Duration: 8 days-7 nights
1st day: Hebron – Be’er Sheva
“I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing”. Genesis 12, 2-5
We suggest you start this itinerary in one of the oldest cities of the Holy Land, Hebron. It is a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims because it is the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and where some important historical events took place: Abraham planted his tent here after having been separated from Lot, he buried Sara in the cave in the plot of land bought from a Hittite and Abraham was buried in the same cave by his sons.
From here it is easy to reach Be’er Sheva, which is about 45 km to the south. This city, which at the time of the birth of the State of Israel, had only 2000 inhabitants, is today a major urban centre and a symbol of how the Israelis have succeeded in dominating the desert, turning it into a flourishing and productive place.
There are three main things to see in Be’er Sheva: the settlement of the Copper Stone Age (4000 BC) of Abu Matar, Bir es-Safadi another site where later settlements have been brought to the light and Tel es-Seba, or the city of the patriarchs, as mentioned in the Bible.
2nd day: Sinai (Mount of Moses and St. Catherine’s Monastery)
The second day of this itinerary can be dedicated to Mount Sinai (Mount Horeb in the Bible), where Moses received the tables of the law. Standing at 2285 metres above sea level, Mount Sinai rises majestically in a lunar landscape, dominating all the other mountains that surround St. Catherine’s Monastery.
The view that accompanies you as you walk to the summit of the mountain is unforgettable and, despite all the tourists and pilgrims, will leave you with a sensation of peace and serenity.
St. Catherine’s Monastery is at the foot of the mountain, in the valley which, according to tradition, is where Moses met Jethro’s daughters, near the well which today is next to the Monastery. Inside the walls, there is the church of the Transfiguration which dates back to the 6th century and where you can admire one of the oldest mosaics in the world, created in around 565-570.
3rd day: Avdat, Shivta, Masada
Travelling up the Sinai peninsula, you can stop to visit the ancient Nabataean cities. The first one is Avdat, built in the middle of the desert in the 2nd century BC, as a stopping place for the caravans on their way towards the Mediterranean coast from Petra. Buried in the sand, the ruins have remained virtually intact. From here, you can visit the second Nabataean city, shown by the excavations to have been particularly important in the Byzantine period. The hypothesis given the most credit by scholars is that this city was a large agricultural settlement, with the cistern that channelled rainwater to irrigate the fields still existing.
The last stop on this third day is Masada, from the Hebrew “citadel-fortress”, a mountain standing 500 metres above the Dead Sea with the peak that Herod had flattened. The fame of Masada is linked to a particularly important episode in the history of ancient Israel: the Zealots put up great resistance to the long Roman siege but preferred to commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Romans.
4th day: Ein Gedi, Qumran, Bethlehem
“Do not be afraid; for behold,
I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people:
for today, in the city of David
a Saviour has been born for you who is Messiah
and Lord”. Luke 2, 10-12
Continuing northwards, about 18 km from Masada, you come to an oasis with luxuriant vegetation, wild animals and fabulous springs. Ein Gedi, “the kid’s spring” in Hebrew, stands on the west bank of the Dead Sea and is the Biblical place where David spared Saul in the cave according to the episode narrated by Samuel. The most important spring is not surprisingly called Ein David, a natural waterfall, but apart from the natural beauties there are also the remains of settlements such as Tel Goren which dates back to the 7th century BC and an ancient synagogue which still has its mosaic floor. In the area there is also a Kibbutz where it is possible to stay overnight and take advantage of the free beach for a visit to the Dead Sea.
From here, about 30 km to the north, you reach Qumran: the famous site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and which are now on display in the Israel Museum of Jerusalem. The site has remains which are evidence of the presence of a Hebrew sect (the Essenes), believed to have lived there from 150 BC to 68 AD when they were chased out by the Roman invaders.
Lastly, passing through Jerusalem, which is the shortest way, you can end your itinerary in the early afternoon in Bethlehem. We suggest you stay at least one night here to better enjoy the local culture and naturally to visit the most important attractions: the Basilica of the Nativity, St. Catherine’s Church, the Milk Grotto, the market (Suq) and the old city, Rachel’s Tomb, the Shepherds’ Field and Herodium.
In Bethlehem you can stay at the Franciscan house for pilgrims.
