Round up the best of Palestine – the holy shrines, the historical treasures, the hospitality, the folklore, the hiking, the biking, the culture, the handicrafts, the food, the beer – and you have the building blocks for one of the most interesting journeys you’ll ever take. While so many things in Palestine are interesting, some things are better defined as ‘surprising!’ We’ve selected a collection of Palestine’s Most Interesting for First-timers:
1. Jerusalem: Jerusalem is the heart of Palestine. There is very little that can make someone understand how this beloved city has stood the test of time, for thousands of years.
Jerusalem, as a holy city for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Archaeological excavations show the history of the city began over 5,000 years ago. Among its 220 historic monuments are the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, built in the seventh century, which stand as magnificent pieces of architecture. It is also home to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses Christ’s tomb.
The old city of Jerusalem and its walls is one of the best-preserved medieval Islamic cities in the world. It is divided into four main quarters: the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter. The old city has been home to many diverse cultures, which are reflected in the architecture and planning of the city and its sacred buildings, streets, markets, and residential quarters. Today, Jerusalem’s living traditions continue, making the city the heart of human history.
In 1982, Jerusalem was inscribed on the list of the cities of World Heritage in Danger by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
2. Bethlehem: The city of Bethlehem is holy to both Christians and Muslims. It is acknowledged as the birthplace of Jesus Christ or, in Arabic, Issa, who is known as the Son of God in Christian belief and a divinely inspired prophet to Muslims. The diversity that this town pulls towards it can only be seen, heard and experienced if one is to visit this town during Christmas. For most, that is a life changing experience!
Bethlehem’s old town is the place where a wide range of religious and traditional activities take place. The Patriarch Route, which runs along Star Street, is the route of a religious parade, which passes through each year during Christmas celebrations.
In 2012, the Nativity Church and the Pilgrimage Route were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Ramallah has a pleasant, cool climate and has long been a popular Summer resort. . During the twelfth century, French Crusaders built a stronghold in Ramallah, and the remains of a Crusader tower, known as At-Tira, can still be seen in the old part of town.
Modern Ramallah has a lively town centre, museums, art galleries, theatres, parks, booming restaurant scene, and bustling nightlife, Ramallah is a fast-growing cosmopolitan town. It is also much serviced for visitor, with comfortable places to stay, some Palestine’s best restaurants, good transport and other tourism –related services, and hospitable, friendly people
You cannot leave Ramallah without making a visit to Arafat’s tomb. His burial place is a temporary one awaiting relocation in Jerusalem.
Jericho’s moderate climate makes it a favourite winter resort, as it is always a number of degrees warmer than other parts of Palestine owing to its low elevation and the height of the surrounding mountains. It is an important agricultural area, producing fresh fruits, and vegetables year round. Jericho dates, bananas and citrus fruits are especially famous.
In Jericho is Tel As-Sultan, the ancient city of Jericho, which is the lowest (258 m below sea level) and the oldest town on earth, dating back more than 10,000 years. It grew up around a perennial spring, Ain As-Sultan, in an area of fertile alluvial soil which attracted hunter-gatherer groups to settle and start the process of plant and animal domestication. Ain As-Sultan is known as Elisha’s spring, where the prophet Elisha cleansed the water of Jericho.
Monastery of Temptation (Deir Quruntel)
The summit of the Mount of Temptation rises sharply 350 m above sea level, commanding a magnificent view of the Jordan Valley.It is the site where Jesus spent forty days and nights fasting and meditating. The Monastery has been inhabited by monks and hermits since the early days of Christianity.
Three kilometers north from this ancient city is the palace of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham, which was built in the 7th century as a winter resort. It is an excellent example of Islamic art and architecture of the eighth century.7. Heritage Centers offer a hands-on approach to learning about the Palestinian culture. Here you are warmly welcomed and encouraged to try on authentic dresses, sit in real Bedouin tents, drink tea or Arabic coffee and enjoy Dabka dance.
5. Nablus : Traveling almost a hundred kilometers north of Jerusalem you will be captivated by the beautiful scenery of hills dotted with olive trees, dipping in and out of its lush valleys.
The seven quarters of the old city of Nablus represent a distinctive example of traditional urban architecture in Palestine. The city centre features a bustling market, or souq, with impressive mosques, Turkish baths, and traditional soap factories. At the end of the eighteenth century, the city began to expand outside its original walls.
Today, Nablus is considered the major commercial, industrial and agricultural centre in the northern region of Palestine. It is known for its olive oil soap, talented goldsmiths, and traditional sweets. Nablus is considered to be the best place in Palestine to eat knafeh, a beloved Palestinian dessert made from cheese and semolina flour, and dripping with sweet rose water syrup.
Who doesn’t know the story of the “Good Samaritan?” Yet very few know that the community of Samaritans resides on top of Mt. Gerizim, right outside of Nablus, one of the oldest cities in the world.
Sebastia (Sabastyia) is located around 10 km northwest of Nablus at the junction of two main historical routes, the northern Nablus-Jenin route and the western route from the Jordan valley to the Mediterranean coast. The site offers a magnificent view of the surrounding farmland.
Sebastia was a regional capital during the second Iron Age and a major urban centre during the Hellenistic-Roman period. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Palestine and remains known by its ancient name, indicating a strong element of cultural continuity. Christian and Islamic traditions place the tomb of John the Baptist there.
