Off the Beaten Track

Not every guide can take you “off the beaten track” and show you things that you couldn’t have any idea that you could find in Israel. But I can. Between Covid-19 lockdowns in Israel (and we had 3) I took the opportunity to travel the country, finding new sites, refreshing familiar sites and exploring off the beaten track (I mean really off the beaten track) so I’m even a better guide.

Tour #1 Hyrcania and Mar Saba monastery

We drove with 🚙 Yeti off road in the Judean desert to the foot of a mountain fortress called Hyrcania and then we climbed to the top (~200 meters).

Built by John Hyrcanus (134 to 104 BCE) or his son Alexander Jannaeus it was inherited by 👑 Herod and notorious as a place where he imprisoned and killed his enemies, even his own son and heir Antipater. Josephus relates that, along with Machaerus (east of Dead Sea in present day Jordan across from Mitzpe Shalem) and Dagon (also called Dok and Qarantal, both on my bucket list!), Hyrcania was one of three fortresses that queen Salome Alexandra did not give up when she handed control of her strongholds over to the Pharisees.

The water system for the Hyrcania fortress is on the western side, a Herodian period upper aqueduct and a later Byzantine lower aqueduct bringing water to more than a dozen cisterns cut into the mountain. In building the fortress the area was quarried for stone and three large rectangular holes cut out of the bedrock were left, used as swimming pools and reservoirs! So Herod!

In the quiet of this desert some 500 year later in the Byzantine period Sabbas the Sanctified founded a cenobium called Castellion on the mountain top on which Hyrcania sat, part of the satellite community associated with the monastery at Mar Saba 4 km to the southwest.

Mar Saba monastery cascading down the southern cliff face above Kidron stream

I’m looking forward to your next visit. I hope I’ll see you soon – I’ll be ready.


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