Today we drove off road in the Judean desert to high above Jericho to get within reach of a mountain fortress called Dagon (by Josephus), then we still had to climb up and down over 3 mountains and take the “snake path” that zigzagged to the top.
On the way up you can look down the mountain and see the corner of the monastery below you.
On the top is an enclosure wall with an open gate built before World War I to protect the church which was never completed.
Inside the walls there are a few capitals and architectural elements scattered on the surface from the Herodian period.
The church is an interesting shape, an apse, no columns, a narthex? but two semi-circular areas on either side by the apse and one rectangular area across from a semi-circular area at the entrance. At first I thought maybe it was a cruciform church but I wonder if the shape is like an old key and that the church is somehow tied to the story of Saint Peter who was given the keys to the Kingdom.
That completes the set of desert fortresses and I can guide you at Alexandrium (Sartaba), Dagon, Cypros, Hasmonean & Herodian palaces, Hyrcania, Machaerus (that’s in Jordan), Herodium and Masada.
Here’s the itinerary I put together for the client, a combination of exploring nature and archaeological sites with the opportunity for taking photographs, the clients were specifically interesting in birds.
Mosaics at Inn of Good Samaritan museum
View of Wadi Qelt & monastery & Cypros
Drive up the Jordan valley
Beit She’an archaeological site, capital of Roman Decapolis
Golan Height & lookout
Gamla Nature Reserve, Griffon vultures
Waterfalls in Nahal Ayun, Metulla
JNF Agamon HaHula
Tour of Acre: Underground Crusader city, Hamam, Ramchal synagogue
This post is to announce the completion in 2022 of the restoration work and building of a walkway and roof over the ruins of the hammam at Hisham’s palace in Jericho at an estimated cost of $11.4 million with financial support from Japan. Covered since 1930, the mosaic floor of the hammam or bathhouse is now displayed in all it’s glory. It is one of the largest mosaics discovered, measuring 827 square meters in 38 panels, in 21 colors with a total of 7 million tesserae. The mosaics are mostly complex geometric designs, here are some photographs of the newly uncovered mosaics.
The palace gets its name from one of the sons of Abd el-Malik who built the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Hisham (who ruled from 723-743) because of an inscription containing his name, in ink on a marble slab, found at the site by archaeologist Dmitry Baramki. Based on the artwork in mosaic and stucco including human figures that decorated the palace, Robert Hamilton who was Director of Antiquities at the time under the British argued that the palace was a residence of al-Walid b. al-Yazid (ruled 743-744), a nephew of Hisham who was well-known for his extravagant lifestyle.
With the uncovering of the incredible 7th century Ummayad mosaic floor, Hisham’s Palace has become a must-see site and I would be happy to take you there on your next visit. The stucco was mostly removed from the site under the British and can be viewed at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.
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.
I’m looking forward to your next visit. I hope I’ll see you soon – I’ll be ready.