Palestine may not seem like a global hotspot destination for tourism, but it is, in fact, one of the world’s fastest growing. With so many historic sites, cultural intricacies, and modern intrigue surrounding current socio-political issues, the trend may not come as all that big of a surprise. If you find you or your family gearing up for an out of the ordinary yet extraordinary trip, you may want to check out a few of these top destinations for both tourists and citizens alike.
1. Ruins at Sebastia, Nablus
Sebastia, also appearing as Sebastiya and Sebaste, is a Palestinian village of about three thousand, 12 kilometers northwest of Nablus. The ruins at Sebastia can be breathtaking and nearly spellbinding for visitors. Excavations by archeologists have uncovered artifacts from six distinct successive cultures: Canaanite, Israelite, then Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman, and finally Byzantine. During its rather chaotic history, the region had been decimated by Assyrians, putting an end to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, captured by Alexander the Great, and destroyed again by Maccabean King John Hyrcanus. By 63 BC, Sebastia had been rebuilt by Pompey, a Roman general. The site itself is said to be the burial place of St. John the Baptist, in a sanctuary built in 1165 by Crusaders. At the top of the hill is an extensive archeological park harboring the remains of Ahab’s palace. Visitors will also be able to explore the awe-inspiring stone steps which lead to Herod the Great’s temple of Augustus, as well as an old Roman forum and theater, and two watchtowers which flank a historic city gate.
The ruins at Sebastia embody both history as well as art
2. Hisham’s Palace, Jericho
Hisham’s Palace is home to an artifact which has sparked global intrigue. Here, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, alongside local archeologists and the Japanese International Development Agency have developed a plan to unveil one of the world’s largest mosaic carpets. The carpet, dating back to the early 8th century, is made of over 7 million mosaic stones, each not even 1 square centimeter in area. The carpet has been under a thick layer of sand for almost 80 years for preservation purposes. However, the recent excavation has revealed a dazzling display of intricate geometric patterns and a stunning interplay of color. This Umayyad structure boasts several beautifully detailed mosaics, stucco carvings, and an architectural prowess making it one of the last strongholds of lofty desert palaces in the area. This site is also famous for decorations which embody early classical Islamic art. The palace has become an ever more popular destination for many and is often the first stop for those coming into the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge from Jordan.
An example of beautiful mosaic work
Ramallah is arguably the most affluent, as well as liberal of the Palestinian regions. It is a hub for musicians, artists, and is an intriguing urban center for those with interest in social and political issues. The city is home to a lively nightlife featuring many restaurants, bars, and now even a few discotheques! The Hisbeh market may be an attraction for visitors with its many fresh fruits, vegetables, and lively cultural appeal. A hotspot for visitors is the Dar Zahran Heritage Building, which has an art gallery and souvenir shop, as well as a collection of photos depicting the growth of Ramallah from 1850 to 1979. Also found in Ramallah is the Taybeh Brewery, which boasts one of the best Palestinian beers sold in the Middle East. This family-owned business has been thriving in the region since 1994. Finally, visitors would be well advised to visit The Old City of Ramallah, the home of attractive Ottoman-era buildings, including an ancient watchtower as well as the Ottoman court.
Ramallah is a social center, culturally and economically4. Jerusalem
There is an endless array of sites and activities for visitors to Jerusalem, perhaps one of the world’s most treasured cities. The Mount of Olives is a holy site for Muslims, Christians, as well as Jews, named for the many olive trees that once painted the hillsides. Viewed from the Mount’s Seven Arches Hotel, one will see church towers, beautifully crafted mosque domes, modern buildings, and the barren Judaean desert its backdrop. Also perched at the edge of the desert is the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, located between Mount of Olives, the Valley of Hinnom, and Temple Mount. The excavations here may shed light on the historical grandeur of the city in a way that is incomprehensible without such a visit. The Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre represent top holy destinations for all three major religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. A visit to Jerusalem will no doubt be life-changing for all who partake.
Dome of the Rock
Gaza City is considered to be one of the world’s most ancient towns. Resting 32 km north of the Egyptian border and perched on the Mediterranean seashore, Gaza City is the economic center for the region. Famous for fresh citrus fruits, the area also boasts special hand-woven carpets, pottery, and wicker furniture. Although socio-political issues have put severe strains on the people and the region, there has been a flux of tourism in the area in recent years. In Gaza, one can visit the Al-Bustan beach resort and the Bisan City tourist village, which includes several new restaurants, gardens, soccer fields, an Olympic size swimming and a new wedding hall. For the ultimate experience in the (high) rise of Gazan tourism, one should make a stop at the hotel and restaurant, Level Up, founded in 2014 by Basil Eleiwa. Gaza is also home to several universities, a handful of quality hotels and restaurants, as well as the Gaza Museum of Archaeology.
The Gaza Museum of Archaeology