See ancient cities that go back more than 11,000 years. From the lush green oasis of Jericho to the necropolis tombs in Beit Shearim, explore the archaeological ruins of the Holy Land and learn about the fascinating history of the civilizations of the ancient world. Get immersed into the rich culture as you visit local communities and learn about their way of life. Try traditional and delicious delicacies as you sample home cooked local cuisines.
TIMELINE OF THE CIVILIZATIONS IN THE HOLY LAND UP UNTIL 1917
The Israelite Period: 1000 BCEThe Israelites first appear during the early Iron Age in 1,200 B.C.E. They inhabited a part of Canaan until 1,000 B.C.E, when they emerged as a local power among the tribes of the land. By 800 B.C.E., the Neo-Assyrian Empire conquered most of the tribes, and in 586 B.C.E., they were exiled following the destruction of their temple by the Babylonians. Archaeological remains: Tel Dan, Ancient Shiloh, Gibeah, Jerusalem (Old City).
The Babylonian Period: 586 BCEBabylon, originally a small town in the Akkadian Empire, rapidly developed between 1792 and 1752 B.C.E., forming an Empire under King Hammurabi. After a war with Assyria and Egypt, the Babylonians subsequently invaded Jerusalem, destroying the Israelite temple in 586 B.C.E and creating the province of Yehud Medinata. The rise of Cyrus the Great put an end to Babylonia, as the Persian Emperor conquered it in 539 B.C.E. Archaeological remains: Tel Lachish- Jerusalem City of David.
The Persian Period: 539 BCEThe Persians originally date back to 1,000 B.C.E., but they truly came to power with the successful rebellion against the Medes, people of Media in present day northern Iran, under Cyrus the great in 553 B.C.E. By conquering Babylon in 539 B.C.E, the Persians took the province Yehud Medinata in Jerusalem. Archaeological remains: Jerusalem.
The Hellenistic Period - Presence in Judea: 332 BCEDuring the Hellenistic period, following the death of Alexander the Great in 322 B.C.E, the land of Judea was divided between two powers: the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt and the Seleucid Empire. Judea became a frontline for many conflicts and tensions of the Syrian Wars- a series of six wars between the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.E. The Hellenistic kingdoms expanded from Central Asia o Egypt and Greece, inevitably leaving their marks in the Holy Land. They began to diminish after 31 B.C.E., following the emergence of the Roman Empire. Archaeological remains: Jerusalem Old City - City of David.
The Roman Empire: 63 BCEThe Roman Empire began circa 100 B.C.E. Rome was the largest, fastest growing city in the world. During the quest to incorporate the Holy Land into the Roman Empire, the Romans faced repeated conflicts and wars between 6 C.E. (Common Era) and 135 C.E. Considering the immense expansion of the Empire, the Romans faced enemies on all its borders, resulting in numerous victories and defeats, many ruins can be found across the region. Archaeological remains: Jerusalem, Tiberius, Caesarea Maritima (Haifa), Gamla, Beit She’an, Sea of Galilee, Nazareth.
The Byzantine Period - The “New Romans”: 324 CEThe Byzantine Empire, founded by Constantine the Great in the 5th century, was the successor of the Roman Empire in the East. While the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 C.E, the Byzantine Empire in the East lasted another 1,000 years. In 1453, it fell to the Ottoman Turks. Compared to the “previous Roman Empire, the Byzantines did not have as much involvement in the Holy Land. However, there are several remains throughout the region still present today. Archeological remains: Bet Shemesh, Jerusalem Old City, Bet She’an.
The Crusader Period: 1099 CEThe Crusaders appeared in 1095, during the weakening of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of the Islamic Power in the Middle East. To prevent loss of territories, Western Christians of Europe were called upon to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims. The final Crusade was defeated by the Mamluks in 1291, marking the end of the Crusader’s centuries long presence, many remnants of the period can be found across the Holy Land. Archaeological remains: Jerusalem, Golan Heights, Jaffa, Tiberius, Galilee, Herzliya.
