Northern Israel is a land of nature reserves, national parks, lush vegetation, hillsides, mountains, Israel’s wine region, and home to numerous historical and religious sites. The Galilee region is divided into two main parts, the Upper Galilee (north) and the Lower Galilee (south). These two regions encircle the freshwater Sea of Galilee, a life-source of drinking water for Israel.
While one could spend days exploring the sights and sounds of northern Israel, I only had one day to explore a fraction of this stunning region. Since I was on a short time-frame to explore northern Israel, I booked the Galilee Tour from Tourist Israel (the same company that I booked the tour to Petra and Wadi Rum). The Galilee is approximately a 2 hour drive from Israel’s capital, Tel Aviv. The drive to the north is stunning! With amazing views of rolling hills, lush green terrain, mountains, date tree farms, lemon and olive tree groves, valleys, lakes, and historical cities scattered about the countryside, the drive alone is worth your while!
Galilee holds many significant religious sites that welcome Christian pilgrims to explore the land where, according to the New Testament, Jesus spent the majority of his ministry. For this blog post, I want to briefly highlight the Christian holy cities and sites that I visited in the Galilee.
Nazareth and the Basilica of Annunciation:
Nazareth is believed to be the childhood home of Jesus. During biblical times, this sleepy village was irrelevant compared to its neighboring town of Sepphoris. Today, Nazareth and Sepphoris have switched roles, with Nazareth being the thriving town while Sepphoris is an archeological ruin. The bustling city of Nazareth is now home to over 65,000 people and comprised of a largely Arabic population (in fact, the largest Arab population in Israel).
With an eclectic mix of historic cobbled streets, modern buildings and bustling traffic, it can be hard to imagine the Nazareth of biblical times. But with the preserved “Old City” and spiritual holy sites, or with a visit to Nazareth Village, religious pilgrims can catch a glimpse of historic Nazareth.
The Roman Catholic Basilica of Annunciation is the largest church in the Middle East! This church enshrines an ancient grotto, believed by many Catholics, to be the home of Mary. In this grotto, it is believed that the angel Gabriel appeared and announced she would conceive a son, Jesus. While the grotto is the highlight of the church, visitors should also explore the spiral staircase, ceramic reliefs, mosaics, tiled floors, towering pillars, stained-glass windows, and the stunning grand cupola.
Tabgha and the Church of the Multiplication:
The ancient city of Tabgha (also known as Heptaegon) has several holy sites clustered around the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This peaceful area has walking trails that connects the religious sites to the hiking path for the Mount of Beatitudes.
The Church of Multiplication is believed to be where Jesus miraculously turned two fish and five loaves of bread to feed over 5,000 people. The ancient limestone building, wooden trussed ceiling, and stunning mosaic tile floor (which dates back to the 5th century) transports visitors back to ancient biblical times! This tranquil church has gorgeous views of the Sea of Galilee.
Village of Capernaum:
The fishing village of Capernaum is believed to be the “town of Jesus.” This small town is where Jesus recruited his disciples and healed the sick. The ancient village has an impressive display of limestone ruins, carved stone pillars and reliefs, over 130 inscriptions, the ruins of an ancient Jewish synagogue, and contains the homes of Peter and Jesus. A walk through this ancient city takes visitors back to biblical times to ponder how Jesus lived along the banks of the Sea of Galilee.
Situated along the banks of the Jordan River, at the southern edge of the Sea of Galilee, is Yardenit. Yardenit is a baptismal site where Christians can be baptized in the Jordan River, where it is believed that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Admission to Yardenit is free and Christian pilgrims can rent white robes to be baptized in the river. The tranquil setting and lush river banks, are the perfect spot to take a quiet moment, or visit the river to spot fish and otters swimming in the water.
Sea of Galilee:
The Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) is a freshwater lake which is surrounded by the cliffs and hills of Galilee. Situated in a hollow, the Sea of Galilee lies about 700 feet below sea level and is Israel’s largest reservoir of fresh water. The Sea of Galilee and the Galilee region are believed to play an important role of Jesus’ life, from fishing, his disciples, feeding hungry crowds of people, curing the sick, and where he walked on water.
With breathtaking landscapes the natural beauty of northern Israel welcomes visitors to enjoy the lush scenery and to explore the ancient biblical towns and religious sites. Whether you want to walk in nature, taste wines from the land of creation, explore ancient cities, or pursue your own religious pilgrimage, the tranquility of northern Israel will inspire you! Hope you enjoyed exploring the Christian sites of Galilee, Israel!
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