Trips and Excursions
Below you will find descriptions for our most often included field trips. Under each trip, it is indicated which programs will usually include that particular trip. While this will typically be the case, there are always adjustments that need to be made for various reasons, so there is no guarantee that a trip will be a part of a program. To view additional photos taken by many of our past particpants of the trips below please visit our Tantur Photo Gallery.
- Jerusalem Environs
- Bethlehem District
- Mt. of Olives
- Dead Sea
- Wadi Qelt.
- Ein Karem
- Second Temple Period
- Haram Al-Sharif/Dome of the Rock
- City of David
- Old City Jewish and Christian Quarters
This half-day introductory bus tour, which we always do in the beginning of our programs, will take you to several scenic vistas in the Jerusalem area where you will get a sense of the city and its beautiful setting atop a range of hilltops. We will look out over the municipality from several stops. You will also get a view of the Judean wilderness from the eastern edge of Jerusalem, and you will quickly realize how close to the barrenness of that land this city is located. The tour will also help you get your bearings and introduce you to the geography and topography of Jerusalem
Bethlehem District lies within a couple of hundred meters from Tantur. Your first stop on this tour will take you to the amazing ruins of the Herodion, the site of one of Herod’s desert palaces and the possible location of Herod’s tomb. Built between 23-15 BCE this fantastic complex is located on a flat-topped hill, which can be viewed from Tantur, approximately 11 km south of Jerusalem. The site is accessible by walking up the mountain and inside the palace walls. An impressive Roman bathhouse, the Triclinium where meals were served, and several water cisterns will greet you at the top. Next we go to Shepherd’s Field, the fields identified since ancient times with the shepherds who saw the Star of the Nativity. We will visit the church as well as several of the nearby caves where shepherds would have kept their flock. You will then head to the most important religious site in Bethlehem, The Church of the Nativity, a basilica considered to be one of the oldest continuously functioning Christian churches in the world. The site of the Church of the Nativity is Palestine’s first designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Constantine originally commissioned the Church in 327 CE and the site is considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. In addition to the Nativity Grotto, you will visit the cave chapel of St. Jerome, where tradition holds that he translated the Bible into Latin. Finally, we will visit one of the refugee camps in Bethlehem. As a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, many Palestinians were displaced from their villages, and some ended up in Bethlehem. Since that time generations have grown up in these camps, and we will visit one of them to begin to understand one of the many issues in the current conflict and how it impacts any peace negotiations.
The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge directly to the East of the historic Old City of Jerusalem and is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. Your journey will take you from the Mount of Olives down into the Old City, stopping at several churches along the way. Your first stop is the Chapel of the Ascension, the site where it is believed that Jesus ascended in to heaven 40 days after his resurrection. The first church on this site was constructed in 390 CE with the current chapel dating back to 1150. Next is the church of Pater Noster, which is a partially reconstructed Catholic Church on the mount standing on the site of Christ’s teaching of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4). The walls there are covered with the “Our Father” in dozens of different languages. The Church of Dominus Flevit, which translates from Latin “The Lord Wept”, is in fact designed in the shape of a teardrop to symbolize the tears of Christ from when he openly wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:37-42). The beautiful garden of Gethsemane and its Church of All Nations at the foot of the Mount of Olives is next on the walk and is famed as the location where, according to the Gospels, Jesus and his Disciples prayed the night before his arrest and subsequent death. As we enter the Old City through Lion’s Gate, you will make a stop at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church and archaeological site. The current church, which was constructed near the ruins of an earlier Byzantine Basilica, is believed to be the birthplace of Anne, the mother of Mary. Also at this site is believed to be the Pools of Bethesda mentioned in John’s Gospel. Finally, this tour will take you along the Via Dolorosa to the Christian quarter of the Old City where you will finish at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site venerated for Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. The site itself has been one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Christians stretching all the way back to the 4th century. Often crowded with tourists from the four corners of the world, control of the building itself is shared between several Christian churches.
One of the many highlights of our Continuing Education Programs is a multi-day tour of the Galilee (our Easter program has a shortened 4-day tour).
