A place of pilgrimage since Byzantine times, Mount Tabor’s religious significance is matched by its sheer beauty, making it a haven for nature lovers and hikers. It’s an important sightseeing element of any trip to the Jezreel Valley plains and the place to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails. If you’re not a hiker, the church complex here—at the site of Jesus’ Transfiguration—is a must-do tourist attraction for any road trip you plan in the area.
One of the things to do on Mount Tabor is the church complex. At the top the road on the right leads to the area occupied by the Franciscan monastery and a walled courtyard emerges between the ruins of a older church on the left and the monastery garden– on the right, up to the Church of the Transfiguration (or the Church of Tabor).
The Church of the Transfiguration is built of light-colored limestone and harkens back to the style of church building that developed in Syria between the 4th and 6th centuries. This architecture no longer only concerned the decoration and furnishing of the interior, but for the first time wanted to give the exterior a monumental stamp. This Syrian tradition is reflected, for example, in the facade, with its two projecting towers between which a round-headed arch with a pediment frames the entrance to the church and the snail shell-like frame of the windows.
Read also: Top Rated Hiking Trails in Vermont
Inland – again on the Syrian model – the nave is separated from the side aisles by widely spanned arches. The roof beams are supported on short columns in the clerestory. The church contains three caves, which Jonas Korte described in 1751 as “three chapels, with a small altar, they are called tabernacles, and they are said to represent the three booths that Peter wanted to build, one for his Master, the other two for Moses and Elias”.
The Grotto of Christ is located in the eastern part of the church. Stairs lead to a lower level with a sanctuary surrounded by walls belonging to a crusader church and covered with a modern barrel vault. In the vaults of the apse in the upper part of the church there is a mosaic on a gold background depicting the Transfiguration from the Bible. There are two other chapels in the towers on the west side: in the south tower, the Chapel of St. Elias, in the north tower, the Chapel of Moses, with a mosaic pavement with crosses in the design. This means that the mosaic must date from before 422, when Emperor Theodosius II banned the representation of crosses in mosaic floors, so this sacred symbol may not be walked on.
point of view
North and south of the Church of the Transfiguration are walls and foundations of older buildings. From the top of the walls you have a beautiful view of the elliptical summit plateau, with its remains of ancient buildings set in lush gardens. There are also beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding areas – overlooking the Hills of Nazareth to the west, the West Bank to the south, the Jordadorslif Valley to the east and Galilee to the north.
If you’re feeling active, Mount Tabor has two great hiking trails where you can get your fresh air. The Shvil HaYa’aranim Trail goes around and up the mountain with beautiful views along the way. This is a great way to turn a visit to the summit church complex into a fantastic activity and is worth it if you have the time and energy. Alternatively, another path goes around the mountain. Both routes are well marked and maintained and can be easily tackled by novice walkers with a fair level of fitness.
Tips and Tactics: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Mount Tabor
- If you hike to the top, don’t forget to bring water and sunscreen.
- A modest dress is required for entry (no sleeveless tops, short skirts or short shorts).
- The last kilometers of the steep, winding road to the top are not suitable for buses and caravans.
How to get there
- The summit of Mount Tabor can be reached via a signposted road that branches off the Afula-Tiberias road at the southern end of Kefar Tavor and runs northwest.
- Another road heading further south from the Afula-Tiberias road also ascends to the summit via the Arab village of Dabburiya.
In the 2nd millennium BC, there was a Canaanite shrine, a “high place”, on Mount Tabor, as there was on other hills such as Mount Carmel and Mount Hermon. The god worshiped here was Baal, whose cult spread in the 2nd millennium due to trade connections to the island of Rhodes, where he was worshiped on Mount Atabyrion (1,215 meters) under the name Zeus Atabyrios. (Atabyrion was also the Greek name for Mount Tabor).
In the time of the Judges (12th century BC), the prophetess Deborah and her general Barak gathered their troops on Mount Tabor before launching the victorious attack that brought down Sisera, king of Hazor’s general, “and all his chariots and all his host” (Judges 4:12-16).
The significance of Mount Tabor in the history of Christianity began in the 4th century, when it was identified with the “high mountain apart” into which Christ went with his disciples Peter, James and John “and was changed for them: and his his face shone like the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And behold, there appeared Moses and Elijah talking with him” (Matthew 17, Mark 9.2-13, Luke 9.28-36).
Jesus thus appeared to the disciples in his divine form, as the Christ and God’s ‘beloved son’. Together with the Resurrection, the Transfiguration became one of the central themes of the theology and iconography of the Eastern Church. The appearance of the transfigured Christ in a glory of light also had a decisive influence on the mystical thought of Eastern monasticism: a form of mystical practice, still found on the “sacred mountain” of Athos, which seeks through ascetic exercises to to be blessed with the “uncreated light” of Mount Tabor and thus to achieve a mystical union with God.
The first churches on Mount Tabor were built before 422, and in 553 it became the bishopric of a bishop. The large mosaic of the Transfiguration in St. Catherine’s Monastery on Sinai dates from this period. Construction continued on Mount Tabor, both as a pilgrimage site and as a fortress, during the Crusader period. The fortress withstood an attack by Saladin in 1191, but was destroyed by Baibars in 1263. In 1631 the Druze emir Fakhr ed-Din granted the top of the hill to the Franciscans, whose monastery still exists. In 1911, the Greek Orthodox, to whom the northern part of the summit plateau belonged, built a church dedicated to St. Elias (Elijah). The large Franciscan church (designed by Antonio Barluzzi) was built in 1921-23.