Armageddon: it's the last resort

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Armageddon was supposed to be the death of mankind. But politics looks like being the death of Armageddon. Coachloads used to flock to visit the Israeli site of Megiddo, attracted by the whiff of biblical apocalypse. Now the real threat of a more local apocalypse is keeping them away.

"Very few visitors are coming because of the political situation," says the ticket seller at the entrance to great mound at Megiddo, made up of the ruins of 20 ancient cities which once rose above the plain of Jezreel.

Here, according to the Book of Revelation, is to be the site of Armageddon, the last, all- consuming battle of mankind. "And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon," says St John the Divine.

Surely tourists intending to come to northern Israel to witness the apocalypse - with the predicted earthquakes, plagues, gigantic hailstones and the sea turning into blood - should not be put off by television pictures of stone-throwing and the occasional bomb.

Indeed, with the end of the second millennium imminent, Israeli tourist authorities were hoping for an influx of visitors wanting a ringside seat for the End of Days. The Israeli staff at Megiddo are happy to use the advertising potential of the belief in Armageddon.

If St John was right about Armageddon, Megiddo is the place from which to see it. Built 6,000 years ago, it stands at the entrance to a pass in the Carmel hills, through which once passed the ancient trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia. In 1468BC, the Egyptian pharaoh, Tuthmose III, fought a chariot battle in the flatland around the fortress.

In fact, Megiddo may soon suffer a cruel, though less apocalyptic fate, than that mentioned in Revelation. Local authorities are contemplating building prayer grottoes on the mound, with visitors' stations and hi- tech virtual reality facilities for those who have come to see the end of the world.