I hopped into my rental car and drove 20 minutes inland to Beit She´arim National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains an ancient Jewish necropolis. The cave tombs were cut into the rock nearly 2,000 years ago.
While most of the caves are small, each one has a unique story. Two caves stand out among the rest. One has the tomb of the famed Rabbi Judah HaNasi who died in 217. In fact, most of the other people buried in Beit She´arim are there because they wanted to be close to him.
The final cave, known as Cave of the Coffins, was far larger than the others and has 135 rooms full of ancient sarcophagi. The coffins were looted in antiquity. The saddest coffin had an inscription that read “Here lies Atio , daughter of Rabbi Gamliel…who died a virgin at the age of 22”. It´s bad enough to die at the age of 22 but is it really necessary to tell the world that she died a virgin?!
Additionally, in the back of this cave is a stone menorah carved in antiquity. This is considered one of the greatest Judaica finds ever in history.
I drove 20 more minutes to reach Tzipori National Park. Tzipori is considered one of the best-preserved Roman cities in Israel. Perhaps this is because they chose to open their gates to the Roman soldiers during the Great Jewish Revolt of the year 66 and therefore were not destroyed.
Tzipori is best known for its mosaic collection.
One mosaic is considered to be so beautiful that the Israelis built a building over it to preserve it. The mosaic has the face of a woman so beautiful and realistic that she is called the “Mona Lisa of Tzipori”.
Next, I drove to Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. The town is part of Israel, but the population is Arab. The residents are citizens of Israel and not Palestinian. That said, they generally support the Palestinian cause.
The top attraction in Nazareth is the Church of the Annunciation. It was here where the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she was going to have a son. This apparently took place in Mary´s house, which has been preserved underneath the basilica.
The upper level of the basilica contains murals/mosaics of the Virgin Mary donated from various countries around the world. The variety was fascinating and speaks to Christianity´s incredible ability to adapt to multiple cultures. My favorite was Japan, where Mary and Jesus are wearing kimonos.
Next door to the basilica is the Church of St. Joseph, which is built over his carpentry shop. In my mind, Joseph is the real hero of the story: being okay with his wife having a baby with not him.
Nazareth, expectedly, is a pilgrimage location for Christians around the world. I heard many languages spoken at the basilica. When walking out, there was a large group from Central America.
Next to the basilica is the old city, which has a maze of shops. Intermixed is the church built on the site of the ancient synagogue where Jesus gave early sermons.
For lunch, I stopped in restaurant that looked like Aladdin´s cave with so many pots and artifacts placed in every possible location. An unfriendly old guy made all the food himself. I got hummus as well as katayef, a Yemeni dumpling.
At the far end of the old city is the site of Mary´s Well. Here, the Orthodox church built their own church because they believe THIS is the actual place where Gabriel visited Mary (because of course they needed an excuse to build their own church. In the back of this church is the Holy Well.
Next, I drove to Megiddo another UNESCO site. Megiddo is a Canaanite village from the Iron Age and the Kingdom of Israel, aka during the events of the Old Testament of the Bible 2,300-4,000 years ago.
The town is most famous for being the site of many epic battles from Antiquity all the way up to World War I. The Bible predicts that the battle to end of battles will take place here. The word Armageddon, which describes this battle to end all battles, stems from Megiddo.
The highlight of Megiddo was the 3,000-year-old water tunnel which is accessed by walking down many many stairs into the earth.
Finally, I drove to my 3rd UNESCO World Heritage Site of the day, the Nahal Mearot Natural Preserve. This site protects ancient caves once inhabited by Neanderthals and early homo sapiens from 500,000-10,000 years ago.
The largest and most accessible cave is the El Wad which has remains from 10,000 years ago. Nearby is a homo sapiens cemetery from 90,000 years ago!
Besides the cave, there are hiking trails with beautiful views of the ocean. I went for a 90 minute hike.
With that, it was time to head back to Tel Aviv for one night and then to the airport to fly home.
Despite its small size, Israel has an incredible number of high-quality tourist attractions. Every part of the country has something historic to see. I absolutely loved my day going around the north and would highly recommend everything that I visited. My itinerary was probably a bit too fast for the average person, but I think all the sites could easily be visited comfortably in 1.5 days.