Chat with us, powered by LiveChat January 2021 | Gold Carpet Tours - Israel

The Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee or Lake Kinneret is the largest body of fresh water in Israel. Lying below sea level on the Great Syrian-African Rift, it is surrounded by hills and mountains and fed mainly by the Jordan River, supplemented by underground streams. It is Israel’s principle source of fresh water, along with the ground aquafers, and has only been replaced in recent years by desalination plants, that create drinking water from the sea.

There have been archeological findings dating back to prehistoric times, and through the ages, including modern times, large and small settlements have been established around the lake, which has always been a source of sustainability.

Its major historical significance relates Christianity, being the principle site of Jesus’s ministry and where some of his famous miracles (walking on water, multiplication of fishes and bread) occurred. As such it has become a prime destination for pilgrims who wish to visit the many holy sites surrounding the lake, such as Capernaum, Tabgha, Mount of Beatitudes, and more. It is customary to take a boat ride on its waters and feast on its plentiful fish. Some of Jesus disciples were in fact fishermen who made their living from the lake, and historical evidence of this can be found today at the newly excavated archeological site of Magdala, as well as at the Kibbutz Ginosar Museum on its northern shore, where a 2000 year old fishing boat discovered in the lake has been preserved and is on exhibition.

During the Roman era, the Jewish population of Jerusalem was banished from the city and many moved to the Sea of Galilee region, with the city of Tiberias becoming a seat of Jewish learning. It is still considered one of the four holy cities to Judaism in Israel. In the 17th century, Tiberias was completely destroyed and it remained uninhabited for almost a hundred years before being rebuilt in the mid-18th century.

With the beginning of the Zionist movement, returning Jews began to establish agricultural settlements around the Sea of Galilee, which was also the site of the first ever kibbutz – Degania, followed by many others that remain a major portion of modern day Galilee settlements. In addition to agriculture, many of these settlements serve the ever growing tourism movement, providing guest houses and other attractions for visitors.

The Sea of Galilee is also known as the “Mood Gage” of Israel – with the level of its waters indicating whether there will be elation – when the lake fills, or despair – when its level drops. In 2018 the lake level dropped so low, following several years of drought, that there was concern it would reach a point of disaster. Luckily since then, with the rains of 2019 and 2020, the lake has refilled almost to its highest point. Unfortunately the Corona crisis has prevented Israelis from celebrating by visiting its’ shores in hoards, which they would have done in normal times. Hopefully we will be able to do so soon again.



Lachish – a lost city

Strategically situated on the main route from Egypt, Lachish was a thriving city in biblical times. Initial habitation of the site can be traced back 5000 years, to the Neolithic pottery era, continuing to develop through the early Bronze Age, and becoming a major Canaanite city in the mid-Bronze age, with a surrounding wall and with several temples, although it was completely destroyed by fire in 1350 BCE.

It was slowly rebuilt, becoming a principle city under Egyptian rule, as is testified in the Amarna letters dating to this period which were found in Egypt.  By the 11th century BC, the Pharaohs were losing control of the region, and the city was finally destroyed again by fire when the Israelites invaded, led by Joshua, after which the site remained abandoned for over 200 years.

Lachish was rebuilt into a major city of the Kingdom of Judah, protecting the country from invasion by the sea peoples (the Phillistines). As one of the fortified cities guarding the valleys and roads to Jerusalem, it had a massive wall a moat, with a royal palace erected on a plateau inside.

Lachish was invaded and destroyed by Sennacherib, during the revolt of King Hezekaya, who resisted falling under Assyrian rule, and remnants of the siege ramp built by the Assyrians to breach the city were found on site, embedded with thousands of arrows and a chain from one of the battering rams. This siege ramp is the oldest in the world, dating back to 2700 BC, having been constructed 700 years before the Roman siege ramp at Masada, is the only surviving remnant from the Assyrian conquests throughout its empire.

With the decline of the Assyrian Empire, the city was rebuilt, only to fall into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, who exiled the inhabitants to Babylon as part of the captivity and erecting a solar shrine in the city. Some returning inhabitants, following the fall of Babylon, rebuilt the city which was once again invaded and destroyed by Alexander the Great, never to be rebuilt.

