Pools of Ramla.
(photo credit: JULIE FISHER)
I’ve yet to review a list of ‘must see’ sites in Israel that includes Ramla. And that’s indeed quite unfortunate because Ramla, located about 15 minutes east of Tel Aviv, offers an unusual blend of fascinating, yet well off the beaten track, sites and unique culture not found anywhere else in Israel.
Ramla has always been an important city to Christians. Although it was the only city in Israel founded by Muslims, the city has been multicultural from its early days when Muslim rulers invited other religions to reside in the city. Christians, Jews, Karaites, and Samaritans all made their home in Ramla and today the city still retains a relatively diverse population including Muslims, Christians and Jews from many backgrounds.
Ramla was historically known as one of the few places in Israel which actually minted coins and the local museum contains a valuable and quite exceptional treasure chest of ancient coins discovered in the 1960s in Ramla. Over 400 ancient gold coins minted between 761 and 979 CE along with six gold ingots are on display in the museum.
For true adventure seekers, the Pool of the Arches offers a great deal of fun. The fascinating underground attraction is actually a subterranean reservoir with extensive arches reflective of the Muslim architecture. Built in 789 BCE, the magnificent pools are still intact and full of water. For just a few shekels, visitors can walk down into the underground cavern and take out a rowboat and paddle through the pools.
The site feels as if it came straight out of a Harry Potter
movie and its no wonder, since several movies have been filmed there (though not Harry Potter
). The site is also known as St. Helenas pool, named after Helena, the mother of Constantine who came to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage and according to Christian tradition, dug the pool while she was here.
While visiting, do not the White Mosque. The tower stands 30 meters tall, offering a wonderful view over the area, and is open to the public for a nominal fee.
Several churches are still in use throughout the city including a Franciscan Church on Bialik Street. Legend has it that Napoleon stayed at the former church situated on this site when he came to conquer Jaffa in 1799 and was apparently awakened by the Muezzin’s call to prayer from the nearby mosque and shot him.
If all this adventure seeking leaves you hungry – you are in the right place. Top off your visit at Ramla’s colorful open air market which offers a striking contrast to the solely Arab souqs
or the Jewish markets in other cities, its distinctively diverse population of Arabs, Christians, and Jewsoffers a slice of real life (and food) not found anywhere else.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how all these cultures. Vendors too come from many different backgrounds and as a result, you can enjoy a Tunisian sandwich, or Iraqi kibbe
, Indian daal
, Arabic labane
, pita and zaatar
and much more – all within Ramla’s very clean and lively market.
Israelis in the know, particularly "foodies" seeking to find spices, travel from far and wide to shop in Ramla. With its assortment of flavorful, small and authentic restaurants such as Maharaja
, Ramla is also a culinary destination well worth a visit.
Elisa Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the largest Christian travel network focused on Holy Land tours. People can learn, plan and share their travel experiences on Travelujah.sign up to our newsletter