A weekend trip to Nazareth
Finally my husband and I had planned a weekend trip away, to the north of historical Palestine, to Nazareth. The last time we went away together was before our children Louisa and Hadi were born. So that is more than 6 years ago. The day before our planned trip to Nazareth, I did a Covid test, because I was having a bit of a cold. Luckily the test result was negative. A day later than planned we headed from Jerusalem to Nazareth, by car, without children!
Al Hakim guesthouse
It was about 2 hours ride to reach Nazareth. We parked near Mary’s well, the place where according to tradition Mary met angel Gabriel. The angel told Mary that she was to have a baby, even though she was still a virgin. Close to Mary’s well the Greek Orthodox church of Saint Gabriel commemorates this event.
We walked up towards the old city on the slope of a hill with beautiful houses dating from Mamluk and Ottoman time. Basam, the son of the Hakim family, warmly welcomed us and showed us around the beautiful family property that dates partially from 1350 and the extension to the old building is from 1870.
Family guesthouse in Nazareth
The guesthouse is run by the Al Hakim family. Mother Abeer used to be headmaster of the local Al Zahra Junior High School. Father Rayek was an employee at the Discount Bank in Nazareth before he studied the tour guide program and became a licensed tour guide. Their son Basam runs the guesthouse and takes care of the bookings. He also helps other families in Nazareth to get started with guesthouses.
It is very clear that the Al Hakim family loves receiving guests. They enjoy talking to the visitors. The place is very clean and organized. They serve a fantastic traditional Palestinian breakfast buffet. Everything in the old city of Nazareth is in walking distance.
Nazareth city of Annunciation
The majority of the tourists that come to Nazareth are religious Christians who are on a pilgrimage to see the places where Jesus and family lived. According to the tradition Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth when Mary received a visit of the angel Gabriel. The angel told Mary that she would be pregnant by the holy spirit and she would have to name the baby Jesus. She humbly accepted the message.
We already passed by the Greek Orthodox church of Saint Gabriel, close to Mary’s well. In total there are 18 Churches of Annunciation in Nazareth, for all the different Christian denominations. But the most known and the biggest one is the Basilica of the Annunciation. The Catholics believe that this church is built on the location of Mary’s home. The first church was built in the 4th Century AD on this location. But the church we see today was built in the 1960s by architect Giovanni Muzzio.
In the courtyard of the church is a gallery with mosaics of mother Mary and baby Jesus from many different countries. It is very interesting to see how Mary and Jesus are depicted on icons from all over the world.
Revival of the old city of Nazareth
In the year 2000 the Municipality of Nazareth started renovation in the old city. It was a big project. The streets were opened. The water drainage system had to be renewed. It took much longer than planned. Many shop owners decided to move out of the old city. Their shops could not be reached due to the construction work. The old city became a ghost town. It attracted drugs dealers and users. It was unsafe. People were avoiding the beautiful old city.
Until the Fauzi Azar hostel and later also Liwan Cafe opened their doors in the old city and brought back some life and some positiveness to the old city. This inspired others to come and rent a shop and revive the old market.
Amani Cafe in the old city of Nazareth
We spoke to Amani who runs Amani Cafe. She told us that the street was known as the ‘brides’ street’ because in the past many shops in this part of the market were selling brides dresses and jewelry for the wedding. Today’s shop owners who had the guts to open in the old city, are all women. Amani is happy, it is still the brides’ street.
Amani studied tourism at the University of Haifa and also has a Tour Agency. With her work experience in Cafes and Restaurants she decided to open her own Cafe. She greets everybody who passes by and it seems everybody knows Amani.
Artist galleries in the Street of the Brides
She introduces us to the direct neighbor, Bana Haddad, who is a graphic designer and has a small art gallery called Lawz studio. She shows us some of her work. I especially like the collages that represent old Arabic proverbs. She is trying to revive these proverbs among the younger generation, by giving them a new appearance. “The monkey is a deer in the eyes of his mother”, I read on one of the posters, and I remember that people told me this proverb after my first born. I should probably wonder why. But I know that it’s right. All babies are beautiful in the eyes of their mothers.
We walk through the Brides’ street and see several very nicely decorated shops with embroideries, gift shop, book shop, jewelry and then another art gallery by visual artist Sama Abuhanna. Through her shop we reach into the courtyard behind, which connects several of the shops. She tells us that they had wanted to give monthly concerts in this courtyard, but the Covid pandemic made it impossible.
Sama studied visual communication in Tel Aviv. After her return to her hometown Nazareth she decided to frame all her art works and have her own gallery in the old city. Her art work consists of mixed media, photography mixed with other media, illustrations, graphics and Arabic calligraphy. She also designs Arab calligraphy for tattoos. One of the important topics of her work is feminism in the Arab society, a topic that is very relevant under young people today.
Nazareth, a mixed city and a city of many options
The Nazarenes, as the inhabitants of Nazareth are called, are a mixed population. The majority today is Muslim. The attraction of the city is still mainly the Christian tradition of the annunciation and the place where Jesus lived. While walking through the city you can hear the bells of the different churches and the call for prayer from the mosque.
People are very friendly and welcoming. For us, coming from Jerusalem and Bethlehem area, we realized that we did not hear and see any aggression in the traffic. No honking of horns. People give way to each other. Very nice to see.
In Nazareth you can visit the holy sites, the churches of the Annunciation, the Mount of Precipice, from which an angry mob of Jews wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff, according to the tradition. In the town’s center is Mary’s well. The renovated old city is beautiful with buildings from Mamluk and Ottoman time. Especially in the Brides’ street it is easy to connect with the local Palestinians. At one of the Cafes or the shops. There are several guesthouses in the old city. If Al Hakim guesthouse is fully booked, they will happily tell you about the other options.
The main road has a lot of shops for people who want to do some shopping.
Because of the Covid pandemic, restaurants were only open for take away at the time of our visit. There were many options for falafel, shawarma, wraps, baguette with all kinds of fillings including fresh salads.
And in the vicinity of Nazareth there are beautiful hills and options for hiking in the nature.
A visit to Nazareth should definitely be on your list of things to do in Palestine. Another great suggestion is the Culinary Experience tour in Nazareth with culinary stops and the cooking workshop to learn Palestinian local cooking. Check that out on the website: https://hantour.ps/tours/5-senses-nazareth-culinary-tour/
Al Hakim guesthouse
Bana Haddad (Graphic design & Visual Art Gallery)
Sama Abuhanna (Visual artist)
Jasmine & Reem (Wings design handmade crafts and design)