Please check out my earlier post about my visit to Israel.
After leaving Jerusalem, we headed north along the Jordan Valley, which shares a common border with, well, Jordan. The Jordan Valley is a part of the much larger African Rift, which is a huge natural depression that starts in Lebanon and goes all the way south to Mozambique. The depression is caused by the opposing movement of two tectonic plates, which are slowly increasing the distance between Western and Eastern Africa. It certainly makes for some beautiful scenery.
Before arriving in Tiberias, we made a strategic stop at the World Heritage site of Beit She’an, an ancient city that dates back more than 4000 years. It was first settled by the ancient Egyptians, but most of the current ruins date from the Roman and Byzantine eras. The city was apparently destroyed by a massive earthquake in the 1st century AD. Despite the destruction, many of the ruins are very well-preserved, especially the theatre and baths. There is also a lengthy cardo (main street) that used to contain a large temple. The site itself is massive and could take a couple of hours to explore, although we didn’t have that much time. What is even more impressive is that less than one quarter of the site has actually been excavated, so one can only imagine that actual size of this huge city!
Further north along the Jordan Valley, and close to the Sea of Galilee, is Yardenit, a famous baptismal site. Located on the Jordan River, many historians believe that Yardenit is located near the spot where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The location is very peaceful to wander to around, and it was interesting to watch the geese and fishing swimming in the green waters of the river. I decided to dip my feet in the cool water, and fill a small bottle with water from the river as a souvenir.
The town of Tiberias is surprisingly shabby, although it occupies a prime location on the shore of one of the most famous lakes in the world, the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake on the world, and has considerable significance in biblical history. It is considered to be the place where Jesus did much of his preaching, and where he recruited several of his disciples.
On the upper shores of the Sea of Galilee are two important biblical sites, Capernaum and the Mount of Beatitudes. Capernaum is an ancient fishing village where Jesus is said to have preached in a synagogue. Among the ruins of the town are the remains of an octagonal house-turned-church, which is said to be the house of St. Peter. The nearby Mount of Beatitudes is where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, which is the longest sermon in the New Testament. It is a very peaceful place, and there are pretty tree-lined pathways to take a leisurely stroll.
Traveling further north to the Golan Heights, we had an opportunity to visit a kibbutz near the border with Syria. A kibbutz is a traditional commune in Israel, where all of the resources and responsibilities are shared equally among its members. Kubbitzim (the plural of kibbutz) are based on the socialist ideas of Karl Marx, and were initially formed in the early 20th century, even before Communism formerly took hold in Russia. Although there are still several hundred kibbutzim operating in Israel, unfortunately many of them are becoming privatized in order to maintain their existence. So they no longer practice the same ideals and principles as they did in previous years.
After visiting the kibbutz, we ascended to Mount Bental, the tallest mountain in Israel. Located right on the border with Syria, we could look across to great views of this war-torn country. The border with Israel seems so quiet and peaceful, it is hard to imagine all the fighting and suffering that is going on there right now. There is a former Israeli bunker on the site, which dates back to a fierce war between Israel and Syria during the 1970s, when the two countries were fighting for control of this strategic location. The bunkers and tunnels are now open and free to explore by everyone. Looking over the Syrian border, you can also see the remains of a bombed-out village, which was a casualty from that war. Currently, there is a UN guard stationed on top of the mountain, which (with the aid of telescopes) looks out onto Damascus (a mere 40 miles away) in an attempt to keep tabs on the terrible situation in Syria.
After visiting Tiberias and the Galilee, we wrapped up our trip by traveling west toward the Mediterranean to visit the ancient cities of Akko and Caesarea, as well as the modern cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv.