Israel & Palestine

Israel is a fascinating country with a very rich historical heritage and a unique mix of cultures and religions.

Jerusalem presents a gorgeous walled old city and some of the world's most important holy sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims. I found all of them fascinating and worth appreciating irrespective of religious beliefs.

Christianity's most important site in Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located on the site where Jesus Christ was crucified and including the site of Jesus' burial. The first church on the site dates from the 4th century AD. The church includes the site of Calvary (Golgotha) where the cross was raised, the Aedicule containing the Holy Sepulchre (the tomb) and the Stone of Anointing (where Jesus' body was prepared for burial). Other important sites in Jerusalem are the Dormition Abbey, located on Mount Zion and the Ascension Chapel built on the location where Jesus ascended into heaven; close to the Dormition Abbey you can find the Cenacle (Room of Last Supper),

There are many important landmarks around Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock, beautifully decorated with a golden dome (80 kg of gold were used), is one of the holiest sites in Islam as the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven; the Temple Mount on which the dome is located is venerated by Judaism as the place where God chose the divine presence to rest; the Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall) is one of the most sacred sites of the Jewish faith and is venerated as the sole remnant of the Holy Temple; the Muristan includes the location of the first hospital built by the Knights Hospitaller in the 12th century.

Traditional jewish dress is prevalent around Jerusalem and added to the uniqueness of the place, as did the presence of numerous fully-armed, rifle bearing police and soldiers (men and women) - disconcerting at first, but keeping things safe. The modern part of Jerusalem presents numerous dining and shopping opportunities such as Yafo Street or Mamilla Mall.

I did a trip to Bethlehem, located in the Palestinian Territories, the site of another important Christian landmark - the Church of Nativity located on the spot where Jesus was born; the church was originally commissioned in 327 AD. The Shepherds' Field and the Milk Grotto were two other sites visited in Bethlehem.

I also did a trip to Masada, an ancient fortification located on a rock plateau in the middle of the desert with a very tragic story to tell. The Romans besieged Masada in 73 AD which led to the mass suicide of the 960 Jews living there.

Next stop was at one of the Dead Sea beaches - while this particular beach was not impressive, the 34% water salinity did make everyone float around. The Dead Sea shores hold the record of lowest elevation on land, at 427 metres below sea level.

Israel's largest city, Tel Aviv, is more westernized and presents some splendid Mediterranean beaches.

Additional info:
- country entry on Wikipedia
- country profile on Wikivoyage

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