Category Archives: Mosaics

Archaeology in Israel Tour

I’m delighted to announce that Dan McLerran at Popular Archaeology and I are creating a phenomenal tour of archaeological sites in Israel that I will be guiding October 2013.
I invite you to join us on this adventure, 12 days of touring in Israel, where we’ll cover the famous sites like Megiddo and Hazor and uncover some of the less well-known gems like Sussita-Hippos, one of the Decapolis cities overlooking the Sea of Galilee that was destroyed in the earthquake of 749CE and never rebuilt.

Sussita excavation

We’ll start by going back 6500 years to the Chalcolithic period and tour up on the Golan Heights to learn about burial at that time. We’ll see dolmens, the megalithic tombs consisting of a flat rock resting on two vertical rocks that mark a grave. We’ll hike to the cultic site of Rujm el Hiri – is it a site that is connected to the calendar or to burial? At Ein Gedi we’ll see the ruins of a Chalcolithic temple. We’ll see artifacts at the Israel museum, examples of clay ossuaries and fine bronze castings of ritual objects.

We’ll follow in the path of the Kings from 1000BCE to 586BCE by traveling from Dan where a piece of a basalt victory stella in Aramaic was found mentioning the kings of Israel and the house of David. We will explore the City of David, the walled Jebusite city on the ridge between the Kidron and Tyropean valleys. We’ll walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel that brought the water of the Gihon spring to the Siloam pool inside the walls. From there we will follow in the steps of pilgrims to the Temple mount. Part of the 650m distance will be in Jerusalem’s drainage channel until we come out right under Robinson’s Arch. We’ll see the Broad wall, the remains of an 8 meter high wall that protected Jerusalem from the north in the time of the Kings.

Khirbet Qeiyafa

We’ll explore the walled Judean city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, with two gates and hence identified as Shaarayim, situated on the border of Judea facing the Phillistines.

We’ll learn about the Second Temple Period, specifically the time of the Hasmoneans and King Herod who ruled under the auspices of the Romans. We’ll check out Herod’s impressive building projects. At Caesarea, we have the temple to Augustus, the protected harbor, the palace as well as a theater and a hippodrome later used as an amphitheater. At Sebaste there is another temple to Augustus. Josephus writes that Herod built a third temple at Banias. It’s unclear whether the temple was at Banias or nearby, perhaps at Omrit. We’ll visit Herod’s palaces at Masada, the Western palace and the 3 tier hanging palace on the northern end of the site. We’ll explore the palace and administrative complex at Lower Herodium and the palace/fortress on the top of a manmade mountain where the base of a mausoleum was discovered by Prof. Ehud Netzer in 2007.

Herodium Palace:fortress

We’ll visit the newly opened exhibit at the Israel museum Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey, artifacts from Herodium on display for the first time. We’ll also visit the Second Temple period model that displays Jerusalem at its peak just before its destruction at the hand of the Romans. We’ll visit the Shrine of the Book that houses the Dead Sea scrolls and other artifacts and combine that with the archaeological site of Qumran by the Dead Sea where the scrolls were found.

We’ll focus on the architecture of sacred space and check out various churches, in the basilica and martyrium form from the Byzantine period (4th to 7th century) and synagogues from the same period. We’ll see some amazing mosaics by visiting the  museum at the Inn of Good Samaritan, the archaeological sites of Sepphoris/Tzippori, and the synagogue at Beit Alfa. We’ll visit sites off the beaten path like the Kathisma church on the way to Bethlehem and Samaritan site on Mount Gerizim.

Synagogue mosaic floor at Israel Museum

Besides the Western wall, Judaism’s holy site, we will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site to Christianity and go up onto the Haram el-Sharif to see the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site to Islam.

We’ll travel around the Sea of Galilee stopping at sites important to Christianity like Kursi, Capernaum and Magdala. We’ll even go up to the Golan Heights to the Jewish city of Gamla, the Masada of the north.

