A Look into Loggia at Herodium

At the Herod exhibit at the Israel museum there is a room that is a reconstruction of the loggia, the VIP box from the Herodium theater with its colorful panels on the lower part of the wall and above on light-colored plaster, unique paintings in secco, trompe de l’oeil views through an open window. Secco is a technique that requires less artisan skill and used when time is short as in the approaching visit of Marcus Aggripa in 15 BCE. In secco paint is applied on top of dry plaster whereas in fresco the paint is added while the plaster is still wet. The fresco technique requires skilled craftsmen who have to work applying small areas of plaster, smoothing it and then adding the mineral pigments.

Loggia at museum

The loggia at Herodium is not accessible to the public, room is enclosed by a wooden structure and a team of conservators are working to protect the delicate secco painting. Last week while guiding at Herodium I found the door open and was able to look in for a moment. Hence the photos below were taken in a rush, using my iPhone – since few images of the loggia have been shared I offer them for viewing here.

Loggia at Herodium

Two things struck me: 1) Through holes in the plaster you can see that the lower panels have two layers of paint and plaster implying that the walls were redecorated, probably for Marcus Aggripa’s visit. In talking to Dudi Mevorah, curator at the Israel museum, the outer layer is not fresco but a covering done in secco.

Loggia frescoes

2) There are delicate paintings still on the upper section of the wall that are being conserved in place. The painting on display in the museum exhibit is a painstaking reconstruction of thousand of tiny pieces of paint found on the floor of the loggia by museum staff. You can view it at https://israeltours.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/secco-loggia.jpg

Secco wall painting

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Sinkholes at Dead Sea

Sinkholes have appeared on the Israeli and Jordanian shoreline of the Dead Sea as the water level recedes. The first sinkholes appeared in 1980, there were 40 in 1990 and there are more than 5500 today. Fresh water from runoff dissolves the salt in the newly uncovered salt-laden earth creating an empty cavern. When the top crust of earth collapses a sinkhole is formed. The holes fill up with water and the naturally occurring minerals create pools of different colors, red, orange, yellow, green and indigo with borders of encrusted salt, incredible to see and photograph. I took these photos along the shore of the Dead Sea over a period of months.

Sinkhole driftwood

Photographing Wildlife at Ein Gedi

These two wildlife photos were taken on a hike in Nahal Arugot in the Ein Gedi Nature reserve. Nahal David is the more popular, family oriented part of the reserve which makes Arugot great for a more off the beaten track outing, less crowded and great for photographers. If you follow the stream bed to the end of the wild and photogenic canyon you will reach the hidden waterfall.

Ibex at Ein Gedi

The ibex (Capra nubiana) is one of 9 species of wild goats (the North American Rocky Mountain goat is in a separate genus, Oreamnos). The ibex is a ruminant, meaning they have four-chambered stomachs and chew their cud so they are kosher, along with addax, antelope, bison, deer, and giraffe. Evidence of the ibex is widely present in the archaeological record, for example, rock drawings, pottery and seals, particularly in the Near East and Mediterranean regions.

The technical details – the above photo of a young ibex was taken with a Nikon D90 digital SLR camera with Nikkor 18-70mm lens at the end of October (ISO 500, 70mm, F9 at 1/125 sec) in Nahal Arugot.

Rock Hyrax

The rock hyrax (Procavia capensis, in Hebrew שפן הסלע) is a medium-sized (~4 kg) terrestrial mammal, superficially resembling a guinea pig with short ears and tail but, in fact, the hyrax is related to the modern-day elephant. The rock hyrax inhabits rock crevices which protect it from predators as written in Psalms 104,18  סלעים מחסה לשפנים, rocks hide the hyrax; it also uses sentries, one or more animals take up position on a vantage point and issue alarm calls on the approach of predators. Among at least 21 vocalizations that the hyrax can make, it makes a loud grunting sound while moving its jaws as if chewing which may be the reason that the hyrax is listed in Leviticus 11,5 as a non-kosher animal that chews its cud. Unique to hyraxes is the dorsal gland, which excretes a skunk-like odor used for social communication and territorial marking. Hyraxes typically live in groups of 10–80 animals, and forage as a group. The rock hyrax has incomplete thermoregulation and so can be seen sunning itself on rocks – it spends approximately 95% of its time resting.

Passion Flower

There are about 500 species of Passiflora. The Passiflora plant is widespread – nine species are native to the USA, species are found in South America, Eastern and Southern Asia, New Guinea, four or more species in Australia and a single endemic species in New Zealand – it is not native to Israel but grows happily here. This one, Passiflora edulis, is a vine with exotic looking purple and white (with green) flowers that we got from a nursery and planted in our garden in Jerusalem. When first seen in South America by Spanish Christian missionaries in the 17th century it was named passion flower. These clerics saw the parts of the flower as reminiscent of the Passion of Christ which gives it a connection to Israel and Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher:

  • The tendrils are reminiscent of whips used in the flagellation of Christ.
  • The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles.
  • The flower’s radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the crown of thorns.
  • The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents a hammer or the Holy Grail
  • The 3 stigmas represent the 3 nails and the 5 anthers below them the 5 wounds.

Passion Fruit

Passion flower side

Passion flower top

So on your next visit or pilgrimage to the Holy Land plan to taste a local passion fruit.