Caesarea Maritima, Mt. Carmel, Megiddo
You will visit Caesarea Maritima, a spectacular national park on the Mediterranean coast near the ancient town of Caesarea, which was built by Herod the Great. It is in Caesarea that Paul was imprisoned and subsequently sent to Rome for trial (Acts 25). The park abounds with beautiful archaeological remains from the Roman & Byzantine periods ranging from the impressive Roman aqueduct to the theatre of Caesarea. The aqueduct brought water to Caesarea all the way from Mount Carmel, which is second on your itinerary. Mount Carmel mountain range stretches all the way from the Mediterranean towards the southeast and is a UNESCO biosphere reserve where conservation and the sustainable use of the eco system are paramount. It is a sacred location for many religions including the Ahmaddiya Muslim community and the Bahá’í faith. Our tour will visit the Carmelite monastery where we recall Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:18-46). Day 1 ends with a trip to Megiddo, once an ancient city state where today over 26 layers of ruins have been discovered, including a church dating back to the 3rd Century, stables, and beautifully crafted ivory and jewelry, the latter dating to 1100 BCE.
Nazareth (Basilica of Annunciation, St. Joseph’s Church, Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, Sepphoris archaeological site, Cana (when time allows)
Day 2 takes us to Nazareth and the impressive Basilica of the Annunciation, a modern Roman Catholic Church that was built over the remains of a Crusader and Byzantine Church. It incorporates the cave in which the Virgin Mary lived and received news from the Angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus. Its concrete dome is 55 meters high with its shape based on the Madonna Lily. You will also have time to explore Nazareth and two of its other churches: St. Joseph’s Church, traditionally believed to be built over the carpentry workshop of Joseph and later home of the Holy Family; and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, built over a natural spring where it is believed that Mary first heard the Angel Gabriel. The next part of the journey takes you to Sepphoris, located approximately 6 km to the northwest of Nazareth. The site contains an incredibly vibrant and diverse archaeological heritage with remains of over 10 distinct cultural influences, starting with Assyrian, through to the Crusader, Islamic and Arab world, finishing off with Ottoman influences. Beautiful mosaic floors adorn the site, as well as a crusader fortress and the great synagogue with its outstanding mosaic designs dating back to the 5th century. If there is time, the day will conclude with a visit to Cana, the town where Jesus performed his first miracle turning water into wine.
Dan archaeological site, Caesarea Philippi, Nimrod’s Fortress
Day 3 takes you to the Dan archaeological site, which is mentioned in the Bible as the northernmost city of the Kingdom of Israel and home to the Tribe of Dan. The pre-Israelite settlement is thought to date back to 4,500 BC. The Dan River, which flows close by, is one of the three water sources of the sacred Jordan River. The journey then takes you to Caesarea Philippi an ancient Roman town located at the base of Mount Hermon and associated with several Gospel stories, including Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. Next is Nimrod’s Fortress, a medieval fortress located in the Golan Heights and constructed in 1229 by Al Aziz Uthman. On a ridge rising to over 2,600 meters above sea level, the massive complex is built of large, carefully crafted square stones. Numerous towers punctuate the walls with their beautiful pointed cross arches. The remainder of Day 3 includes a beautiful drive through the Golan Heights on the way back to Tiberias.
Mt of Beatitudes, Tabgha (Church of the Multiplication), Primacy of Peter, Capernaum, Sea of Galilee Boat Trip
Day 4 starts off with a trip to the Mt. of Beatitudes where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Located within the vicinity of the mount are the remains of a Byzantine Church erected in the 4th Century, a cistern and a monastery. The beautiful Roman Catholic Franciscan Church constructed in 1938 with its impressive mosaic floor designed by Vasco Nasorri, an Italian artist, dominates the skyline. Onwards to Tabgha on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, this is the traditional site of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and the fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus. The Church of the Multiplication is a modern church that was constructed in 1982 on the site of two previous ancient churches. One of the highlights of visiting the church are the beautifully restored 5th century mosaics, the earliest known example of a figured pavement in the Holy Land depicting wetland birds and plants, lotus flowers and fish. Next to Tabgha, we visit the Church of the Primacy of Peter. This beautiful site right on the shore of the sea is celebrated as the place where Jesus appeared to the Apostles, prepared a breakfast for them on the shore, and commanded Peter to “Feed My Sheep” (John 21:1-24). We continue to the biblical town of Capernaum, where extensive archaeological digs have revealed two ancient synagogues and a church that is said to be the home of St. Peter. The town is mentioned in the Gospels as the home of the apostles Andrew, James, John and Simon Peter, and it is central to Jesus’ public ministry. The day is rounded off with an unforgettable boat trip on the Sea of Galilee.
