Nazareth and Megiddo (3 and 6 May 2013)
I thought I should write about both places together since I visited them one after the other. And yes I visited Nazareth twice.
The reason I had to visit Nazareth twice was so that I could visit this:
I should mention that 5 May was Easter in Israel. They follow the Eastern liturgical calendar over there and the Basilica was closed on Good Friday. Fortunately I managed to get in on Easter Monday.
This church has two levels. The Grotto of the Annunciation, which is believed by many Christians to be the remains of Mary’s childhood home and where the Annunciation had taken place, is on the lower level.
The upper level is rather new and it looked a bit too stark to me. It seemed to be a bit lacking in warmth to me and I think that a church should give worshippers a feeling of warmth. I think it is the factory-like architecture that made the church feel cold. Maybe some people believe that Catholics can be mass produced like TV sets.
The one thing about the Basilica that I really liked was the series of mosaics, all depicting the Madonna and Child, donated by different countries. Each mosaic depicts Jesus and Mary looking and dressing like the locals in that donor country. I was pleasantly surprised to find one from Singapore. How cool is that!
I felt quite proud when this elderly Korean pilgrim asked me if my country was represented in the series of mosaics and I could point out the Singaporean one to him.
The Greek Orthodox Christians however believe that the Annunciation happened at Mary’s Well. The current well, if one might call it a well, is a mere symbolic representation of the structure that was once in use.
The Church of St Gabriel was built near the well by the Greek Orthodox Christians to commemorate the Annunciation.
It was pretty dark in there and so I could only manage this picture. Mass (not sure if they call it that) started shortly after I entered. And then it dawned on me that it was the first time I had ever stepped into an Orthodox church, not to mention hear an Orthodox mass. That was quite a monumental event for me. But I did not stay long since I could not understand a word of the mass, and I felt like I was in people’s way when it started getting crowded.
Now I ought to point out that Nazareth is Arab territory. The old centre was smaller than Akko’s and looked pretty much the same with the bazaar and the series of earth-tone brick boxes.
There is another church along one of the lanes of the bazaar called the Synagogue Church which was built on the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus was said to have preached.
This church looks like a mere hole in the wall, albeit a hole of somewhat significant size.
My experience with Megiddo is probably a testimony to the saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
I found out online before the trip that there was a bus from Nazareth that would take me to the junction near Megiddo. From that junction I would have to walk 2 or 3 km to the actual site. I thought this sounded really easy and so I decided to do it that Friday. That is, until I missed the bus stop at the junction.
I admit that I was stupid because I assumed that the driver would stop for me and tell me to get off. Not only that, I did see the road sign pointing to Megiddo before the junction and yet I did not move my ass. When I asked the driver whether I was near my stop, we had just driven past it. The driver pointed behind him with his thumb (the gesture had an “oh no” quality to it) and then told me to get off at the next stop, quite a distant away from the junction, and catch a bus in the opposite direction.
Based on my research, the buses in that area were not frequent. Moreover, it was Friday. Since Shabbat starts on Friday evening, bus services end early on Fridays. I therefore decided not to go to Megiddo since I was not sure what time I would eventually get there and come out again to catch the bus back to Tiberias. Better be safe than sorry you know. I was not too keen on being stuck in the middle of nowhere.
My second trip to Nazareth provided me with a second opportunity to attempt Megiddo. And this time it was a success.
The walk from the junction to Megiddo was more challenging than I thought.
That hill in the near distance is where the Megiddo National Park is. The ruins are right on top. Nevertheless, it took me much longer than expected to get to the entrance. The path in the picture actually could have taken me to the entrance, and in fact I did reach the car park of the national park. But I had to clamber over a wire fence just below the hill before I saw the car park and that fence gave me serious doubts about whether I was on the right track. So I turned back and started walking along the other side of the hill. For the next few hundred metres, I had to walk by the side of the highway. That was of course not the only time I had to do something as stupid as walking along a highway without a pavement. The things I do to see things!
As I approached the junction before the turn to the entrance, I discovered that there was actually a bus there from Afula. The bus from Nazareth actually made a stop at the Afula bus station before continuing on to the Megiddo junction. Now why do I always make things difficult for myself?
By the time I finally got to the ticketing office, I was panting and sweating like a dog-pig. It was a rather hot day. I think the ticketing lady must have thought that I was mad. She did look at me with a strange expression.
The archaeological site of Megiddo is a tel, an archaeological mound created by human occupation and abandonment of a geographical site over many centuries. The ‘hill’ is in fact the archaeological mound. Megiddo was in ancient times an important city that guarded a part of a narrow pass and trade route. Being situated in such a strategic location, it was the site of many historical battles. It however later dwindled in importance and was eventually abandoned. Nevertheless, the place lives on in people’s minds as “Armageddon”. Apparently the end of times will start from there, depending on how one reads the relevant biblical passage.
Visiting the tel should preferably be done during cooler weather. Except for this shed, there is practically no shelter on it. I could feel my skin browning away when I was up there.
The exit is via this 70-metre tunnel dug into the rock to provide access to water in ancient times. After leaving the tunnel, the car park that I had seen earlier was on the left. This was when I started kicking myself really hard. About 100 m on the right is the entrance to the national park.
I found these very interesting banners at Nazareth right behind the bus stop where people alight to get to the Basilica of the Annunciation.
If the same sort of things had been written about a certain other religion and displayed publicly like that, I suspect that some innocent people would have been murdered because of them the very same day. As a person who was brought up Catholic, I find these banners extremely offensive. But no I did not blow up anything in Nazareth nor do I plan to.
The Christians in Israel must be really good civilised people.