Category Archives: Architecture

Pharaoh in Canaan Exhibit

PCThe Israel Museum has put together a new exhibit (up until October 25th) about two lesser known stories: settlement of the Canaanites in the eastern part of the Egyptian Delta during the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1800–1550 BCE) and their development of the first consonantal alphabet from Egyptian hieroglyphics and consequently, Egyptian rule over Canaan for 350 years during the Late Bronze Age (circa 1500–1150 BCE). Canaanite, Semitic-speaking workers in Egypt modified hieroglyphics, where one symbol represents a word (this is similar to the Chinese writing system which has always intrigued me) into Proto-Sinaitic, also known as Proto-Canaanite as it spread from Sinai to Canaan. The text above is in this script and says פרעה בכנען/Pharaoh in Canaan (from right to left like the Hebrew, note the ר/resh is a drawing of a head/rosh, ע/ayin word for eye is an eye, נ/nun is a snake/nahash). This historical chapter overlaps with the familiar biblical narratives of Joseph, the children of Israel and Moses in Egypt.

The exhibit displays 680 artifacts mostly discovered in Israel, with some objects borrowed from other museums. Objects were found at Bet Shean, Jaffa, Timna and Hazor, popular sites to visit but not usually for Egyptology.

DSC_0552
Quartzite sphinx of Thustmose III, 1480-1425 BCE

King Amenhotep IV/Akhenaton, 1353–1336 BCE, Yellow stone

DSC_0556
Inscription in hieroglyphics from gate of Egyptain stronghold, Jaffa,
from time of Ramses II (considered by some the Pharaoh of the Exodus), 1279–1213 BCE

DSC_0559
Offering table from Egypt, limestone with hieroglyphics with name of Ramses II

DSC_0551
Ramses III, only life-size statue of a pharaoh made and found in Israel, in Bet Shean, 12th century BCE, Basalt

Photograph on left: Dan Kirzner, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A 3300 year old anthropoid sarcophagus was exposed containing the personal belongings of a wealthy Canaanite (possibly an Egyptian Army official) at Tel Shadud, Jezreel valley, 13th century BCE

IMG_2662Lids of anthropoid sarcophagi, Deir al-Balah, Gaza, 13th century BCE

Hathor mask
Photo © Eretz Israel Museum Tel Aviv, by Leonid Padrul-Kwitkowski
Mask of Hathor, Solomon’s Pillars at Timna, 13-12 century BCE, Faience

A major temple to Hathor, the Egyptian patron goddess to miners, constructed by Seti I was found at the copper mines in Timna valley. Of all the deities in the Egyptian pantheon, Hathor made the greatest impression on the Canaanites.

Another temple with inscriptions was discovered in Serabit el-Khadim in Egypt, where turquoise was mined in antiquity, in an expedition led by British archaeologist and Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie. If you’re interested in visiting his grave, Petrie is buried in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

For those who are unable to visit the Pharaoh in Canaan exhibit at the museum, there is an excellent audio-visual tour available at http://www.imj.org.il/en/audioguides/pharoah/. Enjoy!

Advertisements

The Enigma that is Herodium

Today I was at Herodium with clients. As we descended into the bowl of the upper fortress/palace I noticed a group of workers sitting eating lunch in front of the wooden doors to the excavations taking place in the staircase. I immediately recognized Roi Porat and Yakov Kalman who had been in charge of the excavations of the tomb area with Prof. Netzer when I volunteered at the site in summer of 2008. Yakov was kind enough to let us peek inside. Here he shares some of his views about excavating at Herodium.

You have to put aside what you read in the books and examine and evaluate what you see as you excavate in order to understand what is going on. Herodium is not a simple site. The staircase was filled in with earth in Herod’s time, it doesn’t appear that the stairs were completed or ever used. There are two levels of arches, the lower ones to support the stair bed, the upper ones to define the space in which to walk – but there is no stair bed. Along one side is a covered drainage channel that carried water from the courtyard to the cistern. There is a small entrance hall with plastered walls and frescoes; the walls of the stairwell are rough stones.

