Sunday 31 January 2010

Hazor - from Yavin to Yadin

Hazor, one of the most important sites in our early history was one which also helped to make the reputation of Yigal Yadin, soldier, scholar, archaeologist and politician. Tel Hazor can be split into two parts: the 30-acre (11 ha) acropolis and the 175-acre (70ha) lower city. It seems that Hazor was already important in Abraham's time and was the largest fortified area in the land during the Israelite period (ninth century B.C.E.).

Ideally located on the Fertile Crescent, Hazor traded with cities in Babylon and Syria and its bronze industry used tin brought from abroad. The king of Hazor, who held the title of ‘Yavin’, was considered an equal with the kings of other important centres, such as Carchemish, Aleppo, and Qatana. The Tanach refers to Hazor as "the head of all those kingdoms" (Joshua 11:10).

Your visit to Hazor is a trip back through time, as you encounter buildings from different periods: fortifications from the middle Canaanite period; a large building (called the "castle") from the late Bronze Age; a casement wall and gate which some think was built during King Solomon's reign (even naming this type of gate a ’Solomonic Gate’); a late-Canaanite altar; and storehouses possibly constructed at the time of King Ahab.

The waterworks, presumably built during Ahab's reign were designed to provide the residents of Hazor with a steady supply of water even when under siege. When completed, they no longer had to carry water from springs outside the city, but drew ground water from a 45-metre-deep shaft and well, reached by steps without handrails. You decide which was easier!

Finds from Tel Hazor are displayed at a museum at the entrance to Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar, just opposite the site, which you should visit before going up to the site. The view from the top of the mound is breathtaking and shows just why it was so important.

Hazor can be found on Route 90, 7 km north of Rosh Pinah.

At Tel Arad you can just never tel!

If you are looking for a Cannanite city, a Solomonic outpost, a site where Hashem and an Asherah were worshipped at the same time and a link to our earliest history, then Tel Arad is for you. On a site occupied for over 5,000 years, a large Canaanite town was built. We are told in Bamidbar 21 that its king drove the Israelites back when they tried to advance into the Promised Land from the south. After its capture by Joshua, it was part of the tribe of Judah, and, apparently the "children of the Kenite" (Moses' father-in-law, perhaps) lived in the town. The town was developed and fortified probably by Solomon who, strangely, built a temple to Hashem on the site of a hilltop sanctuary of the Kenites - not quite the story we have all been brought up with, but perhaps he was just keeping the non Jewish residents happy: a sort of biblical Community Cohesion, perhaps?  Shortly afterwards, in 920 B.C E., it was captured by Pharaoh Seshonq, the Shishak of the Tanach, but was soon recovered by the kingdom of Judah, to which it belonged until its fall in 586 B.C.E. Its location on important trade routes meant that Arad retained its importance into the Roman period, with King Herod even building a bakery there. Arad was finally abandoned only after the Islamic conquest in the seventh century C.E.

When you visit the site, you will see excavations of the ‘Arad House’, a type not unique to here, but best preserved here. It looks like the Caananites bought ‘off plan’, even in those days. Archaeologists have found piles of broken pots (called ostraca) with writing on them stating that they were ‘for the House of Hashem’ and I leave it to you to decide whether they were used ‘on site’ or just as a label for a sacrifice being sent to the temple in Jerusalem?

Tel Arad, now a National Park, is a fascinating glimpse into a part of our ancient history too often glossed over. Your trip will certainly be worth it.
It can be found on Route 80. Turn north on Route 31, east of Beer Sheva at Tel Arad Junction. It can easily be combined with other trips in the area.

To view a Google map of this site, please click here. 

Friday 29 January 2010

A Jerusalem house with a history - Bet Ticho

Go for a coffee and cake ( or a yummy salad) at the delightful Bet Ticho in Jerusalem and you might just wonder about the attractive surroundings, as you sit in the shade of the mature trees. The history of the house is certainly worth retelling. 

