Wadi Qelt by Jericho

As you drive from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea you pass close by Wadi Qelt at various points. To access it you can go to the nature reserve below Anatot, St. George Monastery or Herod’s Third Palace at Jericho. The palace was built on both sides of Wadi Qelt which during the winter rains flooded and made the palace appear to be floating on the water. Although Jericho is in AREA A, under the control of the Palestinian Authority and out-of-bounds to most Israelis by Israeli law as a tour guide licensed by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism I am authorized to guide there.

This photo was taken of Wadi Qelt from near the archaeological remains of the palace, looking east as it flows to the Dead Sea. The technical details, shot with a Nikon DSLR camera, ISO 1000, 18mm, F13 at 1/1250 sec.

Aside: I’ve also just published my latest blog post on Times of Israel. Check it out at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/visit-palestine-with-a-guide/ and please share with your friends.

Wadi Qelt below Herod's 3rd palace

 

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Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

View from Herodium

Not more than a half hour drive from Jerusalem and you find yourself in an arid, biblical landscape with a view all the way to the Dead Sea. Looking back you can see the ridge of the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem with 3 landmark towers jutting above the horizon, the steeple of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the bell tower of Augusta Victoria and the tower on the Hebrew University campus. You can read my first blog post in the Times of Israel about Jerusalem landmarks at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/jerusalem-landmarks-montefiore-to-calatrava/.

Herodium is one of my favorite archaeological sites and when I guide we focus on the palace/fortress complex built by King Herod in about 20 BCE. But that is not to say that it’s not worth looking up and taking in the incredible view, a great place for taking photographs.

View from Herodium

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The technical details, shot with a Nikon DSLR camera, ISO 200, 31mm, F10 at 1/400 sec.

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Rosh Hashana 2014

Bowl of almondsThis week is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. The upcoming year is special because it is a shmita year, a sabbatical year, the seventh year of the agricultural cycle where according to the Bible the land in Israel is to be left fallow. So in the next few days we are taking time to work in the small garden beside our house in Jerusalem, pruning the grape-vine and fruit trees, clearing the vegetable bed, harvesting, planting. At other times we can sit under our vine and fig tree as recounted in Micah 4:4.  We discovered and harvested the almonds on our almond tree. Our pomegranates are ripe in time for the holiday.

Maya Pomegranate Sumsum

It wasn’t the easiest year. The fighting between Israel and Hamas caused a sharp drop in tourism, I had some cancellations and only one day of guiding over the summer. We had two sons who were in Gaza with their army units. But now tourists are coming back and I’m guiding.

We wish you dear friends, subscribers, readers of my blog, would-be clients, travelers to Israel, pilgrims, a Shana Tova, a very good year. May your year be as full as a pomegranate with blessings, health and happiness.

Photo of the Week – Zavitan on Golan

Because Israel is a small country (the size of New Jersey) the relatively large expanse of the Golan makes it one of my favorite areas and it is a great place for hiking. One of my favorite hikes was Nahal Yehudia but that trail was closed and only a shorter section of it recently reopened. So when clients were looking for a place to hike I chose Nahal Zavitan, also a great place for photographs. This is a photo taken just past the hexagonal columns on the trail where it opens onto a small pool.

Nahal Zavitan on Golan

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The technical details, shot with a Lumix point and shoot camera, ISO 80, 4.1mm, F4 at 1/320 sec.

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Sodom Apple

If you do a tour with me in the area of the Judean desert I can show you an interesting flowering plant called the Sodom Apple (Calotropis procera).

Sodom Apple flowers

The plant occurs throughout the tropical belt and is native to North Africa, Western and South Asia, and as far as Indochina and the West Indies.

Sodom AppleThe Jewish Roman  historian describes the plant “which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes.” The “apple”, a green soft globe, is filled mostly with air and some fine fibers and seeds. The plant is also mentioned in the Mishna but though the fibers can be used as wicks, they are not permissible for use on the Sabbath. The flesh contains a toxic milky sap that is extremely bitter and contains a complex mix of chemicals, some of which are steroidal heart poisons known as “cardiac aglycones”.

