Must-See Biblical Sites in Israel
If you’re thinking of visiting Israel, there are a myriad of reasons to do so. From golden sandy beaches on the Mediterranean coast, to hiking in the verdant greenery of the Galilee and Golan heights, to the remote and peaceful beauty of the Negev desert and, essentially, to visit Jerusalem, arguably the world’s most important city given its fundamental significance to three of the world’s major religions.
And don’t forget the new culinary scene, which has taken Tel Aviv by storm; the renowned museums, especially the globally-recognised Israel Museum; arts, culture and music, such as the pop concerts at the Caesarea theatre, Israeli folk music at Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem and the annual Red Sea Jazz Festival.
But, for many people, it’s their interest in the history and archaeology of a millennias’ old country that has been conquered and ruled by a myriad of foreign leaders. When travelling around the ancient land of Israel, it’s hard to miss a site that dates back to the times of Kings Herod and Solomon. And that is partly responsible for the emergence of biblical archaeology in Israel.
You might wonder why biblical archaeology is so important. Well, it can provide first hand insights into the history of the region where biblical historiography cannot. Examining archaeological finds in addition to interrogating biblical texts is an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding of those peoples of the Ancient Near East and their cultures.
When compared to other Mediterranean countries, even those such as Greece and Italy, Israel has a much higher concentration of archaeological sites in a much more compact region.
The history of the Jewish people began with the biblical patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Archaeological discoveries demonstrate the depth of connection between Jews and the land of Israel. Of course, as already mentioned, many other cultures ruled Israel and they too have left their imprint on the country. The point is that archaeology reveals the lives of those who came before us in Israel and provides insights into our history. Biblical archaeology goes one step further: the artefacts found in the Holy Land not only help us to construct an image of how the Jewish people lived centuries ago, it also verifies the historical veracity of the Hebrew bible.
Israel’s top tourist biblical sites
If you’re interested in visiting some of the myriad archaeological sites in Israel, there are many to choose from. Where should you start? Below there’s a list of many of the biblical sites. And if you still can’t decide, here are some of the must-see sites based on their beauty and sheer magnificence.
Capernaum is the city where Jesus performed his ministries and visited the synagogue. Archaeology has confirmed that the city was founded in 2BCE, during the Hasmonean period. Today, Capernaum is considered one of Israel’s holiest Christian sites. Visitors can explore the very ancient synagogue that Jesus visited and walk the same streets he did. The whole area is pervaded with history, from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, to the Sea of Galilee where he preached, healed the sick and enlisted his disciples. Today, it’s possible to experience every aspect of his life by hiking Israel’s Gospel Trail.
Just 3km from Jericho is the site of King Herod’s Winter Palace. Constructed at a lush oasis in the desert that offered fresh, clean water, it was of a grand construction. The location offered a convenient one-day journey to Jerusalem. Excavations have discovered evidence of courtyards, swimming pools and sunken gardens. Overall, the palace complex spanned the entire Wadi Qelt Gorge with bridges connecting the various components.
Here, visitors can enjoy the Tower of David and the Citadel Museum. The Tower of David is an ancient citadel that is situated close to the Jaffa Gate, which leads into the Old City of Jerusalem. It dates back to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods with some of the artefacts dating back 2,500 years. The well-known Israeli archaeologist Dan Bahat carried out excavations in 1971-2 that discovered that the citadel walls were constructed on the remains of a tower that protruded three metres from the wall line.
The City of David is a world-famous site and arguably the most important archaeological site in Israel. It’s located southwest of the Old City, under the Arab village of Silwan. Following multiple excavations, artefacts of all descriptions have continued to be unearthed on a regular basis. The City is considered to be the foundation of Jerusalem and offers unrivalled insights into the lives of people at the time of the First Temple. Tickets allow admission to the walls and fortifications, including Hezekiah’s water tunnel. This ancient feat of engineering was carved out of solid rock and brought water from the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool. During the siege of King Sennarcherib of Assyria it ensured the survival of the citizens of Jerusalem.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the oldest and most famous church in the Old City of Jerusalem. Here, faithful Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. As part of a restoration project in the mid-twentieth century, excavations were performed below the foundations. This enabled archaeologists to reconstruct a plan of the original complex. This revealed that there were four distinct quarters: the Cardo, the Basilica, the Holy Garden and the Rotunda. More recently, custodians of the Church agreed that renovations could be performed, the first since 1947. It’s an impressive project and don’t be surprised if you discover scaffolding and archaeologists peering at pillars and walls during your visit.
The Cardo was the main street during the Roman occupation. It runs from north to south and is a street full of stores and craftworkers. Built by Emperor Justinian (527-565) it was the main thoroughfare between the Nea Church and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the Byzantine period. Originally, historians believed that Hadrian was the builder of the Cardo but excavations carried out by Nahman Avigad in the decade 1971-81 uncovered many architectural features that revealed that Hadrian could not have been responsible for its construction.
The Western Wall Tunnels, that is the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, is one of Jerusalem’s most iconic attractions. It is the last remains of the Second Temple, which was destroyed 2000 years ago. Underneath the Wall are the tunnels, which many people are unaware of. First excavated in the nineteenth century, they run for 488 metres and reveal a large chunk of the wall which can’t be viewed from above ground. The most extensive excavations, however, took place after the Six-Day War in 1967 when Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem. It has proven to be a rich source of information and full of extraordinary finds, including water pits, an ancient aqueduct and enormous stone arches. Meticulous investigations mean that visitors can now walk through parts of the site that date back to the first century.
If you are looking for the perfect day trip from Jerusalem or for that matter, anywhere in Israel, we would highly recommend you Masada and the Dead Sea. This destination is an absolute travelers’ delight. It’s not just the destination, it’s the drive up to that makes the journey exciting. Being one of the greatest archaeological sites in Israel, it must be on your travel bucket list, if not already. Masada is well known for its historical relevance and its breathtaking view with a strategic location above the Dead Sea.
Should you wish to visit any of these Biblical sites and find out more about their history, Then it’s time to start planning your next vacation to Israel! Book your next trip today and see the Biblical Sites listed above as well as so much more on our range of Day Tours, Private Tours and Multi-Day Tours & Packages.