Nazareth is a city that is being revealed step by step, showing charming gems that are worth a visit. A recommended route that goes through the city passes by some familiar sites alongside some surprising ones. And at the same time, there is always room for spontaneity and future additional visits. The most convenient access into the city of Nazareth is from the south and the new road number 60 which goes through the mountain in a tunnel and shortens the way to Tawfiq Ziad Street which leads to the city’s square (by the way, only the main streets of Nazareth have a name – the rest are designated only by numbers). It is recommended to find a parking place in this area as the roads inside the city of Nazareth are full of traffic and traffic jams to the level of bursting on a daily basis. In order to save yourselves from this kind of torture, it is worthwhile to focus on a specific area and cover it on foot. In this way you will be getting to know the streets, the sites and the people of Nazareth from up close, thus making your experience of the city much more meaningful and saving yourself a lot of hassle.
The main street of the city of Nazareth, Paulus VI, crosses the square in which a sensitive affair has exploded about a decade ago regarding the construction of a new mosque. Oppositions have brought to its cancellation and the square, which remained public, is vibrantly filled with people through most of the hours of the day. We have started the day with something sweet. Next to the square there is a store that sells Baklavas (sweet layered pastry with nuts and honey) in various flavors. Here they demonstrated to us the process in which the Kenafeh (a Middle Eastern sweet pastry) is being prepared which perhaps on second thought we should not have seen, considering the great amounts of sugar which went into it. As we have let go in advance of any thoughts having to do with a diet, we took a slice with us to go and turned left and up on to the "Gospel Trail” and to the Basilica of the Annunciation. The Basilica of the Annunciation is one of the most important sites in the Christian faith as its size and magnificence can attest. Here it was, according to Christian belief, that the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God, and here, in this large structure, can also be found some impressive remains which are believed to be from the house of Mary from the time of the Second Jewish Temple, Byzantine pillars and a mosaic floor and a Crusaders wall at the front of the Basilica. The artwork that is featured in the Basilica of the Annunciation depicts scenes from the New Testament, into which are integrated Christian verses.
When we came out of the Basilica of the Annunciation we turned to the left into street number 6167. To the right is the Sisters of Nazareth Convent which also serves as an inn for Christian pilgrims. But we came here for a different reason. When this place was built some fascinating finds were revealed underground. Stephanie, a very tough nun, led us down to where the secret of this place is hidden. There, within large spaces we found amazing remains from various periods in history and got very excited by the hidden treasure – a burial cave that dates to the time of the Second Jewish Temple, the entrance to which is still sealed by the burial stone. A visit to the Sisters of Nazareth Convent must be arranged in advance, and it should be done in modest dress and for a contribution (Telephone: 972-4-6554304).
No tourist traps
We came back to the "Gospel Trail” and turned left. The best way in which to really feel the beating heart of an unfamiliar city is to go and visit the local market. And in the city of Nazareth its market captures its essence during the week and especially on Saturdays. The alleys of the city of Nazareth have become a center of attraction to Israelis who are looking for a bit of "culture” with a feel of being abroad, without actually having to leave the country. There is a lot of "Duty Free” here. The stores and the stands which offer low cost products present a very colorful merchandise of every kind. Now, when Christmas is getting near, the stands which sell Christmas related merchandise are collapsing with goods. This will also be a good time to stock on fresh or pickled olives and olive oil. At the center of the Nazareth market there is an excellent coffee shop and the aroma that emanates from it adds to the atmosphere of the place. At the center of the market there is also the "Miriam Center”, the main thing about which is the beautiful views that are seen from its roof. If it is open, ask nicely to go up (and don’t be shy about declining to watch the movie). From the balcony we could see the vast views which spread before us. The roofs of the buildings of the city of Nazareth spread downhill and in the horizon we could see the edges of the valley. We also took a peek at the beautiful chapel and looked through its arched windows which open up to the views. We took in some of the fine air and went back to the market. We could have continued to stroll in it for many more hours and go to visit the vegetable market or the brides’ market as well, and we realized that this is indeed not a tourist market and that there are no tourist traps here – only a completely authentic local experience.
When we got to the White Mosque (Al-Jama'a al-Abyad), a large and beautiful Ottoman structure, we found out that it symbolizes culture and tolerance to the Muslim residents of the city. As opposed to other mosques, here at the White Mosque they were happy to receive guests and gave us a guided tour. Like in the previous sites, we were led underground to discover another historic layer, and this time a water hole which has become an archive. From here we continued to the heart of the Old City of Nazareth with its stone houses which have captured our hearts with their beauty. The walls served as a silent witness to the city’s past and the illustrated ceilings left us speechless. There are a few houses in the city of Nazareth which in the 19th century belonged to the rich residents of the city. In order to express their wealth these residents brought experts who delicately and beautifully decorated the ceilings of the rooms. In some of these structures one can still visit today, and so we did. In fact, we entered the private space of the families who live there now, looking into their impressive living rooms and bedrooms. They, as opposed to us, are already used to the visitors’ enthusiasm. The only thing which I was not ready for was the neck pain which was caused by so much looking around and up – the beauty which fascinated us left its mark on us also a long time after we left, but it was worth it! (A visit must be arranged in advance and there is an entrance fee. Telephone: 972-4-6011072).
A responsible inn and optimistic ceramics
In between the city’s alleys appeared small inns that provide a lodging alternative for young people and visitors. The Fauzi Azar Inn, for example, has recently won an international award in the "Responsible Tourism” completion which takes under consideration the issues of society, environment and ecology. Maoz Inon, a young Israeli who has founded the Fauzi Azar Inn in 2005 started this wave of inns and after the Fauzi Azar Inn the Al Mutran Inn and two other inns also opened not far from it. We went in and found out that these inns provide a lot of charm with great simplicity, that past architecture provided space and that guests are still welcomed warmly. The quietness and calmness took over the place and over us and we have decided that it is worth trying one of these inns in the next near future opportunity.
In between the inns we entered into the "Shababik” store and were amazed. In arched stone rooms are presented for sale the artworks of local female artists and from around the area in a variety of materials and styles. The design of the spaces is so harmonious and enticing that besides the element of surprise it was difficult to perceive this whole colorfulness and richness: ceramics and glass, jewelry and cloths, scarves and soaps are only some examples of the huge treasure that adorns the shelves here and calls out "buy me”. The "Shababik” store filled me with optimism and the joy of creation. Do not miss out on it.
Our finishing point was at Kikar HaMa'ayan (the Well or Spring Square) and the Orthodox Church. This is a church that is filled with Christian icons and the scent of incense that is characteristic to the Orthodox Church. From the square we returned through the "Gospel Trail” and passed through an area which has become the "Soho” of the city of Nazareth. Restaurants, bars and cafés completely in Tel Aviv style, have appeared here one after the other and expanded the entertainment and food scene of the city. But authentic cuisine suits the setting here better and around Kikar HaBsora (The Annunciation Square) and the Tawfiq Ziad Street we have found many options for every taste.
A tour in Nazareth is not complete without mentioning the amazing lookout from Mount Precipice, the Nazareth Village which reconstructs the life at the time of Jesus and a few additional monasteries, lodgings and restaurants. Nazareth provides a quality tourist experience which only gets better with time and to the many other places and sites that it has to offer we will leave room for next time.