Israel is the country with one of the world’s richest historic and cultural offerings. It is a crossroad of cultural influences, from the early Israelites through the Greeks, Phoenicians, Nabateans, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans and British – all of whom had left their stamp on this historic land.
In the past 3 decades, UNESCO has highlighted as many as eight World Heritage sites in the country, evidence that Israel is the home of some of the world’s most significant historic and cultural sites. Not bad for a country as small as the State of New Jersey!
UNESCO World Heritage Sites are selected for being of special cultural or physical significance. The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Program and is administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
If you are intrigued by culture, heritage and history, make sure you visit these UNESCO World Heritage Sites on your next visit to Israel!
Jerusalem is a city that requires no introduction. The holiest city in the world, history is felt with each step in the city’s winding roads…
Among the Old City’s 220 historic monuments, UNESCO cites these three as the core of the World Heritage site:
- The Dome of the Rock – Situated on Temple Mount, is revered and recognized by all three religions. To the Jews, it’s the site of the First and Second Temples, as well as the site of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. For Muslims, the Temple Mount is the site from which Muhammad embarked on his Night Journey to Heaven, and the location of the striking Dome of the Rock and the important Al-Aqsa Mosque.
- The Western Wall: The holiest of Jewish sites, sacred because it is what’s left of the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans. The adjoining Western Wall Plaza functions as an open-air synagogue for thousands of worshipers, with prayers going on continuously.
- The Resurrection rotunda in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a complex structure and a very unique, cavernous church, is where Orthodox and Catholic Christians mark the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Six denominations celebrate their rites in and around this fascinating house of worship.
Masada, the majestic fortress in the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea, was cited by UNESCO as a symbol of the ancient kingdom of Israel and the last stand of the Jewish patriots in the face of the Roman Army in A.D. 73.
Climb or take the cable car up, and hear the chilling story of this rugged natural fortress. The fortress was built by Herod the Great 100 years before it came under siege by the Romans. UNESCO cites that the camps, fortifications and attack ramp constitute the most complete Roman siege works surviving to the present-day.
Acre, also known as Akko, is an ancient port city which was built and influenced for hundreds of years by the Crusaders, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and the British.
This magnificent, medieval city was selected by UNESCO not only because of the continuous settlement from the Phoenician period, but also because the remains of the Crusader town, dating from 1104 to 1291, lie almost intact above and below street level, providing a rare view of the layout and structures of the capital of the medieval Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem.
Alongside the medieval sites, Acre is characteristic of a fortified town dating from the Ottoman 18th and 19th centuries, with typical urban components such as the citadel, mosques, khans and baths.
Tel Aviv is Israel’s largest city and business hub. The city is spread over more than 10 miles of the Mediterranean coastline, and is known as the “City That Never Sleeps”. It is notorious for its beaches, culture, vibrant night life and excellent cuisine.
The city that was founded in 1909 and the area selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site is known as the “White City”, a section of the city that was constructed from the early 1930s till 1948, reflecting modern organic planning principles. The White City is lined with one of the world’s best concentration of historical buildings representing the Bauhaus architectural style.
Tels, or pre-historic settlement mounds, are characteristic of the flatter lands of the eastern Mediterranean, particularly Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Eastern Turkey.
According to UNESCO, of the more than 200 tels in Israel, Megiddo, Hazor and Beersheva are representative of tels that contain substantial remains of cities with Biblical connections.
The three tels also present some of the best examples in the Levant or elaborate Iron Age and underground water collecting systems, created to serve dense urban communities.
Tel Megiddo is mentioned in Egyptian writings and is forecast to be the site of Armageddon in the Christian Book of Revelations. The site includes remains from the city’s glorious past, including the City Gates, Ivory Palace, in which the richest Canaanite treasure was discovered, stables from Ahab’s time, and ancient waterworks.
- Tel Hazor was one of the most important cities in the ancient Near East due to its location on one of the region’s main trade routes. At the archaeological site you will encounter fascinating finds from biblical times, including a restored Canaanite palace bearing signs of a huge fire attributed to Joshua’s conquest, a gate and walls from King Solomon’s time when Hazor was a main city in the kingdom, and the Israelite water system that was one of the engineering marvels of its day.
- Tel Be’er Sheba, five kilometers east of the city, is a fascinating and unique archaeological site containing the ruins of a walled city from the Israelite monarchic period (10th century BCE). The site uncovers unparalleled findings of biblical-period urban planning, including the meticulously planned water system and proof of impressive engineering expertise. Other highlights include the well, the city gate, streets, dwellings and storehouses, and more.
The legendary Incense Route is a 2,000 year old commercial route, connecting Yemen from the East, crossing Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and ending in Israel in the Gaza port, where goods were loaded onto merchant ships bound for Europe. Long caravans of camels navigated through difficult trails, risking robbers, looters, and other obstacles to transport their valuable goods, such as perfumes, spices, and salts. The 2,400 kilometer Incense Route journey took six months, moving slowly through 56 resting stops.
The Israeli section of the Incense Route covered about 150 kilometers and the ruins of the route can still be found in the Negev desert. UNESCO cites four Nabatean towns – Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta – which were spread along the route. Together they reflect the hugely profitable trade from south Arabia to the Mediterranean, which flourished from the 3rd century B.C. until the 2nd century.
- Mamshit was a large city whose impressive ruins include an inn, churches, a bathhouse, rainwater collecting pools and other structures.
- Shivta, a small town with a well developed water system, pools, oil presses and a few churches.
- Halutsa, of which there remains the ruins of a theater and church, and from where the caravans headed straight to Gaza.
- Avdat (or Ovdat) was the greatest Nabatean city in the Negev, situated on a hill overlooking the Negev desert. At the site you can see impressive ruins such as a luxurious ancient bathhouse with a dressing room, two steam rooms, a furnace and a 210-foot-deep well, a third-century guard tower with a Greek inscription, and a Nabatean shrine to their god Oboda. This temple eventually became a church, whose pillars frame a magnificent Negev view.
UNESCO selected the Baha’i Holy Places in Haifa and the Galilee as testimony for the strong spiritual meaning they hold to the Baha’i faith. The sites include the two most holy places in the Bahá’í faith associated with the founders, the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh in Acre and the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, more commonly known as the spectacular Baha’i Gardens. These two shrines are part of a larger complex of buildings, monuments and sites at seven distinct locations in Haifa and Western Galilee that are visited as part of the Bahá’i pilgrimage.
On the western slope of the Mount Carmel range, Nahal Me’arot is a site selected by UNESCO for providing an archive of early human life in south-west Asia.
The reservation includes the cave sites of Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad and Skhul, and contains cultural deposits representing 500,000 years of human evolution, including evidence of burials, early stone architecture and transition from hunter-gathering lifestyle to agriculture and animal husbandry. The site demonstrates the unique existence of both Neanderthals and Early Anatomically Modern Humans within the same Middle Palaeolithic cultural framework, the Mousterian. As such, it has become a key site of for human evolution, revealing a cultural sequence of unparalleled duration, and providing an archive of early human life in south-west Asia.
Written by: Shirrah Friedman, Simply, Israel
Simply, Israel designs unique tour packages and personalized holiday arrangements for travelers who appreciate quality, worry-free travel.