Day 1 – Jerusalem Old & New
On the first day of this tour we will visit Mount Olives, Yad VeShem, the Holocaust Museum and the Old City of Jerusalem where we will see the Byzantine Cardo, the Kotel, the Western Wall, the Via Dolorosa, the Stations of the Cross and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
As we stand above the Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives we see the Old City and the Temple Mount where Solomon’s Temple, destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, once stood.
Below us are the garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations in the Kidron Valley with its ancient Jewish burial tombs.
Entering the Old City through the Zion Gate we pass the Armenian Quarter on our way to the Jewish Quarter and the fifteen year old Byzantine Cardo. Partially destroyed and unused during the Moslem conquest, it had a brief new lease of life during the Crusader period. The excavated Crusader shops are now modern stores.
We stop at the Kotel, the Western Wall where Jews have prayed since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Built by King Herod it was a supporting wall enclosing the enlarged Temple Mount area.
The Via Dolorosa, also known as the Way of the Cross, is the route many pilgrims follow on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the church built over the place of the crucifixion of Jesus and the burial tomb. Although the Byzantine church was partially destroyed during the Persians and Moslem conquests, the rebuilt and redesigned Crusader Church preserved much of the earlier church.
We exit the Old City via the market and the Jaffa Gate for a short tour of the new city. A visit to Yad VaShem, the Holocaust museum, reveals artifacts and photographs documenting the discrimination, persecution and finally the annihilation of the Jewish communities of Europe. It also remembers those righteous among the nations who risked their lives while trying to save Jews.
Day 2 – Masada & the Dead Sea
We begin our journey by taking the route down from Jerusalem descending below sea level through the Biblical wilderness towards the Dead Sea. On the way we can see the Inn of the Good Samaritan and stop on route to look out across the desert as we pass the point marking “sea level.” The ancient city of Jericho can be seen in the distance where Joshua’s troops caused the walls to fall (Joshua 6) and where Jesus healed the blind (Mark 10:46-52).
We reach the shores of the Dead Sea encrusted with white salt and follow the shoreline towards Masada. Although it’s possible to climb the ancient snake path up Masada as the Romans did 2,000 years ago, we take the convenient cable car up to the mountain top plateau. It was here that King Herod built a fortified palace complete with every convenience including a swimming pool, water cisterns, two palaces, store rooms and even a synagogue.
Following Herod’s death the mountain top was the last outpost of Jewish zealots when the Romans tried to rid the land of Jews. The Jewish zealots maintained their position for three years before the Romans finally managed to scale Masada using a ramp built by slaves. The 960 Jews didn’t wait for the Romans to successfully reach the summit. Instead they killed themselves becoming religious martyrs. Shortly afterwards the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70CE.
It was on Masada that the first parchment from this era was discovered in an Israeli archaeological excavation. On the parchment was the prophecy of Ezekiel “…I will take the children of Israeli from among the nations… and bring them into their own land…” (Ezekiel 37).
Heading back to the Dead Sea we pass the desert oasis of Ein Gedi where there is lush foliage and hidden waterfalls and where David hid from angry King Saul. We also pass by Qumran were the 2,000 year old Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in a number of hillside caves.
To end off a perfect day we stop at the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth and a contender for the title of one of the Seven Wonders of the World. People come from across the globe to enjoy the therapeutic mineral-rich waters. And don’t worry if you don’t know how to swim, the high salt content will keep you afloat.