5th day: Jerusalem (Temple Mount – Western Wall - Via Dolorosa – Holy Sepulchre - Mount Zion)
Commonly known as the Esplanade, Temple Mount is the location of the mosques that make Jerusalem the third holy city for Muslims all over the world. Here you can admire the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The design of the esplanade dates back to the first Muslim conquest (1400 years ago) but the history of this place goes back much further in time. This was where the First Jewish Temple built by Solomon in around 1000 BC stood. The Western Wall, better known as the “wailing wall” to non-Jews, was the ancient wall supporting the Second Temple. Visitors can immediately see the difference between the large blocks of Herod’s time (20 BC) and the small bricks of the Byzantine and Muslim periods.
From here you can go back to the Muslim Quarter, where the first Station of the Cross is, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus when he carried the cross to Calvary. Every year, pilgrims carry a real wooden cross along the Via Dolorosa or Via Crucis, fulfilling a vow they made before coming to the Holy Land. The Franciscan friars lead a similar procession every Friday afternoon. This will take you, as already mentioned, to the most sacred place for Christians, the Holy Sepulchre. A witness in stone of the last hours of the life of Jesus, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre contains in a single structure the place where he was crucified (Calvary), the place where his body was laid (the Stone of Unction) and the tomb where he was laid and from which he was resurrected.
Just outside the walls, south of the Old City, there is Mount Zion, where you can visit the Cenacle, the Church of the Dormition of Mary, David’s Tomb and the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu.
In Jerusalem you can stay at the Franciscan house for pilgrims.
6th day: Jerusalem (Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Yad Vashem)
You can devote the whole of the morning of the sixth day to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane. Gebel al-Tur (the holy mountain) for the Arabs, it offers one of the most beautiful views of Jerusalem. On the way up, you cannot fail to notice the valley of Josaphat, where today there is the oldest Jewish cemetery. This is where, according to the prophecy in the Book of Zechariah, the dead will be resuscitated when the Messiah returns on the Day of Judgement. The Mount of Olives has many sanctuaries which recall important events in the life and death of Jesus: the edicule of the Ascension, the Church of Pater Noster, Dominus Flevit and Mary’s Tomb. If you have time and it is open, it is worth visiting the Orthodox church of Mary Magdalene, which stands immersed in the greenery with its typical onion-shaped domes.
On the other hand, the Church of All the Nations or the Basilica of the Agony is at the foot of the mount. It was designed by Antonio Barluzzi and financed by many different countries. The church is in the middle of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested. In the afternoon, you can go to the museum of Yad Vashem, on the Mount of Remembrance.
7th day: Beit She’an, Tiberias and surrounding area (Magdala – Tabgha – Capharnaum)
“He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, do you love me?
Peter was distressed […] and he said to him:
Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep!” John 21, 15-17
Moving slightly northwards, the seventh day can start with a stop in Beit She’an, which includes a very fine national park with archaeological excavations of various eras. It is the Biblical city of the battle between the Philistines and the Israelites in which Saul, David’s friend, and his three sons lost their lives.
Tiberias is quite near to Beit She’an and it is worth stopping there to visit the fascinating church of St. Peter and enjoy some fish on the shores of the lake, which has so many memories of Jesus. From Tiberias, you can travel north along the same shore to reach Magdala, the birthplace of Mary Magdalene and brought to the light by the Franciscan excavations in 1971.
Continuing from here, you come to Tabgha, at the foot of the Mount of the Beatitudes. This is where Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, shown in the famous Byzantine mosaic that decorates the floor of the church. Not far from this church, the Primacy of Peter is the Franciscan sanctuary that commemorates the moment when Jesus conferred the primacy on Peter.
Last, but not least, is the “city of Jesus”: Capharnaum. According to the gospels, this is where Jesus lived during the period of preaching and activity in the Galilee. The Christian presence was apparently very strong there from as early as the 2nd century. Here the excavations unearthed the synagogue, from after Jesus’ time, and Peter’s house, the remains of which can be admired directly from the octagonal Church that was built on top of it.
In Tiberias, you can stay at the Franciscan house for pilgrims.
8th day: Nazareth
The last stop on this itinerary is dedicated to Nazareth, the capital of Galilee and the third most important city for Christians after Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Nazareth is a welcoming town, with a lively and colourful atmosphere. This is where the annunciation took place and where Jesus spent his childhood. The grandiose Basilica of the Annunciation which commemorates these events is a modern building but stands on the spot of the first Byzantine basilica of the 5th century, the 11th century Crusader basilica and the Franciscan church of 1730. This was where, according to tradition, Mary’s house stood, next to which a Judeo-Christian synagogue was built in the 1st century of which a baptismal font remains and is now in the basilica.
A few yards north of the basilica there is the church of St. Joseph, where Joseph’s house is believed to have stood.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1, 30-34