Everything You want to Know About Nazareth, Israel
Nazareth is an Israeli city with plenty of biblical history. In the old part of the city, the famous Basilica of the Annunciation is believed to be where Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to a child. Then there’s St Joseph’s Church, apparently where Joseph had his carpentry workshop. And let’s not forget the Synagogue Church, an underground establishment where Jesus is believed to have prayed and studied. You can also visit the open-air museum called Nazareth Village, a replica of what life was like in Jesus’ time.
For a while, the biblical town of Nazareth in Israel’s lush Galilee area was not a popular sightseeing destination. What a pity. Home to many religious Christian sites, Nazareth is also the biggest Arab city in Israel, offering plenty of historic and cultural experiences. In early 2009, the Israeli government prepared for the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land by transforming Nazareth, building up the city’s tourism infrastructure and making it a delight to visit and explore. The result? Nazareth is now back on the tourist trail – and deservedly so. It’s a legendary historic location, with vast biblical significance as the place where Jesus grew up as a child, an excellent location in the centre of the Lower Galilee (the Sea of Galilee is about 15 miles west of the city), and as home to the largest Arab population in the country.
The Old City of Nazareth is a charming place to visit, especially to bargain at the marketplace (called ‘shuk’ in Arabic). It’s an opportunity to step into another world and a huge contradiction compared to the modern malls located in many Israeli towns. The Old City is also steeped in history, with several important Christian sites waiting to be discovered, not least of which is the famous Church of the Annunciation. There are also some hidden treasures in the Old City, a major attraction for history and culture buffs. The first of these is the Nazareth Nuns’ Convent, located near the Church of the Annunciation. This 19th century structure was established by nuns who arrived from France in 1855. Initially they bought a number of market stalls. This was the start of the Convent, and unbeknownst to the nuns, hid several archaeological treasures beneath it, from catacombs and ancient water tanks to a massive hall, the ancient altar of a church, mosaics and a Jewish graveyard that apparently dates all the way back to between 516BCE and 70CE, when Jerusalem’s Second Temple stood. Today you can visit the small museum created by the nuns to see its displays of pottery and old coins.
Another major site to visit is the Synagogue Church, where Jesus apparently studied and prayed. This is where Jesus is said to have given his notable address one Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat), stating that he was the Messiah to the Jews in the village. Described in the New Testament (Matthew 12, Mark 6, Luke 4), this event made the other attendants very angry; they apparently dragged Jesus to Mount Precipice just outside the town and wanted to throw him down the hill. However, Jesus got away from them and disappeared. These days, the Synagogue Church is owned by the Greek-Catholic community. Historians believe that the story of the Synagogue Church has only been around since Byzantine times. Prior to that, during the Second Temple Period, most Jewish holy sites were demolished by the Romans. Most of the ancient synagogues in the Galilee area were built between the third and sixth centuries.
Nazareth also boasts a number of splendid residences that date back to Ottoman times; many of these, which were homes to wealthy merchants, feature exquisite painted frescoes on the ceilings and walls. Obviously time has taken its toll and these decorations are no longer as beautiful and vivid as they once were, but it’s well worth taking a tour to see them.
Surrounding Nazareth are a number of spectacular locations worth exploring, particularly in the Lower Galilee and the area around the Sea of Galilee. One noteworthy experience is the Gospel Trail, which opened recently. This walkable route traces Jesus’ journey from Nazareth to Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This scenic hike has been created to take a number of days to complete, but you can either walk part of it, or walk in stages until you’ve completed the trail. This depends, of course, on what you wish to see along the route, whether you have an historic and religious interest, or whether you’re just keen to hike and enjoy the stunning views.