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
As long as humans have found transcendent meaning in earthly places, they have made special journeys to those places. Traditionally, a pilgrimage is an act of religious devotion, but lately the word is used to describe a trip to any place that is especially inspiring to the traveler. Continue reading
Mt. Nebo is traditionally believed to be the site from which Moses viewed the Promised Land of Canaan. After taking the 40-year route from Egypt he was stopped just short of his goal because he had disobeyed a command of God. He died shortly after and was buried in an unknown place nearby.
Looking west, as Moses did, the view from Mt. Nebo sweeps across Jericho and the Dead Sea to the Judean Hills, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and northward up the Jordan Valley.
Remains of a Byzantine church are incorporated into the modern church on site, which houses some very nice mosaics.
The serpentine cross sculpture at the edge of the summit is a dramatic, modern addition.
Mt. Nebo is about an hour drive south of Amman and combines well with visits to Madaba, Bethany Beyond the Jordan and the Dead Sea, all within a short drive.
The world’s steepest ancient theater appears to be sliding right off the acropolis of Pergamum. Don’t worry, it has been hanging on for 2,000 years. Imagine all the many thousands of performances staged right here, with the sweeping valley view as a backdrop. Just out of the picture, dazzling marble remains are scattered across the mountain top; and the Temple of Dionysus, the foundations of the great Alter of Zeus and the agora are terraced into the slope off to the side.
Pergamum was an important Greco-Roman city, home to 200,000 people at its peak. The 3rd largest library of antiquity was here and people from all across the Roman world came for health and wellness treatments at the Sanctuary of Asclepius. One of the Seven Churches of Revelation was in Pergamum and it’s a common stop on Christian pilgrimage tours of Turkey.
Pergamum is about 15 miles from the Aegean coast, 60 miles from Izmir, the closest airport, and 110 miles from Ephesus. The modern town on the site is Bergama.
HAGIA SOPHIA, ISTANBUL, TURKEY
Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) rises like a rust-colored mountain near the end of Istanbul’s Historic Peninsula, overlooking the confluence of the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Strait. The city originated on this peninsula and Hagia Sophia has been there almost since the beginning. OK, that’s not quite true, but it has been there for a very long time. The city originated, as Byzantium, in the 7th century BCE. In the 4th century, the Roman emperor Constantine claimed Byzantium as his capital and renamed the city Constantinople. Constantine was the first Christian emperor of Rome. The building we know as Hagia Sophia was built in 537 CE by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, on the ruins of two previous cathedrals. Hagia Sophia stood as the largest cathedral for almost 1,000 years. The dome spans over 100 feet and is 180 feet high. Upon conquering the city in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II was so impressed with the building, he made it his imperial mosque. The design of many subsequent mosques built in the city was influenced by the Hagia Sophia.
It’s very impressive from the outside but, for me, the real WOW experience happens inside. It’s just so big and wide-open, you really feel like a speck of dust in there. Continue reading
Pamukkale is located in southwestern Anatolia, a 4 to 5-hour drive inland from coastal attractions such as Ephesus, Bodrum, Marmaris and Antalya. The closest major attraction is Aphrodisias, roughly halfway between the coast and Pamukkale (less than 2 hours driving). Dramatic travertine terraces formed by hot spring deposits of calcium carbonate give Pamukkale its WOW-effect. The Romans built a thriving spa town here, Hieropolis. Spend a few hours wading in the pools and tramping through the Roman remains. Continue reading
Too obvious? Maybe so, but there’s no denying the wow-factor of the pyramids at Giza. The largest, known as the Great Pyramid, was built for the pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek). It stands almost 500 feet tall and is constructed of 2.3 million limestone and granite blocks, some of which weigh 80 tons. Some of the materials were locally sourced but the granite, 8,000 tons of it, came from the quarries at Aswan, 500 miles up river. The Giza pyramids were all built about 4,500 years ago, which makes their immense size all the more incredible. We know they were built as tombs and archaeologists have come up with some very plausible explanations for how they were built; still, few places on earth inspire such wonder.
The whole of the ancient city of Petra is astonishing, but, for a couple of reasons, the Treasury is the unequivocal star. In a city full of tombs, dwellings and temples, most of which are carved right into the canyon walls, the Treasury is the best-preserved and grandest of all. Then there’s its alluring position. Surely it’s no accident that the city’s best building is the first thing you see upon entering, if you come though the siq (canyon), which most visitors do. After walking for about a mile, you come around a bend and there it is, magnificently filling the seam of light that opens onto the city. It says “Be impressed.” And you are. The likelihood that you have been anticipating the sight with every step does not diminish the effect. CLICK to read more about Petra.
At Meteora in central Greece, six Orthodox monasteries cling to the tops of soaring sandstone pillars and look out over the stunning Peneas Valley. The monasteries were built in the 14th-16th centuries by hauling materials in nets 1,000 feet straight up the sheer pillar walls. CLICK to read more about Meteora.