Although Israel is a small country it has about 200 km of Mediterranean coastline. There are many places along the coast where you can stand and look out to sea. In this post I’ve included 5 photographs of the sea, along the coast, from Ashkelon, Ashdod, Caesarea, HaBonim and Atlit – same sea but different geological features as we move up the coast.
A landmark is an object or feature of a landscape or place that is easily seen and recognized at a distance, especially one that enables someone to establish their location.
As a photographer one of the things that I often do is look at a scene and choose a feature that is interesting, that stands out in some way. The city of Jerusalem has any number of landmarks, the bell tower of the International YMCA, the old train station or the Rockefeller museum. Leave a comment on what is a Jerusalem landmark for you?
As you approach Jaffa gate, one of the popular entries to the Old City, you’ll see a tower and minaret peering above the walls. Here is a photo of the landmark, a little less usual in that it is covered with a light dusting of snow.
Another striking landmark is the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock. The building goes back to 691 CE Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik and is considered the earliest example of Islamic architecture. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) the mosaics on the exterior of the Dome of the Rock were replaced with ceramic tiles. By 1919 when some tiles needed replacement the British invited three Armenian families who worked in ceramics, Ohannessian, Balian and Karakashian, from the city of Kutahya, Turkey to Jerusalem but the project fell through due to lack of funds (an Armenian told me that the Muslims would not let the Armenian Christians work on the shrine). In 1955, an extensive program of renovation was begun by the Jordanian government, with funds supplied by Arab countries and Turkey. The work included replacement of large numbers of tiles which had become dislodged by heavy rain. In 1965, as part of this restoration, the dome was covered with a gold-colored durable anodized aluminum bronze alloy made in Italy, that replaced the gray colored lead covering. In 1993, the dome was refurbished with 80 kilograms of gold when King Hussein of Jordan sold one of his houses in London and donated $8.2 million to fund it.
In the 1850s, several institutions including the Russian Compound, the Bishop Gobat School, and the Schneller Orphanage marked the beginning of permanent settlement outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The public institutions were followed by the development of two philanthropically supported Jewish neighborhoods, Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Mahane Israel.
Mishkenot Sha’ananim was the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls of the Old City by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1860 as an almshouse, paid for by the estate of a wealthy Jew from New Orleans, Judah Touro. Nearby is another well-known landmark, Montefiore’s windmill. In 1857 Montefiore imported a windmill from Canterbury, England and erected it on this plot of land to provide Jerusalem’s poor Jews with an inexpensive source of flour.
Many years have passed and now Jerusalem has a light rail system that connects the suburbs with the center. As the light rail crosses the main entrance at the west of the city it passes over an eye-catching suspension bridge built by Spanish architect, sculptor and civil engineer Santiago Calatrava that is probably the newest Jerusalem landmark. Called the Bridge of Strings, the 2600 ton curving bridge, only 340 meters long, will be supported by 66 cables from a single angular pylon 118 meters high.
This is how Calatrava described his plans for the bridge.
“Along the pedestrian walkway is a band of pastel blue light, like the blue of the Israeli flag and also the tallit (Jewish prayer shawl),” Calatrava says. “When you see the bridge from far away, it will appear like a modern obelisk. And at the top we would like to put a bronze plate, something that will reflect in the sun like a golden dome.”
Here is this week’s series of photos, week #3, of different views of Israel Through my Lens. These photos were taken at the Israel museum, Israel’s leading cultural institution and one of the leading encyclopedic museums of the world. The museum has nearly 500,000 objects of fine art, archaeology, Judaica and Jewish ethnography, representing the history of world culture from nearly one million years ago to the present day and should be on every visitor’s itinerary.
The museum campus underwent a major renovation in 2010 that included new entrance pavilions and an underground walkway, lit from the side by natural light with a view of streaming water that cascades down the steps above your head. This photo captures two custodians cleaning the glass side wall.
When you visit the museum plan some time to experience James Turrell’s installation in the sculpture garden, Space That Sees (1992) part of his “Skyspace” series. Observing the shifting hues and patterns of the sky from inside a pristine, rectilinear space, a shrine-like inner space evoking places of worship like pyramids, mausoleums, or temples, viewers can connect to the heavens. A square opening in the ceiling makes a frame for an ever-changing “picture” of the sky. Turrell, by confronting us with the empty space, turns our mind to our own way of seeing.
Another interesting structure is the Shrine of the Book that has been called “a milestone in the history of world architecture”. The two architects who designed it were an odd couple – the pragmatic Armand Phillip Bartos was evidently chosen based on his being married to Gottesman’s daughter (Gottesman was the philanthropist who had purchased the Scrolls as a gift to the State of Israel and donated the money to build the Shrine that houses the Scrolls); the oddball visionary Frederick John Kiesler who critics said had never built anything and was primarily an avant-garde stage designer who taught occasionally.
The exterior is dominated by two unique architectural features: a shimmering white dome reflected in a pool of water, representing the “Sons of Light” and a freestanding, polished black basalt wall, standing for the “Sons of Darkness” so vividly described in the War scroll. This photo captures the white dome under a cascade of water at night.
I read photographer Jeff Sinon’s post Photography 101: Finding the Best Shot in which he discusses whether to shoot a scene in landscape (horizontally) or portrait (vertically). I tend to use many of my photographs of sites in Israel on my website and I find that horizontal photos fit better on my web page. But there are subjects where you pretty much have to shoot in portrait, such as cascading water. Jeff posed an interesting challenge:
The next time you’re out taking a picture, capture the scene horizontally and vertically. Then, ask yourself: does one shot work better than the other? Do you recognize why?
