Top 10 Archaeological Sites in Israel
The state of Israel is merely a dot on the globe but is one of the most important places on the planet. In many ways Israel is the cradle of western civilization, and it is also holy for the three major world religions. Monotheism, alphabet, and the bible were all developed here. Furthermore, the land is sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Being so, the archaeological and historical sites in the Holy Land are not just tour attractions. Some are venerated as holy places, while others are viewed as highly significant to world history. Here are our top 10 archaeological sites in Israel.
Perhaps Masada is not labeled as a holy site, but many will relate to it as a place of sanctity. Around the turn of the First century its summit facing the Dead Sea was transformed by king Herod into a fortified palace by King Herod. Decades later Jewish rebels clung to their freedom at the site, and when the Romans reached it, they committed suicide. Aside the wealth of remains, including dramatic finds left by the rebels, Masada stands as a symbol for Jewish struggle to freedom. Every Israeli is raised on the myth of Masada and the Zionist slogan “Masada will never fall again”.
Founded about 3000 years ago by King Solomon, the temple mount was as the place of the Israelite worship. The Ark of the covenant was kept in its holy of holies for several centuries, and animal sacrifice was practiced at this site also in the time of Jesus. Since the 7th century CE, the Temple Mount is controlled by Islam, and was re-branded to commemorate Solomon’s temple, Mohammad’s night journey, and compete with Christianity and its shrines. Today, the Temple Mount is open to non-Muslim visitors only a few days a week, at limited hours. Nevertheless, it is a moving experience to appreciate its Muslim monuments, and even more to track remains from previous periods.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Identified since the 4th century CE as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is venerated by millions of Christians from all around the globe. The church complex combines building phases from different periods, reflecting well its long and complex history. Maintained today by six different Christian denominations, its focal points are the Hill of the crucifixion (the Golgotha) and the site of Jesus’ resurrection (The tomb of Jesus).
Although not an archaeological site, no visit of Israel is complete without a seeing the highlights of the archaeological wing of this national institution. Some of the most important finds ever made in Israel is on display here, from prehistoric times to Middle Ages. Most famous are the finds relating to the bible, both Old Testament and New Testament. The Tel Dan Inscription is an amazing testimony to the Israelite and Judahic kingdoms in the 9th century. Nearby, a silver amulet bearing the priestly blessing is the earliest quote of biblical script. The museum also exhibits the only evidence ever found of crucifixion, a monumental inscription of Pilate, the judge of Jesus, and the bone box of high-priest Caiaphas. Don’t miss also 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem, and especially the display of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the “Shrine of the book“.
Nestling in the Judean foothills (the Shephelah) Lachish was the second most important city of biblical Judah. Furthermore, in the 19th century a detailed account of its conquest by Sennacherib was discovered in Nineveh, in today’s Iraq. Excavations at the site uncovered many finds relating to its conquest and destruction by the Assyrians, as well as other periods. With its new visitor center, Tel Lachish is one of the most exciting sites to appreciate local Biblical archaeology.
Situated along Israel’s main roads (the ‘Via Maris’) Megiddo was continuously settled in all Canaanite and Israelite periods. The stables and gate once believed to date to Solomon’s time are now attributed to the Israelite kings, yet Megiddo still presents the best example of a biblical Israelite city. The site is also highly significant to the Christian World, as it is equated with Armageddon, the site of final battle at the end of times.
City of David
Founded by King David around the Gihon Spring, the City of David is in it essence biblical Jerusalem. Excavated by several archaeological expeditions since the 19th century, the City of David yielded some of the most important finds, from Canaanite to Byzantine times. Constantly developing by a local organization (ELAD), the city of David presents many archaeological discoveries, both above the below ground. Don’t miss the walk along Hezekiah’s Tunnel, to the Pool of Siloam, and the hike up the Herodian stepped street to the Western Wall! The site also offers a special audio-visual night show, and an innovative one-of-a-kind dynamic model is soon to open.
Set at the edge of the Negev desert, Arad was a significant city in Canaanite times. The bible records the Israelites failing to conquer the city and forced to return to the Red Sea, reaching the “Promised Land” from the east. So far, excavations of tel Arad did not yield evidence of the Israelite battle over the site, but archaeologists did uncover significant finds from the Israelite period. In the 8th century BCE a fort built over the Canaanite city which included a one-of-a-kind Judahic temple competing with the one in Jerusalem. The excavations also uncovered an important archive of letters echoing fear of Babylonians and Edomite invasions.
Nestling along the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum was a small fishing village in Roman times. Expelled from Nazareth in the 30s of the first century, Jesus settled in Capernaum, where he laid the foundations of Christian faith. Venerated since the 4th century, Capernaum is a significant site both for Jews and Christians. Its rich remains include a church built over the house of Peter, and the most grand synagogue ever found in Israel from the Byzantine period. Maintained by the Franciscans, Capernaum is one of the most popular pilgrimage Christian destination in Israel.
Founded by King Herod in the First Century BCE, Caesarea was a bustling metropolis in Roman and Byzantine times. Its harbor was the biggest man-made port at its time, and it played a key role also in Crusaders times. Today, as a national park, Caesarea’s rich finds are spread over a vast area. They include a restored theatre, two hippodromes, a large bath house complex, remains of the port, a synagogue, an aqueduct, and more. Excavations of Herod’s palace also yielded evidence that could be related to Paul’s prison in the city.