Category Archives: Photography

Dagon fortress and Monastery at Qarantal

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.

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For anyone seeing this post I would encourage you to also check my Facebook page at where I share information and photos about tours and sites that I’ve visited with clients.

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.

Day 1

  • 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

Day 2

  • Golan Height & lookout
  • Gamla Nature Reserve, Griffon vultures

Day 3

  • Nahal Meshushim
  • HaHula Reserve

Day 4      

  • Nimrod fortress
  • Archaeological Banias 

Day 5      

  • Waterfalls in Nahal Ayun, Metulla
  • JNF Agamon HaHula

Day 6

  • Tour of Acre: Underground Crusader city, Hamam, Ramchal synagogue
  • Aqueduct at Caesarea & Bird Mosaic

Hisham Mosaic Floor Revealed

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.

Touring Israel in 16 days

Client emailed me with a list of some of the sites on their bucket list and I built the itinerary from there.

  • √ Jerusalem (enough days to get a good feel for the city including major Jewish and Christian sites as well as Herodium
  • √ Hula Valley and Eilat area for bird migrations 
  • √ Negev Desert for solitude, scenery & desert mammals – Mitzpe Ramon
  • √ Bahai Gardens in Haifa
  • √ Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Mount of Beatitude
  • √ Beit Alpha Synagogue
  • √ Masada and Dead Sea
  • √ Petra
  • + and more

Mar 14-15 Arrival & overnight at Tel Aviv hotel [Leonardo]

  • Visit to Caesarea park, aquaduct and Bird mosaic
  • Bahai Gardens (Haifa & Akko)
  • Akko; dinner at Uri Buri!
  • Overnight in Akko [Alma]

Mar 16

  • Rosh Hanikra & coast sunrise
  • Akko tour: Crusader city; Al Jazzar mosque; Hamam; Templar tunnel; Ramhal synagogue!
  • Drive to Agamon HaHula (birds at sunset)
  • Overnight [Vibe Naftali]

Mar 17

  • + Chastellet (Jacob’s Ford), Crusader fortress on Golan
  • + Gadot Lookout War Memorial
  • Nimrod fortress
  • Banias falls
  • + Lupines
  • + Saar falls
  • Overnight [Kinar]

Mar 18 Full Moon

  • + Archeology museum in Katzrin
  • Gamla & Griffon vultures
  • Mount of Beatitudes
  • Capernaum
  • Sea of Galilee
  • – Bet Alpha synagogue
  • Drive to Jerusalem [3 Arches]

Mar 19 Shabbat

  • Israel museum
  • + Old City tour

Mar 20

  • Temple Mount
  • Lions Gate
  • Golden gate
  • Gethsemane & Church of Agony
  • Kidron valley to City of David
  • + Western Wall Great Bridge tour

Mar 21

  • + Katisma church
  • Herodium
  • + Wadi Qelt, St George monastery
  • + Hisham’s Palace, Jericho
  • driving down to Dead Sea for sunset
  • 2 nights [Ganim, En Boqeq]

Mar 22

  • Photoshoot at sunrise
  • Masada & museum
  • – En Gedi (hiking) in afternoon
  • Float in Dead Sea   

 Mar 23

  • Moa fortress on Spice route; winery?
  • Judean palm trees from 2,000 year old seeds at Kibbutz Ketura
  • Hai Bar     
  • Timna park
  • + Hidden valley
  • + Eilat Bird sanctuary
  • Overnight [Soleil hotel]

Mar 24

  • + Eilat bird sanctuary
  • Cross to Jordan (3+ days)
  • Drive to Dana BioSphere Reserve w Ali
  • hike of reserve w Ahmed
  • Overnight [Dana Guest House]

Mar 25

  • Walk around Dana
  • + Frosted trees at high elevation
  • Little Petra/Baydeh
  • + Neolithic site
  • + Petra museum
  • Overnight [Amra Palace hotel]

Mar 26 Shabbat

  • Petra tour w Prof. Sami El Hasanat
  • + Temple; Petra church
  • Wadi Rum jeep tour w Mohammed
  • + Star gazing
  • Overnight [el Sultanah Beduin camp, Wadi Rum]

Mar 27

  • cross back to Israel from Jordan
  • + Underwater Observatory, Eilat
  • Red Canyon hike
  • Pundak Smadar
  • Drive to Mitzpe Ramon & 2 nights [Ibex ]

Mar 28

  • + wildflowers along <171> to Loz cisterns
  • + Hemed cistern and Nabatean terraces
  • + Bio Ramon
  • Makhtesh Ramon: Carpentry, colored sands, old quarry

Mar 29

  • + Avdat
  • En Avdat reserve; saw Egyptian vultures on their migration
  • + Beersheva
  • + Covid test
  • drive to Jerusalem [Villa Brown, Greek Colony]
  • Israel Museum

Mar 30 Drive clients to airport

Off the Beaten Track

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.

Mar Saba monastery cascading down the southern cliff face above Kidron stream

I’m looking forward to your next visit. I hope I’ll see you soon – I’ll be ready.

Coastline series

Just when we think maybe we’re beating Covid-19 and life and tourism may return to a new normal we get hit with an oil disaster along the whole length of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline.…/

Here is a reminder of how things should be.

Please share this post with your friends on social media.

This is the latest addition to Coastline (set of 12 so 2 more to go), coast at Dor with the remains of the harbor and a mock-up (courtesy Kuala) of how it might look on the wall.

In addition to the Coastline series as a 12-piece limited edition boxed set (US$1500) the photographs are available individually (in 2 sizes, 36x45cm US$125 and 46x70cm US$250). To order Contact me.

Text and photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns