Israel’s Ancient Treasures

The country’s museums document a history, culture and religion that date back thousands of years with innovative and insighful exhibitions

By: By Sarah Zarrabi

Destination Resources

By Christine Trang

The Jesus Trail
The pope will be visiting Israel in May and to herald his arrival, the Israel Ministry of Tourism is adding more signage along the Jesus Trail, which gives visitors a chance to walk the land where Jesus and his disciples walked. Sites along the 40.4-mile trail include a glimpse of Cana, the site where Jesus performed his first miracle — turning water into wine — and the Arbel Synagogue. The Jesus Trail takes approximately three to four days to walk, however, hotels and overnight camping are available along the way. Volunteers guide visitors on a free walk at 8 a.m. any day from Monday to Saturday, leaving from the Church of the Annunciation.

Tel Aviv Turns 100
In honor of Tel Aviv’s 100 years in existence, the city is offering a year of special events and festivals. The festival opened at Rabin Square on April 4, complete with a sound and light show, a concert and several other performances by vocalists and actors. Throughout 2009, travelers can enjoy outdoor festivals, art shows, sporting events and historic exhibitions, among many other activities. Other events include an international marathon that will be held on April 24 and a fashion week at the port on Oct. 19.

Crowne Plaza Haifa Hotel: This hotel is situated on the green hills of Mount Carmel, giving guests spectacular views of Haifa Bay, and is just minutes away from the Carmel Center, a recreational district with plenty of restaurants and shops. The hotel is also close to the beach and the Bahai Gardens. The indoor pool is heated in winter and guests may also use the hotel’s large Jacuzzi tub and wet/dry sauna during their stay. The Crowne was renovated in 2007 and offers a total of 100 guestrooms.

Le Meridien Haifa: This hotel boasts one of the largest conference centers in Haifa, along with its state-of-the-art business lounge. Here, guests have access to spa facilities, indoor and outdoor pool areas, a sauna and guestrooms with views of the Mediterranean. Le Meridien Haifa is located just around the corner from Haifa’s International Convention Center and the high-tech Matam Scientific Industry Center, and is near the Tikotin Musuem of Japanese Art which sits on top of Mount Carmel.

The American Colony Hotel: Host to many renowned guests, including Sir Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia and Marc Chagall, this landmark hotel is also home to classic Arabian arches, sophisticated furnishings, luxurious suites and lush gardens. Many of Jerusalem’s major sights are within walking distance from the hotel. Amenities include cable television, baby-sitting opportunities and meeting facilities, among many others.

The David Citadel Hotel, Jerusalem: The David Citadel Hotel provides 384 guestrooms, each of which comes with Internet access and a balcony. Within the hotel, the Seasons Restaurant offers a famous Israeli breakfast buffet, as well as other international cuisines. From the hotel, guests are within walking distance from some of Jerusalem’s most famous sites, the city center and the Tower of David. The hotel also offers full-body massage services, a sauna and a swimming pool. In addition, this five-star hotel is located near a number of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and businesses.

Tel Aviv
Hilton Tel Aviv: This beachside, five-star property is just minutes away from the Mediterranean Sea and offers guests a myriad of options for leisure and business. All rooms at the hotel have wireless Internet access and private balconies, and the majority offer views of the sea. Clients can indulge in the hotel’s Cybex Spa or swim in a saltwater pool. The hotel is also close to the Dizengoff Center and Old Jaffa, two locations that are prime for shopping excursions.

Vital Tel Aviv Hotel: Located in the heart of the cultural area of Tel Aviv, this hotel is adjacent to the Opera House, the Tel Aviv Museum and the train station. All 60 rooms are fully equipped with wireless Internet, cable television, coffee facilities and a safe box. Travelers can conveniently access the new shopping center at Weizmann Center through one of the hotel’s elevators.

Local Favorites
Independence Hall, Tel Aviv

Previously the home of Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Independence Hall is best known as the site where Israel’s independence was declared on May 14, 1948. Pictures and memorabilia from the event can be seen on the walls of what is now a museum. The Hall of Declaration remains as it did that day, complete with the original microphones. It is also possible for visitors to listen to the original recording of the declaration speech.

Kings City, Eilat
Kings City is a biblical theme park that was inaugurated in June 2005. Built over a 40,000-square-foot area, the park resembles a king’s palace and offers guests a journey to the past, where visitors can float above panoramic scenes of Pharaoh Palaces and temples. The Cave of Illusions and Wisdom is home to more than 70 displays of optical illusions and other interactive challenges in honor of King Solomon’s wisdom. A fascinating boat ride following the life story of King Solomon is also a favorite with park goers.

The Western Wall, Jerusalem
The Western Wall is a Jewish site of great religious importance, located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The large, open area that faces the Western Wall, known as the Western Wall Plaza, functions as an open-air synagogue that can accommodate thousands of worshippers. Prayers take place here both day and night, along with the insertion of tzetel (prayer messages) that are tucked inside the cracks of the wall. The Western Wall, also known as the Wall of Wishes or Wailing Wall, was built by King Herod in 20 B.C., and is a remnant of the retaining wall that once enclosed and supported the Second Temple.

Eretz Museum

Hecht Museum

Israel Ministry of Tourism

Israel Museum

Yad Vashem

Pillars Of Civilization

Pillars of Civilization 2009 CoverPlease visit our Guides & Brochures page to browse a full version of our Pillars Of Civilization supplement.

Both past and present travelers to Israel agree: This state, its land and its people, bear a cultural and historical presence that is truly distinctive. Just last year, Israel celebrated the 60th anniversary of its independence and this year, the state’s culture and history
continue to take center stage, with Israel’s museums eagerly joining in on the celebration. Through 2009, museums across Israel are featuring special exhibitions that showcase the nation’s culture and history and explore both its ancient and contemporary origins.

