Things to Do While you are in Palestine: A Day in Ramallah

Most first-time visitors to Palestine will stick to highlights like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Old City and Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and Tel Es-Sultan and Quarantine in Jericho. But for those that have been to Palestine before or have some time to discover other parts, there is an abundance of great day trips in easy reach. TravelPalestine has selected Ramallah as a destination of choice.

Ramallah is only 15 kilometers north of Jerusalem. Today, it is seen by many as a fascinating urban center for all visitors interested in political and social issues. The urban growth of the city has had a particularly marked cultural and recreational flavor.  It boasts a lively nightlife, with many restaurants, bars and discotheques that have cropped up in Ramallah in the last three years.

International presence is highly recognizable as the city hosts many Representation Offices and International Non-Governmental Organizations.

If you want to start the day with sightseeing, several historic and religious sites are present. However, the downtown streets are a must see during the day, as the city is often really congested. The ‘Hisbeh’ produce market is also a great place to visit, where fresh fruits and vegetables can be found.

In the old city, several churches and mosques can be found that may be of interest to visitors. The Friends Schools, which are two of the oldest schools in the region, are also a must visit as there is one near the old city, and another in the entrance of the downtown coming from Jerusalem. TravelPalestine has selected some of the city’s major sites:

1. Tel al-Nasbeh: located on top of a hill overlooking the southern entrance to Ramallah, this site has been identified as the Biblical city of Mizbeh. A walk along the hill is especially interesting for an overall view of recent urban development in Ramallah and the adjacent al-Bireh.

2. The Crusader Church in al-Bireh: this church has been thoroughly excavated by archaeologists; Christian tradition has it that this was where Joseph and Mary lost twelve-year-old Jesus on their way to Jerusalem.

3. Kirbit al-Tireh “Kufur Ghamlah”: Within the Ramallah city boundaries, one and a half kilometers from the Old City on a hill 810m from sea level, this site sits on land owned by the Orthodox Church in Palestine.

4. Khalat al-Addas: Located to the northwest of Kufur Ghamlah, this site contains many Roman graves dug in stone, with some walls dating to the Iron Age.

5. Al-Kafriah: An ancient site located at the bottom of a slope rising about 560 meters from sea level, it includes many walls, and a farm.

6. Al-Krin’ah: An ancient site located at the bottom of a slope, rising about 571 meters above sea level, with an area of 600 square meters and ruins from the Byzantine era and early Islamic times.

7. Ramallah’s Old City: A residential village some 860 meters above sea level, with an area of 175 dunums, the Old City consists of ruins from the British Mandate, Ayyubid, and Ottomon eras. It had many names, including ‘Khirbit Ramallah’, and ‘Hanna’s Prayer’ neighborhood. It includes the following ruins:

The Tower: located in the Sharaqah neighborhood. Scholars agreed that its main function was as a watchtower looking out over agricultural land, used for warning farmers of an approaching enemy.

The Press: dates to the British Mandate period and used by Rashid Haddadeen and his group.

Ibrahim al-Khalil area: This site is located in the center of the old city and surrounded by the remaining neighborhoods. Ramallah residents believed that Abraham (Ibrahim al-Khalil) was their protector, and the protector of their town, and that the town would see no harm during his time. Local traditions were greatly influenced by al-Khalil.

The Ottoman Court: When Ramallah became the regional center in 1902, the Ottoman government appointed a regional director, Ahmad Murad of Jerusalem, and opened several administrative centers, among them a police station and a sharia court with a judge and administrator.

The Cannon Site: This site marks the position of the cannons that struck Ras al-Tahoneh, remaining pointing at it for several years afterwards. The cannons belonged to Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Mohammad Ali Pasha, who entered Ramallah on April 12, 1834 in a large military campaign seeking to demonstrate his power to his government, as well as the western forces and Arab nations.

Cultural centers are all over in Ramallah as the city is a hub for poets, musicians and artists. Some of the places that you can visit or check out for events are:

The Popular Art Center: It has a leading role in organizing cultural activities and events. The center organizes music and dance festivals, workshops for children, folk dancing (Dabka) courses, Jazz, music, puppets and drama and ensembles of traditional Palestinian Music. The center also houses a cinema which shows international films.

Another is the First Ramallah Group, a boy- and girl-scout club that also holds a number of traditional dance (Dabka) performances. The Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, founded in 1996, is a popular venue for such events. The Al-Kasaba Theatre is a venue for plays and movies. In 2004, the state-of-the art Ramallah Cultural Palace opened in the city. The only cultural center of its kind in the Palestinian territories, it houses a 736-seat auditorium, as well as conference rooms, exhibit halls, and movie-screening rooms.

The West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian Authority is also worth a visit. The Mukata’a is a two-block compound with a white tower that is lit up at night and visible from most parts of the city. It contains some government offices and conference rooms, as well as Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum next to the building where he was held under siege in 2002.

Honor guard at attention over Yasser Arafat’s tombstone in mausoleum, opened 10 November 2007 at the PNA Presidential headquarters in Ramallah.

There is a Turkish bath in the twin-city of El-Bireh, a good destination for foreigners wanting to relax for the day.

Ramallah’s surroundings include the ruins of a fortress in Bir Zeit, a massive Ottoman structure in the village of Ras Karkar, and the remains of a church and Byzantine architectural elements in the village of Jifna. Abboud village also houses many monasteries and churches from the time of Helen and her son the Emperor Constantine, as well as a historic mosque and a Roman Orthodox church.

Ramallah is well known with its wide selection of cuisine with a wide choice of restaurants and terraces (Muntazah). Cafes are also very popular in the city. The cities various coffee shops, bars, and restaurants are a must see/visit. One hallmark of Ramallah is Rukab’s Ice Cream, which is based on the resin of chewing gum and thus has a distinctive taste.

During the night, a good number of shops are still open. A common habit of the citizens/visitors of the city is going out for a drink, dinner, or an Argila (flavored tobacco waterpipe.)

If you are interested in organized tours, the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE) organizes tours to sites of archaeological and historical interest as well as urban and rural areas in the West Bank.

If you decide to stay over for the night you have the choice to choose from a wide range of hotels and guest houses including international chains such as Movenpick, Best Eastern and Days Inn and common hotels like Grand Park Hotel and Royal Court Suites Hotel.

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