JERUSALEM-the 50 sites you may overlook

In a historic and religious city like Jerusalem there is so much to see no matter how much you tour. When time is a limiting factor, even the most efficient tour guides have to compromise while deciding what to incorporate in the itinerary. Although it depends on the interest of the individual visitor as well, there is still a huge must-see-list in Jerusalem that cannot be avoided. At every stop so much information is thrown on a visitor that sometimes s/he tends to forget the details after leaving the place.

I remember when I first visited the Church of Holy Sepulcher, it appeared to me more like a small museum than a church. I was virtually clueless inside a dark and dull overcrowded massive complex of more than 25 chapels with several curious artifacts and antiques scattered under some dusky arches and dingy columns. It took me at least three visits with a proper map in hand to understand the Church complex. A normal visitor for instance would be satisfied with Golgotha, the ‘Stone of Unction’ and the ‘Holy Sepulcher’, but the oldest part of the complex, viz. the first century tombs inside the Syrian Orthodox Chapel could be easily missed.

In the upcoming posts I plan to upload 50 such sites from Jerusalem that I believe can be easily overlooked or go unnoticed by an average visitor. I am incorporating the following sites from my previous visits, again with no specific order of importance. I am sure that a serious traveler who loves history, traditions and the Bible has noticed or been to most of them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

RAMAT RACHEL, JERUSALEM

Modern Ramat Rachel is a small Kibbutz (Population: 351) established in 1926 on a hilltop overlooking Bethlehem and the Tomb of Rachel (818 m above sea level). Ramat Rachel is situated about midway between the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This site was first inhabited from the Israelite Period (8th Cent. BC) and continued until the early Muslim Period (10th Cent. AD). In the modern era, the area has experienced some of the worst phases of Israeli-Arab wars. The kibbutz's economy revolves around the four-star 'Ramat Rachel Hotel' and its Banquet Hall. The prime attractions include: an Archaeological Park with remains from 8th Cent BC, a lookout point (Mitzpeh Yair) from where one can observe most of the modern Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Herodion, an olive groove with 200 plants arranged around three 33 ft tall Columns and a big public swimming pool.

Since Ramat Rachel has revealed many artifacts from biblical periods, attempts have been made to identify the site. The most popular view is Beit Hakerem (House of the Vineyard) - the place from which fire signals were sent to Jerusalem at the end of the First Temple period (Jeremiah 6:1; also Joshua 15:59 of LXX and Nehemiah 3:14). The other speculation is Netofah, a site mentioned near Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23: 28; 1 Chronicles 2: 54; Ezra 2: 22; Nehemiah 7: 26; 12: 28). Some identify the place simply as "MMST" as these letters were frequently found in many of the seals excavated from the site.

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