The present town of Sabastyia, including the archaeological remains, the historical town, and the cultural landscape, is a major tourist attraction in Palestine. A series of restoration activities was carried out in the historic core, including renovating the mosque, the shrine of Nabi Yahyia, the Cathedral of John the Baptist, the Roman mausoleum, the olive press, Kayed palace, and the traditional buildings, along with a walking trail.
6. Hebron: Hebron is one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the world, its Arabic name, Khalil al-Rahman, means ‘The Friend of God.’ Ancient Hebron was situated on Jebel Ar-Rumeideh (the Rumeideh hill).The city has always been known as the burial place of the prophets Abraham/Ibrahim, Isaac, Jacob and their wives. With the Arab-Muslim conquest, Hebron became the fourth sacred city of Islam after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, and was visited by Muslim pilgrims from all over the world.
Still dominated by Mamluk-style architecture, Hebron is one of the few Islamic cities that has preserved its authentic set up, visible in its urban fabric and prestigious architecture, corroborated by its particular craftsmanship (the famous pottery and glassware of Mamluk origin) and its traditional life.
The prosperous town of Tulkarem is located 12 km from the Mediterranean Sea, and about 15 kilometres west of Nablus. Its location between the coastal plain and mountain of the central Palestine has made it an important stop along both trade and conquest over the course history. Originally inhabited by the Canaanites, its ancient name was Tur Karm, meaning the Mountain of Vineyards, because of its fertile land.
Located about 43km north of Nablus, on the ancient trade road from Nablus through wadi Bal’ama and across the plain of Marj Ibn Amer and Lajjun to Haifa ,and an altitude about ( 100-250) above the sea level . The name was derived from Ein Ganim meaning the spring of Ganim and referring to the region’s plentiful spring.
9. Gaza :
Located on the Mediterranean seashore, 32 km north of the Egyptian border, Gaza City is considered one of the most ancient towns in the world. Strategically placed on the Mediterranean coastal route, ancient Gaza was a prosperous trade centre and a stop on the caravan route between Egypt and Syria.
Gaza was a major Philistine city in the early Iron Age, and the site of the Canaanite God of fertility, Dagon. Gaza City is mentioned a number of times in the Bible, especially as the place, where according to tradition, Samson brought down the Philistine temple. In 734 BC the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III captured Gaza and the city remained under Assyrian control until the middle of the seventh century BC. In the sixth century Gaza became an important royal fortress under the Babylonians. The city of Gaza flourished during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It was mentioned by the ancient Greek writer Herodouts as Kadytis. In 332 BC, the city was captured by Alexander the Great after a long siege. During the Roman Period, Gaza became a major urban centre, with temples dedicated to Zeus, Aphropdite, Apollo and the major local deity Marnas. The city was expanded beyond the ancient settlement and the ancient port of Maiumas was established. During the Byzantine Period, the name of the city was changed to Constantia and a large church was built on the site of the temple of Marnas in the fifth century AD. The city was depicted on the Madab mosaic map from the sixth century as a large city with colonnaded streets and a large basilica in the centre. It was shown also on the mosaic floor of the church of St. Stephen at Umm Er-Rasas, from the eighth century. In 636, Gaza came under Islamic rule. It became famous as the burial place of Hashim, the grandfather of prophet Mohammed and as the birthplace of Al-Shafia. The church of John the Baptist was built on the site of the Eudoxiana. In 1187 the city was captured by Saladin and became part of the Ayyubid state. Gaza was a regional capital during the Mamluk period. In 1516 the city of Gaza fell to the Ottoman Empire and became the capital of the province of Palestine. It flourished during this period as a main trade centre and a station on the main trade route between Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia. Gaza was under British rule from 1918 to1948, and to the Egyptian rule between 1948 and 1967, when it fell under Israeli occupation in 1967. Following the transfer of authority to the Palestinians in 1995, Gaza was again under the control of its people.
Today, Gaza City is the economic centre for a region where citrus fruits and other crops are grown. The city is famous for its hand-woven carpets, wicker furniture, and pottery. Famous also for its fresh seafood, Gaza has numerous restaurants along the beach as well as public parks where visitors can enjoy the pleasant Mediterranean breeze.
10. Food: Treat yourself to Palestine’s legendary cuisine by sampling a wide variety of local delicacies like hummus, falafel, grilled lamb and assorted mezzas. Enjoy an evening in one of the spread all over exquisite restaurants featuring folk dancing and singing. Here is a guide to some of the most popular food served all over Palestine:
Falafel – Most popular and is usually served in a pita. It is a deep fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans.
Shawarma – is a fast-food staple Arab sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day.
Musakhan – Taboon bread topped with pieces of cooked sweet onions, sumac, saffron and allspice, topped by one or two roasted chickens.
Maqluba – an upside-down rice and baked eggplant casserole mixed with cooked cauliflower, carrots and chicken or lamb.
Mujaddara – cooked green lentils with bulgar sauteed with olive oil.
Mansaf – having roots from the Bedouins, Mansaf is cooked lamb on top a markook bread that has been topped with yellow rice with cheesecloth yogurt from goat’s milk poured on top to give it its distinct flavor and taste. The dish is garnished with cooked pine nuts and almonds.
Knafeh – one of the most popular desserts of Palestine. It is made of several fine shreds of pastry noodles with honey-sweetened cheese in the center. The top layers of the pastry is usually colored orange with food coloring and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Boiled sugar used as syrup.