Related articles

Israel Roundup

Israel Antiquities Authority Archives Digitized

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is working on publishing a database of their archives, many of whose documents are suffering from disintegration because of poor paper quality and poor storage facilities in the past. The documents include 19th century letters on excavations at the City of David, plans for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after the earthquake of 1927, and the extensive archives of the Rockefeller Museum. Most of the documents are in English (they will receive Hebrew annotation). http://iaa-archives.org.il/

Sifting Excavated Material from Temple Mount

I took clients, a father and 2 children, to the Temple Mount Sifting Project in Emek Tsurim, just below Mount Scopus and everyone really enjoyed it. For those not familiar with the project, it is under the direction of Prof. Gaby Barkai and since 2005 has been working on the massive amount of material (400 truck loads) that was removed from the Temple Mount illegally, after the unsupervised excavation of the entrance to the underground Marwani mosque, in the area of Solomon’s stables. The material was rescued from where it was dumped in the Kidron Valley. It is being steadily sorted and sifted by staff with the help of visitors. You start with an interesting presentation on the history of the Temple Mount, through the Israelite, Second Temple, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods, followed by hands-on wet-sifting of buckets of raw material for artifacts which you sort into six categories: pottery, worked stone, metal, bone, glass and mosaic tesserae.

Excavations by Institute of Galilean Archaeology

An American-Israeli archeological team unearthed remains of the Jewish village of Sichin at the northern edge of the Tzippori National Park. The town was mentioned by Jewish historian, Josephus, as one of the first Jewish communities in the Galilee during the Second Temple period and later, in the time of the Talmud, as a village of Jewish potters near Tzippori. The excavations revealed the first evidence of the existence of a magnificent synagogue.

Dr. Mordehai Aviam from the Institute for Galilean Archeology, Kinneret College, said:

“It was a great surprise for us, the excavators, to discover seven stone molds for preparing decorated clay oil lamps. One of the lamp fragments manufactured at the site is decorated with a menorah (candelabra) with lulav (ceremonial palm fronds) next to it. According to the clay vessels finds, it seems that the settlement was abandoned in the fourth century CE, apparently after the earthquake which occurred in 363, or possibly as a result of the Gallus revolt which took place in 351, which was centered at Tzippori. The excavations will continue for the coming years, and will try to unearth the synagogue, manufacturing equipment and residential buildings.”

In other news, a joint Israeli-Japanese team uncovered, in the ruins of a Second Temple period Jewish farm-house being excavated in the Nahal Tabor nature reserve, a Canaanite cultic standing stone (like ones at Hazor or Gezer) in secondary usage as part of a door frame. The Canaanite temple, where this object would have originally stood, has not yet been found.

Nimrod Fortress

A second stone, with part of a relief of a lion, symbol of Mamluk Sultan Baybars was uncovered at Nimrod by the Parks Authority (INPA). This relief is approximately 1.1 meters long, 0.7 meters high and 0.6 meters wide (25% larger than the first lion discovered 15 years ago in an excavation by Hartal), with some parts of the lion still intact and visible, though lacking its head, mane and front legs.

Nimrod Lion 2

Photo: INPA

Baybar's Lion, Nimrod Fortress

First Station, at Jerusalem’s original railway station built in 1892, terminus of the Jaffa-Jerusalem Railway, is advertised as the meeting place of food and culture. What we can say is it’s bopping.

FirstStation

One starting point is the visitors center where you can get information, book a Segway or electric bicycle tour and buy souvenirs. There is a Re:bar, frozen yoghurt and shakes, a Vaniglia ice cream, kiosk selling draught beer and snacks and a market building with cheese, produce, wine, pizza, chocolates, etc. There are 4 restaurants, 2 kosher and 2 not, an interesting balance of religion and marketing. The Miznon and Fresh are dairy kosher cafe restaurants; Landwers café and Adom restaurant and wine bar, not kosher, open Shabbat. Events this month include an Eco Sukkah competition and Seventy Faces photography exhibit, part of the Jerusalem Biennale. Check it out. For complete listing see http://www.firststation.co.il/en/

Gedaliah at Mizpa

Today is the Jewish Fast of Gedaliah in which we remember the assassination in the town of Mizpa, in about 582 BCE, of the Babylonian appointed Jewish governor of Judah. Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shafan and many of his followers were murdered by ten men led by Ishmael son of Nethaniah of the Davidic line with the connivance of the Ammonite king (Jeremiah 41:1-3). There are two candidates for Mizpa, Nebi Samuel and Tell en-Nasbeh. See Todd Bolen’s very interesting post about why Nebi Samuel is not Mizpa.

Archaeological excavations at Tell en-Nasbeh go back to 1926; see Zorn for more recent analysis of the site. Uncovered was a monumental inner and outer gate complex from Iron Age II. The city plan, which is characteristic of many other Israelite settlements, like Khirbet Qeiyafa, follows basically a ring-road arrangement: a town wall often with houses or other structures built up against it in a casemate manner. At least six spacious four-room houses have been identified as well as what may be remains of a Babylonian residence. Epigraphic finds include inscribed ostraca, in cuneiform and one with a Mesopotamian name written in Hebrew characters, weights, scarabs, a cylinder seal, and eighty-seven LMLK seal impressions.

The prize was the seal of Jaazaniah, which possibly belonged to the officer of the same name who reported to Gedaliah at Mizpa (II Kings 25:23). This seal has the image of a cock in a fighting stance, one of the earliest representations of this bird ever recovered.
Jaazaniah onyx seal found at Tell en-Nasbeh with (modern) impression, Center for Online Jewish Studies

A clay bulla (seal impression) was found in the City of David that has the name Shafan.
Gmaryahu ben Shafan seal

A bulla with the name “Gedaliah who is over the house” was found at Lachish.
Gedaliah seal, Lachish

Pomegranate for Rosh Hashana

This evening is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. One of the things that I love about living in Israel is that the Jewish holidays fit the seasons and the country. The pomegranates are ripening on the trees in our garden just in time for the holiday.

So to all, subscribers, readers of my blog, would-be clients, travelers to Israel, pilgrims, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year and may your year be filled with blessing, personal accomplishments, satisfaction, health and real joy.

Pomegranate sky