Holy Land: Egypt, Jordan and Israel

The modern city of Bethlehem The coast at Caesarea Nativity mosaic inside the Church of the Nativity Bethlehem
A camel ride on the Giza Plateau Health Resort at the Dead Sea The cave where many of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
What is it about ancient Egypt that still intrigues us today?
We begin our journey in Cairo

Considered a cradle of civilisation, Ancient Egypt saw some of the earliest developments of writing, agriculture, urbanisation, organised religion and central government.

The Holy Land from Cairo to Jerusalem
CAIRO and the GIZA PLATEAU

CAIRO IS THE CAPITAL OF EGYPT. Cairo is chaos at its most magnificent, infuriating and beautiful. From above, the distorted roar of the muezzins' call to prayer echoes out from duelling minarets. Below, car horns bellow tuneless symphonies amid avenues of faded 19th-century grandeur.

GIZA IS MOST FAMOUS as the location of the Giza Plateau: the site of some of the most impressive ancient monuments in the world. A complex of ancient Egyptian royal mortuary and sacred structures, including the Great Sphinx, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and a number of other large pyramids and temples. Giza has always been a focal point in Egypt's history due to its location close to Memphis, the ancient Pharaonic capital of the Old Kingdom.

THE GREAT SPHINX The Terrifying One; literally: Father of Dread, commonly referred to as the Sphinx, is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx, a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. Cut from the bedrock, the original shape of the Sphinx has been restored with layers of blocks. It is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt and is commonly believed to have been built by ancient Egyptians of the Old Kingdom during the reign of the Pharaoh Khafre (c. 2558–2532 BC).

Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre
The NILE RIVER: Luxor to Aswan

One of the most interesting ways of learning about Ancient Egypt is to take a 6 day cruise down the Nile River. We begin in Luxor and explore the Karnak and Luxor temple complexes. We see how papyrus is made and visit the Valley of the Kings as well as Queen Hatshepsut’s Funerary Temple.

We continue from Luxor and sail up the Nile exploring temples dedicated to Horus and Sobek, the crocodile god before arriving in Aswan. We also fly to Abu Simbel to see Ramses II’s great temple. At about 6,600 km, the Nile is the longest river in the world. The central theme in Egyptian cosmology was the struggle between order and chaos. We will see how this is reflected in the tombs and temples along the Nile.

Nile River Map
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Was once the Biblical land of Ammon, Edom and Moab.

The lands are steeped in a history as old as the verses of the bible and have played an important part in the biggest religions in the world. In places, it’s like an open-air museum with ancient ruins and mythical cities dotting the horizon.

jordan tour map
PETRA - HALF AS OLD AS TIME

PETRA IS OLD Petra is believed to have been settled as early as 9,000 BC, and it was likely established in the 4th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom. The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who invested in Petra's proximity to the trade routes by establishing it as a major regional trading hub.

THE TREASURY The Treasury is the most spectacular monument carved by the Nabateans. The monument’s name comes from a Bedouin legend that pharaoh hid a treasure in the urn at the top, and you can see bullet holes left by treasure seekers. In reality it was a mausoleum and used for funerary purposes – possibly for King Aretas IV (9BC – 40AD).

The Treasury at Petra
WADI RUM

Wadi is a valley which is dry except in the rainy season. Wadi Rum "Valley of (light, airborne) sand".

Wadi Rum (the largest Wadi in Jordan) has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times, with many cultures–including the Nabataeans–leaving their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples.

Camels at Wadi Rum
Israel and Palestine
A continuing dislocation

JORDAN RIVER CROSSINGJoshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

Map of Israel and Palestine
JERICHO - ONE OF THE OLDEST CITIES ON EARTH

It is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and the city with the oldest known protective wall in the world. Copious springs in and around the city have attracted human habitation for thousands of years. Jericho is described in the Hebrew Bible as the "City of Palm Trees".