Gamla

For anyone who enjoys taking photographs, there will be plenty of opportunities and as an special incentive to join the tour, participants will be able to submit their best photographs from the tour to a special Pinterest site and will have a chance to win up to $1000. for the “best photo”.

If you’re interested in participating in an archaeological tour of the Holy Land, contact  me.

Khirbet Hanut Mosaic Vandalized

When you hire me as your guide I can take you places and show you things you probably won’t find on your own. Out of Jerusalem along highway 375 is the shell of a small stone building with a sand floor.

The site is from the Byzantine period, the ruins of a monastery with a mosaic floor including an inscription in Greek dated to 563CE. All you have to do is sweep aside the sand (put there to protect the mosaic).

Image

Unfortunately, because the location is accessible somebody took advantage of this and two days ago destroyed the mosaic. According to the report in YNet Israel Antiquities Authority staff collected 23 bags full of the scattered stone cubes (tesserae) from the mosaic. I had even driven by the site on two different days last week on my way to photograph a field covered with thousands of red poppies and had thought to stop and take photographs but didn’t.

These photographs are from a few years ago and I post them here so that you can see what was destroyed. It is terrible when something like this happens.

Khirbet Hanut is not far from Khirbet Midras where the stunning mosaics uncovered in a Byzantine church were vandalized just over a year ago. I posted photographs of those mosaics in my article Khirbet Midras Mosaics.

Kathisma Church

Aerial photo of Kathisma site, IAA

Despite the many people traveling along the main road to Bethlehem (or Gilo or Gush Etzion) before the turnoff to Har Homa and Herodium few notice the ruins of a 5th century Byzantine church and monastery. Discovered by chance in 1992 when the road was paved and excavated briefly in 1999 by Rina Avner, the site is worth exploring but lies abandoned due to lack of money, time and initiative. Called the Kathisma church, after the word in Greek for seat (καθισμα), according to Christian tradition it is where Mary rested on the way to Bethlehem just before giving birth to Jesus.

Most Byzantine churches are in the shape of a basilica, a rectangular plan with a central nave and two aisles, with a semicircular apse at the far end. Not exactly a church, the Kathisma is a martyrium, a special structure that functions as a church (or mosque) and marks the site of a holy event. Rather than a basilica, the church is octagonally shaped and built over a flat, protruding rock in the center. There are 3 concentric octagons, the innermost one around the rock, the second a walkway (ambulatoria) with one chapel and the outer one made up of 4 chapels and smaller rooms.

The floors are covered in mosaics in geometric and floral designs in white, black, yellow, green and red stone tesserae. The mosaics have been mostly covered with felt mats and sand to protect them.

Kathisma palm mosaic from Arab period, IAA

One of the finest mosaics is from the Arab period, an ornate mosaic of a date palm in the southeastern corner. According to the Koran, Mary sat and rested under a palm during the onset of her labor.

There are ruins of another octagonally shaped church at Capernaum. The remains of a 5thC church were uncovered that consist of a central octagon with eight pillars, an exterior octagon with thresholds still in situ, and a portico. Later an apse with a pool for baptism was constructed in the middle of the east wall. The central octagon was placed directly on top of the walls of Simon Peter’s house with the aim of preserving its exact location.

The floor of the portico is a geometric patterned mosaic. In the area of the external octagon, the mosaics represented plants and animals in a style similar to that found in the Basilica of the Heptapegon at Tabgha. In the central octagon, the mosaic was composed of a strip of flowers, a field of fish with small flowers and a circle with a peacock in the center.

Another church that is octagon-shaped and crowned by a copper dome though enclosed in a rectangular envelope is the church on the Mount of Beatitudes. The church is from 1938 and was designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi in neo-Renaissance (Byzantine) style.

He chose the octagonal shape to match the eight beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-5) and on the eight stained glass windows beneath the dome are verses from the Sermon.

