Jesus Trail, Nazareth – Walk the Footsteps of Jesus!
Nazareth joins the ranks of a bounty of holy sites in the Middle East, as the New Testament declares that this city was the childhood home of Jesus Christ, and the focus of Christian pilgrimage. The location boasts numerous shrines dedicated to a variety of biblical events, and it’s quite apparent that the city’s claim to fame is its historic ties with the Christian faith. Since Christianity makes up more than thirty percent of the world’s population with about two and a half billion followers of the Christian faith, it’s not surprising that Nazareth is among popular holiday destinations. The Jesus Trail is one of the more recent attractions drawing people to Nazareth today.
Also known as En Nasira, Japhia, Mash-had, en-Nasirah, Nazerat, Nazareth of Galilee, Nazareth in Galilee, Yafti en Nasra, it doesn’t matter how you call it, Nazareth is one fascinating city. There are quite a number of holy places within the boundaries of the city of Nazareth, each one having some kind of historic importance in connection with the Christian faith, and the Annunciation. The Annunciation is a term that describes the childhood and the early ministry of Jesus Christ. These holy sites include the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Archangel Gabriel which had been constructed over top of Mary’s Well, a freshwater spring that was running through the area, the presumed site of the synagogue where Jesus was taught referred to as the Greek Catholic Synagogue Church where he later read from Isaiah. There is also the church built over a cave, “Franciscan Church of St. Joseph”, where the cave has been identified during the 1600s as being a place where Joseph worked.
Being that the city of Nazareth is said to be the place where Jesus Christ spent his formative years growing up and studying, and living the majority of his year, the city’s association with the Christian faith has drawn literally hundreds of millions of Christian pilgrims, historians and interested folk from all around the world for thousands of years.
Nazareth is also the biggest of Israel’s Arab cities, seeing much traffic from all different cultures. The most recent years have witnessed a huge overhaul of the Old City of Nazareth. Many areas have been spruced up, rebuilt and repaired, and renovated with care taken to preserve the historic beauty and architectural integrity of the site. The Old City’s tight alleyways and unique structures are the most interesting backdrop to a region with such incredible stories behind it.
Luke 4:16-21 says “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.”
Located inside of a bowl shaped geographical region on top of the Nazareth ridge just north of the Jezreel valley, Nazareth was actually a rather isolated village during the time of Jesus. It is said to have had a population less than two hundred people. This is quite the contrast to today’s Nazareth. The city is now home to more than 60,000 Israeli Arabs, and Upper Nazareth is the home of thousands more Jewish residents.
There actually isn’t a terrific amount of knowledge about this ancient city beyond the New Testament. Nazareth had never even been mentioned before until the Byzantine period in the 4th century AD. Numerous archaeological undertakings have concluded that Nazareth was but a tiny farming village throughout the Hellenistic and Roman times.
In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church started constructing a new basilica on top of the ancient remains of a Byzantine church – which was originally built over a site where they believed that the angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary. Today, this new church is the largest of all churches built in the Middle East, called the Church of the Annunciation. The Greek Orthodox Church close by is the one that has been built over the town’s water source.
Many people are traveling in and out of the region of Nazareth for a multitude of reasons. There’s more than twenty Arab-owned high tech companies located in the city, most of them software development companies. The place has been called the “Silicon Valley of the Arab Community”, with a lot of software business going on in the region.
The city also boasts a number of sports events, interesting shopping opportunities, and other activities, however, most of the tourism coming in to the city of Nazareth is due to the city’s Christian ties.
These Christian ties are what bring us to one of the most interesting activities to participate in when visiting Nazareth: hiking the Jesus Trail. As the name suggests, the Jesus Trail is a sixty five kilometer long hike and pilgrimage route that brings all participants of the trail along a path that follows what may have been the route that Jesus Christ had taken. This route joins many of the different sites from the life of Jesus, with the main section of the route starting out in the city of Nazareth and leading through Tzippori, Cana (Kafr Kanna), the Horns of Hattin, Mount Arbel Cliffs, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabgha, and the Mount of Beatitudes. Alternately, you can choose a return route that will take you past Tiberias, the Jordan River, Mount Tabor, and Mount Precipice.
