A 10 Day Archeological Itinerary

 

Day 1

An overview of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives will start us off, as this spiritually significant mountain is also the perfect vantage point for a bird's-eye view of Jerusalem's topography and for understanding how it grew through the ages. We will then continue to exciting underground parts of this eternal city, including:

The Western Wall Tunnels, which will open up a gate for us to the original Western Wall of the Great Herod's Temple Mount, over which Jerusalem of later eras was constructed.

We will be walking along 1445 feet of the original, enormous two thousand year old Herodian stones, taking in the lofty Warren's Gate, an original street from those days, in addition to many other intriguing finds and a fascinating interactive model.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is quite possibly the most important spot in all of Christendom.

It is a complex which was built over sacred ground, marking the Tomb of Jesus and his ascension to Heaven in a complicated combination of medieval and Byzantine architecture. Deep below the surface one can find both remains going back to the era of the First Temple when a stone quarry operated here and the world famous and rarely viewed 'ship inscription', probably carved by a long-ago pilgrim.

The City of David will allow us to consider King David's construction in Jerusalem, amongst which was the 'fortress of Zion' (as mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:7). Nowadays, the ongoing excavations here have so far revealed a royal palace, Warren's Shaft, the 'water fortress' of the Gihon Stream (1 Kings 1:33), the Pool of Siloam which is dated back to the Second Temple time period (John 9:7) and a two thousand year old street which once led up to the Temple itself.

The Archeological Park and Davidson Visitor Center is a still-life image of the original Herodian street, exposing Roman destruction, the famous Robinson's Arch, the Southern Wall and the steps leading up to Hulda's Gates.

At the Davidson Center, in the basement of an eighth century AD palace, we will behold its virtual reconstruction through a high definition interactive model.

The superb Tower of David Museum is located right next to the Jaffa Gate and housed inside the rooms of the Old City's Turkish Citadel. Its symbol is the big tower which overlooks it and which, despite its name referring to the biblical King David, was constructed by Jerusalem's master builder, King Herod. Each of the museum's many room's features exhibits devoted to a different time period, clarifying and expanding on the capital's complex history.

 

Day 2

Today's tour through the Old City will begin at the Jewish Quarter, and it will include many exceptional stops: Hezekiah's Wall (The Broad Wall) was a part of the city as it stood during the First Temple era, a last remnant from the wall which was built over Jerusalem's homes (as told in Isa. 22:10) to protect the people against Assyrian invaders and which served its purpose, but finally fell before the Babylonians.

The Cardo used to be Roman Jerusalem's main street and continued to be such during the Byzantine and medieval ages.

Its colonnades and arched chambers have now been restored and constitute a commercial center and archeological display at the same time.

The Herodian Mansions have been reconstructed to serve as a living museum, lying beneath contemporary buildings. It houses a disply of remnants retrieved from the fine homes which were once eredtec here and the mosaics that adorned them.

It also showcases implements of daily life and architecture that used to belong to the city's wealthy class before the destruction of the Holy Temple.

The Burnt House dwells in the basement of a local home, revealing dramatic evidence about the life of the Katros family, who are believed to have lived and worked here, and of Jerusalem's destruction in 70 AD. An audio-visual presentation offers a powerful version of the family's story.

The Israel Museum is considered to be one of the biggest encyclopedic museums in the world. Its Archeology wing displays rare and world-famous findings from pre-historic times to the Byzantine and Talmudic eras. Its renowned symbol is the outstanding Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest copies of the Old Testament ever found, as well as the Aleppo Codex, the oldest full version of the Jewish Bible in Hebrew. Another permanent and famed exhibition is the 1:50 Model of Jerusalem as the city was during the Second Temple period of time.

The Bible Lands Museum contains a unique collection of ancient treasures mirroring the powerful cultures which reined the Middle East during biblical days, including the Egyptians, the Hittites, the Philistines, the Assyrians and others who left their mark on the region and in Scripture.

 

Day 3

Jerusalem and its surroundings will introduce us today to a myriad of monarchs, matriarchs and the tombs of people who have shaped this country and its ancient environs.

Herodium is an artificial mountain, created by Herod the Great and then topped with a palace which also served as a fortress. Archeologists have also discovered huge cisterns here, a 'playground' pool at the base of the mound, hide-outs which were later used by Bar Kokhba's warriors and, most recently, the grand and long sought after tomb of the King of Judea himself.

We will also visit the Rockefeller Museum, which is an architectural monument in its own right. This huge complex which was built during the 1930's now houses findings from some of the greatest early excavations, including the ones in Gezer, Jerusalem, Megiddo, Jericho and many others.

Our trip will continue in The Kidron Valley. The city's famed Mount of Olives Cemetery began here over two thousand years ago, when the monumental tombs of Absalom, Zechariah and the Sons of Hezir were built. To this day, these are some of the finest examples of Hellenistic tomb architecture in the world. Currently, the cemetery is one of the oldest in existence.

