Muslim Holy Sites
Part of the significance of the land stems from the religious significance of Jerusalem, the holiest city to Muslims; the Isra and Mi'raj in Islam, the historical region of Jesus' ministry and Mount Nebo, where Moses presumably died. The perceived holiness of the land to Christianity was part of the motivation for the Crusades, as European Christians sought to win the Holy Land back from the Muslim Seljuk Turks. The Turks had taken over the Holy Land after defeating the Muslim Arabs, who had in turn conquered the area from the Christian Byzantine Empire.
Many sites in the Holy Land have long been pilgrimage destinations for adherents of the Abrahamic religions, including Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Bahá'ís. Pilgrims visit the Holy Land to touch and see physical manifestations of their faith, confirm their beliefs in the holy context with collective excitation, and connect personally to the Holy Land.
Significance of Jerusalem and Haram Al-Shareef in Islam
To Muslims, Jerusalem houses one of the holiest Mosques, the Masjid-al-Aqsa and represents a place of greatest religious significance. Muslims call to rule over Jerusalem is not driven by colonist, nationalist or material motives. The love of every grain in the Holy City is sacred to Muslims. Muslims respect all the Prophets revered by Judaism and Christianity and their venerated places are also central to the ethos of Islam.
Al Masjid Al Aqsa
The name “Al Masjid Al Aqsa” refers to the entire sanctuary (144,000 sq metres) and all the buildings in it.
Nowadays, the name Al Masjid Al Aqsa is ALSO used to refer specifically to the building with the silver dome which is located at the southern end of the sanctuary. This silver domed building also has other names such as “Al Jamia Al Aqsa” and “Al Masjid Al Qibli”, and it is preferable to use these names when referring to the silver domed building to avoid any confusion.
To summarise the above, Al Masjid Al Aqsa is actually the entire area of the sanctuary, even though in modern times the name has unfortunately been mistakenly used to refer to just the silver domed building.
The entire sanctuary of Al Masjid Al Aqsa is also known by two other Arabic names: “Bayt Al Maqdis” (House of the Holy) and “Al Haram Al Sharif” (the Noble Sanctuary).
The Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock (which is also known by its Arabic names Masjid As-Sakhrah and Qubbat As-Sakhrah) is the most well-known building in the sanctuary of Al Masjid Al Aqsa due to its iconic design and gold dome. It is situated in the middle of the plateau of Al Masjid Al Aqsa, and was built in 72AH by Abd Al Malik ibn Marwaan. It is a part of Al Masjid Al Aqsa and is not separate or distinct to it.
Al Masjid Al Aqsa is the entire area that comprises both what is today called Al Masjid Al Aqsa (the silver domed building at the southern end of the sanctuary), the Dome of the Rock (in the middle of the sanctuary), and everything else that is on the plateau (including Masjid Burak, Masjid Marwani etc) and within the walls of the sanctuary. The size of the sanctuary is 144,000 square metres.
Islamic Status of Al Aqsa and its associated reward
Prophet Muhammad (saw) taught us that we should only undertake a special journey to one of three masaajid; Al Masjid Al Haram in Makkah, Al Masjid An-Nabawi in Madinah, and Al Masjid Al Aqsa in Jerusalem. In addition – prayer in each of these blessed masaajid are multiplied in virtue, with one salaah in Al Masjid Al Aqsa receiving at least 500 times the reward of salaah elsewhere.
Masjid Al Aqsa has a very special status for Muslims because of its own unique history, including being:
The first qibla in Islam;
The second place of worship built in Islam (built 40 years after Kaaba);
The place where the Prophet Muhammad (saw) travelled to on the night of Isra;
The place where the Prophet Muhammad (saw) led all the other Prophets in prayer;
The place where the Prophet Muhammad (saw) ascended during the Miraj;
A place mentioned in the Quran as being “blessed” and “holy”, on numerous occasions. A few of these Quranic references are extracted below:
Surah Isra (17:1): “Glorified be He [Allah] Who did take His servant for a journey by night from Al Masjid Al Haram to Al Masjid Al Aqsa, whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of our Signs. Verily He is the All Hearing, All Seeing”
Surah Maidah (5:21): “Remember Musa said to his people: “O my people! Call in remembrance the favour of God unto you, when He produced Prophets among you, made you kings and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples. O my people! Enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will you be overthrown, to your own ruin”
Surah Al Anbiyya (21:69-71): “We said, O Fire! Be thou cool and [a means of] safety for Ibrahim. Then they planned against him, but We made them the greater losers. But we delivered him and Lot (and directed them) to the land which We have blessed for the nations”
One final point relating to reward is that some shayukh have said that if one remembers Allah at a time when others forget, then inshAllah the reward is greater because it is harder to do so. So imagine the reward one will get for visiting Al Masjid Al Aqsa if one embarks on that journey at a time when the rest of the Muslims are neglectful and / or forgotten to visit this blessed place.