 

Tiberias from 1st Century to Ottoman Conquest

Map after HerodThe city of Tiberias is on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. it was Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, who inherited the areas of Galilee and Perea and ruled as tetrarch. The boys took after their father, Antipas built the city of Tiberias as his capital in 18 CE on an existing settlement, which he named after his patron the Roman emperor Tiberius and built an impressive palace there. His half-brother Philip built his capital at Banias In 3 BCE and made improvements in 14 CE after which Agrippa II also carried out urban improvements. During the First Jewish–Roman War, Vespasian rested his troops at Caesarea Philippi in July 67 CE before advancing on Tiberias to crush the Jewish resistance in Galilee. Today you can visit the archaeological site at Banias but although archaeologists have excavated Tiberias since 1934 (Makhouli, Guy and Rabani, Druks, Foerster, Berman, Hirschfeld, also with Gutfeld) only recently has it been possible to visit the site.

The site and its surroundings boast an array of archaeological finds from almost every period from its establishment during the first century to the Crusader period and you’ll need a knowledgeable guide to make sense of it.

Tiberias excavations

map by Leticia Barda of the Israel Antiquities Authority

At the southern edge of the city are the remains of a decorative gate built by Antipas, the entrance flanked by two cylindrical towers. This gate and the Cardo leading from it continued to be used through the Early Islamic period, more than 700 years. South of the gate is a drainage system channeling the water from the winter floods into the lake – a bridge enables access to the gate and the Cardo. During the Byzantine period, the gate was connected to a wall encompassing the city and the eastern slopes of Mt. Berenice.

City Gate, Tiberias

Foerster Area C

 

The other monumental structure uncovered is a Roman theater built by Antipas, with 7,000 seats, more than the theater at Caesarea built by Herod.

Roman Theater, Tiberias

Over the years, archaeological expeditions have uncovered, a large Late Roman-Byzantine bathhouse, a broad pillared building built over what has been identified as an unfinished Roman temple (Hadrianeum), and a basilical building to the east, lying between the Cardo and the Sea of Galilee.

Hirschfeld excavations Tiberias

Excavation Plans Tiberias (2005). (Dov Porotsky, courtesy of Hirschfeld Expedition team)

The following are excerpts from Israel Antiquities Authority article by Hirschfeld and Meir from 2006 at http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.aspx?id=337&mag_id=111.

In excavating down to Stratum VII (first century CE), they reached the Herodian level on which the basilica was erected. Parts of a floor that consisted of divided marble slabs in opus sectile pattern and a long wall with traces of a red fresco below the basilica’s foundations were found. It is presumed that this was the remains of Herod Antipas’ magnificent palace, which Josephus Flavius described in his writings. Further exposed remains of this building included pieces of frescos painted in red, ochre, as well as blue and green, which were scattered in abundance throughout the excavation area.

At Stratum VI dated to the Roman period (second–third centuries CE) remains in Area A included the bathhouse and Area C consisted of the “covered marketplace”. Remains of the Hadrianeum––a temple dedicated to Hadrian whose construction was never completed––were discovered to the north of Area C. The Cardo was also paved during this period.

Hirschfeld excavated, among others, a large building from the late Roman period (Area B, stratum IV), which he identified as the Great Academy (Beth Midrash) of Tiberias.

Among the recovered coins from Stratum II (10th-11th Century) were 4–5 anonymous folles (‘Jesus coins’), dating to the middle of the eleventh century CE. The image of Jesus was depicted on one side of the coin and an inscription in Greek: “Jesus the messiah, king of the kings” was on the other side.

Cytryn-Silverman, who now heads the Tiberias excavation, claims that the “covered marketplace” is a mosque, in fact, it resembles the plan of the Great Mosque in Damascus, Syria.