 

Day 4

Any archeological journey through Israel would be incomplete without paying a visit to the Judean

Wilderness and the Dead Sea area, where the unique air has helped preserve some of the most important human culture treasures ever retrieved from the embrace of oblivion.

We will begin our exploration of this zone at the Qumran National Park, where we will inspect the ruins on the plateau, in sight of the caves where the Dead Sea

Scrolls were discovered. Those scripts and the men who composed and guarded them are to this day an enigma wrapped in a mystery and the site we'll behold will only add to it – were the caves the home of the Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, did they house a wealthy Sadducee manor farm, or both?

The Masada National Park is where we'll explore Herod's magnificent mountainous fortress. With its glorious palaces, bathhouses and ramparts, it was also the scene of the last stand taken by the Jews against the Romans during the Great Revolt, attested to by a huge Roman siege ramp still standing here and other finds. The combination of this dramatic story, the fabulous architecture and the important findings has won it recognition as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

At the Ein Gedi National Park we will take a walk through an oasis, as well as the remains of a thriving Talmudic town. Its synagogue mosaic bears a mysterious warning not to reveal 'the secret' – perhaps the manufacturing process of perfume from the now-extinct balsam plant that once grew here.

To conclude our day, we will enjoy a nice and relaxing time at The Dead Sea, where we'll be able to rejuvenate by rinsing off the dust of the desert bathing in the lowest, most mineral-rich lake on earth.

 

Day 5

This day is going to be dedicated to the Judean Lowlands, where we will experience hands-on archeology, and to exploring the 'tel' (archeological mound) of Tel Aviv.

At the Beit Govrin National Park we will inspect an archeological seminars excavation of the caves that once lay beneath the local Hellenistic dwellings, the famous Sidonian Cave, the Roman amphitheater and most notably, Tel Mareshah, which was a city fortified by King Rehoboam of Judah (2 Chron. 11:8) on top of many more attractions.

Leaving the Judean area and heading to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, we'll make our way to the youthful, colorful and vibrant city of Tel Aviv. Our stay here will begin with a visit to the Land of Israel Museum, with its exhibition of antiquities and contemporary traditional cultures. The building itself is located next to an ancient mound that will be a part of our experience – the Philistine Tel Kasila.

A pleasant evening stroll through the White City, Tel Aviv's early 20th century Bauhaus monuments, will enable us to more fully appreciate this architectural style, the preservation of which has earned the city its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Day 6

Enjoying all aspects of Israel's natural beauty will take us from the Mediterranean Coast to the Galilee region. At the Caesarea National Park, also known as 'Queen of the Coast', we will admire King Herod's showcase city, including its amphitheater, Byzantine walls, the exquisite 'bird mosaic', the Crusader town, the aqueduct and more.

The Megiddo National Park offers the opportunity to get to know King Solomon's regional capital (1 Kings 9:15), its fortifications, water system, palaces, stables and dwellings spanning thousands of years as it is one of the earliest preserved human settlements on Earth, in addition to its great biblical significance which has made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The next station on our excursion will be the Beit She’arim National Park, where we'll view catacombs from the Talmudic era with huge, decorated stone sarcophagi, in which sages and leaders from across the ancient world were laid to rest. These are just some of the fascinating antiquities found in this town, which is also where the Sanhedrin, an ancient Jewish council of great rabbis, had its headquarters.

We will finish this day at Acre, a medieval gem on the Mediterranean coast which still retains a 900 year old urban plan. It served as the capital of the Crusaders after the fall of Jerusalem and the city's ramparts overlooking the sea, its Knights Halls, fishermen's port, Turkish Bath Museum, bazaar and the mosque built over a gigantic medieval water cistern have all contributed to it being recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Day 7

We will spend this day around the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful lake made famous when it became the sceneof Jesus' walk upon the water. It is true beauty in blue as it rests at the very heart of a country which is still, to a great degree, a desert.

Before we reach it, we will make one meaningful stop at the Beit She'an National Park, a historical mound containing the remains of the walls from which the Philistines hung the bodies of the biblical King Saul and his three sons (1 Sam. 31:10). Beit She'an was also the capital of the Greco-Roman alliance of cities known as the Decapolis. It boasted colonnaded streets, rich mosaics, grand temples, fountains, pools, an amphitheater and more structures whose existence can still be attested to here.

Tiberias is the present day capital of this region and along with Jerusalem, home to continued Jewish habitation for the last two thousand years. Built by Herod Antipas and once sitting the headquarters of the Sanhedrin, this ancient city is now undergoing excavations that will one day reveal its market streets, colonnades, theater and additional rare treasures in all of their glory.