It was built in the late 19th century by Hajj Rashid, a prominent Arab, who sold it to Wilhelm Moses Shapira, a Jewish convert to Christianity. He dealt in ancient Judaica, much of which he manufactured in his own workshops. One of these was a set of narrow strips of parchment which he claimed had been given to him by Judaean Desert bedouin and contained the oldest known version of Sefer Devarim. The British Museum was about to pay £1 million for the texts ( no small figure in those days) when they were denounced as forgeries by a French expert. This saved the museum enormous embarrassment, but Shapira could not take the shame and committed suicide, still protesting his innocence. Some scholars now believe that they were actually genuine.

Dr Avraham Ticho was the most eminent eye doctor in Jerusalem, having studied in Vienna before arriving in 1912. He married his much younger cousin Anna, a skilled artist when not helping her husband run his clinic. He treated Emirs and paupers alike and was much loved. When he was stabbed in the anti Jewish riots in 1929, the Chief Rabbinate even issued a notice asking everyone to pray for his recovery! After his death in 1960, Anna decided that, on her demise, she would bequeath the house to the people of Jerusalem.

Bet Ticho can be found at 7-9 Rechov Harav Kook, off Derech Yafo, near Zion Square.

To view a Google map of this location, please click here

Korazim -The Cathederal of Moses

The ancient Galilean city of Korazim (or Chorazim, depending on your transliteration) was first mentioned in the Second Temple period, when it was famous for the high quality of its wheat crops. We know it grew in prominence in the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods and features in christian writings as it, along with the local cities of Bet Zaida and Kfar Nahum were cursed for not accepting the teachings of a notable local rabbi. It would seem that his teachings continued to be discounted by the locals, as today, the most fascinating part of your visit to the site will be to the Byzantine synagogue, built around 1600 years ago, some 300+ years after his life. It was constructed of basalt, the volcanic rock so evident in the area and on it you can see very ornate carvings of plants, people crushing grapes underfoot and animals. Easily visible too are lions and an eagle as well as a bird pecking at a bunch of grapes.

The so-called 'cathedral of Moses' is actually an armchair carved out of the rock and most likely the seat for a very important community member. An Aramaic inscription has survived, but the cushions which would have made the seat somewhat more comfortable have, sadly, not!

The Israel Parks Authority have reconstructed a mikvah, two ancient homes and an olive press, showing the life and times of the early inhabitants. We were told that the shy Syrian hyrax can sometimes be seen sunbathing on the rocks or hiding beneath the jujube trees which grow in the vicinity, but it must have been one of its ‘shy days’ when we visited!

Korazim National Park is on Route 8277, just 10 minutes drive from Amiad junction on Route 90, north of Tiberias.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Park Jabotinsky -From Manashe to Ze’ev

Located on the furthest south spur of the Carmel mountains, the Jabotinsky Park site features forest walks, a children’s playground, the Achaim Sculpture Garden, the Shuni Archaeological Museum Fortress, as well as a camp and educational center. The park was named for Ze'ev Jabotinsky, a prominent Zionist militia leader, whose followers broke from the Haganah to form the more right wing Irgun during the British Mandate. The Irgun used Shuni as their militia headquarters and training ground and launched many operations from the site.
Shuni is situated on lands belonging to the biblical tribe of Menashe and is mentioned in the Talmud as the village of Shumi. At the end of the nineteenth century, Effendi Salim Houri, a wealthy Haifa land owner, bought the area, extending his personal property from here to Zichron Yaakov. He added buildings onto the earlier site, one of which was a granary – ‘Shuni’ means granary in Arabic. In 1914 Baron Edward de Rothschild bought it for an agriculture school for new Jewish farmers.
JNF archaeologists have uncovered early Roman baths along with a large amphitheatre, probably used by wealthy pagan Romans who lived in nearby Caesarea. The Christian Byzantines tore down the sacrificial platform, destroyed the stone columns that led to the pool area and instead built an olive press. The theatre is now restored and is used today as an entertainment area for concerts and other activities.
The Romans also built high-level aqueduct to bring fresh water from Shuni Spring, 7 km (4.5 miles) to Caesarea during Herod's rule. The aqueduct delivered water at a gradient of 1:5000, which their engineers had discovered was enough to allow the water to flow without scouring out the channel.