A church that predates the mosque has also been uncovered at the site. Unlike at other sites, however, the mosque was built not over the church, but nearby.

The mosque, which symbolized the power of Muslim Tiberias, stood for 330 years, until an earthquake toppled it in 1068. In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Tiberias and used the mosque’s building stones for another structure. That, too, has been uncovered by the dig, and by the type of clay vessel found there, has been shown to be a sugar cane production plant, part of one of the country’s most important export industries at the time.

South of ancient Tiberias is a suburb by the name of Hammat Tiberias built around 17 hot springs. Within the small archaeological park are some of the remains of the ancient town of Hammat, including a synagogue from the Late Roman–Byzantine period, boasting a spectacular mosaic floor. In addition to the synagogue are the remains of an Ottoman Hammam (bathhouse complex) and the springs themselves. You can experience these hot springs at the modern spa across the road.

The remains of a Byzantine monastery and church were discovered on the summit of Mt. Berenice from which there is a spectacular view of the Galilee, the lake and across to the Golan Heights.

1st C Synagogue planIn the center of the present city of Tiberias a small, open-air archaeological park can be found. Within it are the remains of a synagogue dated to the Byzantine period, with a small section of mosaic floor with an inscription in Greek, Proclos son of Krispos framed by images of a palm branch and citron. In addition there is a display of architectural elements found in archaeological sites around Tiberias.

To the north of Tiberias the Umayyad caliphs built a winter palace at Khirbat al-Minya which can be visited.

Khirbat al-Minya

The eighth century was Tiberias’ golden age, as shown by both excavations and historical writings. A large Jewish community also flourished in the lakeside city, and that community produced the copy of the Bible that became known as the Aleppo Codex.

In 1187 Saladin’s force left Caesarea Philippi to engage the fighting force of the Knights Templar in which the Crusader force was destroyed. Saladin then besieged Tiberias which fell after six days. On July 4, 1187 Saladin defeated the Crusaders coming to relieve Tiberias at the Battle of Hattin, 10 kilometres (6 miles) outside the city making the Islamic forces the eminent military power in the Holy Land. During the Third Crusade, the Crusaders drove the Muslims out of the city and reoccupied it. In 1265 the Crusaders were driven from the city by the Mamluks, who ruled Tiberias until the Ottoman conquest in 1516.

 

Hiking the Makhtesh

Even from space Makhtesh Ramon appears as a masterpiece of the spirit of the earth.
(from Space Shuttle Columbia monument)

This week I did a very nice 13 km hike in the Har HaNegev reserve to Har Ramon, the highest mountain in the Negev at 1037 meters above sea level. After the winter rains we saw many plants blooming even though this area is a desert.

DSC_0286

Along the way we passed a number of tumuli, piles of rocks that are ancient tombs, and a 4.6 km stone wall running between the mountains Ramon and Romem estimated to be from the Intermediate Bronze period, more than 4000 years ago. Further along the red trail we reached a lookout on the basalt hills of Karne Ramon below, where a monument has been established to the 7-person crew of the space shuttle Columbia that disintegrated on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2003. One of the crew was Israeli, Ilan Ramon, who had taken his surname from this area.

From Karne Ramon lookoutFrom there we descended in a winding path to Nahal Ramon at the bottom of the makhtesh. We then joined the green trail through the Canyon of Prisms and ascended the trail out of the makhtesh.

Canyon of Prisms

It’s hard to capture the expansiveness of this “hole” in the earth because the makhtesh is so large. The makhtesh is 40 km long, 2–10 km wide and 500 meters deep, and is shaped like an elongated heart. I took a sequence of overlapping photographs with the intention of stitching them together to try to give you an idea of the view. Click on each of these images to see it full-size.

The image below is made up of 2 photos “stitched” together.Makhtesh Panorama1This image is made up of 3 photos.Makhtesh Panorama2

This image is made up of 4 photos, a pan of 180º, overlooking Karne Ramon at the southern end of the makhtesh.Makhtesh Panorama