The Mamluk Period: 1291 CEThe Mamluks were a military caste, under the order of the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt and Syria, that ruled Egypt from 1250-1517, and Greater Syria (including Palestine) from 1260 to 1516. They played a significant role in dicing out the Ninth Crusade from the Holy Land during and after the battle of Ain Jalut (South Eastern Galilee) in 1260. The Ninth Ottoman Sultan, Selim the First, brought the end of Mamluks in 1517 by conquering Egypt. Archaeological remains: Netanya, Jerusalem, Caesarea (Arsuf).
The Ottoman Period: 1517 CEThe Ottoman Empire rose to power and dominance right after the fall of the Mamluks in 1517. After several battles, the Ottomans swiftly took over prominent areas like Jerusalem, Nablus, Safad, and Gaza. They remained in firm control of the majority of the Holy Land until 1917, when they were defeated by the British. Archaeological remains: Acre, Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima, Upper Galilee.
The British Mandate: 1917 CEIn late 1917, after WWI and the defeat of the Ottomans, Britain and France divided control of the Middle East territories previously ruled by the Ottoman Empire. The British took control of the Holy Land and the British Mandate for Palestine was adopted by the League of Nations which lasted from 1920-1948. Archaeological institutions: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, The Palestine Archaeological Museum.
ETHNICITIES IN THE HOLY LAND
The Armenian presence within the country dates all the way back to Christianity’s earliest years. In the 7th century Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab established the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, located in the southwestern part of the Old City known as the Armenian Quarter. This led to an influx of Armenians settling in and around the Armenian Quarter, various churches and Major Holy Sites. The Armenian Quarter is one of four quarters within the Old City and has its own distinct identity along with its own institutions, schools, museums, craft shops and restaurants. Most of the Armenian communities within the country are fluent in the major local languages but have strong roots and have retained their native language, religion and social traditions. Today about 10,000 Armenians live across the county and are one of the oldest Armenian Quarter living diaspora communities in the world. There are a number of guided tours through the Armenian Quarter where travelers will have the opportunity to learn about Armenian culture, history and faith. They will also get to visit a number of historic and interesting places. The Cathedral of St. James is the largest Armenian Church in the country and one of the most gorgeously decorated ancient monasteries in the Holy Land that goes back to AD 420. Visitors can get an a amazing panoramic view of the city from the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Marks, they can also visit the Armenian Museum to learn about Armenian history and fascinating collections of Armenian artifacts. Guests can visit various shops, discover the art of handmade Armenian ceramics and enjoy traditional Armenian dishes at one of the nearby Armenian restaurants.
The Bedouins are a group of indigenous semi-nomadic tribes that have lived in the Negev/Naqab for centuries having engaged in land cultivation, agriculture and raising livestock. They are a Palestinian community of tribes that have a number of distinct traits such as their own history, traditional customs, culture and tribal relationships. Bedouins are renowned for their storytelling, survival skills and ability to adapt to hostile weather environments; they have thousands of years of experience of raising livestock in the desert. Today, most of the Bedouin population (about 200,000) has been reallocated to urban settlements in the Negev/Neqab such as Rahat. Rahat is the largest Bedouin city in the world. The city is comprised of different tribes that maintain their Bedouin traditions including the famed tradition of Bedouin hospitality. Visitors can have a guided tour through the gorgeous desert landscape with a local Bedouin guide and experience a very hospitable hands-on desert setting, while also learning about the history of the surrounding area as well as the history, life and culture of the Bedouin tribes. Visitors will also an opportunity to try a rich variety of appetizing traditional meals, drink tea and hear music inside a hand-woven Bedouin tent.
Originating from the Middle East, the Druze people are a unique Arabic speaking religious ethnic group who settled within the region in the 11th century mostly in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. There are more than 140,000 Druze living within Israel, mainly living in the north of the country in the Carmel, Galilee and Golan. They are officially recognized as a separate religious entity with their own norms, values and court system. They have very close-knit, cohesive communities but also have integrated fully within the country. Majdal Shams is the largest of the remaining Druze villages in the Golan Heights. It’s a cultural focal point of the Druze community within the area and beloved by tourists as it’s filled with rich tradition and culture. It’s a popular place that tourists like to visit as the people are known for their warmth and hospitality. Guests can try authentic Druze cuisines, shop at the market shops and visit the beautiful valley of apply and cherry orchards located near the village.