There are only a couple of other churches that have been built over a rock, the Basilica of the Agony and the Basilica of the Heptapegon but neither is an octagon.

According to our understanding the Kathisma church was renovated in the 6thC and used as a mosque in the 8thC after which it was destroyed. A mihrab, or prayer niche facing Mecca was built into the southern wall of the outermost octagon. This means that the church was not destroyed during the Persian conquest and existed at the time of Abd el-Malik who commissioned the building of the Dome of the Rock, a martyrium in octagon shape over a rock – it may have been the inspiration for what has been called the earliest example of Islamic architecture.

Mosaics at Hirbet Midras

All of the floors recently uncovered in the church at Hirbet Midras have incredible mosaics, that are extraordinarily well preserved. The mosaics include both intricate geometric designs and floral, fauna, fish, birds and fruit. The tesserae are fine, 7mm cubes in an assortment of colors enabling the artists to create realistic images. You can click on any of the images to see it in higher resolution.

The apse of the church with a geometric rectangular carpet; the curved part has an image of a rooster and duck in a design of grapevine tendrils and bunches of grapes.

Display of mosaics in the aisle, geometric patterns on either side of a panel with chukar birds.

Close up of the chukar bird panel.

Panel that combines birds, fish and lotus.

Image of a lion attacking what looks like an ibex among grapevines. Interesting to compare it with the image of the lion attacking the deer under the tree from Hisham’s Palace (Khirbet El-Mafjar, 7th century) near Jericho.

Two Churches: Mary and Jesus

Two Churches: Old and New

In the Kidron valley is a church built on a rock cut cave that is the tomb of Mary, mother of Jesus. Through the centuries the cruciform (in the shape of a cross) church was destroyed many times but the facade and wide staircase descending to the tomb is from the Crusader period. On the left side of the staircase a chapel to Joseph, Mary’s husband, on the right a chapel to Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne; Queen Melisende is also buried there. Today the Greek Orthodox Church is in possession of the shrine, sharing it with the Armenian Apostolic Church (the Syriacs, the Copts, and the Abyssinians have minor rights). A niche on the southern wall is a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca, installed when Muslims had joint rights to the church.

In a courtyard off the Via Dolorosa in the Old City is a small church that reminds me of the Crusader church. The Church of the Flagellation, marks the Second Station of the Cross, where according to tradition, Roman soldiers flogged Jesus and placed a crown of thorns on his head after he was brought to Pontius Pilate. The architect, Antonio Barluzzi, rebuilt this church in 1929, in medieval style over ancient ruins. Barluzzi designs churches so that the style and decoration preserve the history and recall the events that happened at the site. The facade has one central opening with a Crusader style pillow-shaped arch that incorporates a crown of thorns. There are 10 icons under the roof, a crown of thorns, two representations of a cat of nine tails (see if you can recognize the others, for example there is an image of a rooster and 3 stars*). The floor is made of small, inlaid colored stones in geometric patterns.

Probably the most impressive part of the church are three large stained glass windows: on the left, Pilate washing his hands of the affair, on the right, the victory cry of Barabbas, in front, the flogging of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns amidst the soldiers. Above is a dome in gold mosaic and decorated with a crown of thorns intertwined with flowers.

 

Click on the thumbnails above to display a larger image (these are quite incredible stained glass images). Included below is a closeup of the dome.

