Top 7 Things to See in Nazareth
Currently the largest Arab town in Israel, Nazareth is a major tourist attraction especially among those of the Christian faith who believe it to be the site of the Annunciation - when the Archangel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. It's also the place where Jesus is believed to have spent his adolescence.
Predictably, the city is home to many churches, including the famous Church of Annunciation. But there are numerous other sites and experiences to see while soaking up the rich Biblical history that graces much of the city. While the Nazareth may get a little crowded during the peak tourist season, its large concentration of historical landmarks makes it a worthwhile visit even during those times.
1. The Church of the Annunciation. The Church of Annunciation is the biggest church in the Middle East and the most popular attraction in Nazareth. While the current structure was designed and built in 1969 by the famed architect Giovanni Muzio, archaeological evidence shows that numerous churches have occupied this site for over 1800 years.
The current structure of the church reflects its transformative past. Designed to resemble a Crusader church, the side walls are built on top of the the remains of older structures. Sitting at the floor of the church is an opening with a view to the lower level. This lower section of the church houses the grotto, the site of Mary’s home, where the Archangel Gabriel is believed to have descended from heaven to inform her about the birth of her future son. The structure also is home to numerous, delightful mosaics from around the world and other artwork.
2. Mary of Nazareth International Center. Located opposite the Church of the Annunciation, the Mary of Nazareth International Center offers a Biblical multimedia show and a series of short movies describe Mary's life and her representation both in the Bible and the Koran. It also provides a brief history of early days of Christianity and the Eastern Church.
Additionally, there's a small archaeological exhibit in the area revealing the foundations of a house from the 1st century AD, and the large, peaceful Biblical Garden that offers spectacular panoramic views of the city.
3. St. Joseph's Church. This church stands on a site where Joseph is believed to have run his carpentry workshop. Built in 1914, the structure is rather small and simple-looking, though it does house some interesting pieces of art. The main point of interest actually lies beneath the structure. A set of stairs brings visitors into the grottoes where an ancient cistern and collection of storage pits are visible.
4. The Synagogue Church. Tucked away in the market district, the so-called Synagogue Church is a modest structure built in 1887 consisting of a dome, flanked by two bell towers. Lying below the church is an ancient synagogue. There is a belief that Jesus attended the synagogue in his youth. But archaeological findings suggest that the site actually existed several hundred years after his death.
5. St. Gabriel's Church. While the Church of the Annunciation is generally considered to be the site where the Archangel Gabriel first appeared to Mary, there is also a belief that the Annunciation took actually place on the site of St. Gabriel's Church. The structure was built on top of the village spring, where according to Greek Orthodox tradition, the Annunciation happened. The spring still flows to this day and is believed to possess healing powers.
6. The Ancient Bath House. When a local souvenir shop started doing renovations in 1993, the owners discovered a well-preserved Roman-era bathhouse. The site was then partially excavated and has been opened for tours. The 30 minute bathhouse tour takes visitors to the caldarium (steam room), the furnace that heated the baths, as well as the hypocaust heating tunnels and cooling rooms.
7. Nazareth Village. This quaint farmstead is a decent recreation of village life during the 1st century AD. It features recreations of a wine press, olive press and threshing floor, as well as a carpenter shop and weaver shop. The area comes to life with live actors dressed in the traditional garb of the time.
Aside from the 7 sites mentioned above, there are many other sites in Nazareth to explore that are steeped in historical or cultural significance. It's definitely worth a visit.