The Circassians are a people indigenous to the North Caucasus region on the shores of the Black Sea and arrived to the Middle East in the 19th century after being forced out of their homeland, mostly settling in Jordan, Israel, and Syria. The Circassian diaspora in Israel is one of the smallest Circassian populations in the world and is also one of the smallest minority groups living in Israel. There are more than 5000 Circassians within the country living mostly in two small villages in the Galilee: Kfar Kama in the lower Galilee and Rihaniya in the Upper Galilee. Most Circassians in the Holy Land are well educated and often speak four languages: Arabic, Hebrew, English and Adyghe the mother tongue of Circassians. The vast majority of the Circassian communities maintain several cultural heritage traits including their traditional clothing, music and language. With a stunning view of Mount Tabor, Kfar Kama is a small village and that wonderfully preserves the Circassian way of life. Visitors will be welcomed by the local guides as they visit the Circassian Heritage Center located in the center of the village, where they can tour the museum and learn about the history, culture and customs of the Circassians. Visitors can also experience a Circassian traditional dance performance, try the delicious food and see the unique architecture of the buildings made from black basalt rocks.
The Samaritans are a small ethno-religious group that traces their roots all the way back to ancient biblical tribes that existed thousands of years ago in the Holy Land. The Samaritans are the smallest religious minority in Israel, there are about 800 residents living in the Holan and Kiryat Luza in the West Bank. These two villages are the last remaining Samaritan communities in the world. The communities in both the West Bank’s Kiryat Luza and Israeli Holon learn Samaritan Hebrew and Samaritan Aramaic for liturgical purposes but have assimilated to the surrounding respective cultures and languages with the villagers living in the Holon speaking Modern Hebrew as their first language and the villagers living in Kiryat Luza speaking Arabic as their first language. Kiryat Luza is located on Mount Gerazim, one of the mountain tops that form the Nablus valley. Visitors can take a guided tour through the village and learn about the traditions, culture and religion of the Samaritans. There are many interesting places to visit in the area such as Jacob’s well, where it is said that Jesus asked a Samaritan women for water (John 4:5-6); Joseph’s Tomb, considered to be the burial site of Joseph (Joshua 24:32); the local museum, where visitors can learn about Samaritan Heritage as well as well as view the displays of ancient mosaics that go back to the Byzantine period; and Mount Gerazim National Park, a holy and historic site with archeological ruins that date back to the Persian and Hellenistic periods.
The Palestinians are an ethno-national group living throughout the country. Although the majority is Muslim, there is also a sizable minority of Palestinian Christians of a variety of denominations. There are more than 2.8 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, more than 1.8 million living in the Gaza Strip and more than 1.8 million living inside of Israel. Palestinians major language is Arabic but many Palestinians are bilingual and speak other languages such as French, German, Hebrew and English. English is widely spoken especially in the major towns and cities. The Palestinians are very warm and friendly, known for their genuine hospitality and delicious food. Travelers can visit the Palestinian territories and explore religious and historical sites, ancient villages, refugee camps and locations off the beaten path. Some exciting places include the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the 2nd century AD; the city of Sebastia with its ruins that go back to the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods; the iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque which sits at the highest point in Jerusalem; Jericho the oldest inhabited city on earth; and Nablus a city renowned for its food scene.
The Jewish people are an ethno-religious group and cultural community whose traditional religion is Judaism and who trace their ancestry back to the Biblical Patriarchs. The Jewish population inside of Israel is more than 6.5 million and is comprised of all Jewish diaspora communities. Most Israeli Jews are descendants of Jewish emigrants coming from all over the world making their communities diverse with a wide range of Jewish cultural traditions. There are also several religious beliefs among the Jewish people such as Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), traditionalists, Hiloni (secular) and reformed Jews. The official language of Israel is Hebrew and although most Israeli Jews are proficient in Hebrew, less than half speak Hebrew as their native tongue with many speaking Russian, Yiddish, French or English (along with other languages to a lesser extent) as their native language. When visiting Israel some must see places include: the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the most sacred site in the world for the Jewish people; Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, a very somber place of commemoration; ancient Masada, a rugged natural stronghold that Herod the Great used to build a massive palace-fortress with its spectacular views of the Dead Sea and Negev desert. Explore the modern city and sandy beaches of Tel Aviv, visit Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem for a delicious tasting tour and experience a traditional Shabbat dinner on a Friday with a local Jewish family.