We will visit the dig here, as well as the Hamat Tiberias National Park, where the remains of a magnificent synagogue mosaic can be found, and Mount Berenice, home to the Anchor Church. The road around the lake will next lead us to Capernaum, the first of the three towns that make up the 'evangelical triangle' to return from historical oblivion, with Byzantine and Roman remains of a synagogue, a church and dwellings that raise many interesting questions and illustrate New Testament stories.

We will now naturally proceed to Beth Saida, the second town of the 'triangle', where excavations are underway of the Roman layers of this settlement, which once figured centrally in the ministry of Jesus. The digging is also carried out around huge remains of the biblical city of Geshur, the hometown of King David's wife Maacah (2 Sam. 3:3).

We'll complete the 'triangle' by visiting the Korazim National Park, where a synagogue from the early Talmudic era will make for an interesting comparison to the one in Capernaum. Even on its own, it's a fascinating site, with a replica of its original Moses Seat, a ritual bath, dwellings and other elements that bring to life Talmudic descriptions of community life.  

 

Day 8

This day will be devoted to a discovery of Israel's northern parts, as we cross from Dan to the Golan. The Tel Dan Nature Reserve contains all that is left of the capital of the northern Israelite Kingdom. Here, we'll behold the tribe of Dan's 'Abraham Gate' (Gen. 14:14), which is the second oldest arch in the world (after the one in Ashkelon, Israel). We will also pass by the Israelite gateway and the High Place built by King Jeroboam as they stand in their tranquil Dan Stream setting, a marvel of nature.

From one ancient center of import to a modern one, we will progress to the city of Katzrin. Built as a village during the Talmudic era upon the Golan Heights, it now serves as this region's capital. Its reconstructed ancient house and synagogue allow for a three dimensional perspective on life during older times. The Gamla Nature Reserve has often been called the 'Masada of the North' due to Josephus Flavius' description of the famous last stand which was taken here by the rebels against the Romans. A hike will lead us to the top, where there are still remains of the earliest synagogue ever found, ramparts that held back the Romans and olive presses that consisted the town's livelihood.

In Umm el-Qanatir we will find a town that dates back to the Talmudic era, with unusual synagogue remains and unique finds. This site is now undergoing excavation using cutting-edge techniques and technology in the hope of uncovering more of its secrets.  

 

Day 9

We will set our sights on Southern Israel for this day, as we travel all through the Negev Desert until we get to the southern tip of the country and one of its main attractions, the city of Eilat. Along the way we'll make sure to pass through the Be'er Sheba National Park. This site commemorates the founding of Be'er Sheba by the patriarch Abraham (Gen. 21:31) and marks the southern border of the biblical Kingdom of Israel (1 Sam. 3:20). The place also shows fascinating evidence of urban planning from the time of the Judean monarchy, a unique water system and other finds that, along with its biblical significance, have accorded Be'er Sheba a place on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.

Avdat National Park is an important stop on the renowned Incense Route. An additional World Heritage Site on our tour, Avdat's Nabatean temple, which has been converted into a church, reveals a fabulous panorama on the Negev Desert while its wine press reveals the inhabitants' uncanny skill at cultivating this dry wilderness and its ancient private dwellings and tombs complete the picture. At the Uvda Valley we'll be able to see a place containing over 150 pre-historic and early settlement sites, including the Nahal Asharun site and the Leopard Temple.  

 

Day 10

Eilat is best known for its contemporary attractions and has often been referred to as Israel's Red Sea Riviera. The city and its environs also boast a selection of off-the-beaten track archeological sites, among them: the Shahmon Bronze Age tumuli and temple, the eighth century Early Islamic village and copper smelting grounds at Eilot, the Wadi Tawachin grinding site (quite possibly for gold), the Samar Neolithic desert kites (which are ancient hunting traps laid out for gazelles), the Dapit Nabatean and Roman caravansary, the Evrona eighth century chain well and farmhouse as well as many more. We'll follow this with a visit to the Timna Park, a geological and archeological wonderland, which includes an ancient copper mine shaft, Solomon's Pillars (a natural formation featuring a carving of the goddess Hathor and the shrine dedicated to her), the chariot carving and the multimedia presentation at the 'Mines of Time' and even an artificial lake. We'll head north on road 90 via the Late Roman fortress at Yotvata (nowadays a successful kibbutz) and then via road 13 we'll drop by Makhtesh Ramon, Israel's largest natural crater. We'll be able to choose whether we prefer to see Roman milestones and the Nabatean caravansary at Ein Saharonim or continue via the dramatic Scorpion Ascent on road 227, following an ancient Roman route across the Negev to the Great Makhtesh and Mamshit National Park, a very well preserved Nabatean city along the UNESCO World Heritage List Incense Route, which includes a market, a bathhouse, early churches, mosaics and more. It is possible and even recommended to end your tour with a relaxing note with some down time on the Red Sea shore.  

 

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OfirTouring@gmail.com
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