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17 January 2019

New ACE team member, Olivia, joins Andrew Wilson on his 2018 tour to the Holy Land, discovering the archeological, theological and cultural highlights of a diverse nation.


Israel, where reality exceeds expectations

By Olivia Nicholds


Having only started working in the marketing team at ACE a week previously, I was extremely fortunate to be offered the chance to join Andrew Wilson, one of ACE’s most experienced Tour Directors, on one of his many archeological study tours to Israel. What an opportunity! Of course, I jumped at the chance.


Old City of Jerusalem 


The week-long tour was set to be packed full of interesting excursions in a region rich in volatile histories, leaders, culture and religious views. With the festive time of year starting back at home in the UK, the itinerary taking us to Bethlehem, the Garden of Gethsemane and Capernaum, Jesus’ hometown, felt even more pertinent. Although it was fascinating to visit the sites considered biblically significant, I was most enthusiastic about learning about the country’s religions that I was less familiar with; Islam and Judaism.



Western Wall ('Wailing Wall')


With Israel’s population being 75% Jewish, our first stop, Jerusalem, revealed the country’s foundations built so intrinsically on diverse religions, their histories and practices; old and new. A city where Islam, Judaism and Christianity have existed for thousands of years has a certain curiosity. Having all faced persecution throughout history and across the world, how have these religions survived and thrived here?


Dome of the Rock


The proximity of these religions was most obvious on our visit to the Old City of Jerusalem and, in particular, the stunning Dome of the Rock, where muslims believe Muhammad made his Night Journey into heaven. The Islamic shrine was built on the site of Herod’s Second Jewish Temple which was destroyed by the Roman invasion in 70AD. The walls of the Old City also include the Western Wall (‘Wailing Wall’), one of the most sacred places Jews can pray. Although iconic, I learnt that the tradition of ‘wailing’ no longer exists yet, it is believed that when Jews prayed there they would shed tears for the loss of their Second Temple. Just a short picturesque walk through the Armenian Quarter to the other side of the city walls stands the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which Christians associate with the site of Jesus’s crucifixion. The Old City of Jerusalem, therefore, is a significant visit for Jewish, Muslim and Christian pilgrims alike.


View across the Judaean Desert from Masada fortress 


 Mosaic at Masada


The most impressive site on the tour was the Masada fortress in the Judaean desert. On our way to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, we drove along the shores of the Dead Sea amongst palm trees and banana plantations across the Judaean desert to huge rocky outcrops, upon which the Masada fortress is undetectable, instead appearing as part of the rock. With spectacular views across the desert to the Dead Sea, we took the cable car up the side of the rock until we arrived in the ruined city of Masada. Although now a collection of building foundations, excavations have taken place to slightly rebuild Masada to give an idea of its scale and the uses of different buildings. Remains of bath houses, Byzantine churches and mosaics have all been well preserved in the desert’s volatile conditions. The widely reported belief that the Jewish inhabitants committed mass suicide in 74 AD whilst under siege by the Romans, in fact, has no historical evidence but it is certainly a powerful story to imagine whilst taking in the mesmerizing panoramic views.


Sea of Galilee


My trip to Israel was certainly unexpected and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Many of my personal expectations, set by biblical stories and historical traditions, did not do this region justice. Even without these preconceptions, Israel has so much to offer. Its food, climate, landscapes, the thriving culture of innovation and, most of all, its people all contribute to Israel’s appeal today.


 Andrew Wilson at Tel Megiddo


With over 20 years experience, Andrew Wilson directs ACE tours to many different destinations. Read more about his experience and tours here.