Mt. Tabor and Beit She’an archaeological site
Day 5 takes you to Mt. Tabor, overlooking the beautiful Jezreel Valley. It is an isolated hill, rising abruptly in a generally flat landscape and was at the crossroads on the road to Damascus. According to some Christian scholars, it is the site of the Transfiguration of Christ. On the mountain top are two Christian monasteries and the impressive Church of the Transfiguration, built on top of the ruins of a 6th century Byzantine Church and a 12th Century Crusader Church. Your trip to the Galilee is rounded off with a visit to Beit She’an archaeological site, one of the most ancient cities in the Holy Land. Walking through it is like walking back in time. Incredible archaeological marvels such as the ancient house of an Egyptian Governor, Roman ruins including the impressive theatre, Roman baths and Roman Cardo dominate the landscape. Over 11 waves of invaders have come through this town all leaving their mark, from the Egyptian period right up to the British Mandate and the foundation of the state of Israel.
No trip can be complete in the Holy Land without a visit to some of its most iconic sites. Few vistas can provide a more spectacular panorama than the one from the top of Masada where you get a 360° view of the Dead Sea and its surroundings. Lavishly built by Herod the Great between 37 and 31 BCE and adorned with palaces, bathhouses, and wine stores, the complex is simply an engineering feat in itself. Associated with the Siege of Masada involving troops of the Roman Empire, which ended in the mass suicide of the Jewish rebels holding out in the fortressed mountaintop, one gets a sense of the feat involved of the Romans capturing this stronghold. Next, we go for a float in the Dead Sea. Its surface and shores are 423 meters below sea level, the lowest point on earth, and with 34% salinity you float like a cork. The views are incredible with Masada, Qumran and Ein Gedi on the western shores and an incredible view of the Jordanian mountains across to the east. On the way to Qumran and if time allows, you will visit the beautiful Ein Gedi national park with its springs, caves, rock formations and, if you are lucky, sightings of the elusive Nubian Ibexes which look like a cross between a goat and a deer. The last stop on this day is a visit to the intriguing Qumran, where during a period from 1947 – 1956 over 900 scrolls, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were discovered.
Beautiful St. George’s Monastery is located on the edge of an impressive gorge, the Wadi Qelt, in Palestine. The 6th century cliff-hanging monastery is Greek Orthodox with ancient chapels, gardens and buildings. It is located approximately 20 kms from Jerusalem on the road to Jericho, precariously perched with incredible views of the canyon, mountains and springs that flow down the hillside in winter and spring supplying water to the monastery. The visit to the monastery is followed by a spectacular 1.5-2 hour hike along the Wadi Qelt that gives the participant a feeling of what this sacred land might have been like centuries ago. The peace and tranquility of this landscape is interspersed with children tending goats and sheep along the wadi, much like their ancestors did. The hike ends in Jericho, believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and also the lowest city on earth. There is archaeological evidence of settlement in this ancient city stretching back to 9,000 BCE. From Jericho, we proceed to the Jordan River Baptismal site where participants will have the opportunity to enter the river and recall Jesus’ baptism by John.
NB: For those who are uncomfortable with heights or cliff edges, there is the option of visiting the monastery and then returning to the bus and meeting the group in Jericho at the end of their hike.
