Nestled in the Judean hills just minutes from Jerusalem, Abu Ghosh is a small Arabic town that is well worth visiting.
Most Israelis stop by Abu Ghosh mainly for its delicious Middle Eastern cuisine. Read more here.
But Abu Ghosh is much more than a place to eat on the way to Jerusalem!
It has beautiful views, Crusaders churches, the second largest mosque in Israel, ancient history and the largest vocal music festival in Israel.
Thousands of vocal music fans flock to Abu Ghosh twice year for a few days to enjoy music concerts and festivities. The concerns take place during Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) holidays.
Abu Ghosh has about 7,000 residents. Most are Muslims but there are Christians and even Jews, all living side together peacefully. The village is considered a model of coexistence.
The four local Abu Ghosh clans trace their origins to Chechen and Ingush tribes from the Caucasus Mountain areas. Known for their courage and strength as fighters, they were recruited by the Ottoman Sultan Selim to help conquer the land in the 1500's.
Abu Ghosh people were known for their great pride and wealth. For hundreds of years, the Abu-Gosh tribes controlled the road from Jaffa Port to Jerusalem and imposed a 'traveler's tax' on all pilgrims passing through. They were given this 'privilege' by Sultan Selim's son, Suleiman the Magnificent who built the walls surrounding the old city of Jerusalem.
Today, there is a renewed interest by the people of Abu Ghosh in their Chechen roots.
In honor of the historic ties between the inhabitants of Abu Ghosh and the Chechen people, President Akhmad Kadyrov of Chechnya funded the building of the second largest mosque in Israel.
Completed in 2014, it is second in size after Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The beautiful mosque catches the eye of anyone traveling on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, especially at night, with its four tall minarets towers illuminated in green light.
The mosque uniquely combines both local and Caucasus styles.
The prayer niche and the darshan hall are made of gold-plated marble, and the floor is covered with luxurious carpets.
Just near the mosque is one of the most magnificent hidden treasures of the Holy Land, the Benedictine Monastery of St. Mary built in 1141 by the Crusaders.
You can listen to the Gregorian prayer chants that are still sung several times a day in this active monastery. About twenty monks and nuns reside here, and make ceramic pottery and candles which you can buy.
Besides the well-tended gardens, the monastery houses the Church of the Resurrection with some of the best preserved medieval frescoes.
You may wonder why the Crusaders built such a magnificent church in this small village?
Abu Ghosh is considered by many to be the site of Emmaus, mentioned in Luke in the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem, who met with and supped with a stranger who was the resurrected Jesus.
In the basement crypt, you can visit the original spring that gave life to the ancient village first established here 10,000 years ago! You can see also see a sign left by the Romans who visited here.
There is another impressive church in Abu Gosh at the top of the hill, Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant Church.
You can see the rooftop sculpture of Mary carrying the infant Jesus in her arms from almost anywhere in the village. At the base of the statue is the Ark of the Covenant with cherub wings. In Christian tradition, Mary carrying Jesus is compared to the Ark holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
Abu Ghosh is considered by many to be the Biblical site of Kiryat Ye'arim where the Ark of Covenant resided for 20 years.
The Book of Samuel describes how the Ark was captured by the Philistines, but they were afraid to keep it so they sent to the Jews at Beit Shemesh. They too were afraid to keep it, so they sent it on to Kiryat Ye’arim to the house of Avinadav and his son Eleazar. The modern name of the site in Arabic is Deir el–Azar, indicative of Avinadav’s son’s name. From Kiryat Ye'arim, King David took the Ark to Jerusalem.
The present Catholic church and convent were built in 1924 on the ruins of an ancient Byzantine church. You can see the original mosaic floor.
There ares dozens of restaurants along the main road serving distinctive Abu Ghosh hummus, stews, chickens stuffed with rice and pine nuts, all kinds of skewered meats -
a huge variety of salads -
and classic Arabic sweets.
The restaurants compete with each other claiming to be the best in Abu Ghosh, but we think they are all similar, offering classic Middle Eastern food that Israelis love to eat.
Here is a partial list of some of the most well-known eateries:
All the restaurants serve Arabic pastries. Or you may prefer to have a coffee and sweets at at one of the many Arab pastry shops such as
You'll find baked and fried pastries and a variety of baklava stuffed with pistachios, walnuts, almonds and cashews. Or try my all-time favorite, kanafeh.
It's a sweet, syrupy, noodle-like pastry stuffed with sweet cheese and best served hot.
On the side, you can drink a fresh Turkish coffee flavored with cardamom, mint flavored tea, or the delicious Hot Sachlav, the 'hot chocolate' of the Arab kitchen. Enjoy!
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