I thanked him and mentioned that my week working at the excavation was very important to my understanding of Herodium and one that I value very much as a guide. And then Yakov had to get back to work. I did manage to take a few photos on my cell phone.

Herodium staircase

Looking down the staircase, covered channel on the left resting on unfinished lower arches.

Herodium frescoes in staircase

Small entrance way, plastered walls with fresco.

Herodium enigma

Small area between the entrance way and staircase.

Roman Amphitheaters in Israel

An amphitheater is an open-air venue, oval or circular in shape, used for entertainment, performances, and sports (think sports stadium today, not to be confused with a Roman theater which is semicircular). The term derives from the ancient Greek ἀμφιθέατρον (amphitheatron), from ἀμφί (amphi), meaning “on both sides” or “around” and θέατρον (théātron), meaning “place for viewing”.

Originally built from the Imperial era 27 BCE on throughout the Roman Empire, the remains of at least 230 amphitheaters have been found. The largest amphitheater ever is the Colosseum or Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, just east of the Roman Forum and is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. Construction of the Colosseum began under the rule of the Emperor Vespasian in around 70 CE and was completed in 80 CE under his son and heir Titus, funded by the treasures taken from the Jewish Temple when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Like many Roman building projects, for example, aqueducts and bridges, it has stone masonry cladding on a concrete core. It is estimated that the Colosseum could seat more than 50,000 spectators. The 43.3 meter dome of the Pantheon was also formed of unreinforced concrete.

In Israel you can visit 3 amphitheaters left behind by the Romans.

  1. At Caesarea-Maritima Herod built a hippodrome for chariot races on the sea coast beside his Promontory Palace. In the 2nd century, the hippodrome was shortened to form an amphitheater. Built of kurkar stones I estimate that it held about 4000 spectators. Below is a view of the eastern side with the VIP seating area.Hippodrome VIP seats
  2. Fresco at amphitheaterOn the northwestern outskirts of Beit Guvrin, called Eleutheropolis, in the 2nd century the Romans built an amphitheater [31.6082°N 34.8939°E] for Roman troops stationed in the region after the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt. It had a walled arena of packed earth, with subterranean galleries. The arena was decorated with frescoes and surrounded by a series of connected barrel vaults, which formed a long, circular corridor that supported the stone seats above it. Click on the image for a larger view.Amphi Pano BG
  3. South of the Roman civic center at Beit Shean, the Romans built an amphitheater [32.498508°N 35.501446°E] on the western part of an existing hippodrome of which very little is known. The structure was an oval, 102 x 67 meters, of limestone blocks on a foundation of basalt. There were 10-12 rows of seats that would have held 5000-7000 spectators. Below is a panorama of the amphitheater at Beit Shean. I took 3 photos standing inside the amphitheater and 3 outside on the edge  and stitched them together using Photoshop. Click on the images for a larger view.Amphitheater Panorama Beit SheanBeit Shean amphitheater

Gladiatorial munera began to disappear from public life during the 3rd century, due to economic pressure, philosophical disapproval and opposition by the increasingly predominant new religion of Christianity. Spectacles involving animals, venationes, became costlier and rarer until in the 6th century they ended. Today all that is left are the remains of the structures.

Golan Heights Tour

The Golan Heights, Israel’s mountainous north-eastern region, is one of the most beautiful areas of the country. In the Golan, rather than desert, we have streams and waterfalls. There are also numerous archeological sites and ancient synagogues dating back to the Roman and Byzantine periods, evidence of flourishing Jewish communities in the area going back 2000 years. The remains of 25 synagogues from the period between the Great Revolt in 66 and the Islamic conquest in 636, when organized Jewish settlement on the Golan came to an end, have been discovered – 6 have been excavated.

