Here is a list of the top 10 sites to visit in Israel, in descending order.
1. The Western Wall
Half of the top 10 sites in Israel are in Jerusalem, and perhaps the most significant site, definitely from a Jewish Perspective, is the Western retaining Wall of the former Temple Mount. It is often referred to as “The Wailing Wall”. Historically the foundation of this massive wall once supported a giant plaza of the Jewish temple, some 2000 years ago. But in the year 70 CE the Temple and all of Jerusalem were sacked by the Romans, and Jewish Sovereignty in Jerusalem was resumed only in the 20th century. The Western Wall is a significant link to the Jewish past in the city, and related to the former Temple it developed a reputation as an alternative holy site for Jews, although it is open 24/7 and accessible to all.
2. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
From a Christian point of view there is no doubt that The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most significant site in Jerusalem, the Holy Land, and perhaps in the whole world. The aging structure was originally built in 335 CE to mark and sanctify the site where, by Christian tradition, Jesus was put to death, died, buried, and resurrected. Thousands of Christian Pilgrims visit this site on a daily basis, and it attracts visitors from all over the world. The control and maintenance of the church is shared by 6 different Christian denominations, and each conducts its own ceremonies at the site, in a set and regulated order.
3. The Dome of the Rock
Although the religious sanctity of the Temple Mount may have begun already in Canaanite times, since the 7th Century CE, the Temple Mount is exclusively sacred to the Muslims. The Muslim claim is that a dent in the rock preserved to this day in the middle of the Temple Mount bears the footprint of Mohammad when he ascended to the Heavens to receive from Allah the prayers of Islam. The Dome of the Rock, completed in 691 CE, is truly an architectural marvel, and also the oldest Muslim public building that is still standing. Visiting the Dome of the Rock however is only permitted to Muslims.
The steep rock plateau of Masada offers ideal protection. It may have been used by King David escaping Saul some 3000 years ago. The site was massively built by King Herod at the turn of the first century, but became far more famous for sheltering about 1000 Jews fleeing from the Romans, and eventually favoring death to Roman capture. It’s remote location in the harsh Judean Desert challenged the expedition excavating the site. Today, the thoughtful restoration as well as the big visitors center and the comfortable Cable car service make Masada the most visited national park in Israel.
5. Yad Vashem
Between 1939 and 1945, roughly six millions Jews perished in the event known as “The Holocaust,” a systematic mass murder of Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. Eager to create a proper monument and an institution in memory of this calamity, the State of Israel erected “Yad Vashem“. Yad Vashem is a national institution for the memory, study, and teaching of the Holocaust. The new main museum is a MUST, as well as the Child Memorial. Various monuments are spread around the mountain, as well as over 20000 trees planted by “Righteous of all Nations” – people who saved Jews during the Second World War.
6. Independence Hall
16 Rothschild Boulevard, in Tel-Aviv, was first built as the private home of the Dizengoff family. Mr. Dizengoff, who became the first mayor of Tel-Aviv eventually donated his property to become the first art museum of the city. But on May 14th, 1948, the building was converted to stage the most significant event in Jewish history (in modern times) – the declaration of the State of Israel. The event took 22 minutes and the building was later turned back to the municipal art museum. However decades later it’s interior, was replicated as it was when the state was declared, and accordingly it was named “Independence Hall“. A guided tour at the site and proper appreciation of the event is one of the most unforgettable experiences while touring Israel!.
7. City of David
The slope south of the Temple Mount was first inhabited by Canaanite, but, it became significant from a Biblical point of view when David conquered it and established here the capital of his united monarchy – Jerusalem. Although known today as “The City of David,” this slope is really the location of Biblical Jerusalem. Numerous archaeological expeditions have uncovered a wealth of finds from different periods, and a tour of the City of David is “a must” to any history and archaeology buff.
The humble fishing village at the shores of the Sea of Galilee called Capernaum (Hebrew for “The village of Nahum”), became the home of Jesus about 2000 years ago, in his formative years of establishing the Christian faith. The New Testament records many events and miracles in and around Capernaum, making it a major Christian pilgrimage destination in later periods. Today the site is maintained by the Franciscan Catholic Order, and it features a few siginificant archaological discoveries from Roman and Byzantine times: a big and highly ornate synagogue, a contemporaneous octagonal Church whose floor was decorated with a mosaic, private homes, and many artifacts.
9. Mount Bental
Mount Bental (Hebrew for “mountain of the Son of the morning Dew”) is a mountain pick in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria that is open to the public (most other mountain tops in the region are Israeli army bases). Being so, Mount Bental is a great spot to view and review the Golan Heights and its contested history in the 20th century.
10. Israel Museum
Opened in 1965 in the heart of Jerusalem, the Israel Museum is probably the most important museum in Israel, and it presents various collections. Most significant and popular sections of the museum are the Holy Land Archaeology Wing, the Jewish Art and Life wing, the display of the Dead Sea Scrolls (“Shrine of the Book”), and the 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem before it’s destruction by the Romans in 70 CE.