The Park also features the Achiam sculpture museum,with about 90 sculptures in stone, basalt, wood and bronze. His works range over diverse subjects including biblical personalities, women, musicians as well as universal pain and suffering ("Hiroshima," "Auschwitz," "Kaddish"). The sculptures stand on the original Roman mosaic floors, an interesting mix of the ancient and modern.

The museum houses Roman findings as well as relics from the Irgun training camp. Sometimes, former Irgun members are on hand to tell of their exploits.
The Jabotinsky Park, just five minutes drive north of Binyamina on Route 652, is a fascinating blend of ancient and modern history, as well as having lots for families to do and see.

Meet the Freedom Fighting Farmers - The Palmach Museum, Tel Aviv

When the British Mandate Authorities called on the Jewish community to form a militia in 1941 to prepare for a predicted invasion by Rommel, little could they have imagined what this ‘Striking Force’ – its Hebrew acronym was ‘Palmach’ – would become.

When the danger receded, the British formally disbanded the Palmach, but it went underground, based on kibbutzim and trained hard for the inevitable conflict to come.

The Palmach Museum is really an innovative audio visual experience, where for 90 minutes you can get a small idea of what life was like for the thousands of their volunteers.

You can also get a potted history of the War of Independence, in which the Palmach provided 25% of the military strength. This development is told through the personal stories of a fictional composite group: sabras, new arrivals and Holocaust escapees, Ashkenazim and Sefardim and you live with them, sharing their good times and bad.

The visit, where you walk through a number of high-tech ‘stage sets’, is conducted in timed groups (remember, this is a ‘museum’ without exhibits) and begins and ends in a commemorative hall for the over 1100 Palmach troops who fell fighting for the establishment of the State of Israel.

Whilst the tour is in Hebrew, you can ask for English language headsets, so you won’t miss a thing. Pre-booking is essential on 03-6436393 or fax 03-6436964.

The fascinating Palmach Museum can be found on 10 Rechov Haim Levanon on the campus of Tel-Aviv University, next to the Eretz Yisrael Museum.

The Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv. The whole land at one view ..........

There are many museums in Israel dedicated to specific themes: art, cities, archaeology etc, but there can be few museums with such a wide variety of exhibits as the Eretz Israel Museum in northern Tel Aviv. Archaeology, Judaica, Ethnography, History, Culture, Arts and Crafts; each is shown in pavilions and outdoor settings to its best advantage.

The centre of the museum ‘park’ is Tel Qasile, an ancient Philistine site which has been extensively excavated, but you can also see the ‘Man and His Work’ Centre, with the tools and implements used in ancient times, usually accompanied by a reference from Jewish sacred texts (Tanach, Talmud, Midrash), right up to more modern times. One of the most amazing sights is to stand facing south at the ‘dig’ site with the Philistine settlement in front of you and the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv in the background. Three thousand years of occupation in one view!

The Craftsmen’s Arcade, a reconstruction of an oriental bazaar, might give you the chance to watch traditional workmen and women weaving, glass blowing and sitting at the potter’s wheel whilst in the Nechushtan Pavilion you can see how copper was mined and smelted in the Timna area from earliest times. Reconstructed diggings show how Egyptians and others toiled in unbelievable conditions to win the precious metal ore.

With a landscape garden featuring a wine press, an olive oil press and water powered flour mill, examples of almost every ancient native plant and tree in the Land of Israel, fountains, ancient mosaics and other fascinating items, the Eretz Israel Museum is undoubtedly a very special location and well worth your visit.

Located at 2 Rechov Chaim Levanon on the campus of Tel Aviv University, the museum is in the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Popeye the Philistine?- Ekron

Ekron was one of Philstia's five cities (the others were Gaza, Ashkelon Ashdod and Gath) and is one of the largest Iron Age sites in Israel. More than 100 oil presses were found here, as well as the Ekron Inscription (confirming the site as Philistine Ekron). To the tourist, the highlights of a visit are the reconstructed Philistine street, featuring an oil press, a potter's wheel, (since many jugs were produced on site to transport the olive oil) and a loom, as apparently there was quite an active textile industry, as well as the Museum of Philistine Culture (yes, they really had some!)