The Hall of Names at theHolocaust History Museum is a touching tribute to victims. // (c) Israel Ministry of Tourism
The Hall of Names at theHolocaust History Museum is a touching tribute to victims.

No doubt, the international buzz and press coverage surrounding Israel’s 60th anniversary will pique travelers’ interest in Israel’s current travel opportunities — particularly those that afford insight into the country’s dynamic past. Fortunately in 2009, these opportunities abound. With a visit to one or more of Israel’s distinguished museums, travelers can sate their appetite for culture and history and enjoy the experience of celebrating Israel’s independence with and among the Israeli people.

Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum
The ancient city of Jerusalem houses a number of Israel’s most prominent and internationally acclaimed museums. One of Israel’s most affecting museums, the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, resides here.

Newly completed in 2005, the museum is situated within the Yad Vashem complex, Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. While the complex itself is visually stunning — the museum is perched atop Har Hazikaron, the Mount of Remembrance — the Holocaust History Museum is primarily an underground structure. This design, of course, is deeply symbolic: Visitors must venture underground and become buried in the past in order to connect with the stories and experiences of the Holocaust’s victims. The gallery is specifically organized to guide visitors through a progressive narrative of the Holocaust experience. Visitors graduate from one display to another, from the origins of Jewish discrimination to the horrors of the Final Solution. This effect culminates as visitors enter the Hall of Names at the end of the gallery, where visitors can find short biographies on some of the Holocaust’s 6 million Jewish victims.

In commemoration of Israel’s 60th anniversary, the Holocaust History Museum has designed a new exhibition titled "My Homeland: Holocaust Survivors in Israel." Running through spring 2009, this exhibition highlights the contribution of Holocaust survivors to Israel’s establishment and development over the past 60 years. The exhibit demonstrates how 250,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today, and the many more who, in years past, have called Israel their home, have deeply impacted Israeli society and have built it into the powerful state it is today. The exhibition recognizes the painters, poets, writers, athletes, and academics who survived the Holocaust, rebuilt their lives in Israel and contributed to the growth of the Israeli state. It is located in the Exhibitions Pavilion at Yad Vashem.

Admission to the Yad Vashem complex, its museums and exhibitions, is free of charge and does not require prior reservations. However, visitors should note that children under the age of 10 will not be admitted into the Holocaust History Museum.

Israel Museum
Also in Jerusalem, clients will find the illustrious Israel Museum, Israel’s largest cultural establishment and one of the world’s leading art and archaeological museums. Completed in 1965, this museum has amassed an impressive collection of more than 500,000 objects and artifacts, the most notable of which are the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical manuscripts in the world, including the books of the Hebrew bible and other non-canonical texts dating as far back as the second century B.C.

The seven primary scrolls, along with fragments of 950 different scrolls, are housed in the Shrine of the Book, a unique dome structure that serves as a modern sanctuary for these ancient texts. This monumental structure, perhaps, deserves as much attention as the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves. The building’s striking white dome symbolizes the lids of the jars in which the first scrolls were found, and the corridor leading to the shrine represents the caves at Qumran where the scrolls were discovered.

This spring, the Shrine of the Book will house a new exhibition set to correspond with the state’s 60th anniversary celebration, "The Nuremberg Mahazor: A Medieval Masterwork." The Nuremberg Mahazor is a medieval parchment manuscript containing the prayers for the entire Jewish year. Over the years, its fragments have been recollected and today, it has been fully recompiled into a complete manuscript that stands as a testament to the achievements of medieval Hebrew manuscript production.

Visitors to the Israel Museum should note that the Judaica and Jewish Ethnography Wing is currently undergoing renovation and will be closed to the public until its reopening in May 2010.

Eretz Israel Museum
Visitors do not have to stay in Jerusalem to partake in Israel’s rich history and culture. In fact, the Eretz Israel Museum, located in Israel’s capital city of Tel Aviv, currently has a new exhibition on display, "The Secret History of Tel Aviv." This display is particularly timely — its showing coincides with the 100th anniversary of the founding of Tel Aviv. Through its unique collection of photographs and artifacts — many of which were discovered underneath existing houses throughout the city — the exhibit takes visitors back in time to revisit the Tel Aviv of up to 20,000 years ago. It traces the history of the site from prehistoric times to its founding as a city in 1909.

Visitors to the Eretz Israel Museum will also have access to a host of permanent exhibits that illuminate the cultural history of the Jewish people. For example, clients can visit a reconstructed, and fully functioning, ancient olive oil plant and flour mill; stop by the museum’s on-campus archaeological site, Tell Qasile; and admire the museums’ collection of ancient mosaic floors in Mosaic Square.

Hecht Museum
Visitors to northern Israel should visit the Hecht Museum in Haifa. Located in the University of Haifa, this museum boasts an impressive collection of ancient artifacts principally derived from the original collection of its founder, Dr. Reuben Hecht. Currently on display, a new exhibition entitled "Ohalo II: A 23,000-Year-Old Fisher-Hunter-Gatherer’s Camp on the Shore of the Sea of Galilee" is the museum’s first archeological exhibition to take on a prehistoric theme. The exhibition is entirely interactive; visitors walk among and touch a reconstructed brush hut, prehistoric foods and religious artifacts, all set amongst the natural flora and fauna of the prehistoric Jordan Valley.

Today, Israel’s museums seek to spotlight the state’s rich culture and history and are eager to share it with the rest of the world. Indeed, for those traveling to Israel this year, these exhibits currently on display are not to be missed.

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