NAME THAT COUNTRY

 

As our guide Jacob will tell you, Beit She’an (aka Scythopolis) is one of the world’s most extensively excavated Greco-Roman sites. Blessed with fertile land and abundant water, this strategic location at the convergence of the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys has been occupied at least since the 5th millennium BCE and holds remains from Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, Israelites, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines in 18 distinct layers. At its peak, as the main Roman Decapolis city, Beit She’an had a population of 40,000.

 

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Bird-watching in Israel

Birds near Eilat, Israel, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

Birds near Eilat, Israel, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

Just as Israel has historically been a thoroughfare for human traffic and a meeting point of diverse cultures, it is a superhighway and home for a vast array of birds. 530 species have been recorded.

As a geographical bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa, Israel hosts 500 million migrating birds each spring and fall. Winters in Israel are mild enough that some European and Asian birds winter there instead of traveling all the way to Africa.

A wide range of habitats makes Israel home to numerous year-round, resident species, including European, African and Asian species living on the fringes of their natural habitats.

Cranes in the Hula Valley of northern Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

Cranes in the Hula Valley of northern Israel, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

Any time of year is good for birding but especially November-May, which encompasses both fall and spring migrations and wintering birds. March is best, with spring migration underway, many of the wintering birds still around, and mating season making local birds particularly active and showy.

The prime places to see birds are in the Hula Valley in the north and around Eilat in the far south. Two birding festivals happen each year during migration season, in Eilat in the spring and in the Hula Valley in the fall.

NAME THAT BODY OF WATER

The inland sea pictured above forms part of the border between Israel and Jordan. This sea lies at the lowest elevation on earth, over 1,300 feet below sea level at the surface. Due to a unique mineral content, the sea water and mud are prized for their therapeutic qualities. The extreme salinity of the water makes it very difficult to sink. Bathers bob on the surface effortlessly. Atmospheric conditions here also have health benefits. High levels of oxygen are both invigorating and relaxing. It’s really a magical place. The sea is centrally located and makes an easy stopover between visits to other top tourist attractions. It also makes a good base for visiting a number of tourist sites.

 

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WOW Places – Israel’s Ramon Crater

photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

The Ramon Crater comprises Israel’s largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve. The crater is not technically a crater but a makhtesh. Rather than being formed by the impact of a meteorite or volcanic explosion, like true craters, a makhtesh is formed by erosion. This type of crater is found only in the Negev Desert in southern Israel and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The Ramon Makhtesh is the largest one, at 25 miles long and 5 miles across at its widest point and over 1600 feet deep. Continue reading

NAME THAT CITY

 

The so-called Burnt House is a museum on the remains of a house that was burned by the Romans in 70CE, when they sacked the entire city. The house was in a wealthy part of the city near the temple, which was also destroyed and, to this day, has not been rebuilt. The a retaining wall of the temple still stands and has been a place of pilgrimage for 2,000 years. Items found in the Burnt House indicate that it was the home of a priest.

 

 

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Jezreel – Valley of Battles, Basket of Bread

The Jezreel Valley in Israel, also known as the Plain of Megiddo or Valley of Megiddo, is a flat, fertile valley just south of the lower Galilee between the Carmel Mountains to the west and the Jordan Valley to the east.

In ancient times, many groups fought here for control of the valley, which was a major regional thoroughfare and a coveted piece of land. The Roman Via Maris, an important trade route connecting Mesopotamia (Iraq), Egypt and Asia Minor (Turkey), passed through the valley and crossed the Carmel Mountains to the Mediterranean sea at the Aruna Pass, also known as the Megiddo Pass, controlled by the city of Megiddo. Excavations have uncovered over 20 successive layers of settlement at and around Megiddo dating from the 8th millennium BCE to the 6th century BCE, with significant settlement beginning in the middle of the 5th millennium BCE.

The area is rich with biblical sites. In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Saul battled the Philistines and died here with his sons (1 Samuel 28:1-31:10), Jezebel had Naboath killed and confiscated his Jezreel Valley vineyard for her husband King Ahab (1 Kings 21-28), at the Harod Spring in the valley, Gideon assembled an army to fight and defeat the Midianites (Judges 7:1-8).

excavations at Tel Megiddo, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

excavations at Tel Megiddo, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

In the Christian Bible/New Testament, Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley is the site of the final battle between good and evil. Armageddon = Har Megeddon = the mountain of Megiddo (Revelation 16).

Today, the Jezreel Valley is a major agricultural area.