Our visit to Hebron begins with the Tombs of the Patriarchs/Matriarchs: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. Rachel, Jacob’s second wife and the only Matriarch missing there, is believed to be buried just a few hundred meters from Tantur where she died in childbirth. Hebron, located in the West Bank, is unfortunately a microcosm for a lot of the difficulties and conflict in the region and can leave many visitors feeling somewhat somber. We will learn about the current division in the city and some of the daily tension that can be experienced there. Located in the West Bank 30kms south of Jerusalem, Hebron also offers a beautiful souk (market) area that winds through the centre of the city and is one of the few in the region that has managed to preserve its Mamluk architecture. On this trip, you will also get the opportunity to visit The Tent of Nations, a rural farm where an extended Palestinian family has struggled for years to prevent confiscation of their land. The Daher family uses the farm to build bridges through educational projects and youth camps. This inspiring family lives by the words on a stone at the entrance to their property where it states in three different languages “We refuse to be enemies”. The Hebron trip is one you won’t soon forget.
Ein Karem, “Spring of the Vineyard”, is a beautiful ancient village just outside of Jerusalem where, according to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born. According to the Bible, Mary went “into the hill country to the city of Judah” (Luke 1:39) where she visited the homes of Zechariah and Elizabeth and there proclaimed her great Magnificat. Two of the most visited sites in Ein Kerem are the Church of the Visitation and the Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist. In the Church of the Visitation you will see the cistern of Zechariah and Elizabeth, as well as the ancient rock sanctuary, venerated as the stone that concealed John from Herod’s soldiers. The Church of St. John the Baptist was built on the ruins of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches. According to Christian tradition, the remains of a mosaic floor and ancient cave is said to be where John the Baptist was born. In addition to these two churches, we will visit the beautiful Chagall Windows, located in the Synagogue at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Centre. The spectacular windows represent the 12 sons of the Patriarch Jacob and display images of the characteristics of the 12 Tribes of Israel. They are adorned with floating figures of animals, fish, flowers and numerous Jewish symbols. Marc Chagall, an early modernist, was born from a Lithuanian Jewish family and spent his formative years in the city of Vitebsk (modern day Belarus which was then part of the Russian Empire).
The Second Temple stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period between 516 BCE and 70 CE. The tour of the tunnels along the western wall reveals the amazing feat of King Herod to double the area of the Temple Mount in 19 BCE. These impressive tunnels connect the western wall prayer area to the northwest side of the Temple Mount passing under present day houses in the Old City. Finally, you will get to see the excavations taking place at the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount. A first century street was fully uncovered dating back several decades before the city’s destruction by the Romans in 70 CE. The western flight of stairs leading to the main entrances of the Temple Mount was 200 feet wide. It is certain that Jesus would have climbed these stairs into the Temple area, and you will have a chance to reflect on what kind of activity he would have seen there.
No trip to Jerusalem can be complete without visiting the Haram Al-Sharif / Temple Mount with its spectacular Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which dominates the view of the Old City of Jerusalem. When possible, this guided visit will include entry to the Dome of the Rock, a real rarity these days as it has been mostly closed to the public since the Second Intifada of 2000. The magnificent structure has been refurbished many times since its completion in 691 CE, with the Dome itself an outstanding example of middle Byzantine art. Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest shrine in Islam with its magnificent silver dome providing a superb example of Islamic architecture. Our guide will also take us through part of the Muslim quarter outside of the Haram Al-Sharif.
The City of David is said to be the oldest settled neighborhood in Jerusalem and is located on a narrow ridge running south from The Temple Mount. It is the reputed spot where King David established his capital and built his palace. Ongoing excavations have revealed a rich tapestry of discoveries. The City of David is only 100 meters wide with its eastern extremities resting on a steep slope. Its earliest settlers chose the location because of access to a water source, the Gihon Spring. The Kidron Valley also borders the excavated city on its eastern side. Numerous archaeological digs have revealed one of the largest Iron Age structures in all of Israel & Palestine. This structure is over 18 meters high and is thought to have supported one of the many royal buildings of the area. Numerous typical Israelite houses have also been discovered where wine vats, house wares, toilets and even preserved ladies’ cosmetics have been found. Recent excavations have revealed a lower city wall thought to date back to the late Iron Age around the time of Hezekiah. The archaeology at this site is not without controversy, and we will be introduced to some of those issues as well.