I was driving down to the Negev, about a 2½ hour drive from Jerusalem, to go stargazing in Makhtesh Ramon on Thursday night. I planned an early morning hike, from nearby Sde Boker to Ein Akev, a spring and pool in the desert.
The two photographs displayed here were taken at the beginning of the hike, on the climb up the Divshon Ascent with a view of the Zin valley below. The technical details – ISO 800, the vertical photo 82mm, F/11, 1/640; the horizontal one 26mm, F/13, 1/800.
Afterwards we hiked into the nature reserve at Ein Avdat. There is a 250-year-old Atlantic Terebinth (Pistachio Atlantica) tree at the entrance, with gnarled roots holding it firmly in the rocky ground – another shot, two ways.
Probably the classic photo at Ein Avdat is a scene of the white limestone cliffs and blue sky reflected in the pools of water – a great shot, two ways.
I’d love to hear your comments, what you think about each pair of photographs. Please share this post with your friends by clicking on the icons at the end of this message.
Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing a print of one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.
The Umayyads ruled from Damascus but built a number of palace complexes in this area – we have found ruins of their palaces in Jerusalem, at the southern corner of the Western wall and at Khirbet al-Minya, on the Sea of Galilee beside Karei Deshe.
One of the most impressive sites from the Umayyad period (661-750) is the ruins of Khirbet al-Mafjar (meaning flowing water ruins), popularly known as Hisham’s palace just outside Jericho and I am now authorized to guide tourists there.
The palace is identified with Hisham ibn abd el-Malik (ruled 723-743) because of an inscription containing his name, in ink on a marble slab, found at the site by Dmitry Baramki who excavated there under the British between 1934 and 1948. Based on the artwork that decorated the palace, Robert Hamilton, Director of Antiquities 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 famous for his extravagant lifestyle which probably led to his assassination. Al-Walid II was a hunter, poet and musician, something of a playboy who loved the good life.
The site is thought to have been destroyed by the severe earthquake of 749 CE before it was completed, but an analysis of Baramki’s detailed reports of the ceramic record indicates that the occupation continued through the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods, with a significant phase of occupation between 900–1000.
In walking around the site you will get to view the ruins of the palace, the bath complex, a pavilion and mosque enclosed by a wall; more recently, excavations to the north have uncovered an agricultural estate. The excavations uncovered fine mosaics and elaborate stucco figures, as well as stone sculpture and frescoes. The carved stucco is of exceptional quality in geometric and vegetal patterns; in the bath complex there are even male and female figures, their upper bodies naked.
A statue depicting a male standing figure with a sword on two lions, very likely the caliph patron himself, stood in a niche above the entrance to the bath hall.
The floors are decorated with incredible mosaics but unfortunately, besides the well-known Tree of Life mosaic in the bahw or special reception room in the bath complex, most are currently covered. This floor mosaic consists of a fruit tree (apple, lemon or quince) under which on the left are two gazelles grazing and on the right a lion pouncing on a gazelle. Given that the mosaic is in the bahw the image is more than just a popular hunting scene¹. Here the lion represents the ruling Caliph and the gazelles the subjects, living in peace or being subdued.
There is little to see of the plaster sculptures and stucco as they were removed from the site during the British period and are on display in one hall at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.
In the back corner of the courtyard are some Umayyad architectural details, part of a sculpted arch with its original paint and an example of a merlon, a step-shaped stone that sits on the top of a wall.
As your guide I can help you create an itinerary that matches your interests and ensures that not only do you get to visit archaeological sites which enable you to understand the context but museums that display and explain the artifacts discovered at the site so that you get the most out of your visit.
Behrens-Abouseif, Doris, The Lion-Gazelle Mosaic at Khirbat al-Mafjar, 1997.
¹ Interestingly, I saw a similar motif in mosaic from a Byzantine church on display at the Israel Museum.
Broomrape (Cistanche tubulosa) is a flowering plant that grows in arid areas in Israel – I’ve seen them in the Large Makhtesh, Judean desert and while hiking the Israel trail north of Eilat. They are recognizable by a 30cm spike of densely packed yellow flowers. When they are not flowering, no part of the plant is visible above ground. There are no leaves, in fact, the plant contains no chlorophyll and so cannot do photosynthesis. The broomrape is a parasitic plant, one that derives some or all of its sustenance from another plant. Parasitic plants have a modified root, the haustorium, that penetrates the host plant. Amazingly about 4100 species in about 19 families of flowering plants like this are known. On my tours, I always try to point out some interesting flower, plant or tree.
- Flora of Israel – Mandrake
- Flora of Israel – Caper
- Biodiversity at Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
- Trees on Tu Bishvat – Carob
Last year I focused mostly on landscapes of Israel, this year the photos will show different aspects of Israel, captured Through my Lens. These photos were taken on a hike from Caesarea along the coast northwards to Dor near Jisr al-Zarqa, an Israeli Arab town. You don’t find a scene like this, a horse pulling a two-wheeled cart, motorboats bobbing with the waves, wooden sheds on most beaches. I call this post A Different Stretch of Beach and hope that the photos give that feel.
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.
- Building up a Poverty-stricken Paradise (Ha’aretz)
- Aqueduct at Caesarea
- Dor Habonim Beach
- Bird Mosaic at Caesarea