Posted by: Anna | November 5, 2010

10 Reasons I Wish we Had More Time in Nazareth

Nazareth was a surprise to me. The guidebook didn’t make it sound all that appealing, and there aren’t really very many sights. We almost didn’t even go for a night. Tommy convinced me. However, after less than 24 hours there, I would recommend staying at least two, maybe three days in Nazareth because it has just a wonderful charm to it. Here’s my 10 reasons why (forgive my love affair the with the place we stayed):

1. Winding streets through old buildings, some even from Roman times makes walking around a time-transporting experience. It feels old. Unfortunately, there are buildings that seem to date back to Roman times that are just decaying, not being restored. There’s so much old stuff here that I guess you can’t save it all. You don’t know that though, as you just walk through.

2. Fauzi Azur Inn – it’s awesome. This should really be at least four reasons. Sometimes where you stay can really make all the difference. Hostels are a varied bunch, some charming with nice staff, and some dirty and just generally bad. The Fauzi definitely falls into the first category. It’s in a restored Arab mansion that has a very interesting history. It has a staff of international volunteers – the girl who checked us in was German, the guy who did our check-out was American, etc. Thus the people who work there are kind, knowledgeable, and generally great. The dorm room had beautiful gothic-like arched ceilings, clean sheets, lockers, and silk comforters. The other guests are friendly and quiet. There are small nooks for hanging out with chairs and tables tucked all around. The bathroom is spacious, modern, and clean. I could go on and on.

What’s really interesting is the story. As I mentioned, it’s in a restored Arab mansion. Hearing the story of the Fauzi is like a mini-Israeli history lesson. The family that owns the house is Arab Christian. However, during the War of Independence (if you are Israeli), or the Catastrophe (if you are Arab), the Azur family had to flee to Syria and other parts of the world. One family member stayed back to take care of the house – Fauzi Azur. The family lost their land in Israel during the war, and the house is all that remains of what they had, once a lot. The grandfather of the current family member running the place died saving the ceiling murals – he tried to put out a fire, which did save the murals, but the burns caused his death. Strangely, I felt honored to stay in a place that meant so much to someone that he sacrificed himself to save it – it was to the family a symbol of their history. Anyway, after his death, the house sat vacant for a long time, with family coming back periodically to check on it. A Jewish man approached the family because he was looking for a place to open a hostel in the Old City of Nazareth. They eventually agreed, and so the Arab family and the Jewish guy work together to run this hostel today. This kind of collaboration is rare in Israel, but it’s really cool. Fauzi Azur is the grandfather who stayed behind to care for the mansion, and it is named in his honor.

The ceiling mural at the Fauzi Azur Inn

Interestingly, the old city of Nazareth was a dangerous place when the Fauzi was opened, full of drugs and other lowlife activities. Today, it has really changed, and I left with the impression that the Fauzi opening really provided hope to the area that tourism could be a boon to save them by providing much needed legitimate economic activity. Today, there are shops and restaurants in much of the old city. When we arrived, we started walking through the old city, and looking at our map (cars don’t drive in most of the old city, and the streets aren’t marked…it’s a little like reading a trail map..”well, this looks like this angle on the map, perhaps we are here?”), and locals would stop us and say, “Are you looking for the Fauzi? Let me show you the way.” So kind. It was clear that the Fauzi is a beloved part of the old city, at least to most.

3. Great walking tour. The Fauzi runs a great walking tour that is inexpensive. It really gave us a wonderful feeling for the people of Nazareth, at least the old city. It included a stop to try Arabic coffee, in the shop where the beans are roasted and ground..cool. A stop in several carpentry shops – Nazareth to this day is known for its carpentry, like Joseph.

4. My favorite stop on the tour, and thus deserving of its own spot was this awesome spice mill. We got to taste all of the dried fruits, including dried cantaloupe (!), nuts, and Israeli candies. They still have a steam engine that work to grind flour, but they stopped using it because it’s too loud. Also, seeing all the spices were fascinating. We went back and made some purchases, and it was amazingly cheap!

We got to do a taste test of a bunch of different things - here is the dried fruit section we tasted.

5. Another stop was a Christian refugee cave. Sometimes history is made more real by seeing a place. The Fauzi tour has permission to visit a site not open to the general public – a man made cave from about the 5th century that was used by Christians to hide while they were being persecuted. They actually lived in the cave. There is a small altar, space for sleeping, a space used as a kitchen, and holes in the roof of the cave to let in some light, air, and rain water (which would have been their only source of water down there). It’s so hard to imagine what living down there would have been like. What a sacrifice. It’s easy to forget as an American that Christians have been persecuted in this way. Very touching. We were told that Nazareth is dotted with these caves beneath the city, many larger than what we saw.

Here is the altar in the Christian cave. The nuns still pray there and light candles.

6. When you are traveling, sometimes a small luxury feels like a big luxury. The Fauzi had homemade cake available in the kitchen for snacking at all hours, plus 6 kinds of herbal tea (REAL herbal tea – you know, herbs that you steep in hot water), and other teas and coffee too. They made Arabic coffee each morning, which has cardamom in it. It’s very strong, and a bit odd to my palate, and I love cardamom. Not for me, but interesting to try.

7. Nazareth has interesting archaeological stories as well. Traditionally, scholars believed Nazareth to have been a small town during the time of Jesus. However, archaeological evidence is starting to show that Nazareth was a town of size. People doing excavations or renovations keep finding ruins beneath, including a very large Roman bath that would not have existed in a small town, but in a larger one. Archaeology fascinates me here, where normally I would find it a bit dull, honestly. But the thought that as I walk around in Israel there are layers upon layers of undiscovered cities below is strange and gives your imagination space to play…what is below me right now in the little Italian-style cafe I’m sitting in? We’ll probably never know, because a modern city built on ruins doesn’t want a full excavation. People live here. So it’s only by accident that ruins are found, giving us the key to the past here.

8. A peaceful feeling. I can’t really define it, but there is something peaceful and restorative about Nazareth. Moments of peace, where it feels calm and just good, are often rare in places where you don’t speak the language, don’t know the rules of society, and don’t have your friends and family around you. But somehow Nazareth was to me a restorative place, even romantic – the kind of place that transports you from your reality and leads you to contemplate another.

9. Nazareth is unique, in that it is not Jewish. It is 70% Muslim and 30% Christian. I often catch myself making the mistake of saying Arab when I mean Muslim. It matters here, because there are many Christian Arabs. Arab is a race, Muslim / Christian is a religion. They are not synonymous. As I mentioned, the owners of the Fauzi are Christian Arabs. One of the owners pointed out that we can tell because on the beautiful murals painted on the ceiling, there are cherubs. Muslims and Jews do not paint figures in their art (traditionally), but of course Christians do. There are Jews in the area, but they live in a another town called Nazareth Illit. I don’t really know why.

10. And of course, Nazareth has Christian significance. Tommy and I are not exactly on a pilgrimage (we went to a funk concert last night – more on that later), but certainly the biggest allure of Israel for us is its Christian significance. Although Capernum bills itself as the home of Jesus (that he adopted Capernum over Nazareth during his life), Nazareth is in my mind – Jesus of Nazareth.

All I can say is that you should go to Nazareth. If I were picking one city to visit outside of Jerusalem (so far) in Israel, for me it would be Nazareth. And I would stay at the Fauzi, no matter your budget. I just had the feeling of good, of home, of a group of kind people gathered together – a real warmth. That hospitality and goodness is so rare, anywhere, and the kind welcome was a blessing to me.

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Responses

  1. Everybody remember to check out the dozens of photos… Click on “more photos” in the right column.

  2. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit the HOLY LAND…Nazareth it is!!! Jennnifer & Jordon will be here at 12 noon on Sunday to Scype…CAN’T WAIT to see your sweet faces! xoxoxo, kita

  3. What a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing-

    Aunt Sandy

  4. I had asked in another post if there was a time you could visit without the tourists (or at least with less). I should have asked where instead of when. It seems that Nazareth is that where. I know what you mean about a place you can walk and feel the history. The Trophy of the Alps is such a place, just above Monte Carlo. You are transported back in time by nothing more than walking through the streets. What a delight — Nazareth is now on my bucket list.


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