Excavations that have taken place on the site, initially by the British from 1932-1939, led by archeologists Starkey and Tufnell, who were the first to establish the mound as the site of the city and to uncover several layers of its history. Among others, he discovered the Lachish letters, written in ancient Hebrew written to the garrison commander before the city fell to the Babylonians. A later dig by the Israelis led by David Ussishkin in 1974 and 1983, uncovered evidence of the Judean kingdom city, including a well 44 meters deep, which supplied water to the city.

The site is currently being restored and prepared for touring by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority.

Beit Shean – then and now

Once a strategically important crossroads along the Syrian-African rift, connecting between Egypt in the south and Syria and Asia in the north, Beit Shean has been intermittently settled since pre-historic times, becoming a city of major importance during biblical times and then again during the reign of the Roman Empire.

Dominated by an archeological mound, diggings have found evidence of settlements going back beyond the Bronze Age with Canaanite graves dating back to 2000 BCE. During the 15th century BCE the city was conquered by the Egyptians, who set it up as an administrative capital and occupied it for almost 300 years.  After losing its control over the Eastern Mediterranean, the site was completely destroyed by fire and abandoned by the Egyptians, who did not attempt rebuilding it.

Beit Shean is mentioned in the Bible as the site where the bodies of King Saul and his sons were hung on the walls, after their defeat against the Philistines, although it was not a prominent city at the time.

Beit Shean revival began in the Hellenistic period reaching its heights of prosperity during the Roman era, when it was moved to the lower slopes of the mound, and became the leading city of the region, with its name changing to Scythopolis. At its peak, the city was inhabited by some 40 thousand, and had an amphitheater, hippodrome and various temples and other magnificent buildings. Many of these can be seen in today’s Beit Shean archeological and nature park reserve, with the amphitheater having been restored to a functioning theater.

Beit Shean was destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in 749, and has never returned to its former glory. Although settled during the Muslim, Mameluke and Crusader times, it was never more than a village in terms of inhabitants, however due to its locality is remained an important township, being a relay station between Cairo and Damascus, finally losing its regional importance during the 400 years of Ottoman rule.

Today Beit Shean is a pleasant and quiet town, with an almost entirely Jewish population. During the early years, before the peace accords with Jordan, it was sometimes subject to rocket and terrorist attacks, but nowadays it is peaceful, with the magnificent antiquities park having restored its historical importance, and contributing to a budding tourism industry.

New of Year of Trees

The festival of Tu Bishvat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) is the “New Year of Trees” or Israel’s “Arbor Day”. At this time of year the first fruit bearing trees start to blossom – most markedly the almond tree, and throughout the country the white and pink blossoms can be seen shining through the forests.

In biblical times, the changing seasons and the ripening and harvesting of the various crops and fruits were also times when tithes were given to the temple in support of the priests and other religious leaders and helpers, and these were signified by traditionally four celebrated Jewish new years – the new year of years, celebrated in September, with which coincides the tithe of vegetables, the new year of trees – the tithe of fruits, the new year of kings and festivals in April – marking the beginning of the yearly cycle of religious festivals, and the new year for the tithe of cattle at the end of August.

With the establishment of the new Jewish state in 1948, the New Year of Trees was celebrated by the planting of new trees throughout the country, organized and sponsored by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), to reclaim the forests that had been almost completely obliterated during the many years of rule under foreign empires. This tradition continues to this day.

Since the 21st century, Tu Bishvat has taken on an environmental aspect, with this day serving as an opportunity to increase awareness for the environment and nature.

It is customary to eat dried and other fruits that are native to the land – such as figs, dates, pomegranates, almonds and olives.

This year the New Year of Trees will fall on January 28th. Hopefully we will be over lockdown and able to continue this wonderful tradition of planting trees, looking after nature and of course feasting on delicious fruits.

Judas tree in the Galilee Almond blossoms First blossom on almod tree White almond blossoms Closeup of almond blossoms