Re-discovering Sussita

Today for my birthday we drove up to the Sea of Galilee, along the eastern shore until Ein Gev (highway <92>) and then turned off beside a field of banana plants on a road that winds its way onto the Golan. After a number of hairpin turns we reached a parking area and walked to the summit (350 meters above the lake) to the remains of the Byzantine city of Sussita (known as Hippos in its earlier Hellenistic incarnation).

d850370d850371With General Pompey’s conquest of Sussita in 63BCE it became one of the cities of the Decapolis, a group of ten Roman cities on the eastern frontier of the Empire. According to Josephus, Hippos had a mixed population of Christians (eight churches have been discovered), pagans and Jews (but so far no synagogue has been found).

Sussita is a remarkable archaeological site and yet is hardly known and seldom visited. Most of the building and the street paving stones are of black basalt (rather than white limestone) and the main Roman street that runs for a total length of about 500 meters like a spine across the top of the hill is not the usual Cardo but actually the Decumanus.

To the left of the site off the Decumanus is the bath-house with a great view of the lake below._D850349

Here is the view looking west along the Decumanus._D850344

To the north is a large public building with plastered columns and another church (NorthWest Church)._D850346_D850361

On the south side of the Northwest Church are two rectangular pools, the walls are plastered and there are steps leading down to the bottom. They look like they could be ritual baths (mikve) but actually these basins were used to collect grape juice. Next to the basins is a large area, the treading floor, where the grapes were placed and crushed by the feet of the workers in order to extract their juice._D850362Besides three wine presses in the area there is also an oil press and storage area for agriculture products used by the priests and monks.

In 2009 archaeologists uncovered an Odeon (in Greek, to sing), a semi-circular mini-theater with about 600 seats used for musical shows and poetry reading, the first to be discovered in Israel._D850352_D850354

Sussita and Bet Shean, both cities of the Decapolis;  small theaters; churches and synagogues; aquaducts; earthquakes that leveled cities until archaeologists re-discovered them – there is much to learn and experience with a guide.


You can read more about the excavations at their website http://hippos.haifa.ac.il or on FB at Hippos-Sussita Excavations Project

Samaria-Sebaste

Today we drove north (from Jerusalem) along highway 60, up the spine of the Shomron to the remains of the ancient city of Samaria-Sebaste.

Samaria was the site purchased by Omri for two talents of silver from Shemer and made the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Kings I 16:24-28). Omri’s son Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and they built a temple to the pagan god Baal which was later destroyed by Jehu, who had Jezebel and 70 princes of Ahab’s family killed.

Sebaste, the Greek equivalent of the Latin Augusta, was Herod’s name for the city when the area was given to him by the Emperor Augustus. Herod rebuilt the city, in full Roman style, a kilometer long cardo of 600 columns, a forum, a Roman basilica, stadium, temple, hippodrome and theater surrounded by a wall and gates.

After we passed the road leading to Shavei Shomron highway 60 loops around the settlement, a tall concrete separation wall on the left and then heads north. A short drive and you take a right through a grove of olive trees to the gate of the city and then pass two rows of Roman columns marking the Cardo, one row standing along the road and others in a row among the trees.

Looking out from city gate
Columns along the Cardo

Continuing along the road we passed some excavated ruins and shortly reached the town square beside the Forum lined by rows of columns.

Area of Roman Forum in main square

The archaeological remains are strewn around the area. The road in front of the Samaria restaurant takes you to the Hellenistic tower and Roman theater.

Roman theater

From there we walked to the top of the hill, the acropolis where Herod built a temple to Augustus over the administrative buildings and parts of the palace of Omri from the 8th century BCE.

The monumental steps leading to the temple were redone with the rebuilding of the temple during the reign of Septimus Severus (193-211CE).
Remains of Omri’s palace

From there we walked to the ruins of a small 7th century Byzantine church with Crusader additions where according to one tradition the head of John the Baptist was kept. It’s then a short walk back to the main square.

