|Country Information & Lifestyle|
The Heart of the Holy Land
The State of Israel is a country in Southwest Asia located on the southeastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea and is bordered by Egypt on the west, Syria and Jordan on the east, and Lebanon on the north. Gaza, a small coastal strip between Israel and Egypt, is administered by the Palestine National Authority.
Although only the size of Wales or Massachusetts, Israel contains a great variety of terrain and four climate zones. The north of the country is the fertile hill region of Galilee, rising to Mount Hermon and Golan in the northeast. The fertile Plain of Sharon runs along the coast, while inland, parallel to the coast, is a range of hills and uplands with relatively barren stony areas to the east.
The climate is Mediterranean with pleasant spring and autumn, winters in the north can be cool and snow is rare, summers can be very hot especially in the south and the Red Sea resort of Eliat has a good climate for beach holidays all year round. Many people find it quite surprising that there is a full skiing season at Mount Hermon on the northern border.
Israeli eating has distinctive characteristics especially the fondness for fresh, finely chopped salads, eaten at every meal including breakfast. In general the cuisine is a fusion of East and West but there are some national specialities a visitor simply must try. Shishlik(charcoal grilled meat on a skewer), Shwarma(slices of grilled meat served in a pitta bread with salad), Falafel(deep fried balls of mashed chickpeas) in pitta with Hummus(ground chickpeas), Tahina(sesame seed sauce), salads and Ashkenazi classics like Cholent(Shabbat meat stew) and Gelfite fish( a white fish dish).
Israelis are usually very informal but with the European style of hospitality and are typically blunt and direct in speech which should not be misinterpreted as rudeness. The expression shalom (peace) is used for hello and goodbye. Dress is casual but in the holy places of all religions modest attire is worn. For places such as the Western Wall male visitors are given a smart cardboard yarmulke (skull cap) to respect the religious importance of the site.
The capital of The Holy Land is Jerusalem, the eternal city and the largest city in Israel as well as being the seat of government. Israel is the world's only Jewish state and is also home to Arab Muslims, Christians and Druze, as well as other religious and ethnic minority groups. Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world, was first built thousands of years ago.
The history can be heard in the whispering of the wind along the walls, where every stone tells a wondrous story of a city that has drawn millions of faithful pilgrims for thousands of years. Jerusalem is the only city in the world that has 70 names of love and yearning, the city that in old maps appears at the centre of the world and is still adored by a young bride.
Jerusalem is a city of overwhelming emotions, a city that promises a religious and spiritual experience, excitement and pleasure, interesting tours and entertaining adventures. Alongside the fascinating historic and archaeological sites are modern tourist attractions and at the heart is the Old City which is surrounded by a wall and divided into four quarters - Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim.
The Armenian quarter is the smallest quarter and has its own unique charm and has one of the most beautiful churches in the country. The Christian quarter has more than 40 churches, monasteries and hostels that were built for Christian pilgrims and it has the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Church of the Resurrection, which according to tradition was the site upon which Jesus was crucified and buried.
The Via Dolorosa or the Stations of the Cross begins at the courthouse and extends to Calvary Hill or Golgotha where the church is now located. The market is located in this quarter and is a noisy, colourful market where you can buy decorated pottery, candles, souvenirs, ethnic costumes etc and where still the merchants call out their wares and the food stands emit tantalising aromas.
The Moslem quarter is the largest quarter of the Old City and has churches and mosques with the most important sacred sites such as the Dome of the Rock on Mount Moria. The Jewish quarter is the main residential area for Jews in the Old City and contains the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall which is a holy place for the Jews and also contains interesting archaeological sites such as the Burnt House from 2000 years ago and the Cardo, a typical Roman street built in the 6th century. All of these sites make the Old City of Jerusalem a place that visitors will never forget.
South of the city is the City of David, a fascinating site with amazing findings that provide an unforgettable experience. Jerusalem has so much to see from the Via Dolorosa, the "Way of the Sorrows" to the Dormition Abbey, built on the site Christian tradition believes Mary spent her last night and beside the Abbey is the Room of the Last Super, where Jesus ate his last meal.
East of the Old City is the Kidron Valley one of Jerusalem's most sacred locales due to its location between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount. At the foot of the Mount of Olives is the Tomb of Mary, mother of Jesus near the Garden of Gethsemane. On the Mount of Olives is the world's oldest Jewish cemetery where legend has it that a miraculous bridge will span the valley at the end of time over which the righteous will pass on their way to Temple Mount.
Apart from the holy places throughout the Old City there are several charming sites well worth visiting. There is a wonderful market where you can buy Armenian decorated ceramics, authentic clothing and countless other items, from the promenade along the tops of the Old City walls you can look over the Old City and the New City and tours along the walls are a wonderful night-time activity when the city's lights sparkles making it absolutely unforgettable.
Since Jerusalem is a city that has become home to people from many different faiths, traditions and ethnic groups, the city's culinary culture offers something for everyone. Alongside Bohemian gourmet restaurants you will find eateries where the food is cooked slowly over ancient stoves, coffee shops with style, ethnic restaurants, fast food stands and bars that come to life in the evening hours.
Tel Aviv is an exciting city offering commerce, culture, nightlife, sandy beaches and the bustling Camel Market is a popular place to visit. In 1950, Jaffa, one of the oldest ports and situated a mile from the city, was united with Tel Aviv. It has archaeological finds reaching back to the third century BC, a beach, lively nightlife in Old Jaffa and a flea market.
The Negev was once largely desert and is now being irrigated and farmed in a settlement movement. Eilat is the place for tourists and is the best-equipped seaside resort in the Middle East and a paradise for underwater enthusiasts.
The Dead Sea is an inland lake in the lower Jordan Valley lies 400 m below sea level and is 60 kms wide and 17 kms wide. Flanked by the Judean Mountains to the west and the Moab Mountains to the east it has more minerals and salt than any other body of water in the world and is renowned for its rejuvenating and health-giving properties. There are a number of health spas and resorts in the area offering a variety of treatments including mud packs, salt massages and salt water pools.
Masada, perched on a cliff-top on the left bank of the Dead Sea, is where the once luxurious palace of King Herod and site of the famous siege still stands. It can be reached by cable car or a winding footpath and there is a breathtaking view of the Dead Sea and the pink mountains of Moab from here.
Other interesting sights around the Dead Sea include Mount Sodom, a 13 km long mountain range made up of pure salt which has many caves with extraordinary hanging salt formations, and Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in ancient pottery jars.
The city of Bethlehem lies 750m on the ancient caravan route 10 kms south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem is, of course, most famous for being the birthplace of Christ, although it is also well known for olive woodcarving and mother-of-pearl jewellery which today has developed into a modern industry.
The city of Hebron is an unspoiled town with many narrow and winding streets, flat-roofed stone houses and bazaars and lies in the mountainous region south of Jerusalem at an altitude of 1000m.
Jericho 36 kms east of Jerusalem is known as the "City of Palms" and is one of the world's oldest, continuously inhabited sites. The ancient city dates back more than 10,000 years and lies 260m below sea level. The walls and towers of Jericho are 4000 years older than the pyramids of Egypt, and the domestication of animals took place 1000 years earlier in Jericho than in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Other sites worth visiting in the area include Deir Quruntal and Mt Temptation, where Jesus spent 40 days and nights fasting and meditating and where a monastery was later built. Deir Quruntal can be reached on a steep and fairly difficult path.
In this beautiful country steeped in history, there is so much to see. Israel is a melting pot of cultures found in no other country. Here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared.