Now that Christmas is just around the corner, we decided to take a trip to Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city and home to a large percentage of Israel’s Christian population. And since there are so many interesting historical and archaeological gems to see there, we decided to dedicate two separate columns to Nazareth. This week, we will focus on its Old City.
Although Nazareth is one of the largest cities in northern Israel, when you walk through the Old City you feel like you’re walking through a small, densely populated town. Every year, thousands of Christian tourists and pilgrims flock to Nazareth in their desire to walk upon the paths where Jesus is said to have tread. This city in Israel’s Lower Galilee is situated in one of the country’s most beautiful areas and is surrounded by Mount Precipice and Migdal Haemek. Nazareth has a plethora of tourist sites, shopping centers and hotels that cater to tourists.
One new establishment that has recently opened in Nazareth is the Blend Hotel. It is part of the Golden Crown Group, which also owns two other hotels in Nazareth. In contrast with the other two, which cater to families, the Blend is a boutique establishment that is geared toward couples and is located in the heart of Nazareth’s Old City. The hotel doesn’t actually restrict families from staying there, but the rooms are small and are fitting for a couple, or at most a couple and one child. The hotel has 70 contemporary guest rooms that provide all the comforts and facilities to make your stay comfortable.
In addition to the Blend’s unique name, the hotel has a much more modern design than the hotel chain’s other establishments. For example, as you drive down the street, the gray concrete of the hotel jumps right out at you, since it is so different from all the surrounding buildings in the Old City, which are mostly constructed from stone. The hotel, which was built at a cost of NIS 20 million, was constructed following ecological standards in an effort to leave as little a carbon footprint as possible. And yet, the designer was also successful in integrating traditional aspects into the design of the hotel, as well.
Moreover, the Blend’s in-house restaurant offers a taste of local Nazareth cuisine, with a modern twist. Chef Samir Rashad is specifically known for his eclectic menu that combines traditional Arab cuisine, alongside a wide variety of dishes that hail from places all around the world. The menu includes fatayer, kubeh filled with mutton, zucchini sheikh al-mahshi with white rice and yogurt, focaccia with smoked goose breast, humus with shiitake mushrooms, and stuffed grape leaves with tzatziki. If you’re looking for something simpler, there are a few shawarma and grill restaurants in the Old City, but the upscale restaurant at the Blend is an entirely separate league. And since it’s located in the hotel in the heart of the Old City, in my mind it’s the obvious choice for the ultimate dining experience.
Nazareth: A multicultural city with diverse history
NAZARETH IS a multicultural city that is home to numerous Muslim, Jewish and Christian historical sites. Even though there is a Muslim majority in the city, most of the historical religious sites are connected with Christianity, such as the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. This church, which is located next to Mary’s Well, was constructed on top of the ruins of a few smaller churches. According to Christian lore, Mary’s Well is where the Virgin Mary became miraculously pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, , many Christians visit this spot in the belief that it will help them conceive.
There are also a number of fascinating archaeological discoveries that have been uncovered at the Church of the Annunciation. For example, visitors can see Greek engravings, as well as remains of a mosaic floor dating back to the Byzantine Period just outside of the church that was discovered during archaeological excavations. Every December, the church places a humongous Christmas tree that is adorned with colorful Christmas decorations in the courtyard of the church.
Another interesting Christian site is the Franciscan Convent in Nazareth, which is the biggest and most spacious convent in Israel. Visitors can enter the monastery (pre-registration necessary), where they will see pictures showing the early days of the church, a mosaic floor, as well as a number of caves. These caves, and artifacts that were found inside of them, are currently on display on the bottom floor of the convent. On the upper floor, a modern church was built that is currently showing artworks created by artists from around the world.
Another place to stay overnight in Nazareth is The Sisters of Nazareth Convent, which is located 30 meters west of the Church of the Annunciation. It functions as a guest house and has an incredible panoramic view over the Old City. The Sisters of Nazareth Convent was established in 1885 by nuns who arrived in Israel from France and purchased several shops near the church. While construction of the convent was taking place, intriguing archaeological finds were uncovered, including mosaic floors, a church altar and a burial cave. This cave is thought to have belonged to a Jewish family that lived on the premises in the first century CE, and several burial niches were found inside of it.
Guided visits of the convent can be booked at (04) 655-4304.
The city of Nazareth also offers a wide selection of dining and evening entertainment options. Due to the substantial amount of choices, these will be covered in next week’s column.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.