Even if you’re not religious, you might have heard people referring to Israel in Western Asia as the ‘Holy Land’. As you would expect, the north of the country is full of sites of religious significance. What you may not know is that it is also full of amazing nature. After checking out some interesting sites in Southern Israel, the next logical step was to explore some of the major religious sites and nature of Northern Israel.
Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel – Nazareth
As Israel is a relatively small country, it only takes around two hours to get from Tel Aviv in the south to Nazareth in the north. The change between the two cities is nothing short of amazing. You could be forgiven for thinking you had slipped into another country. Tel Aviv is a mainly Jewish city whereas Nazareth is known as the Arab capital of Israel. You may also have thought that the town would be full of Christians, given its biblical significance, but almost 70% of the population are Muslims.
Not to say that the residents in the south are unfriendly, because they’re not, but the north just seemed friendlier. Arabs were an almost invisible minority in the south, yet they seem to share a genuine camaraderie with people from other ethnic and religious groups in the north. You really get the sense that no one in the north cares about race or religion, which means the atmosphere is very welcoming. You can expect to be greeted like a long lost friend upon entering almost any restaurant or sweet shop in town.
Thoughts on Palestine in Nazareth
With such a huge Arab population in Nazareth there is definitely a lot of support for a two-state solution for occupied Palestine. Sometimes, you can even find people’s thoughts on the walls.
Walking Into Another Century
Staying in the old town of Nazareth was like walking into another century. If you’ve heard any of the stories of Jesus in Nazareth, being there can make those stories come alive for you. The people of Nazareth from olden times must have been very fit. The old town is built on a hill, so if you want to get anywhere else in the city you’re going to have to walk up or down the hill. There is also no vehicular access to the old town, which makes it lovely to walk around!
The Jesus Trail – Combining the Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel
If you have not heard of the Jesus Trail, it’s a 65 kilometre hiking trail from Nazareth to Capernaum; ‘The Town of Jesus’. The route has 8 sections, from J1 to J8. It runs through many religious sites of importance that Jesus visited throughout his lifetime. I have to confess here that although I am aware of many of these religious sites, I am not actually religious. I wasn’t doing the Jesus Trail for the religious aspects, I just wanted to hike!
J1 – Nazareth to Zippori
As the trail is quite long, I was only planning to do the first two sections; J1 and J2. The first section of the trail starts uphill from the old town of Nazareth.
At this point, you need to walk along a road to find the start of the trail. On the way, this shiny thing caught my eye.
The trail markers were painted on rocks or trees along the trail, but as I found out, some markers had been lost to the elements. Of course, I didn’t get lost at all because of missing markers. Nah uh. Not me!
Full disclosure, I lost a bit of time trying to find some markers, but luckily someone had prepared a resting place for me!
And I got to chat to some locals.
Eventually, I made it to Zippori and it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere! I hadn’t seen another soul since I’d left Nazareth. Apparently, Zippori is the midway point between the Mediterranean coast and the Sea of Galilee. Jesus may have also done some work there.
It was hot and I wanted a bit of relief from the searing heat. So I went and spoke to the attendant for the Zippori National Park. I wanted to use his little booth’s shadow to shield me from the sun for a bit. He also gave me some cold water before I continued on my way. That was nice. You see, I actually had plenty of water, but the intense heat had made it almost too hot to drink.
J2 – Zippori to Cana
I continued along a very open trail with no shade as far as the eye could see.
After an hour of that, I was on a ridge looking down on a farming settlement.
Then a short while later, after passing through an eerily quiet village, I came across these structures.
Having walked 16 kilometres in what I later found out was 40°C heat, I arrived in Cana around four hours after leaving Nazareth. I did not pass one single person on the trail or even bump into any people in the villages I went through. The locals were clearly smarter than me and were staying inside where it was cool. I may have been feeling a little bit like this guy.
Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel – Cana (Modern Kafr Kana)
If you’ve heard of Cana, you’ll know it’s famous for the first miracle and weddings. In fact, people come from all around the world to renew their wedding vows at the Wedding Church.
Right near the Wedding Church was another fenced in church. I guessed it was a church from it’s gate, but all I could really see was the fence. The fence had biblical inscriptions on it.
Inside, the Wedding Church was a bit smaller than I had expected. Some of it was closed off and there were some ruins in another section.
Strangely enough, even though I’d walked 16 kilometres along the Jesus Trail to get to Cana, it was only a 5 kilometre walk back to Nazareth via the road. So Jesus could do miracles, but couldn’t walk in a straight line!
Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel in Galilee – Capharnaum/Capernaum
Another site of importance along the Jesus Trail is Capharnaum, the Town of Jesus. It is also the end of the Jesus Trail.
You have to pay a small fee to enter the ‘town’, but it is quite clearly well-tended. There are gardens and ruins.
And more ruins.
They even built the White Synagogue on top of the remains of the Jesus Synagogue.
The area is quite small, so you would need an hour at the very most. Just remember to go all the way to the back of the ruins to get this view.
Sea of Galilee
You’ve probably heard of the Sea of Galilee, but did you know it’s not a sea? Just like the other ‘sea’ in Israel, the Dead Sea, it is actually a lake. Before heading to the shore of the Sea of Galiee, I stopped at Mount Beatitudes where the Church of the Beatitudes has been built.
Jesus is said to have given the Sermon on the Mount there. One interesting thing about the hill is that it is the lowest peak in the world, at only 25m above sea level. It’s still 200m above the Sea of Galilee though. That means you get a pretty good view of the lake from the manicured gardens surrounding the church.
But nothing beats dipping your toes in at shore level.
As you can see, there’s SO much to do and see in Northern Israel. So much, in fact, that it can not be contained by just one post! Stay tuned for the next installment; History and Nature in Northern Israel.
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