The beautifully preserved Old City is truly a feast for the senses while the more modern Western part of the city provides great shopping and eateries. The Old City is itself divided into 4 uneven quarters each with its own rich history, culture and traditions. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City, known collectively to residents as HaRova, is located in the southeastern part of the walled city. The quarter has a rich history with the Western Wall of the Temple Mount as its focal point. The Jewish quarter is an eclectic mixture of sights and sounds where you can see Orthodox Jews praying at the sacred wall or you can visit the many beautiful synagogues, art galleries and eateries that adorn the sector. The Christian Quarter is in the northwestern sector of the walled city, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre lies at its heart. You will be guided through the narrow streets of this quarter where most Christian denominations have churches and/or their patriarchal headquarters. You will visit several of them and be oriented to the location of others, all while taking in the ambiance of the food vendors and dozens of small shops selling their wares.
Our trip begins with a visit to the predominantly Christian village of Aboud where we will meet with a local priest and discuss the life of rural Palestinian Christians. We then proceed to Nablus, founded by the Roman emperor Vespasian in 72 CE in the same area as the Biblical city of Shechem (Genesis 12:6-8). Situated in the North of the West Bank, Palestine, the old part of the city is found right in central Nablus and teems with life and atmosphere. There are several mosques in the vicinity nestled in the beautiful winding alleyways and markets (or souk in Arabic). No trip to Nablus can be complete without a trip to the Hammam or Turkish Baths after a long day of exploring. You will also visit Jacob’s Well, located within the complex of a beautiful Eastern Orthodox Church and closely associated in religious tradition with the well mentioned in the Gospel of John (4:6). Sebastia, located approximately 12kms to the northwest of Nablus, is a small Palestinian village where we visit an archaeological site with the ruins of ancient Samaria and the remains of 6 successive cultures dating back over 10,000 years from Canaanite to Byzantine, providing a germane lesson about this ancient land. The trip is rounded off with a visit to Mount Gerazim, one of the highest peaks in Palestine at over 881 meters above sea level and a sacred center to the Samaritans who regard it over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount as having been the location chosen for Yahweh’s Holy Temple. There are approximately 750 Samaritans remaining, half of whom live on Mt. Gerazim.
There are very few sights that leave a lasting impression. Seeing the sunrise on top of Mount Sinai Egypt is truly a sight to behold. Many people who have experienced the trip have stated that they truly felt closer to God on top of that mountain as the landscape devoid of man’s influences stretches off into the horizon. You will stay at St. Catherine’s Monastery, a spectacular Orthodox monastery reputed to be one of the oldest living Christian monasteries in the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The library itself is a work of art preserving the second largest collection of early manuscripts and codices in the world. Only the Vatican has more. Numerous ancient texts can be found written in Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Georgian, Hebrew and Aramaic. On the return from Sinai, we spend two days in the vast and barren Negev Desert in the southern half of Israel. It is astounding that ancient civilizations managed to live in such a harsh but beautiful climate. You will visit Mamshit, a Nabataean city that once covered 10 acres and is probably the smallest and best-preserved ruins in the Negev. Entire streets have survived intact and buildings open their secrets as you wander through them and view terraces, courtyards and grain stores. We will also visit the archaeological remains of ancient Be’er Sheva, just outside the modern city by the same name. Today’s city has a population of over 200,000 and findings unearthed within and around the environs of the city, especially in Tel Be’er Sheva indicate that the region may have been inhabited since the 4th millennium BC. The Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires all came through Be’er Sheva and left their mark on the city. You will also visit Beit Guvrin National Park, which includes the ruins of Maresha, one of the most important towns of Judah during the time of the First Temple. Numerous excavations have revealed a large Jewish cemetery, a Byzantine Church and Amphitheatre, beautifully decorated mosaic tiles, public baths and burial caves. Your final destination on the Negev tour is Beit Jamal, an impressive Catholic monastery run by the Salesian monks, where Christian tradition believes St. Stephen, the first martyr, is buried. St. Stephen’s Church adjacent to the monastery reveals an intricately designed mosaic wall dating back to the 5th century. Along side the Salesians are the Sisters of Bethlehem whom we will visit to learn about their monastic life.