Galilee Travel Overview
The northern area of Israel is called the Galilee. This area lies north of Haifa and includes Tiberias to the west, which lies on the Sea of Galilee. This Galilee is more sparsely populated than the central region of Israel and the landscape is dotted with picturesque Arab and Jewish towns. This region is home to a number of sites which are relevant to the Christian traveler in the Holy Land. The major cities in the Galilee include Nazareth, Tiberias and Haifa.
“And Jesus went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.” Matthew (4:23)
Major Sites in the Galilee
One of the most well known cities in the Galilee region, and the largest, is the city of Nazareth, which is where Jesus lived for most of his life. Today Nazareth is a vibrant city which is home to both Jews and Arabs. Traveling to Nazareth today, one can get the feeling for the serene countryside and peaceful landscape upon which Jesus looked as he grew from boy to man.
The ancient town of Nazareth is in the lower Galilee at about 1250 feet above sea-level. It lies roughly halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea and is approximately 30 minutes west of Tiberias. Numerous holy sites are located there including the Basilica of the Annunciation, Joseph’s Workshop, the House of Mary & Joseph, Mary’s Well, Mount of Precipitation recalling the incident in Luke 4:29, in which the townspeople tried to throw Jesus off a hill for supposed blasphemy, Cave of the Annunciation and the church of St. Josephs, among others.
In Nazareth, the pilgrims and other visitors may visit the Church of the Annunciation, which according to most traditions, is built over the grotto where Mary lived and where she received the news that she was to become mother to Jesus. A second holy site in Nazareth is the Church of St. Gabriel, which is built over the site of a local spring. Greek tradition states that it was here that Mary received the news of the impending birth of the Baby Jesus.
Cana of Galilee
Just north of Nazareth, approximately 5 minutes, one can travel to Kfar Cana and visit the Church of the First Miracle. Located approximately 20 minutes away from Tiberias is the place where Jesus performed the first miracle-changing water into wine at the wedding feast.
Sea of Galilee
Lying to the northeast of Nazareth is the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus spent a significant amount of time and performed a number of famous miracles. It was here that he walked on water and performed the miracle of the Catch of 153 fish. The lake itself is thirteen miles long and eight miles wide and is the only fresh water lake in Israel.
Located approximately 9 kilometers north of Tiberias, Tabgha is the traditional site of the Miracle of the Loaves and fishes, where Jesus fed five thousand with only five loaves and two fishes. The miracle is depicted in a mosaic, now part of the Byzantine Church of the Multiplication. Tabgha is the site of numerous masses and prayer sessions are held at the waterfront altar. Capernaum appears in the biblical record only in the Gospels, and it is mentioned 16 times in connection with Jesus’ Galilean ministry. It is not a place where “tradition” says a significant event related to the life of Jesus occurred. It was his adopted home (Mark 2:1) during his three-year ministry. He lived, slept and ate here. Here, too, he called his first disciples, taught in the town’s synagogue and performed many miracles.
On the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, about one mile east of the Mount of the Beatitudes and 2-1/2 miles west of the Jordan River inlet, is the site of Capernaum – (Kfar Nachum). Today, Capernaum is a small archaeological site on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, about 10 kilometers north of Tiberias. The town holds significant importance to Christians and was never fortified. Though traces of occupation were discovered dating to the 13th century BC, the history of the town begins in the 2nd century BC. Upon the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided among his three sons, and Capernaum fell to the lot of Herod Antipas.
Capernaum is the site of a magnificent limestone synagogue, St. Peter’s house and an archaeological museum entrusted with many excavated treasures from the area. Capernaum was Jesus’ adopted home in the Galilee and several of his miracles happened here. Capernaum appears in the biblical record only in the Gospels, and it is mentioned 16 times in connection with Jesus’ Galilean ministry. It is not a place where “tradition” says a significant event related to the life of Jesus occurred. It was his adopted home (Mark 2:1) during his three-year ministry. He lived, slept and ate here. Here, too, he called his first disciples, taught in the town’s synagogue and performed many miracles.
