My final tour, called Pearls of the Western Coast, was led by Rent-a-Guide Ricki. The first stop of the tour was an extensive visit of the ancient site of Caesarea Philippi, mentioned in Mark, Matthew, and Acts. It was here that Herod the Great built a temple here in honor of his patron, Philip II, who built a whole city. The Roman Emperor Augustus then added more.
On the Mediterranean Coast, you can see the remains of beautiful mosaics, an arena, theatre, spa and health center (only the outlines remain), a hippodrome, and crusader walls (only a tiny part on the outside of the city). One of the most interesting things Ricki pointed out was a monument discovered in the late 20th century that bears the name of the emperor Tiberius and the last parts of [Pont]ius Pilate’s name. Since there are no mentions of Pilate outside of the New Testament, this adds weight to his role in Jesus’ life, especially since according to Mark and Matthew, it is here that Peter answered “Messiah” to Jesus’ question of who people thought he was. I also took a photo of the vomitorium on the side of the arena, which contrary to popular belief was not where Romans went to vomit after large banquets, but the exit that "vomited" people after the play was finished.
After more than two hours we headed toward Acre (Akko), a crusader stronghold in the Middle Ages. Since it was Friday, the restaurant we were planning to eat at was celebrating shabat, so Ricki called ahead and we ate at a Muslim restaurant instead. Acre is one of the oldest sites in Israel, from which the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III collected tribute. The Persians, Alexander the Great and Cleopatra all claimed the city at one point and St. Paul spent some time here. It was captured by the Muslims in 638 and taken by various Western leaders during the crusades. Both of the crusading military orders, Templars and Hospitallers, made the city a stronghold. Later Napoleon tried to capture the city but failed. The parts in my pictures, known as the Caravans of the Columns, was covered over with a prison during the Ottoman period. When prisoners tried to escape, suddenly a hole opened up and the underground city of old was excavated and is in nearly perfect shape.
From Acre we went to Rosh Haniqra on the border with Lebanon, grottoes in white chalk cliffs. It was absolutely breathtaking. When we took the trolley back up to the van, I took a picture of the border just as Ricki was starting to say ‘you’re not allowed to take photos of the border.’ The signs were in Hebrew so I didn’t know .
Our last stop of the day was at Haifa, a huge port city where, according to Ricki, Jews, Muslims and Christians live together in peace, not segregated as in some other cities. It is known for its beautiful gardens built by the Bahai religious faith, the most recent monotheistic religion.
I cannot recommend my guides for all three tours highly enough and had an amazing time in Israel.