Near the church of the Tomb of Mary are two other Barluzzi churches, the Church of the Agony at Gethsemane, also known as All Nations and the Franciscan chapel farther up the Mount of Olives, Dominus Flevit. You can contact me about arranging a tour to visit Barluzzi churches including:

  1. St Veronica Church, VI Station of Via Dolorosa
  2. Chapel, XI Station in Church of Holy Sepulcher
  3. Church of Visitation, Ein Kerem
  4. Church of Lazarus, Bethpage
  5. Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee
  6. Church of Transfiguration, Mount Tabor

* Rooster and 3 stars refer to Jesus’ prophecy at Gethsemane that Peter will deny him 3 times before the cock crows

Bet Shean – Scythopolis

Bet Shean situated at the junction of the Jordan River valley and Nahal Harod that connects to the Jezreel valley, is an important crossroads because it controls access from the interior to the coast and from Jerusalem to the Galilee. It was called Scythopolis from the Hellenistic period onward and according to Greek mythology was founded by Dionysus. In 63BCE it was conquered by the Roman general Pompey and made a part of the Decapolis, a loose confederation of ten cities that were centers of Greco-Roman culture. It was the largest city according to Josephus and only one west of the Jordan River and is mentioned several times in the New Testament (Matt 4:25; Mk 5:20). This was the period of Pax Romana and the city prospered, evidenced by a high-level of urban planning and extensive construction the remains of which can be seen today in the archaeological park.

You can explore the site and visit the best preserved Roman theatre, a public bathhouse, two magnificent colonnaded streets, a Roman temple, a decorative fountain building (nymphaeum) and other landmarks of a Roman city.

Ancient sources indicate that Scythopolis had a mixed population of pagans, Jews, Samaritans, and Christians. At the western end of Tell Ictaba stood the sixth century Monastery of Lady Mary with a beautiful mosaic floor that depicts the 12 months and the sun and moon as human figures. Outside the city wall a Samaritan synagogue dating to the 5th–early 7th centuries CE was discovered. Its apse is oriented northwest towards Mount Gerizim (not south towards Jerusalem) and the floor is covered by a beautiful mosaic with geometric and plant motifs, but no human images. Another synagogue known as the “House of Leontis” perhaps part of an inn was found with a mosaic floor depicting geometric, animal, and plant motifs, and in the center, a medallion containing a menorah and the Hebrew word shalom. Another mosaic in the complex depicts scenes from Homer’s Odyssey, a five-branched candelabra and scenes of the Nile.

In 634, the second caliph, Omar Ibn al-Khatab took the city on his march through to Egypt. and it reverted back to a variation on its Semitic name, Beisan. The Muslims and Christian majority lived together but the city declined, additional structures were built on the streets themselves, narrowing them to mere alleyways, and makeshift shops were opened among the colonnades. Visitors to the Israel museum can to see the gate of the Umayyad shopping street inlaid with Arabic mosaic inscriptions. On January 18, 749 Beisan was completely devastated by a massive earthquake. A few residential neighborhoods grew up on the ruins but the city never recovered its former glory.

Looking across the site you can’t but notice a hill that rises 50m above the city. It’s worth climbing the stairs to the top for a spectacular view of the city and Bet Shean valley. Looking over the fertile surrounding countryside Rabbi Shimon ben Lakhish (ca. 350CE) wrote that if the Garden of Eden is in the Israel, then its gateway is Beth-Shean (Eruv 19a). This tel was first investigated from 1921 to 1933 by archeologists from the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. As a result of their work, Bet Shean became the first tel in Israel to produce a complete stratigraphic sequence spanning more than 18 layers of occupation from the late Neolithic period (fifth millennium BCE) through medieval times.

Level IX dated to around 1450BCE, was an Egyptian garrison after Thutmose III’s victory against an alliance of 300 Canaanite rulers.

A few hundred years later, the Philistines conquered it (it was they who fastened Saul’s body to the wall of Bet Shean after the famous battle on Mount Gilboa: 1 Samuel 31.8–11). Bet Shean became part of the kingdoms of David and Solomon, and was eventually destroyed in a fire, apparently at the hands of Tiglath-Pileser III, King of Assyria in 732 BCE.

Exploration of the Roman-Byzantine city of Scythopolis at the base of the tel began much later in the 1980s by Mazor of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Foerster and Tsafrir of the Hebrew University. More recent excavations of the tel are reported in detail at
http://www.rehov.org/project/tel_beth_shean.htm