Mount of Beatitudes
On a high hill across the road from Tabgha is the place where tradition says Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, which includes the eight “Beatitudes” recorded in Matthew 5:3-11: It is maintained by the Franciscans, the Mount of Beatitudes is home to the Church of the Beatitudes built in 1937 by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi on a hill, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
It is believed Jesus made a third appearance here following his crucifixion and resurrection. In John 21 (1-19), Peter and six other disciples were on the lake fishing all night, but with no luck. Jesus appeared on the lakeshore and told them to cast their nets again. They did, and had trouble hauling in their nets because they were so full of fish. Afterward, as the disciples breakfasted on the miraculous catch, Jesus commanded Peter three times to “Feed my sheep,” thus, in the Roman Catholic tradition, establishing the “primacy” of Peter as the first of the Papal line. The floor of the black-basalt church is dominated by a rock called the “Mensa Christi” (“Christ’s Table”) which tradition says served as a table for the meal.
Named after the Roman Caesar, Tiberius, the city of Tiberias was built by the son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, who ruled from 4BC to 39AD. In ancient times, the city was considered one of Israel’s main holy centers and along with Jerusalem, Safed, and Hebron. Tiberias is situated in the Galilee, where Christianity began and is located along the southwestern shores of the SEa of Galilee.. It was along the shores of the Sea of Galilee that the profound events surrounding the life and times of Jesus unfolded. The area is rich in holy sites both in and around the Tiberias area.
The resort town of Tiberias, with its plethora of accommodations and restaurants, lies on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, or the Kinneret, as it is called in Hebrew. Tiberias is an ancient town which was first built in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberius, and which has been continuously inhabited since ancient times. The resort town of Tiberias, with its plethora of accommodations and restaurants, lies on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, or the Kinneret, as it is called in Hebrew.Tiberias is an ancient town which was first built in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberius, and which has been continuously inhabited since ancient times.
St. Peter’s Monastery
Built in the second half of the 19th century over the remains of a Crusader castle, the apse projects like the bow of a ship–a reference to Peter’s profession before his call to discipleship.
Yigal Allon Museum and the Jesus Boat
Located at Kibbutz Ginosar is a wonderful museum that showcases the 1st century boat that was found by two fisherman in the early 1990’s. A wonderful depicting how this incredible discovery was made and restored is highly worthy of a visit.
Tiberias Archaeological Park
Built to display finds from excavations and as a base for educational field trips. The finds include a synagogue and mosaic pavements.
El Bahri Sea Mosque & Museum
Near the marina, just off the promenade, is this 19th century place of worship that now houses the Municipal Museum. It is called the sea mosque because it once served Tiberias’ Muslim fishermen, and there was a special entrance from the water for worshipers arriving by boat. It is no longer on the water since the lake-shore was changed during construction of the promenade.
El Omri Mosque
In the heart of the city, the Great Mosque was built by the Bedouin Sheikh Daher El Omar in 1743 and is one of the few remaining buildings in the city from that period. It was the town’s main focal point and is depicted in many 18th and 19th century prints. It is claimed that the mosque was modeled after the great Aya Sofia mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
Fifty years ago the buildings of Tiberias stood directly on the water’s edge and the streets ran parallel to the shore. In 1934, a flood destroyed much of the Old City. Afterwards the shorefront buildings were emptied and the streets rebuilt, running perpendicular to the shoreline to provide drainage and prevent similar disasters. A new promenade was built running along the shore and here you can find many the marina, cruise boats, many restaurants and pubs and magnificent views of the Sea of Galilee.
Hammath-Tiberias National Park
About a mile south of the Tiberias city center is Hammath-Tiberias National Park. The park contains ruins of the Jewish town of Hammath* (or Hammat) that in ancient times was separate from Tiberias. It appears in Joshua 19:35 as one of the fortified cities in the territory allotted to the tribe of Naphtali at the time of the Hebrew conquest. It is located opposite today’s Tiberias hot springs famous for their curative powers for 3,000 years. The name Hammath-Tiberias means “Hot Tiberias” and the ruins include several layers of ancient synagogues one above the other, the most impressive being the remains of a 4th century AD synagogue with a stunning mosaic floor featuring a circular area with a personification of the sun god Helios riding his chariot through the heavens, surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac. Other parts of the mosaic depict a Torah shrine flanked by Menorahs and various Jewish symbols: a shofar (ram’s horn), a lulav (palm branch bound by myrtle and willow) and an etrog (citron). The Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority developed the site, and planted a garden in the surrounding area.