The Golan was settled in the modern period beginning in 1886 when Jews from Tzfat and Tiberias settled there. The Bnei Yehuda society of Tzfat purchased a plot of land in the village of Ramataniya in central Golan (4 km north-west of the present day religious moshav of Keshet) and named their settlement “Golan BeBashan” and settled there for about a year.

In 1887, they purchased lands between the modern day Bnei Yehuda and Kibbutz Ein Gev. This community survived until 1920, when two of its last members were murdered in the anti-Jewish riots which erupted in the spring of that year. In 1891, Baron Rothschild purchased approximately 18,000 acres of land about 15 km east of Ramat Hamagshimim, in what is now Syria. First Aliyah (1881-1903) immigrants established five small communities on this land, but were forced to leave by the Turks in 1898. The lands continued to be farmed until 1947 by the Palestine Colonization Association and the Israel Colonization Association, when they were seized by the Syrian army. Most of the Golan Heights were included within Mandatory Palestine when the Mandate was formally granted in 1922, but Britain ceded the area to France in the Franco-British Agreement of 7 March 1923. Consequently, the Golan Heights became part of Syria after the termination of the French mandate in 1944.

During the 1948-49 War of Independence  the Syrians army attacked the adjacent Jewish areas and managed to advance beyond the international border. After the war, the Syrians built extensive fortifications on the Heights, which were used for shelling of civilian targets in Israel. 140 Israelis were killed and many more were injured in these attacks between 1949 and 1967, and particularly in the spring of 1957. Because of this pounding, Israel Defense Forces captured the Golan Heights during the Six-Day war.

Gamla view

On a recent tour of the Golan I took clients to the archaeological park with ruins of the ancient Jewish city of Gamla to see the Second Temple period synagogue, hiked through dolmens to a 50 meter waterfall and from a panoramic lookout with a view of the Sea of Galilee watched the Griffon vultures soar through the canyon.

Griffon vulture, Gamla

From there we visited Um el-Kanatir (Arabic for Mother of the Arches) an impressive set of standing ruins of a Jewish village from the Byzantine era to see the ongoing reconstruction of the synagogue there. The ruins of a very large synagogue of local basalt stone were found, destroyed by the earthquake of 749 CE. I hadn’t visited in a year and there has been a lot of progress in the reconstruction of the synagogue, the walls extend to ceiling height now and the bima has been set in place.

Um el Kanatir synagogue

Um el Kanatir synagogue interior

Katzrin is also well worth a visit. The Talmudic Village lets us explore the 4th century CE village of Katzrin which includes a 6th century synagogue (built on an earlier more modest one) similar to the one at Um el Kanatir. The nearby Archaeological Museum displays artifacts uncovered on the Golan. One fascinating find is an 1,800-year-old door lintel carved of basalt with a Hebrew inscription “this is the beit midrash (study house) of Rabbi Eliezer HaKapar” that was  discovered in the village of Daburiye, situated near a steep ravine with a pair of spectacular waterfalls. We know of the tanna (70-200 CE) Eliezer HaKapar, whose name refers to his work, making wine from the fruit of the caper. There is a discussion in the Talmud about wearing new shoes on the Sabbath: What are new shoes? Shoes that have not “walked” a certain distance, the distance between the synagogue at Katzrin and the beit midrash of Rabbi Eliezer KaKapar.

Hamat Gader is the site of natural hot mineral springs with temperatures reaching 50 °C (122 °F) and includes a 2000 seat Roman theatre built in the 3rd century CE and a large synagogue from the 5th century CE.

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

Jerusalem Landmarks, Montefiore to Calatrava

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.

Tower of David

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.

Jerusalem Dome of Rock

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.

MMMishkenot 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.

Montefiore windmill

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.

Calatrava Bridge of Strings

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.”

Through My Lens at Israel Museum

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.

Cleaning glass

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.

Turrell sky view

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.

Shrine water light