Ekron was first mentioned in Tenach in Joshua 13:2-3 and, in relation to the Ark of the Covenant, in I Samuel 5;10. With the arrival of the Philistines (apparently one of the Sea Peoples who may have arrived from Greece or Cyprus) in the twelfth century BCE, Ekron became a large fortified, urban centre, supplying Egypt and Assyria with huge quantities of olive oil, as much as 700 tons a year - the largest olive oil industrial centre in the ancient Middle East. Liquid was extracted from the crushed olives with the help of weights and log (an example of such an installation can be seen at the reconstructed street). The liquid was then transferred to huge jugs where the oil rose to the top and the water was drained. Tenach tells us the Philistines also had the monopoly on iron working in the Land of Israel during the period of the Judges, preventing the Israelites from metal smithing aad producing better agricultural tools..... and weapons.

Ekron, a fascinating site which proves that the Philistines get a 'bad press', is located on Kibbutz Revadim, off Route 3 , just north of its junction with Route 40, west of Bet Shemesh. route 6 is close, but access is limited.

To view a Google map of this location, please click here.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Bat Shlomo - The village that time forgot.

You will often hear people claiming that they have found a village in Israel ‘that time forgot’. Well, we did – but so have a growing number of artists and gourmets!

The village of Bat Shlomo was established in 1889 as a satellite settlement of Zichron Yaakov and, yes, the hand of Baron Rothschild can be found here too, as he funded it and named it after Betty Salomon, the daughter of the Baron's uncle and grandfather, Solomon Mayer von Rothschild (don’t ask!). The original village, in a gap in the southern Carmel Range, expanded in 1951 with the arrival of immigrants from Yemen and Transylvania, which must have made for some interesting cultural interchanges at the time.

Baron Rothschild helped many settlements grow, but Bat Shlomo never expanded beyond the original single street of 12 houses. (The neighbouring settlement of Bat Shlomo North, over the over side of the busy Route 70 is completely separate).

Any visit to Bat Shlomo feels like you really are stepping back in time. It won’t take you long to admire the stunning views, visit the old synagogue and perhaps look into a few art galleries if they are open (they have very odd opening hours!). You might then find yourself in a farmyard that could have doubled as a set from “Fiddler on the Roof.” You may even be greeted by the farmer, Ziv Schwartzman, offering you some cheese, just as you would expect Tevye to do. When we visited, the dairy was organic but not kosher supervised, although things may have changed.

There are a few other artists homes which seem to double up as art galleries and shops – as they often do in Israel – but the real charm of Bat Shlomo is just that is still there, as it was over a hundred years ago. Go soon, before the twentyfirst century catches up with it!

Bat Shlomo can be found by driving about 5 km inland from Routes 2 or 4 on Route 70. Be sure to turn south to the old settlement.

Monday 11 January 2010

The amazing Ramon Crater

Located deep in the Negev, about half way between Beersheva and Eilat, you will come across the country's largest nature reserve, one of the wonders of Israel - and perhaps the world. I'm always staggered by it, whenever I see it!

The Ramon Crater is some 40 kilometres (25 miles) long and 2 to 10 kilometres (1-6 miles) wide, shaped a bit like an elongated heart. Mitzpe Ramon the only town in the area, seems to peer over its northern wall. Scholars tell us that the name Ramon comes from the Arabic "Ruman" meaning "Romans", probably referring to a track or road which the Romans built during their long occupation -  or perhaps it doesn't. I don't think it really matters.

The crater formed - somewhat over five thousand years ago -when the ocean which covered the Negev began to move north. At first, this created a hump-shaped hill, which eroded slowly. Much later, the Arava rift valley formed, when tectonic plates shifted. As rivers changed their course, they carved out the inside of the crater. It is 500 m ( 1500m). deep, and the mountains and rocks have fantastic colours and shapes. High and impressive mountains rise at the edges and two beautiful table mountains - Har Marpek and Har Katom form the southern wall. A black hill in the north, Giv'at Ga'ash, was even once an active volcano: fortunately, no more!
This is the only place in the world you see pipe shaped prisms made of heated sand that turned into liquid. Cooling, the molten mass naturally formed rectangular and hexagonal prisms. Weird!