JERICHO - TELL es SULTAN In 1868, Charles Warren identified Tell es-Sultan as the site of Jericho. In the narrative of the conquest of Canaan in the Book of Joshua, the Battle of Jericho is the first battle that is described. According to Joshua 6:1-27, the walls of Jericho fell after Joshua's Israelite army marched around the city blowing their trumpets. Excavations at Tell es-Sultan, the biblical Jericho, have failed to produce data to substantiate the biblical story, and scholars are virtually unanimous that the Book of Joshua holds little historical value.

Jericho
The NILE RIVER: Luxor to Aswan

One of the most interesting ways of learning about Ancient Egypt is to take a 6 day cruise down the Nile River. We begin in Luxor and explore the Karnak and Luxor temple complexes. We see how papyrus is made and visit the Valley of the Kings as well as Queen Hatshepsut’s Funerary Temple.

We continue from Luxor and sail up the Nile exploring temples dedicated to Horus and Sobek, the crocodile god before arriving in Aswan. We also fly to Abu Simbel to see Ramses II’s great temple. At about 6,600 km, the Nile is the longest river in the world. The central theme in Egyptian cosmology was the struggle between order and chaos. We will see how this is reflected in the tombs and temples along the Nile.

Nile River Map
Jerusalem was already a legend in David’s time.
The most contested city on earth

This is the heart of the Holy Land, where the Jews raised the First Temple to keep the Ark of the Covenant safe, where Jesus was crucified and rose again, and where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven to receive God's word.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
THE OLD CITY

CAPITAL OF ISRAEL AND PALESTINE. This has to be one of the greatest historical sites in the world. Intense, deeply religious, and with all that history to enjoy. There are amazing sites within the walls of the Old City to see, including the Western “Wailing” Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Dome of the Rock.

Map of Jerusalem's Old City
TOP 10 SITES TO VISIT IN JERUSALEM (in no particular order)

1. THE GIHON SPRING AND HEZEKIAH'S TUNNEL Without water nothing happens. David’s warriors were able to enter Jerusalem via the tunnel which brought water from the Gihon spring. One of the world's major intermittent springs – and a reliable water source that made human settlement possible in ancient Jerusalem – the spring was not only used for drinking water, but also initially for irrigation of gardens in the adjacent Kidron Valley which provided a food source for the ancient settlement. HEZEKIAH'S TUNNELThe tunnel leads from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam. If indeed built under Hezekiah, it dates to a time when Jerusalem was preparing for an impending siege by the Assyrians

gihon spring

2. THE MOUNT OF OLIVES. Located on the eastern side of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives has spectacular views across Jerusalem and especially vistas of the Old City of Jerusalem. Historically, the Mount of Olives was a site of great importance and considered the center of Jerusalem. Still today, the site is a location of holy pilgrimage for both Jews and Christians, with over 150,000 graves (the mount was a traditional burial site in Jerusalem for 3000 years) and a number of important Christian churches located on this amazing mountain ridge.

Tombs on the Mount of Olives

3. THE WESTERN OR WAILING WALL. The Western Wall deserves its own allocated visiting time. The raw, emotional power of this huge wall (the only remnants of the famed Second Temple), is obvious, regardless of your own religious persuasion.

Western or Wailing Wall

4. CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE Constantine’s church was burned by Persians in 614, restored, destroyed by Muslims in 1009 and partially rebuilt. Crusaders completed the reconstruction in 1149. The result is essentially the church that stands today.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre revolves around the story of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This story was used by the builders of the church to create a physical environment that follows in a material fashion Christ’s last day on earth.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

5. CITY OF DAVID. This impressive site is the Jerusalem of ancient times, and is located just outside the present-day Old City. The City of David is one big collection of archaeological wonders; take one of the super-knowledgeable guides (or tours) for the full story of this amazing site and feel like you’re walking through history. Archeological exploration of the City of David began in the mid-19th century and is still ongoing.

