Saturday, December 17, 2022

A musical celebration of ‘Hanuchristmas” at Magdala

The Magdala Hotel on the banks of the Sea of Galilee opens the winter with a musical holiday atmosphere with the magical beauty of the hotel entirely decorated for Christmas.  Light and joy alongside a connection between cultures and a walk along the paths of history to the days of the first century in the ancient Jewish settlement 'Magdala' to get to know the story of the historical heroes.

A musical celebration of ‘Hanuchristmas” at Magdala

Have you ever seen a priest guide a group of Jewish tourists and excitedly explain to them about an ancient Jewish city? This is exactly what father Eamon Kelly does in Magdala, when he shares his great excitement about the archeological findings he says, "I have goosebumps"! He talks enthusiastically about the settlement that was here in 100 AD, about the ancient Magdala Stone, a model of the Temple, and about the communication that happens here between people from all religions.

A few years back, Father Juan María Solana was appointed by the Pope to be in charge of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. He dreamed of a center for pilgrims on the shore of the Sea of ​​Galilee. In 2009, they started laying foundations for a guest house. That's when the remains of a synagogue from the first century were discovered containing a Magdala stone, a model of the temple on which the holy scrolls were placed. Construction of the hotel was delayed in favor of excavations that uncovered impressive parts of Mary Magdalene's hometown. The center and the hotel were finally opened late in 2020 and now include an archaeological park with impressive mosaics, fish salting ponds, 4 underground water-fed mikvot, and more. The park is still under development and these days they are working to expand it and build a visitor center that will present the findings and explain the story of the site. Also, a large restaurant for visitors is being constructed; it will open in a year.

Magdala Hotel is extraordinary; it is immersed in the archaeological and spiritual setting. It extends over a large area along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and sheltered by Mount Arbel towering above. The heart of the lobby is a reconstructed fish salting pool, alongside the original Magdala stone, where both face a transparent glass wall overlooking the Magdala Gardens and the Sea of Galilee. At the side, large windows overlook the archaeological garden, which is also illuminated at night. It is beautiful! It also highly recommended getting up early to see the spectacular sunrise behind the Sea of Galilee.

Magdala is shaped like a U; in the center is the lobby from which two wings of rooms are stretched. The archeological park is behind the south wing, and in the middle, in front of the lobby and between the wings is the garden. In its middle there are fountains, shaped like fish (when looking from above), decorated with Moreno glass mosaics showing the 153 types of fish living in the Sea of Galilee. At the edge of the garden there is a Byzantine-inspired Magdala mosaic showing a map of the Galilee in the first century AD. 

Nearby, on the banks of the Sea of ​​Galilee, the crown of the hotel, Duc in Altum is located. It is a religious and cultural prayer and worship center dedicated to the public life of Christ and as a gift to women. The center was built with Byzantine architecture having an octagonal design and 6 chapels, with the central one where the "Jesus' boat" model is located, overlooking the Sea of ​​Galilee through an infinity pool.

Magdala hotel is not only an impressive site; it is also a pampering hotel.  The rooms are spacious, many of them include two beds, a double sink and all the amenities needed for a perfect stay. There is even a gym and a seasonal pool (the beach is private but there are no lifeguard services). The hotel restaurant serves breakfast and dinner and based on demand also lunches. The hotel's chef, Tarek Dahla, combines eclectic cuisine with a Mexican flavour; the food is excellent and has a large selection, but note that it is not kosher.

Magdala actively contributes to building positive relationships with the diverse community of Christian believers and between Christians and Jews. When staying at Magdala, there are many opportunities to engage in dialogs with the residing priests, monks and volunteers.

In preparation for the international holiday season, the Magdala Hotel has already put on the holiday. A huge decorated fir tree was placed in the center of the lobby in front of the magical view of the Sea of ​​Galilee, and the hotel and its surroundings were decorated with holiday symbols. The holiday of Hanukkah will also be celebrated in the atmosphere of 'Hanuchristmas' with light and musical content. Three unique concerts by the Israeli female voice Alma Ensemble and a special concert to mark the 200th anniversary of Brazil's independence with a wide and special composition of the Phoenix Ensemble and the Madrigal singers. The concerts will be held at different locations in the hotel during the month of December. Admission to the concerts is free for hotel guests; the general public can purchase tickets at a nominal price. It is also possible to combine it with dinner at the hotel, booking is required. See details on the hotel’s website:

Magdala is situated near some of the most important and impressive Christian sites, most of which are around Capernaum, only a 15 minutes’ drive from the hotel. When visiting there, I recommend two very beautiful sites. The first is Mount of Beatitudes, located on what was once called Mount Eremos. Besides the religious significance of it, the church is beautiful, colored grey, green and white, and has a spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee from the north. It is open daily between the hours 8-11:45, 14-16:45. It is best to go there when the weather is nice and visibility is good.

The second is the Monastery of the Holy Apostles at Tabgha. It is a Greek-orthodox church with red domes and white walls. Inside it are some very beautiful frescoes. It is located on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and has a delightful garden with roses, mulberry trees, arched vine sheds and a group of peacocks walking around the premises. Entrance is free, but it isn’t always open.

Additional related sights are the Tabgha Fish and Loaves church that has an impressive mosaic, and Domus Galilaeae, an international center and school of priests that has an exquisite architecture. It is open to the public and they offer a free tour Monday to Saturday between the hours 9-11:30 and 15-16:30.

The writer was a guest of Magdala

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