I suggest you start your visit from the excellent Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Centre, located on the edge of Ramon Crater. An audio-visual show describes the formation of the Negev and its craters, illustrating the history of settlement in the Negev, as well as its flora and fauna. Follow the trail along the edge of the Crater. About half way along there is a "bird balcony" which hangs out over the crater and offers the best view, whilst you see birds flying under your feet rather than overhead. After the paved trail ends, walk safely along the crater edge path leading to a small observation platform.

To get to the town of Mitzpe Ramon, take Route 40 ( you don't have much choice!) 85 km (50 miles) south of Beer-Sheva.

To view a Google map of this location, please click here

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Tzippori. How we lived in a historical wonderland

 Tzippori, or Sepphoris, is located in the central Galilee and is absolutely a 'must see' site. It first appears in the time of the despotic Hasmonean king Alexander Yannai (103 - 76 BCE). After the death of Herod in 4 CE, the inhabitants revolted against Roman rule. Not surprisingly, the city was eventually captured by the Romans and destroyed. Following this, Herod Antipas, ruler of the Galilee region, set about restoring Tzippori. He spared no expense on restoring and beautifying the city, prompting the Jewish historian Josephus to later call it the "glory of the entire Galilee." 

Tzippori later gained additional fame when Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi moved from Yavneh to the city with the Sanhedrin, making it the seat of Jewish religious authority. Rabbi Yehudah completed the codification of the Oral Law into the Mishnah in Tzippori in about the year 200CE and the scholars living in the city participated in the writing of the Jerusalem Talmud. Under Crusader and Muslim control, Tzippori lost its position of importance. However, its treasures were safely hidden beneath the rubble of the centuries for us to enjoy today. Tzippori is an 'archaeological wonderland'. The main excavations include a 4,500 seat Roman theatre with a spectacular view of the valley below, the Crusader fortress at the top of the hill and living quarters from Mishnaic and Talmudic times, almost all with individual mikva'ot. The most extraordinary aspect of the recent finds at Tzippori is the number and quality of mosaic floors. 

Many Roman-period villas and public buildings (including a recently uncovered synagogue) feature these beautiful mosaic floors, some with clearly non Jewish themes! One villa in particular contains a mosaic of a woman's face that has been dubbed by some the "Mona Lisa of the Galilee", so great and intricate is the work. The big difference is the eyebrows - the real Mona Lisa doesn't have any!

Tzippori is a site not to be missed and you can reach it off Route 7926, located between Routes 77 or 79, north west of Natzret Illit. 

To see a Google map of this site, please click here

Park Timnah. Perhaps not King Solomon's Mines, but still worth - a trip

 Dating back at least three millennia, the copper mines of Timnah at one time prepared metal for the ancient Egyptians, Kings of Judah and (possibly) for King Solomon himself. Perhaps that is why one of Israel's most astonishing natural wonders, formations made of Nubian sandstone rock are named after Israel's wisest monarch. One biblical passage even mentions "the pots, shovels and sprinkling bowls. All these objects that Hiram made for King Solomon for the Temple of the Lord were of burnished bronze ( an alloy of copper)." (1 Kings 7:45) The ancient Egyptians brought slaves to the Timnah Valley and forced them to dig a huge network of tunnels from which to extract copper from the earth. Smelting pots and industrial villages were established to produce pure copper, exported to the Nile cities. Aside from the remains of the copper industry, archaeologists have unearthed an Egyptian temple and, above it, a hieroglyphic picture of Ramses III presenting an offering to the Egyptian god Hathor. The discovery of fragments of writing in Proto-Hebrew, the earliest form of Hebrew, may even suggest who the workers might have been - although none has been translated as 'Solly woz 'ere!'. 