city of david entrance

6. VIA DOLOROSA. Via Dolorosa (meaning the Way of Sorrows) is located in Jerusalem’s Old City and is believed to be the very path along which Jesus walked as approached his crucifixion. Christians have been coming to the city for many centuries to walk the same path as Jesus Christ. The road begins at the Antonia Fortress, ancient military barracks built by Herod the Great, and winds its way for about 600 meters to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – the traditionally accepted site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

Via Dolorosa has fourteen sacred landmarks, known as the Stations of the Cross – nine along the road and the other five within the church. The first and second stations mark the area where Jesus met Pontius Pilate who condemned him to death. The third, seventh and ninth stations depict the spots where it is believed Jesus stumbled along the road under the weight of the cross. Popular tradition says that Jesus met his mother Mary during the walk to his crucifixion, where the fourth station is now marked. The fifth station refers to the episode where Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus’ cross for him, while the sixth relates to the Roman Catholic legend of the Veil of Veronica. The eighth station is a mark of Jesus’ encounter with pious women on his journey. Each of the 14 Stations of the Cross are marked with a plaque, although the best way to experience them is to join a process held every Friday afternoon, which stops off at each station. The most popular (and busiest) time to visit the Via Dolorosa is during Holy Week, where literally thousands of pilgrims walk the route.

ecce homo arch

7. GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE. Built on the lower foothills of Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, the Catholic Franciscan church known as the Basilica of Agony was built in 1924. Its location, Gethsemane (or Gat Sehmanim, meaning oil press in Hebrew) is mentioned in the New Testament as the spot where Jesus said his last prayer before he was arrested by the Romans. The Franciscan order bought the land in the mid-17th century in a bid to rebuild a church that originated in the 4th century. The basilica is one of the most beautiful churches in the Holy Land, and its large mosaic façade that faces the Temple Mount is one of the most photographed sites in the country. Inside, the church has a more somber atmosphere and its deliberate state of semi-darkness was created to invoke the agony of Christ as he prayed on the night before his crucifixion.

The Garden of Gethsemane

8. TEMPLE MOUNT. The present site is a flat plaza surrounded by retaining walls (including the Western Wall) which was built during the reign of Herod the Great for an expansion of the temple. The plaza is dominated by three monumental structures: the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain. Jewish tradition maintains it is here that a third and final Temple will also be built.[citation needed] The location is the holiest site in Judaism and is the place Jews turn towards during prayer. Due to its extreme sanctity, many Jews will not walk on the Mount itself, to avoid unintentionally entering the area where the Holy of Holies stood, since according to Rabbinical law, some aspect of the divine presence is still present at the site. Free for Muslim visitors. Non-Muslims are only allowed access to the Temple Mount from the ramp to the right of the Western Wall, and are usually not allowed in the Dome of the Rock.

Temple Mount - 1985

9. ISRAEL MUSEUM SHRINE OF THE BOOK. The Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem was built as a repository for the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947. This symbolic building, a kind of sanctuary intended to express profound spiritual meaning, is considered an international landmark of modern architecture. The unique white dome embodies the lids of the jars in which the first scrolls were found. The shrine houses the Isaiah scroll, dating from the second century BC, the most intact of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

THE ISRAEL MUSEUM is without question one of the best in the world. It has a huge range of exhibits, ranging from artifacts and ancient documents to Israeli art.

shrine of the book

10. THE GARDEN TOMB. In 1882, the British General Charles Gordon created a new location for Jesus’ crucifixion, Golgotha, by looking out his hotel window and deciding a particular hill looked like a skull (the meaning of Golgotha in Aramaic). Nearby stood an ancient tomb, which Gordon declared was the “Garden Tomb” in which Jesus had been buried. The Anglican Church acquired the property and established it as a Protestant worship site. Although the site has no historical validity, which its own literature recognizes, the site has since become a favorite of Protestant Christians touring Jerusalem because of its western character.

Visitors at the Garden Tomb
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