Being the place where it is reputed that Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Christ, was raised and lived until about the age of 30, Nazareth is considered to be one of Israel’s holiest cities, alongside the capital of Jerusalem. Many places around this town carry a strong association with Jesus’ experiences throughout his childhood and in the early days of his ministry, making this place an absolute must for anybody who has an interest in religious history, let alone the history of the origins of Christianity.
Also of cultural interest is the fact that this city has the largest population of those of Arabic origin than any other city in the country, granting it a different flavour than many of the other cities in Israel. Combined with this, the major religious sites that mark the beginnings of the world’s largest religion, and the warmth of the people that live, Nazareth should occupy a central place on your travel itinerary of Israel.
The point at which Nazareth’s global importance began, according to Christian legend, was the moment when the Immaculate Conception occurred. In this city, there are three different churches built to commemorate the spot where Mary (the mother of God) was told by the Archangel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Son of God.
The most significant of these three is generally considered to be the Basilica of the Annunciation, the largest church in the entire Middle East. According to Roman Catholics, the sunken grotto where this church is located is where the Virgin Mary received word that she would be giving birth to Jesus.
Historical importance aside, the Basilica is impressive in its own right, with its dome dominating the city skyline. Additionally, the cathedral that presently exists was built atop churches that had existed here in the distant past, as you will be able to see in the lower levels of this essential attraction.
Not everybody agrees with the location that the Catholics picked, as the Coptics built their church according to their tradition, and the Greek Orthodox Christians built the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation above a spring that they believed fed the well where Mary drew water each day. It was here that they believe where she was approached by Gabriel with the news of her impending birth.
Jesus had a father as well … Joseph was Mary’s husband, who was a simple carpenter who made a living out of his simple shop in Nazareth. These days, St. Joseph’s Church exists at the spot where it is thought Joseph (and likely his teenage son Jesus) plied his trade in the woodworking business.
While it has an interesting name for a Christian church, the appropriately named Synagogue Church was built over a ruined synagogue by Crusaders in the 12th century. It used to be attended by Jesus and his family, according to local history, but more importantly, it was where he made the bold pronouncement in front of his fellow congregants that he was the saviour and messiah of the world.
Finally, the last church that you should make an effort to see is the Mensa Christi Church. After the crucifixion and death of Jesus, it is said that it was in this spot that the disciples and apostles of Jesus were holed up, in fear of being rounded up by the local authorities. Despite the entrances being secure, Biblical lore says that it was here that Jesus appeared to his believers and dined with them, wounds and all.
Now that you have gotten all those churches cleared from your sightseeing checklist, it’s time to get out and see other sights that are interesting in the area. In the Nazareth area, this would include Mary’s Well. While this place is only representation of the water drawing place that once existed, the true attraction these days to this place has been the uncovering of a set of Byzantine era baths, fed by the same spring that fed the well from which she fetched water.
While attractions like these tend to attract instant scorn due to the perception of tourist trap corniness, the Nazareth Village, which is a living history park that mimics life during the time of Jesus, is considered by many travelers to be a well-done version of this type of attraction. The actors are well-trained, and the clothing, housing and cultural mannerisms are all consistent with how life in a Galilean village would have been 2,000 years ago.
Finally, you often hear the term “Armageddon” bandied about with relation to an event that causes the end of the world as we know it. Most people don’t know that this term refers to an actual place in the Nazareth area, as it is a place where many battles have raged over history.
Also known as Tel Megiddo, this place last saw death and destruction in 1917, when the Allied forces faced off against the Ottomans in a blood-drenched affair. The place’s association with the end of all things relates to the prophesized final battle between Heaven and Hell, which it predicts will take place on this battlefield during the End of Days.