We wanted to visit the small museum in Nabi Yahya Mosque, a former Crusader cathedral but when we went to check it was closed (probably due to the Corona pandemic). We did notice a sign for some Royal tombs which turned out to be a deep pit which contained about a half dozen sarcophagi.

Part of a great day trip that’s off the beaten path that I guide!

Synagogues on the Golan

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Um el-Kanatir (Arabic for Mother of the Arches) is an impressive set of standing ruins of a Jewish village from the Byzantine era (5-8th C) with a synagogue built of local basalt stone. The town was destroyed by the earthquake of 749 CE and never rebuilt. Because of its remote location, out in the field a kilometer past Natur, all the stones of the synagogue were found in situ and over a period of a dozen years the synagogue has been rebuilt, stone by stone.

Last year while photographing & hiking on the Golan with Sumsum I went to visit the site of the ancient synagogue at Umm el-Kanatir, one of the most important Jewish historic sites on the Golan Heights.

Um El-Kanatir site

Today the synagogue stands with its Torah ark built of ornately carved basalt as it was some 1800 years ago. They did an amazing job, a must see!

Outside facade of synagogue
Inside of synagogue

Wildflowers on the shore of the Dead Sea

This winter there has been quite a lot of rain and so instead of the carmel colors of the mountains in the Judean desert above the Dead Sea, this year there is a lovely carpet of wildflowers in reds, yellows, purple and white along the shore of the Dead Sea. It’s definitely worth experiencing this exceptional sight. Since I’m also a photographer I’ve taken some pictures that I’ll share with you here.

Some of the wildflowers that have sprung up are Poppies, Daisys, Rainbow Toadflax, Faktorowsky’s Aaronsonia, Rumex pictus, White Mignonette,…

Favorite Photographs of the Year

Because it’s January 2020, a new year, I’ve been reviewing the photographs I took last year and I’ve chosen a dozen favorites to display here. Besides photographing in Israel I spent 16 days in Iceland and 11 days trekking in Nepal.  Clicking on one of the images will display the thumbnail at full size, clicking the arrows (< and >) will move you through the images.

Can you find the two photographs that have tiny images of people in them (Where’s Waldo?).

When you’re done viewing, I’d appreciate it if you let me know your favorite.

Photography Exhibit

I would like to share with you that I am exhibiting nine of my photographs in a large group show צוהר לנסתר–A Window to Wonder at Jerusalem’s Cinematheque from April 16-May 28. Opening reception and opportunity to meet the 12 photographers and view over 100 photos Sunday, April 28th, 2019 from 7:00pm-9:00pm. I’d be delighted if you would come.

BUY A PRINT & Support Tevel b’Tzedek: The Earth in Justice תבל בצדק

Special for the show, photographic prints are priced at $250. (unframed) and 50% will go to Tevel b’Tzedek!

En AvdatCinematheque Photos

Show is up! With good friend Bob Gottlieb.

SBB Show.jpg

Through the Lens, Dead Sea

Israel consists of a very broad range of geography: coast, desert, mountains, forests, in a very small area making it a great photo location for those interested in nature and landscape. The Dead Sea is an incredible and unique place to photograph, at the lowest point on earth, part of the Great African Rift valley, in the crack in the earth’s crust created when Asia and Africa were torn apart five million years ago.

If you’re into photography and want to make that part of your Israel experience you need a guide who is also a photographer. I am delighted to announce that I am offering personalized photography tours of Israel (along with tours focussed on history, archaeology, religion and more), to enable you to get the photographs you’re looking for.

Here are some of my photographs from a photoshoot that I did with clients starting at sunrise at the Dead Sea.

 

Here’s what the clients said:

We got some amazing sunrise photos at the Dead Sea, we hiked through canyons and got lots of cool shots there, then Shmuel found some unique salt formations back at the Dead Sea. We captured some great photos of sinkholes.

To sum it up this was the highlight of our 17 day trip to Israel. Shmuel delivered beyond our greatest expectations.