Cultural And Christian Sites
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher marks the spot where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. It’s one of Christianity’s most important religious sites. There are a few significant things to see in the church.
The Stone of Anointing is found at the entrance, where Jesus was anointed before burial. Up the stairs to the right is Calvary, the hill where Jesus was crucified. Beneath the crucifixion altar is a hole said to be where his cross was raised.
Under the main rotunda you’ll find the Aedicule, an enclosed chapel built over the tomb of Jesus. It also holds the Angel Stone, a fragment of the round stone door used to close the tomb.
Armed crusaders visited the church as pilgrims during the First Crusades, leaving behind graffiti carved into the walls that still remains. Today the church is shared & maintained by different denominations of Christian monks — occasionally physical fights & arguments break out between them.
The key to the church is actually looked after by a Muslim family as it has been tradition for centuries.
Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem in about 4 BC; sixty years after the Romans entered Palestine. He lived and grew up in Nazareth, and when he became thirty years old he began to travel throughout Palestine preaching the unification of God. Palestine is considered the heart of Christianity, where Jesus was born and lived all his life, and it was from Jerusalem that he was resurrected and it was there that he preached and called people to the faith.
Constantine, the Roman Emperor, became a Christian and in 326 AD his mother, Queen Helena, visited Palestine and built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Resurrection) in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born. Roman rule in Palestine endured from 62 BC to 395 AD.
Jericho and the Dead Sea
Is believed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world, with evidence of settlement dating back to 9000 BCE, providing important information about early human habitation in the Near East. By the early Bronze Age (3000–2200 BCE), independent Canaanite city-states situated in plains and coastal regions and surrounded by mud-brick defensive walls were established and most of these cities relied on nearby agricultural hamlets for their food needs.
Dead Sea is one of the greatest wonders of the world. This sea, which is actually a lake and is entirely surrounded by dry land, is the richest natural salt deposit in the world.
Dead Sea is the lowest area on the planet. It is in fact around 400 meters below the level of the Mediterranean.
Saturated with salts which are good for the skin, the waters of the Dead Sea enable bathers to float rather than sink. And because it is located at the lowest point on earth, there is dense atmosphere in the water which acts as a natural filter, protecting against the sunlight, there is also a higher than average concentration of non-polluted oxygen. All these factors are unique to the Dead Sea Spa, the most popular and most natural spa in the world, which provides exceptional benefits to the health and wellbeing of your skin.
Hebron – Al-Khalil
One of the oldest cities in the Middle East, it is located in the south of the West Bank, 30 km south of Jerusalem. Archaeological excavations reveal traces of strong fortifications dated to the Early Bronze Age. The city was destroyed in a conflagration, and resettled in the late Middle Bronze Age. It was built by the Canaanites around 4000 BC. This city has an exceptional historical heritage. Hebron is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs which contains the tomb of Abraham and the mosque of the same name, part of which has now become a synagogue. In Hebron, a city physically divided by the conflict, you will come across the injustice of the Occupation and the effects it imposes on Palestinians today. The Kasbah offers visitors many surprises including the famous ancient glass factories and colorful Eastern ceramic workshops.
Ramallah the economic center of Palestine and the provisional administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority, located in the hilly area of central West Bank, about 15 miles north of Jerusalem. The average altitude of the city is 900 m. Its charm lies in its people, its environment and culture. The city has about 40,000 inhabitants,220000, counting those formed by the agglomeration of Ramallah and the 88 towns and villages that surround it. Yasser Arafat established his West Bank headquarters, the Mukata’a, in Ramallah. On November 11, 2004 Arafat died at the Percy training hospital of the Armies near Paris. He was buried in the courtyard of the Mukata’a on November 12, 2004. The site still serves as the Ramallah headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, as well the official West Bank office of Mahmoud Abbas.