Located on the west side of the Sea of Galilee approximately 5 kilometers north of Tiberias is the site of Magdala. Today the site holds numerous ruins dating back thousands of years. Extensive archaeological excavations in the last couple years have shed much new light on Magdala and point to its prominence as a large community dating back to biblical times.
Approximately 30 minutes from Tiberias, the mountain peak is the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
The ancient city of Beit She’an is located 20 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, and has an enviable location. Situated in the lush area where the Jezreel Valley meets the Jordan Valley, it was built between two streams, Nahal Harod and Nahal Asi. The rich soil and fresh water made the area one of the most fertile in Israel, and a natural choice for early settlement. When Egypt and Assyria fought over Canaan, the land bridge between them, Beit She’an’s location, had additional significance. It stood on the strategic highway linking the northern coast of Israel and the Transjordan to the east; crossing it was another trade route running north-south through the Jordan River valley. Beit She’an is a major archaeological site with an immense tel (Tel el-Husn, “fortress mound”) rising 160 feet above the Jordan valley and 370 feet below sea level. (A “tel” is an accumulation of layers of rubble spanning thousands of years–the remains of settlements built on the site and destroyed or abandoned over the course of time.) Tel el-Husn contains some twenty layers of settlement dating back over 9000 years!
Just south of Tiberias, adjacent to Kibbutz Kinnereth, is the baptismal site of Yardenit.
Following the Sea of Galilee to the South, lies the Jordan River and the traditional place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The Jordan River actually has its origin in the Northern Galilee and runs into the Sea of Galilee. From there it continues its journey southward to the Dead Sea.
To the north of Capernaum lies the upper Galilee with a number of significant archaeological sites. Here lies the ancient city of Hatzor, mentioned in the Old Testament as one of the oldest cities in the world. The area also includes the city of Safed, renowned for its kabbalists. The landscape in this area is dotted with agriculturally productive fields, including vineyards, and the roads lead up to the Golan Heights, known for the production of quality wine. Worthy sites visiting in the upper Galilee include Tel Hatzor, Tel Dan, Banias (Caesarea Philippi) and the Hula Valley. The towns of Safed and Rosh Pina make for interesting side trips.
Heading west towards the Mediterranean coast one arrives in the western Galilee, an area which lies along the northern coast of Israel. There are a number of Crusader fortresses here including the 12th century fortress at Yehiam. On the coast is the port of Acre, which was used as a port in ancient times. Acre is rich in history and is where crusaders arrived in the 12th century and constructed an impressive fortress, which still stands today and is visited by many tourists each year. In addition to the crusader fortress, this mixed Arab and Jewish city, is home to many antiquities and a vibrant Middle Eastern market along its shore. Haifa and the Carmel Moutains. Just south of Acre lies the city of Haifa. Haifa is one of three major ports in Israel to which many cargo and passenger ships arrive each year. Haifa is Israel’s third largest city, with approximately 270,000 inhabitants, both Jewish and Arab. It is home the Bahai World Center, a UNESCO recognized religious center for the Bahai faith and home to world renowned gardens. A site of religious interest in Haifa is the cave of Elijah the Prophet, near where a Carmelite Monastery has been built. Just to the south of Haifa lies the artist village of Ein Hod and the Carmel National Forest. Exploration of the forest has led to the discovery of Neanderthal remains in the caves and this area is known for its hiking trails. Aside from offering a rich religious experience, the Galilee region holds attraction for tourists also interested in sports and adventure. There are many hiking trails throughout the region as well as rappelling, hang gliding, rafting, dune buggies, water skiing on the Sea of Galilee and more. Also, numerous wineries dot the region, where one can taste wines grown in the same vineyards used in biblical times.
The Galilee offers the optimal combination of spirituality combined with fun and adventure.
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