Established in 2007, the Jesus Trail was officially founded by a pair of hikers, Maoz Inon, a Jewish Israeli entrepreneur who had also started a number of hostels and guesthouses within the country of Israel, and David Landis, a Christian American hiking specialist. The pair shared a vision of creating a secure method of allowing fellow hiking enthusiasts to enjoy the outdoors and the culture. The marking of the Jesus Trail went on through 2008, and the trail is presently maintained and promoted through a network of volunteers.
This non-profit project has taken off among the tourism industry in Nazareth and surrounding areas, and the route is available for the public at no charge. Hikers can camp along the length of the trail for free as well. Three stripes, (white, orange, and white again) are the trail markers that you’ll see along the Jesus Trail, usually painted on rocks along the way. When parts of the Jesus Trail are combined along with other trails like the Israel National Trail, there will be another marker alongside the three stripes (in the case of the Israel National Trail, an additional orange circle is added beside it.)
The Jesus Trail was created in the same tradition as pilgrimage hiking trails found all around the world, much like the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, otherwise known as the Way of Saint James, in northern Spain, or the Saint Paul Trail in Turkey. Religious pilgrimage has seen an uptick in recent times, with upwards of two hundred thousand hikers per year hiking the Camino de Santiago during the 2000s.
When planning to take on the Jesus Trail hike, it’s important to know the basics. Since Tel Aviv-Yafo (TLV) is the only major airport in Israel, chances are that’s where you’ll be coming in to. If you’re coming in by land from elsewhere in the Middle East, there are direct bus routes from Jerusalem, Haifa, Akko, Tel Aviv, Tiberius, and Amman. Keep in mind that there aren’t any Israeli buses operating from the early afternoon on Fridays until an hour after dark on Saturdays, so take care to make your transportation plans accordingly. You can hire a car in any of the surrounding major cities, including Nazareth.
The Jesus Trail is more or less an intermediate trail, mostly due to its terrain and length. It’s not overly difficult, and is easily managed by anyone without any health problems who can walk a 10 mile day hike. If it’s something you are new to, it’s advised that you pack a backback and head to a local trail, and build yourself up to a ten mile hike by starting out with a shorter hike of two miles and working your way up. The founders of the trail suggest that you speak with your doctor about any concerns you have prior to making the hike – particularly if you have joint problems, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or any other ailment that might pose a problem.
You can even enjoy the trail via mountain bike. Bike rentals are possible from hostels in Tiberius, although they may not be in the best condition so it’s recommended you bring your own if you’re traveling from within the area.
Once you have a clean bill of health, it’s time to start thinking about comfortable sturdy footwear, a good quality pack that fits comfortably, and suitable clothing. Modest clothing will be important to bring with you, as the Jesus Trail will take you through several villages and holy sites where respect is key. While shorts and short sleeves are fine during the hike, just remember not to wear sleeveless shirts and short shorts when visiting holy sites. Knee length shorts, or preferably pants are ideal as many of the churches won’t allow shorts inside, and long loose fitting skirts are also ideal in these situations, and no sleeveless tops. Layer your clothing, wear hats to shade you from the sun, and bring the sun screen.
There are quite a number of options for accommodations. You can camp, you can stay at a guesthouse – Arbel Guesthouse comes recommended, featuring beautiful greenery, sumptuous dinners and a swimming pool which will be welcome after a day’s walking in the sun. There are hostels you can stay at instead, such as the Israel Youth Hostel, or the Tiberias Hostel.
The typical hiker takes between three and five days to complete the length of the Jesus Trail, from one end to the other. While in Nazareth, the highlights of the Jesus Trail include the churches and Nazareth Village where you’ll learn about the culture, the history and of course the religion that encompasses this site. Other points of interest along the Jesus Trail include Zippori National Park, Cana, Ilaniya, the Roman Road, Kibbutz Lavi, Horns of Hattin, Nebi Shu’eib, Arbel National Park, Migdal, Sea of Galilee, Jesus Boat, Tabgha, Mount of Beatitudes, St. Peter’s Primacy, Capernaum, Tiberias, the Jordan River, Mount Tabor and Mount Precipice.
The beauty of such an excursion is that you are free to travel at your own pace and spend more time seeing the sites that interest you the most. Spend some time looking into the list of highlights, and focus on the ones that sound the most exciting to you; this way you can custom build your own hiking tour from Nazareth along the Jesus Trail.
Visit the Middle East destinations category to learn more about other tourism opportunities available in Middle East!