Today, it is seen by many as a fascinating urban center for all visitors interested in political and social issues. The urban growth of the city has had a particularly marked cultural and recreational flavor. It boasts a lively nightlife, with many restaurants, bars and discotheques that have cropped up in Ramallah in the last three years. In the old city, several churches and mosques can be found that may be of interest to visitors.
Some major places in Ramallah are: Tel al-Nasbeh, The Crusader Church in al-Bireh, Kirbit al-Tireh “Kufur Ghamlah, Khalat al-Addas, Al-Kafriah, Ramallah’s Old Cit, Ibrahim al-Khalil area, The Ottoman Court, The Popular Art Center. There is also a Turkish bath in the twin-city of El-Bireh, a good destination for foreigners who wish to relax for the day. Ramallah’s surroundings include the ruins of a fortress in Bir Zeit, a massive Ottoman structure in the village of Ras Karkar, and the remains of a church and Byzantine architectural elements in the village of Jifna. Abboud village also houses many monasteries and churches from the time of Helen and her son the Emperor Constantine, as well as a historic mosque and a Roman Orthodox church.
A city in the northern West Bank, approximately 63 kilometers north of Jerusalem, Located in a strategic position between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. The mountainous landscapes, the city’s soap plant, its olive oil and oriental pastries- the « Kenafa » – are among the many charms of this city of great Eastern traditions. Nablus has encountered the presence of many empires throughout its 2,000 years of history. The city also witnessed the revolt of the Samaritans. At Mount Gerizim, the sacred mountain of the Samaritans, there exists the only remaining Samaritan community of Palestine. Jacob’s Well and the large archaeological site of Sebastia, where there are both Roman ruins Hellenistic, are interesting places to explore.
Nazareth (Al Nasira)
Is the Eastern largest city of Galilee and probably the city most visited by tourists. Archeological evidence indicates that it was once a farming village of only a few dozen families. With a population of some 65,000 inhabitants today, Nazareth is the most important Arab city in Israel. In Nazareth, the Chapel of the Annunciation was built in the mid-twentieth century on the site which the Christian tradition, dating back to the Byzantine period, associates with the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary. Not far from Nazareth lies Mount Tabor which Christians known as the place of the Transfiguration.
Placed under the supervision of the British mandate in Palestine, it was integrated later into the territory of Israel in 1948. In the 19th century it was already an important industrial port with a population of 20,000 inhabitants, 84% Muslims and 4% Jewish. However, after particular successive waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine, the Muslim population decreased (38% to 47% of Jews). The situation underwent a major change in the war of 1948, when about 60,000 Arab citizens were expelled from the city, including the famous poet Mahmoud Darwish. Haifa is home to the Bahá’í World Centre (comprising the Shrine of the Báb, terraced gardens and administrative buildings on the north flank of Mount Caramel), which is an administrative centre and important pilgrimage site for the followers of the Baha’i faith, as well as a being a popular tourist attraction.
Located north of the Bay of Haifa, it is surrounded by the sea, azure waters stretching languidly along the city’s walls. Mosques, churches, minarets, towers and old buildings stand tall reaching up to the sky and dominate this ancient city protected by a wall which overlooks the sea making this city sublime and enchanting. Acre was historically coveted by both the Syrians and the Persians. The Crusaders’ presence also made it a significant site for two centuries. El Jazzar Mosque, the ancient Crusader city, the Hammam al-Pasha, the caravanserai and the Eastern Souk dating back from East 19th century, are a real treat for the eyes to behold. When you enter the old city, you will be projected into the past, overwhelmed by the different peoples who lived here and who have left their footprints and religious architecture. East and West blend to bring great pleasure.
Tiberias and the Lake of Galilee: Located in the northern landscapes, Lake Tiberias houses a remarkable number of sacred Christian sites. The small village of Tabgha boasts a sixth century basilica commemorating the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and a small church, built at the place where according to tradition, Peter was given the primacy. At top of the Mount of Beatitudes, overlooking the waters of the lake, there is a beautifully constructed octagonal chapel. At Capernaum, you will come across the ruins of the synagogue and Peter’s house, and the Domus Ecclesia, all significant sites in the course of the Holy Land’s history. The Jordan River’s route lies near Tiberias; also nearby is the famous nature reserve of Banias (Caesarea Philippi).
