This tour includes two day tours and an overnight stay in B&B accommodation. Take in the view of Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives, enter the Old City walking through the Jewish Quarter, see the Western Wall, follow the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre then do some shopping in the Christian and Muslim Quarter markets. Go below sea level to the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea. Spend the day relaxing on the beach, taking a mud bath and swimming in the therapeutic mineral-rich water.
We start with a breathtaking view of Jerusalem. As if in the palm of our hand, we see the Old City and the Temple Mount area spread before us and imagine the Second Temple destroyed in 70 CE and Solomon’s Temple before that, destroyed in 586 BCE.
As we drive along the Kidron Valley we have an excellent view of Mount Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations as well as of the monumental ancient Jewish burial tombs. We enter the Old City through the Zion Gate, passing the Armenian Quarter to the excavated Byzantine Cardo. Although this fifteen hundred year old main street of Jerusalem was partially destroyed and unused during the Moslem conquest it had a brief new lease of life during the Crusader period and the excavated Crusader shops are now modern stores.
Continuing through the Jewish Quarter we proceed to the Western Wall (Kotel). This two thousand year old wall is part of the encircling and supporting wall built by King Herod when the Temple Mount area was enlarged.
As we walk along the Via Dolorosa we join the many pilgrims who are following the Stations of the Cross ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church built over the place of the crucifixion of Jesus and the burial tomb. Originally built in the Byzantine period, it was partially destroyed during the Persians and Moslem conquests and then rebuilt and slightly altered by the Crusaders. We stroll through the market alleys before departing for Bethlehem, (city of bread), hometown of Jesse, father of King David (I Sam 16:1), and birthplace of Jesus (Mat. 2:1).
A short walk across Manger Square brings us to the well-preserved Byzantine Church of Nativity. First built in the 4th century and enlarged in the 6th, the original mosaic floor is revealed through trapdoors in the later floor. Unlike most churches in the Holy Land the Church of Nativity was not destroyed by the Persian and Moslem conquerors but the entrance was lowered forcing us to crouch as we enter.
If we look carefully we can see the faint Crusader decorations on the columns. Descending to the Grotto of the Nativity we see the star indicating the place of the birth, with the words “Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary” in Latin. Opposite are the Manger and the altar dedicated to the three Wise Men. Both the Church and Grotto are Orthodox.
During the centuries after the expulsion of the Crusaders little was done to maintain the Church of Nativity, which suffered both earthquake damage and a fire. Partial restoration was undertaken during the British Mandate and since 1967 extensive repairs have been carried out under Israeli auspices,
As we depart, in the distance we see the Field of Ruth. This is where Ruth the Moabite, daughter-in-law of Naomi, great grandmother of King David, gleaned in the fields of Boaz. (Ruth 2:1ff).
As we descend 1,200 meters from Jerusalem through the wilderness of the Judean Desert to the Dead Sea, we pass the Inn of the Good Samaritan and stop briefly at the “sea level” marker. In the distance we see Jericho, the oldest city in the world, perhaps due to its luxuriant oasis and its proximity to the Dead Sea, an ancient source of salt and we recall the conquest of Jericho by the Israelite tribes, led by Joshua, who had just crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. (Josh 6).
Changing into our swimsuits we head for the Dead Sea. At four hundred meters below sea level this is the lowest place on earth, so low that the cancerous sun rays are filtered out enabling sufferers of such skin ailments as psoriasis to expose their bodies to the sun without worry.
We take the opportunity to cover ourselves with black mud, even our faces and bald spots! As long as two thousand years ago, Queen Cleopatra realised that it was the mud which kept her young and alluring for Mark Anthony!
Finally we enjoy a therapeutic swim in the Dead Sea. The water is almost 35% salt and even those who cannot swim can float. Tired but feeling and looking years younger we admire the reflection of the mountains of Moab in the still waters of the Dead Sea. Who knows if we will be awake to hear our guide as he show us from roadside the caves of Qumran where the two thousand year old Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered!