Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine

The Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine, built in the fourth century (327-333) by the Roman Emperor Constantine 1st, is one of the oldest churches in the world, built on the presumed site of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The current basilica was rebuilt in its present form in 565 by Emperor Justinian who erected a larger building by extending the nave and adding transepts. It suffered several conservation issues and changes through the years and also many restorations but its current state needs immediate handling and catering. Currently, it is administered jointly by the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem (which has the main part of the basilica and also the altar of the Nativity in the cave), the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church (who owns the silver star beneath the altar of the Nativity). The fanatical rivalry on the spatial and temporal control of the sanctuary because of the conflicts erupt in the most serious solemn ceremonies involving the simultaneous participation of several churches. In the Place of the Nativity, you find the bell tower of the Armenian monastery in the foreground and the bell tower of the Greek Orthodox monastery in the background. The basilica is part of a large monumental complex that covers almost 12,000 square feet which includes the Latin monasteries (north), Greek Orthodox (southeast, the cemetery along the south aisle of the basilica), Armenian (south- west) and St. Catherine of Alexandria Catholic church with chapels and hotels nearby to accommodate the pilgrims. The current basilica architectural ensemble is a combination of two churches and a crypt – the grotto of the Nativity – where Jesus was born, according to tradition. It includes just a gateway, the Door of Humility, which originally was much larger but it has been reduced along the years. The key to the door is in the hands of the Orthodox that open at dawn and close twenty minutes before sunset. The church plan is that of a classical Roman basilica. Inside there are pink limestone of Bethlehem, white marble, many frescoes, Byzantine mosaics, eternal hanging lamps, details that also show various different religions and cultures that have passed through the years. The stairs on either side of the sanctuary provide access to the Grotto by irregular steps.

 
Tips

Believers gather on Christmas Eve in Manger Square to sing Christmas carols until midnight mass but it takes place at different dates according to the beliefs.
In one of the columns inside, you’ll find four holes in a cross where visitors have the habit of placing their fingers because according to the belief, Mary laid her hand so the wishes from their prayers to the Virgin, could be realized.

Basilica of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor, Galilee, Holy Land, Israel

The Basilica of the Transfiguration is a Franciscan basilica on Mount Tabor in Galilee in the Holy Land, Israel. It was built with an orientation to the east in 1924 by the Franciscans who had the field since their installation in 1631, where Christian tradition says there was the event of the Transfiguration of Christ alongside Moses and the prophet Elijah, in favor of Pierre, Jacques and Jean. The Basilica is on the ruins of another Christian church that was built between the fourth century and the sixth century but also another church built in the twelfth century by the Crusaders. There is also a Franciscan monastery that was erected with the basilica. In the proximities of this basilica, there are another Greek Orthodox church that was built by evoking the same event of the Transfiguration. The road route for the transportation of materials needed for construction, is used today by pilgrims visiting the basilica. The entrance to the site is by the door of the Wind or Bab el-Hawa, old vestige of the Muslim fortress of the thirteenth century. The sanctuary has three new, large arc between the two towers in its facade and bronze doors. The nave is separated by the side of the vault arches and overlooks a staircase carved into the rock that goes down to the crypt. The scene of the Transfiguration is represented at the bottom in the choir. You can also see the remains of the previous masonry on the walls.

Tips

From the top of the mount, you might enjoy a magnificent view of cultivated fields of the plain of Esdraelon.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Sheikh Zayed Mosque has 22 412 m² and can accommodate up to 40,000 visitors, considered the largest mosque in the UAE and one of the largest in the world; located in Abu Dhabi. It is the only mosque that allows the visit of tourists. Its name comes from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who made built the edifice in Carrara marble, with the largest chandelier that weighs around 12 tons and the largest carpet in the world that consists of 9 pieces. He died before the end of the construction and his son Khalifa continued the work and gave his father’s name to the mosque. The construction took 12 years (1995-2007) and several international engineers and craftsmen worked there. It has many columns (1048), arches topped by domes (82) and four minarets of 107 meters in height. The domes are topped spiers covered in gilded mosaic glass. In its interior, it is decorated with floral motifs that have been made by a graphic arts company in Milan, Italy and we also find semi-precious stones of Austria. As it was built on a desert terrain, the structure is based on more than 6,000 steel pillars treated to resist corrosion caused by the salt environment. The land was raised from 9 meters to allow more impressive vision. The tomb of Sultan is located at the entrance, outside the mosque; there are two men who read the Koran all the time. Around the mosque there are 22 laps each provided with ten projectors that link to the mosque.

Tips

To make the visit, women should wear long skirts or pants that cover completely the legs below the ankle, they must have long sleeves and cover all the head; they can wear sandals and the entrance to the mosque is done barefoot so if you prefer you can wear stockings.
Be careful with the marble floor as it is slippery especially if there is water. We have had the experience of a lady who fell by aching ankle and was immediately transported to the medical clinic on site, in wheelchair, where she received care without spending a penny.
You can take pictures everywhere except at the tomb of Sultan.
The visit is free and it can not be visited on Friday morning.