Amman is Jordan's most populous city with more than one million people. Amman has its origin as the ancient town of the Ammonites. The town is a booming economy within Jordan and is among the highest ranking cities in Asia and North Africa regions. The town also serves as a cultural and political town as well as the capital of Jordan and the administrative center of Amman governorate. The city served as an agricultural and trading center during the ancient times and as a battlefield during a series of wars from the mid-20th century. Amman is currently experiencing rapid growth economically and culturally. Due to its rapid growth and population influx, the city faces problems of water shortages and accommodation. Amman is a major tourist attraction with ancient and classical remains and museums with a profound historical coverage.
is one of the most sacred sites for Jordanians and many others. It’s the place where Moses was laid to rest, thus making it a popular center for pilgrimage since Christian times. The memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo is among the most famous places to visit in Jordan.
Having said that, it is also a beautiful peak that looms above the scenic valleys that attract tourists. Mukawir also known as Machaerus is another dramatic hilltop fortress near Mount Nebo one must visit. Mukawir is also a sight behold and absolutely photogenic.
is also known as Gerasa, and the Greco-Roman ruins are situated about 50 km from Amman city. The city is certainly among the best places to visit in Jordan for all those who love visiting ancient ruins. These are one of the best-preserved Roman ruins and great for a day-long trip from Amman. Travelers love the rolling hills and valleys that surround Jerash with plum, olive, and pine trees.
For hundreds of years, the ancient Jordanian city of Petra, carved on the red sandstone was not known to the rest of the world. Petra was once a flourishing business center and the capital between 400 B.C. and A.D. 106. In 1985, Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and, in 2007, it was declared one of the new 7 wonders of the world.
You enter the city through Siq — a 1-km long, narrow gully — which lets you experience the vibrant colors and formations of the rocks. As soon as you reach the end of of the Siq, you get a glimpse of Al-Khazneh (The Treasury). The 30 m wide and 43 m high temple carved out pink and red rocks stand tall making everything else look dwarf. Al-Khazneh is the most popular tourist attraction in Petra, and without a doubt among the best places to visit in Jordan.
The Gulf of Aqaba is among the most interesting places to visit in Jordan.This is the place where all the Jordanians come to chill and swim. It’s one of the most photogenic place in Jordan with its picturesque mountains and deep blue waters. There are plenty of fun and exciting things to try in Aqaba like exploring the coral reefs of the Red Sea, deep sea diving, and snorkeling.
On the east of Rift Valley, Wadi Rum — spread across 74,000-hectare — is Jordan’s desert landscape consisting of narrow canyons, sandstone arches, high cliffs, and natural caverns. It’s among the most interesting places to visit in Jordan.
Tourists stay overnight in Wadi Rum, and there are tents available at reasonable rates. But sleeping under the wide blue sky on a mattress looking at the shooting stars and the dramatically changing colors of the skies is an entirely different experience, and watching the shooting stars in the cold desert in summer can be really addictive.
Located in the heart of the historic Jordan, Madaba is a really old city that can be found on the edge of the King’s Highway. Famous for its magnificent, gold-gilded mosque and collection of spikey tall minarets, Madaba is a pleasant, and an easy-going little town. Along with the gold-gilded mosque, this old city allows you to explore a few of the holiest sites.
Beautiful Byzantine artwork in the alcoves, chapels filled with the essence of spirituality, amazing ancient mosaics, and the remnants of the old Roman town adds to the already surreal experience.
Home of the ancient Pharaohs, Egypt is a dazzling destination of temples and tombs that wow all who visit. It's not all historic treasures, though. With vast tracts of desert, superb scuba diving, and the famed Nile River, there's something for everyone here.
Beach lovers head to the Sinai to soak up the sun, while archaeology fans will have a field day in Luxor. Cairo is the megalopolis that can't be beaten for city slickers, while Siwa oasis and the southern town of Aswan offer a slice of the slow pace of the countryside.
Egypt has so much for travelers to see and do, it's the perfect country for a mix of activities combining culture, adventure, and relaxation. Find the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Egypt.
Pyramids of Giza
The last surviving of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids of Giza are one of the world's most recognizable landmarks. Built as tombs for the mighty Pharaohs and guarded by the enigmatic Sphinx, Giza's pyramid complex has awed travelers down through the ages and had archaeologists (and a fair few conspiracy theorists) scratching their heads over how they were built for centuries.
