Explore Living History on an Autumn Mediterranean and Holy Land Cruise
Millennia of spiritually, politically, and culturally transformative events and figures make Israel one of the world’s most enduring icons of ancient beginnings. Situated at the convergence of Europe, Africa and Asia, some believe Israel is literally where east meets west, and some elements of the diverse culture found here would seem to support that. Its sands have seen the footsteps of Romans and Greeks, Phoenicians and Philistines, Hebrews, Christians and Muslims. This fall, as Crystal Serenity spends three full days in Israel on a Mediterranean and Holy Land cruise that sails round-trip from Rome, you can add your footsteps to the millions who have pursued the sacred and the secular through the country.
The voyage spends a day in Ashdod and two days in Haifa. Both cities are considered gateway cities, ideal starting points to a number of profound sites that chronicle the development of civilization. Ashdod leads to unforgettable locales to the south like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jaffa and Masada, while Haifa is the gateway to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, by way of the Jordan River.
First, visit Ashdod, itself an impressive commercial port city of just over 200,000 people – the sixth largest in Israel. Ashdod is a large-scale representation of the modern maritime commerce that contributes to the country’s economy, but a short distance in any direction will transport you through time. Head north and find the booming metropolis of Tel Aviv. Formed in the early 20th century by a group of Jewish residents looking to establish their own community, the city is juvenile by comparison to its adjacent port of Jaffa. But what Tel Aviv lacks in age it makes up for in character and internationally inspired art, architecture, cuisine and commerce. Skyscrapers and cosmopolitan shopping are more prevalent here than ancient carvings, making it a haven for industry and tourism from around the world.
Just down the “road” is Jaffa, estimated to be roughly 4,000 years old. The port city was established in the 15th century B.C. by the Phoenicians, and later conquered by Pharaoh Thutmose III and King Solomon. Today, it is sprinkled with churches, mosques and synagogues throughout, its charms are colorful and eclectic. The contrast between Tel Aviv and Jaffa is beautifully experienced from the observation point in Jaffa, which looks out over the “White City” of Tel Aviv.
Your full day in Ashdod also offers several opportunities to experience Jerusalem, above the golden hill of Judea, where Jesus, Mohammed and Solomon left their respective marks on history. Still today, Christians, Jews, Muslims and Armenians cherish the city as sacred land for their own historical reasons. One of several Crystal Adventures to Jerusalem will take you to Bethlehem and the sacred Church of the Nativity, the precise spot where Jesus was born. Beyond Jerusalem to the east is the desert city of Masada, towering 1,000 feet above the salty still Dead Sea, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On Crystal Adventures from Ashdod, reflect on the prayers at the Western Wall, considered to be the holiest site in the Jewish world, then carry on to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and the precise location of Jesus’ birth. A full day’s adventure to Masada explores one of the most significant archaeological sites in the world, built by Herod the Great in the first century B.C.E.
Your next two days will be spent in Haifa – considered the gateway to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, whose history dates back to 1400 B.C. The city’s harmonious coexistence among the Jewish, Christian and Arab residents and reputation for tolerance of diversity is punctuated by what is arguably its most beautiful attraction for visitors: a Baha’i shrine and tropical gardens. The Baha’i faith is considered to be one of the newest independent faiths in the world, whose followers gather every five years in Haifa for a pilgrimage.
But Haifa – Hebrew for “beautiful coast” – has been a mecca for the faithful of all kinds for centuries, with UNESCO-listed Acre situated on its northernmost point, which became the primary port of the Crusaders in the 11th century. Haifa is also the city from which you can explore Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, two other sacred sites in the Christian faith. Nazareth is where Jesus was believed to have spent his early years, and now home to the Basilica of the Annunciation. This church is the largest in the Middle East and is revered as the greatest in Christianity.
You can also venture to Zippori – the City of Mosaics – first settled in 5000 B.C., and an astonishing archaeological site that has revealed treasures of the Romans, Christians and Jews. A 4,500-seat Roman theater, a 3rd-century synagogue that houses the remarkable “Mona Lisa of Galilee,” one of more than 40 remarkable mosaics.
These and several other Haifa highlights can be explored on Crystal Adventures ashore, as well as Caesarea Maritima, Capernaum, and a visit to the Baptismal site of Yardanit on the Jordan River. A Crystal Overland Adventure to the Israeli resort town of Eilat is also available from the ship’s call in Aqaba, Jordan, which explores the beautiful beaches and marine life along the Red Sea, as well as Jerusalem’s rich heritage.
Israel is among eight fascinating ports of call on Crystal Serenity’s “Secular and Sacred” Holy Land cruise, embarking on September 9. Also discover the ancient civilizations and their modern iterations in Rome, Sicily/Catania, and Naples, Italy; Limassol and Paphos, Cyprus; and Valletta, Malta.