Going North

This section originates from information collected for the guidebook published in 2000.


Fertile, hilly Galilee is one of the most attractive areas of Israel and, particularly to Christian visitors, one of the most evocative. As the focal point of Jesus’s ministry, there are numerous pilgrimage sites, particularly around the Sea of Galilee and in Nazareth, the site of his family home and a lively, largely Arab town. The area also has a number of important Jewish sites, particularly in Tiberias, with its rabbis’ tombs, and Zefat, a centre of Jewish mysticism. If you have a car it is very easy to get away from the crowds and explore the countryside, with many remains dating back to Old Testament times.

To the east and north of the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights are of strategic importance to both Israel and Syria. Taken by Israel in 1967, they remain disputed territory with the many uncleared minefields the most obvious reminder. Discussions were restarted in 1999 with a view to a possible long-term agreement between Israel and Syria to exchange of land for peace. This may affect access into the area in the future.

Galilee is a mostly rural area, and unless you are with a tour group, a car is essential, particularly if you want to see some of the less obvious sites. The towns are generally quite hilly, and a car will probably be useful there as well. However, there is a much better range of accessible accommodation in Galilee than anywhere else in the country. Karei Deshe Youth Hostel and Nof Ginosar Inn both offer cheap, comparatively accessible accommodation, and there are a number of Kibbutz Inns and hotels with accessible rooms in different surroundings. These include the Nof Ginosar Hotel and the hotel at Kibbutz Lavi.

Tiberias is now the only town on the Sea of Galilee. It was founded in honour of a Roman Emperor, and was famed at the time for its hot springs. As one of the four Jewish holy cities, it was the burial site for a number of influential rabbis. It is now a centre for tourism. The town is built on a hillside, but the main area of interest to visitors is the lakeside and the shopping centre behind it, and all this is fairly flat. There is a lakeside promenade, and two of the streets leading to it have been pedestrianised. These slope gently down towards the lake, and while the steps on the have been ramped, this has been done in a zig zag fashion, with more thought to symmetry than to those who might use the ramps. The steps are grouped in threes down a wide street with many pavement cafés, and the ramps are placed alternatively on the left and then on the right – making it quite a tortuous route for a chair user. Also, some of the café tables spill over on to the street, and sometimes block one of the ramps.

Tourist Information Office, Archaeological Park, HaBanim Street Tel: 06 672-5666 situated outside the Jordan River Hotel. The office is in a stone building in the middle of the park and is reached via -30 steps from the street. If you go down alongside the hotel, there is step free access round the back. On the near side there are +3 but if you go right round the back it’s flat, although there are 2m of rough cobbles. Unfortunately, no information on or understanding of access issues.

a small selection from the write-ups:

Rambam’s (Maimonides) Tombs and those of others, are just to the north of the town centre, at the junction between Hatannim and Yohanan Ben Zakkay (see IH map p662). Ben Maimon was a 12thC scholar, and physician to Saladin, who sought to rationalise Jewish Law. Ben Zakkay was an eminent sage at the time of the Roman destruction of the Temple. On-street parking, with a layby about 100m up Yohanan Ben Zakkay. Entrance via steep ramps bypassing +15 steps which are grouped in threes, and then +3 to the open air synagogue in front of the tombs with both a mens and womens section. There is an alternative entrance from the parking layby mentioned. Come some 20m downhill to a step free entrance W70, into the womens side of the synagogue. There is unlikely to be any problem with a disabled man using this route, so long as visitors show respect for the sacred site.

Capernaum is situated at the north end of the Sea of Galilee and off route 87, it is well signed. There are the remains of a Byzantine synagogue, and the traditional site of Peter’s house, with a modern church built over it. The main CP is some 200m from the entrance, but it is possible to drive past the barrier, and stop right by the entrance. Just ignore the no entry sign and drive between the red posts on the right. Flat entrance. The site is generally fairly flat. The front entrance to the synagogue remains is via +3 very large [27cm] steps, and then a +1-2 threshold. There is an easier way round at the back, and the smoothest path to get there is alongside the railings to the left, going round under the trees. From the back there is simply a +1-2 threshold, and you avoid the big steps. You can see the ruins of Peter’s house from ground level, but the church above has +22, and was closed when we visited.

Yardenit Baptism Site is about 8km south of Tiberias by the lake and well signposted from route 90. This isn’t the traditional site at which Jesus was baptised, which is in a sensitive border area. Yardenit has been developed as a somewhat commercial site where pilgrims can come to be baptised or to reaffirm their faith, in/alongside the River Jordan. CP outside. Flat entrance to foyer and reception. Shop on the left, and a little further on, there’s a restaurant on the right with a unisex wheelchair toilet (D80 ST80: lock may need opening with a coin!) Some 10m inside on the right.
Beyond the foyer are two baptism sites along the path outside to the left. The first you reach is via -24 steps to a multi-level crescent shaped area in which groups can gather by the water. The second area involves a ramp and -12, and it has a similar arrangement. In the middle is a covered platform stairlift (W80 L100) which will apparently take a chair user and a companion down to the water’s edge, and even dunk them in the water for the baptism! A drawback of the arrangement is that a chair user getting baptised will be rather separated from any friends who’ve come as well, as there is nowhere to gather round at the bottom of the lift, although there is a flight of stairs on either side. We understand that what happens is that a chair user can be helped to float along the few metres to one or other of the crescent shaped areas. More sites are being built, and one with a ramp to the water’s edge would be a valuable alternative, even if the ramp is somewhat steep. Platform stairlifts are (in our view) a last resort provision, suitable for old buildings where there is no alternative. Currently there’s a maximum of 100/150m from the CP to the baptism sites. Note that handrails are virtually non-existent, and there are no seats, other than on the steps (which would be very low for some).

Hammat Gader Park, Tiberias, POB 15171 Tel: 06 665-9999 Fax: 06 665-9998. Hammat Gader is right up against the Jordan border, on the Route 98, so the Tiberias postal address is misleading. The drive to it takes you past some fine scenery, and alongside the minefields separating the two countries. It is an extraordinary mixture, with zoo enclosures, hot and cold springs, a swimming pool, restaurants and some Roman remains. See the plan in IH p680. You are given a pictogram leaflet at the ticket office, and the numbers in the write-up refer to those used on this.

CP outside with five disabled persons spaces, with space for door opening and getting out – which not many such spaces have in Israel. It is quite large, measuring some 500 by 300m. It is on generally flat ground, but there’s a slope down to the swimming pool. A six-seater buggy with open sides is available to take disabled visitors to and from some of the facilities.

The reptile area and aviary (5,6,7,8) are some 150m to the left of the entrance, and going around the ‘circuit’ involves about 600m. The path is fairly flat, but there’s about 100m of rough stone paving and 150m over a wooden slatted bridge with a slope at one end, and -1 [13cm] step. The aviary is step free, but a chair user would need to get both doors opened to get in. The amphitheatre where birds are ‘displayed’ has a few spaces in the front where a chair user can sit, but get there in good time for the performance.

The swimming pools are some 250m to the right of the entrance. Changing rooms, toilets and showers (24) are situated at the top of the 40m slope down to the pools. The only wheelchair toilet (D70 ST150) is in this block, it is not signed outside, and is just inside the mens door. It is for use by anyone. The observation point (14) is a real military site, up a 75m long slope. The Machvat Restaurant has +12 steps which can be bypassed by using a 30m ramp. The excavations, with a Roman bath house (11) is about 150m from the entrance, and it is possible to get a good view without any steps.