Start off by getting a map with all places of interest on the city’s website. Most of the sites in Ramla can be reached by walking from place to place. If you decide to use public transportation or a cab, you will never be more than a few minutes away from your next destination.
Visit the website of the municipality to get updates about opening-closing times. You will need to schedule your visit in advance for the following sites: Al-Omari Mosque, the White Mosque and White Tower, the Karaite Synagogue and the Franciscan Church of Joseph of Arimathea.
Be sure to start the day in the main market and grab some fresh juice, strong coffee and a Turkish burekas (filo-dough pastry). From here, the day is yours. Some recommended sites:
The White Tower
This is the 14th century tower that served either as the prayer tower for Saladin’s refurbished White Mosque or as a guard tower looking over the Ayalon Valley and to the Mediterranean – or possibly both! You will also see a tomb that has been identified as the Tomb of Nabi Salah – Salah the Prophet. The tombstones in the cemetery date back to at least the 15th century. Don’t miss the Arabic inscription on the façade of Salah’s tomb.
The Franciscan Church of Saint Joseph of Arimathea
The church was originally built as a hostel for European pilgrims in the 15th century by the Franciscan Catholic order, and eventually became identified as the birthplace of Joseph of Arimathea – a disciple of Jesus and according to the tradition, one of the two men who took Jesus down from the cross. Napoléon is said to have lodged here after his conquest of Ramla in 1798. A new church was built in the 19th century by the Community of Madrid, along with the original Titian painting of the ‘Descent from the Cross’ – previously held at the Prado in Madrid
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If you ask people what sites they have visited in Ramla, nine out of ten will list this one first. Go down and see the uniquely designed water system and reservoir dating back to the Abbasid period and the reign of Haroun al-Rashid. The giant structure was created to permanently store fresh spring water since poor water quality was always an issue for the city. As you go down into the pools, you will see to your left the El Aznia inscription, which mentions al-Rashid as the builder and the year as being 789 in which the arches were built. Give yourself some time to take a spin in the small rowboats below!
Architecturally speaking, the site is a masterpiece that has survived numerous earthquakes and wars. The arches, usually attributed to Romanesque architectural designs in Medieval Europe were actually made popular by the Abbasids on this side of the Mediterranean before the style made it across to Europe The arches are a wonderful way to see Abbasid engineering ingenuity.
Al Omari Mosque
Arrange a visit to see the synthesis of Crusader architecture and Islamic artistic styles. It is one of a handful in mosques in Israel that encourages non-Muslim tourism.
The Ramla Museum
It’s best to conclude your visit with a trip to the museum, which is just a block away from the Al Omari Mosque on the corner of Herzl St. The building served as a British administrative headquarters for the area during the Mandate Period after WWI. Here is a great way to put the different historical periods under one roof and better understand what you saw throughout the day. It also gives you a chance to see the historical importance of Ramla within Judaism. There is a small exhibit about the Cairo Geniza and the thousand-year old documents mentioning Ramla that were discovered with the massive collection of texts.
It’s worth it to come to Ramla just for the food – even a quick lunch stop between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Your best options are either a Tunisian Fricassee sandwich at any of the vendors you see, a stop at Samir Restaurant for hummus and boutique beer on tap or across the way at Halil for a quick bowl of hummus masabahah (garbanzo beans, tehina, olive oil, spices and parsley).
DON'T MISS OUR FEATURE STORY FROM RAMLA Mosques, churches and hummus in Ramla