Nazareth, in the lower Galilee, is located in the heart of a valley surrounded by mountains that embrace several of the most important Christian sites in the world. This is a city of religion and faith, of spirituality and holiness, but also a city with a rich history, fascinating archaeology, modern culture and Middle Eastern charm. It is called the cradle of Christianity!
During an archaeological excavation in 1962 an inscription fragment was discovered in Caesarea Marittima mentioning Nazareth for the first time, two more fragments that were excavated listed the places where priests resettled after Hadrian expelled Jews from Jerusalem 135 A.D. The discovered fragments dated to the third or fourth century from a synagogue plaque. Two thousand years ago Nazareth, a small farming village with only two to four hundred inhabitants, was considered of little consequence at that time.
Nazareth of the New Testament times was such a modest place. Because of the rocky nature of the village, the villagers built their houses from field stones and bricks and sometimes incorporated the caves into their houses. For example, a house might be built over or in front of a cave, so that the cave served as a back room or stable. Over the time the mud bricks and field sticks disappeared. That left little or nothing of the archaeological remains to be revealed, except for rock surfaces and caves.
According to the New Testament Joseph and Mary’s homes were in the old city of Nazareth. The spots identified representing their homes are caves that go back to the sixth century A.D. the old city is filled with many other important Christian sites.
It is believed that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at her house, which was represented as a cave, thus the house/cave is also known as the Grotto of the Annunciation according to the Western tradition. A magnificent Roman Catholic Basilica was built there. According to the Greek Orthodox tradition the annunciation occurred at the village spring, the site of the spring is marked today by the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel.
Basilica Of Annunciation:
The Basilica and the monastery were built by the Crusaders in the twelfth century on the traditional site of Mary’s House/cave, which was destroyed by the Mamluks in 1263.The Franciscans rebuilt the church in 1730, and enlarged it in 1877. In the 1960’s plans were underway to build the current Basilica. The site was cleared by some Italian archaeologists, thus identifying the ancient remains which is interpreted to be the earlier buildings including the early village with caves, the location of Joseph’s and Mary’s House, a synagogue from the third or fourth century, a Byzantine church and monastery from the fifth century and finally the crusaders church complex from the twelfth century. The modern Basilica was built over all those phases, from inside the Basilica one can view all those phases. Next to the Basilica is
St. Joseph’s church : built at the location of Joseph’s house, where there are also steps carved in the rocks marking Joseph’s carpentry workshop.
The Village Spring:
Everyone in the village used the spring to draw water and that included the Holy family. The Greek Orthodox believe that the Angel Gabriel visited Mary as she was drawing water from the spring. It was there that the Holy Virgin received the first annunciation. A round small church was built, dedicated to the Angel Gabriel. The spring can be viewed from inside the crypt, which dates from the crusaders period, while the recent church was constructed in 1750.
Close by Mary’s Well an Ancient Bathhouse was discovered, which archaeologists believes dates back to time of Jesus. The discoveries include a furnace, a white marble floor imported from Rome, and the arched channels which carried the heated water.
Close by the Basilica lies the Convent Of the Sisters Of Nazareth, where ancient tombs, columns, streets and houses are revealed under the convent floors, dating back to the Roman era. A small museum which exhibits coins and pottery are found on site.
The Old Market is in the heart of the historical Old City and is still thriving with the modern market (Souq) with the shops, cafes and stalls, amid the old stone houses.
Hidden away among many stalls in modern Nazareth in the Old Market is the Synagogue Church, built on the site where it was believed that Jesus started praying and preaching to his followers.
The white Mosque is the oldest Holy Islamic site, which was built in the old market as well two-hundred years ago during the Ottoman rule of the Holy Land. The pencil-thin Ottoman minaret symbolizes the peace which still exists between the different faiths in Nazareth.
Mount of Precipice observation point
It is the highest point of where one sees breath –taking view of the city and its surroundings. The evangelist Luke recounts that Jesus, after the sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth, was led by his fellow citizens to a precipice, to be thrown off (Lc 4, 29). Medieval tradition set this to memory on the peak of a mount, 397 metres high, and 2 km to the south east of Nazareth. The mount bears the name of “Jebel el-Qaftze” in Arabic. A community of monks built a monastery in this location, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, remembered in the “Commemoratorium de casis Dei”, the list of monasteries compiled on order of Charlemagne in the year 808. The many natural grottos around the landscape were transformed, from the Byzantine to the Arab eras, into places of worship and spiritual living for the monks. There are still traces of two hermitages or rupestrian “laure” churches, dug into the rocks, along the steepest slopes. Remains of inscriptions on the rock, of an altar and fragments of pottery from the Byzantine era are the remaining evidence of the ancient monastery.
There are grottos on this mount that were used by man as far back as one hundred thousand years ago: in the 1930s the skeletal remains were found of a man and child from around 100,000 years ago.
The crusaders called the place “Saltus Domini”, the leap of the Lord. The Burcardo pilgrims of Mount Zion in 1283 and Giacomo da Verona in 1335 recall the great leap made by Jesus to save himself from his fellow citizens. These stories are based on an apocryphal tradition that tells how Christ, after being led to the Mount, was pushed off the edge, but managed to take a great leap and escape uninjured.
Today it is difficult to reach the grottos, which can be seen by climbing towards Nazareth from the plain of Jezreel along the raised bridge. From here, at the entrance to the tunnel, the grottos can be seen one in front of the other. In 2009 a natural amphitheat was created on this Mount, and has been venue to celebrations during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land
In the mid twelfth century B.C.it was believed to be the site of the battle of Mount Tabor between the Barak, under the leadership of the Israelite Judge Deborah, and the army of Jabin commanded by Sisera. It’s also believed by Christians to be the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus, where Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain apart, He was transfigured before them: his face did shine as the sun, and his clothing was white as the light. There he appeared with Moses and Elijah talking with them. At the bottom of the mountain was an important junction called Via Maris which passed through the Jazreel valley northward towards Damascus.