Tour Israel: Visiting the historic Mount Tabor

Mount Tabor played an important role in the biblical history of the Land of Israel due to its strategic location on top of the mountain, which overlooks mostly flat terrain in every direction.

 Mount Tabor (photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
Mount Tabor
(photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)

From just about any vantage point throughout the Lower Galilee, you can see the majestic Mount Tabor. Reaching a height of 560 meters, the mountain is by far the tallest mountain in the region and also one of the most popular tourist sites in Israel. 

In the Book of Judges, Mount Tabor is where the prophetess Deborah summons Barak and tells him to gather his men and prepare for war against the Canaanites. It is also a popular Christian pilgrimage site, and before the worldwide pandemic hit, was one of the most visited places in the Holy Land by Christians visiting from all around the globe. There is wonderful circular trail that circumnavigates Mount Tabor that is appropriate for the whole family.

Mount Tabor played an important role in the biblical history of the Land of Israel due to its strategic location on top of the mountain, which overlooks mostly flat terrain in every direction. According to the Torah, in the Book of Judges, Mount Tabor is where God, through the prophetess Deborah, commands Barak to gather men from the tribes of Naftali and Zevulun to face Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army. 

Mount Tabor is also the geographical border between the land belonging to the tribes of Naftali, Zevulun and Yissachar. In addition, in 66 CE, just a few years before the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Josephus Flavius gathered with Jews from all over the Galilee on Mount Tabor as they prepared to defend themselves in battle against the Romans.

Christian pilgrims are especially attracted to the site because of the Franciscan monastery located at the top of Mount Tabor. Moreover, one of Christianity’s most famous stories is believed to have taken place at Mount Tabor – the Transfiguration of Jesus, in which Jesus took three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, up on a mountain, and where he supposedly also spoke with Moses and Elijah. Jesus was transfigured, his face and clothes becoming dazzlingly bright.

 Inside the church at Mount Tabor (credit: HADAR YAHAV) Inside the church at Mount Tabor (credit: HADAR YAHAV)

If you have an interest in geology, then you might be interested to know that Mount Tabor, which sits along the Syrian African Rift, is considered a non-volcanic horst, a raised fault block bounded by normal faults, that was caused by pressure from inside the earth. This is the reason why Mount Tabor is the only mountain in this otherwise flat region.

HIKING AROUND Mount Tabor is enjoyable all year round, but I happen to think fall is the best time to visit this site, since temperatures are mild and the breeze you feel at the top makes the hike quite enjoyable. The panoramic view at the top is amazing, making this the perfect place to stop for a relaxing picnic.

It’s extremely easy to reach Mount Tabor, as it’s located near Road 65. But make sure to drive carefully as you navigate your way up the winding and narrow road that leads to the parking area located next to the Church of the Transfiguration, which belongs to the Franciscan order. I recommend starting your day with a visit to the church – just be aware that it has limited opening hours. And another note: There is also a Greek Orthodox church on the northern side of the mountain that is not open to visitors.

Church of the Transfiguration

This Franciscan church is open to the public, but all visitors are requested to make sure their shoulders are covered before entering. Opening hours are 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then again from 2 to 5 p.m. The church is a quiet place, maintained by the monks who live there. As you enter, you’ll see a small museum that has on display items that were found on site that date back to the Byzantine Period. 

Built relatively recently in 1921, the church was designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, who was nicknamed “the architect of the Holy Land” since he built and restored a number of Christian sites around Israel. The Barluzzi church was constructed on top of remains from a Crusader-era church from the 12th century, as well as earlier remains that hail back to the Byzantine Period.

 Inside the Church of the Transfiguration  (credit: HADAR YAHAV) Inside the Church of the Transfiguration (credit: HADAR YAHAV)

The most impressive part of the church is the two towers that stand at the entrance, which are chapels that were built for Elijah and Moses. Another well known section in the upper part of the church is a mosaic with a gold background that depicts the story of the Transfiguration. Underneath the mosaic, you’ll find a crypt dating back to the Crusader period. If you take the stairs that lead down to a lower section of the church, you will find a collection of artifacts from a number of earlier periods, including a stone that apparently played a role in the transfiguration story. 

When you’re done visiting the church, it’s time to get outside and enjoy walking along the easy two-kilometer trail that leads you in a complete circle around the top of the mountain. Along the way, you will be treated to great views of the surrounding areas at the foot of the mountain. 

To find the starting point of the trail, look for the stone gate called Bab al-Hawa (Gate of the Wind), located at the fork in the road near the parking area. After you pass through the gate, follow the path with the black trail markers. This path leads all the way around the mountain, which is shaded by trees planted by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, in an effort to bring the mountain back to how it used to look before the Crusaders chopped down all the trees. Most of the trees on the mountain are Tabor oak trees, but there are also pine and mastic trees. In the fall, after the rains have begun, you will also see plenty of beautiful flowers, especially daffodils and scilla.

After a half kilometer, you’ll come upon a fork in the road, at which point you should continue following the black trail markers. Soon after, you will be treated to gorgeous views of the Galilee and the Gilboa. Continue another half kilometer along the easy path until you reach another fork in the road, and again you should continue following the black trail markers. At this point, you will be coming upon the section with the best views along the trail. On clear days, it is possible even to see Mount Hermon.

As you’re walking, keep your eyes peeled for the opening of a cave. It is unknown who dug out this cave, but it’s likely that monks lived inside of it. Continue walking along the path until you reach the northern tip of Mount Tabor. 

After you pass by the Greek Orthodox church, you will reach a gate. Pass through the gate that leads into a large courtyard where you will find Malki Tzedek’s Chapel, which was carved out of stone. This chapel, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox church, and therefore unfortunately is not open to the public, is known as the spot where Abraham met with Malki Tzedek, the King of Salem. From here, continue along the trail, and you will soon arrive at the last stop on the tour, the Gate of the Wind, which you will pass through to arrive back in the parking area where your car will be waiting for you.

Type of hike: Easy, family-friendly.

Directions: Drive north on Road 65 toward the Golani Intersection, where you will turn left onto Road 7266. Drive until you reach Daburiyya. Drive through the village, following signs for the Church of the Transfiguration. After driving another five kilometers, you will reach the parking area. 

Translated by Hannah Hochner.