Nazareth is situated in a beautiful valley in the Nazareth Mountains in the Lower Galilee. It was here that the birth of Christ was announced, and the place where His parents, St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary had their home and raised Him. The ancient quarter, located on the western edge of the valley, is a unique part of the city. This picturesque area of winding alleyways is home to numerous churches and sites of interest. During the Crusades the city (which had been a mere village until the Byzantine occupation) grew in importance, and was embellished with many churches. Today it is a popular pilgrimage destination, and was visited by three Popes. Pope Benedict XVI visited Mount Precipice in 2009.
Nazareth is a significant politic, economic, and cultural hub. Approximately 70% of its population is Muslim, the rest being Christian.
A tour of Nazareth is a unique experience that is best embarked upon early. We start from St. Mary's Well – one of the city's most ancient sites.
St. Mary’s well
St. Mary’s Well is a sebil (Arabic for drinking fountain) located at the Spring Plaza. According to the Orthodox tradition, Mary would draw water from this spring; it was here that the Annunciation took place. The spring is also revered by Muslims, who attribute healing qualities to its water, which for centuries were bottled and sent to Europe. The sebil and nearby tree appear on the city’s coat of arms.
Church of St. Gabriel
This church, also known as the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, dates to the age of the Crusades, and was restored in the 18th Century. Also known as St. Mary’s Well Church and the Greek Church, it is situated in a small stone-paved square north of Spring Plaza. The stone church has only two windows, contributing to its fortress-like shape. Above the church, which is lower than street level, is a small bell tower.
Located near Spring Plaza, this elegant complex comprises several stone buildings in an enclosed square. Built by the Russian Church, it was inaugurated in 1904 by Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. The complex served as a hostel for Russian pilgrims, and could accommodate up to 1,000 people at a time. It includes a dining hall, an infirmary and pharmacy, and a boarding school. The complex housed the local magistrates court until 1999; today it is used by the Postal Authority and the Nazareth Police.
The Synagogue Church
This Greek Catholic Church is located right inside the local market. The building, situated below the street elevation, was originally a synagogue, and was made a church in the Middle Ages. In 1887 a new church was constructed nearby. According to tradition, it was here that Christ studied, prayed, and declared Himself the Messiah. The two churches are cramped together in a small, narrow courtyard accessed from the market. The stone nave is relatively small; the apse depicts Christ preaching at the synagogue.
This structure was built by Daher el-Omar, the independent 18th-Century ruler of the Galilee. The building served as the seat of the local administration. The Seraya complex comprises the ruler’s house, stables, and penitentiary; it also served as a mosque during its early days. The Seraya remained the residence of the local ruler even after the Ottomans resumed control of the area. In the early 20th Century a clock tower was erected above the building. Seven such towers were built across the country to commemorate the silver jubilee of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
We now return to the Vegetable Market and the courtyard of the White Mosque, recognized by its pencil-shaped minaret.
The White Mosque
This mosque lies in the heart of the local market. A small courtyard leads onto the mosque, which consists of two halls. Inside, splendid marble columns bear five arches, while the courtyard boasts an octagonal marble ablution fountain. Today the mosque houses a small museum, a small prayer room for women and a mortuary, and serves various educational purposes.
St. Joseph’s Church
Tradition has this Franciscan church built above the workshop of St. Joseph. The church lies within the complex of the Basilica of the Annunciation; it was built in 1914 in the Crusader style on the remains of earlier churches. Visitors should not miss the crypt, which contains an ancient water hole, mosaics, small caves, and the remains of 1st or 2nd-Century barn.
Basilica of the Annunciation
The basilica and the adjacent St. Joseph’s Church are situated in the heart of the city. It is undoubtedly Nazareth's most recognizable icon. Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica stands where the Virgin Mary’s house stood – the very location of the Annunciation. Excavations at this site unearthed the remains of ancient churches, as well as the ruins of Christ’s childhood village. The present structure was consecrated in 1969.
Church of Christ the Adolescent:
One of the largest, most magnificent houses of devotion in Nazareth, the church (also known as the Salesian Church) was consecrated in 1923. Built on a high hill in the western part of Nazareth, it is a good to begin your tour. Atop the church is a statue of Christ the Adolescent. The church is renowned for its stained glass windows; one of these windows is colored red, blue, and white, the colors of the French flag, as the majority of donation money for construction was collected in France. The church is also renowned for its perfect acoustics, and often hosts enchanting concerts.
The villagers of Nazareth did not take well to Christ’s assumption of the title Messiah. They dragged him to Mount Precipice for execution, but were thwarted at the last minute as He leapt into safety. The mountain, located on the eastern outskirts of Nazareth, was once the residence of most of the local clergy, and features the remains of a Byzantine abbey. It offers incredible views of the Jezreel Valley and the surrounding mountains.
There is no better way to conclude your day here than a visit to the market, located at the ancient city. Recently restored, the market still maintains its strong ethnic, oriental character.
Hotels, bed & breakfasts and guesthouses of various classes are found in abundance in and around the city.
Nazareth night life - Bars, Turkish bath and restaurants