 Although explorers discovered the site some 150 years ago, another expedition in 1940 found seven copper smelting sites dating from the 10th -6th centuries BCE and the findings were published as "King Solomon's Mines", following the famous adventure story by H Rider Haggard. Israeli excavators, working 20 years later, discovered a stone built furnace of far greater antiquity, together with evidence of Egyptian mining activities from about the time of our slavery in Egypt. Finds of pottery of a Midianite type may throw additional light on the account of the relationship between Moshe and Yitro. The Timnah Park, now a major project of the JNF, is a fascinating day out from Eilat. The drive alone would be worth it, but there are beduin tents, a lake for boating (yes, really!), caves to scramble into and a cafe too.

Timnah Park is reached by a well signposted road just south of kibbutz Elifaz on Route 90 and is well worth a day trip from Eilat.
To see a Google map of this location, please click here

Sunday 3 January 2010

A very 'little Switzerland' - Nachal Kelach

 For many tourists to Israel, one of the highlights is the delightful drive on Route 672 and Route 721, south from Haifa through the Carmel National Park. Usually we drive straight through, or perhaps stop in the charming Druze village of Dalyat al Carmel. However, we would be missing one of the loveliest short walks, through a part of the Carmel range which - at least for those in the tourist industry - has become known as 'little Switzerland'. Other parts of Israel are also called the same thing.

The route you will follow is a path which goes through wooded cliffs and natural stands of oak and terebinth (the turpentine tree!). You might think that this is just a narrow road in the heart of a nature reserve, but in the not too distant past, this was the road used by residents of the Carmel who lived on a hill south of the kibbutz Bet Oren. In 1938 a car carrying Jewish watchmen and two women to the Carmel forest was attacked by Arab terrorists and, after a long battle bravely fought, the watchmen were sadly killed. The two women and the driver managed to escape and alert British troops in the area, who attacked the gang and captured two of them. All along the track, the views are breathtaking, if not quite Swiss. You can find it by driving south from Haifa on Route 672, past Haifa University and, between km post 42 and 43 turn south (right) onto a narrow road which leads to a campsite and network of paths. Your path will be the one marked with red waymarks.The delightful drive on Route 721 can be taken direct from Route 2 at Atlit Interchange or from Route 4.

Park Timnah. Sea, sand, Tanach and nature

Nestling on the coast just north of Naharia is a small National Park with much to recommend it, whether your interest is Tanach, history, ornithology, biology or just swimming in safe and shallow or deep sea water pools. In short, Achziv offers everything required for an enjoyable and relaxing day out, whatever the season.
The beautiful coast with its natural bays - so rare in Israel – allows you to spot sea anemones, sea urchins, and small octopi hiding beneath the rocks. In July and August the sea turtles leave the water to lay their eggs on the sand, but please don’t‎ even think of disturbing them.
Just a few metres offshore lay a number of small islands, called (rather unexcitingly) the Achziv Coast Islands, which form a nature reserve in themselves and are what remains of an ancient sandstone ridge. Now only the peaks are above water level, but the entire ridge was once part of the mainland. Twitchers and birders will know that during the summer months, common terns nest on the islands: the rest of us will just be fascinated in their flight and breeding habits.

Achziv National Park also contains the ruins from the ancient city of Achziv, mentioned in the Bible as one of the cities belonging to the tribe of Asher, and then a Jewish settlement discussed in the Mishnah and Talmud. During early times, techelet, the blue/purple dye produced from snails collected along the Achziv coast was an important source of income for the residents. The finds from the Haifa University excavations at Achziv can be seen in the Hecht Museum in Haifa University.

During the Crusader period, this area was called L'Ambert Castle before it fell to Sultan Baybars, who captured Achziv in 1271. Most of the ruins still seen at Achziv are only from the abandoned Arab village of A-Aib, although a few are from the Crusader period.
With well kept changing rooms, a restaurant, picnic areas and a children’s playground, Achziv is certainly worth the trip north. Achziv is just 4 km north of Naharia on Route 4.

To view a Google map of this site, please click here