Today, these megalithic memorials to dead kings are still as wondrous a sight as they ever were. An undeniable highlight of any Egypt trip, Giza's pyramids should not be missed.
Luxor's Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings
Famed for the Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple, and the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut, the Nile-side town of Luxor in Upper Egypt has a glut of tourist attractions. This is ancient Thebes, power base of the New Kingdom pharaohs, and home to more sights than most can see on one visit.
While the East Bank brims with vibrant souk action, the quieter West Bank is home to a bundle of tombs and temples that has been called the biggest open-air museum in the world. Spend a few days here exploring the colorful wall art of the tombs and gazing in awe at the colossal columns in the temples, and you'll see why Luxor continues to fascinate historians and archaeologists.
The atmospheric, narrow lanes of the capital's Islamic Cairo district are crammed full of mosques, madrassas (Islamic schools of learning), and monuments dating from the Fatimid through to the Mameluke eras. This is where you'll find the labyrinth shopping souk of Khan el-Khalili, where coppersmiths and artisans still have their tiny workshops, and stalls are laden with ceramics, textiles, spice, and perfume.
Surrounding the market is a muddle of roads, home to some of the most beautiful preserved architecture of the old Islamic empires. There is a wealth of history here to explore. Visit Al-Azhar Mosque and the dazzling Sultan Hassan Mosque, and make sure you climb to the roof of the ancient medieval gate of Bab Zuweila for the best minaret-speckled panoramas across the district.
Egypt's most tranquil town is Aswan, set upon the winding curves of the Nile. Backed by orange-hued dunes, this is the perfect place to stop and unwind for a few days and soak up the chilled-out atmosphere. Take the river ferry across to Elephantine Island and stroll the colorful streets of the Nubian villages. Ride a camel to the desert monastery of St. Simeon on the East Bank. Or just drink endless cups of tea on one of the riverboat restaurants, while watching the lateen-sailed feluccas drift past.
There are plenty of historic sites here and numerous temples nearby, but one of Aswan's most popular things to do is simply kicking back and watching the river life go by.
Even in a country festooned with temples, Abu Simbel is something special. This is Ramses II's great temple, adorned with colossal statuary standing guard outside, and with an interior sumptuously decorated with wall paintings. Justly famous for its megalithic proportions, Abu Simbel is also known for the incredible feat, which saw the entire temple moved from its original setting — set to disappear under the water because of the Aswan dam — during the 1960s in a massive UNESCO operation that took four years.
The most European of Egypt's cities, Alexandria has a history that not many others can match. Founded by Alexander the Great, home of Cleopatra, and razzmatazz renegade city of the Mediterranean for much of its life, this seaside city has an appealing days-gone-by atmosphere that can't be beaten. Although today, there are few historic remnants of its illustrious past — feted in songs and books — this is a place made for aimless strolling along the seashore Corniche, café-hopping, and souk shopping.
St. Catherine's Monastery
One of the oldest monasteries in the world, St. Catherine's stands at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. This desert monastery is home to an incredible collection of religious iconography, art, and manuscripts (some of which can be seen in the on-site museum), as well as the burning bush. For most visitors here, a trip to St. Catherine's also involves a hike up Mount Sinai to see sunrise or sunset. Take the camel path for the easy route or climb the famous Steps of Repentance if you want better views.
Egypt is defined by the Nile. For many visitors a multi-day cruise upon this famed waterway that saw the rise of the Pharaonic era is a highlight of their Egypt trip. Cruising the Nile is also the most relaxing way to see the temples that stud the banks of the river on the route between Luxor and Aswan, plus sunrise and sunset over the date-palm-studded river banks, backed by sand dunes, is one of Egypt's most tranquil vistas.
The two famous sights on a Nile Cruise are the Temple of Kom Ombo and Edfu's Temple of Horus, where all the big cruise boats stop. If you'd prefer a less crowded and slower experience though, and don't mind "roughing it" a bit, you can also cruise the Nile by felucca (Egypt's traditional lateen-sailed wooden boats), which also allows you to create your own itinerary. Cruise boats depart from both Luxor and Aswan, but feluccas can only be chartered for multi-day trips from Aswan.