Category Archives: Travel

A Different Stretch of Beach

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.

Horses wagon beachThe technical details – the above photo was taken with a Nikon D90 digital SLR camera with Nikkor 70-210mm lensat the end of September (ISO 800, 70mm, F10 at 1/1600 sec).

Different beach

Motor boatsPhotographs 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.

Photo of the Week – Dead Sea Colors

The area of the Dead Sea, less than a two-hour drive from Jerusalem, has a lot of photo opportunities – mountains, dry waterfalls, pools with waterfalls, sinkholes. This photo is an image of the Dead Sea taken standing at the shore facing Jordan at the end of a day of guiding. Israeli photographer, David Rubinger (it’s my photo of him with his Leica), says that the best camera to capture an image is the one you have with you, in this case I shot the photo with my iPhone. Clicking on the image will display it larger. Please share this post with your friends by clicking on the icons at the end of this message.

Dead Sea Colors

The technical details, shot with the Camera app on my iPhone, ISO 80, 3.8mm, F2.8 at 1/2700 sec.

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.

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Photo of the Week – Gamla

Situated in the southern part of the Golan, Gamla was built on a mountain shaped like a camel’s hump, from which it derives its name. The steep ravines precluded the need to build a wall except along the town’s eastern edge, as seen in this photo.


The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon DSLR camera on June 1 (ISO 800, 65mm, F13 at 1/800 sec).

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 one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

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Nativity bell towersBethlehem is a city in the Palestinian Authority with a population of 21,947 and another about 25,000 in the neighboring towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jalla. The majority (72%) in the district are Muslim today. Christians in Bethlehem constitute less than 15% of the population (Fifty years ago, Christians made up more than 70% of the population). In the Hebrew Bible, the city is described as the birthplace of King David, in the New Testament, as the birthplace of Jesus, and hence is a center of Christian pilgrimage. Although Israelis are not allowed by Israeli law to enter areas of the Palestinian Authority, I have authorization as an Israeli tour guide to take foreign tourists to Bethlehem and Jericho.

The main attraction in Bethlehem is the Church of the Nativity which stands at one end of Manger Square facing the Mosque of Omar. On the sides of the square are restaurants, souvenir shops, and a modern building that houses the Tourist Information Center, a bookstore, a restaurant and an exhibition hall which currently has a display of creches, the models of Jesus’ birth in the manger from Christian communities around the world, each in their own native style.

Mosque Omar, Manger Sq

The Church of the Nativity was begun in 327 CE by Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus as told in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke; the sanctuary had an octagonal floor plan centered directly above the cave and was completed in 339 CE.

Nativity pre529

Nativity todayThis church was destroyed by fire during the Samaritan Revolts in 529 CE. Justinian rebuilt a new basilica in 565 CE similar to the original, making it one of the oldest surviving churches.  In this plan, the octagonal sanctuary was replaced, being enlarged to three apses. Since then the church has had numerous additions, including its prominent bell towers. The Church of the Nativity is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first to be submitted by the Palestine Authority.

Wooden trap doors give access to portions of the original geometric floor mosaics that survive from Constantine’s church.

C Nativity mosaic

Twice the church was spared, by the Persians during their invasion in 614 CE because, according to legend, they were impressed by a representation of the Magi — fellow Persians — that decorated the building. In 1009 the Muslims prevented the application of el Hakim’s decree ordering the destruction of Christian monuments because, since the time of Omar, they had been permitted to use the south transept for worship.

Entrances Church of NativityJustinian’s building had three imposing doorways of which only the central one is now in use (the left entrance is blocked by a buttress, the right by an Armenian hall for pilgrims). The one remaining doorway has been severely constricted – in the Crusader period, it was lowered with a Gothic arch; after 1515, the entrance was further reduced to prevent looters entering with horses and wagons – today it’s called the Door of Humility. Under Crusader rule the church was comprehensively redecorated, the interior walls  covered with gold mosaics. and a unique assembly of Crusader art was painted on the red limestone columns. Access to the grotto is via a pair of Crusader Gothic doorways on either side of the raised sanctuary, the bronze metal doors and baptismal font are from Justinian.

Beside the church is an elegant medieval cloister which was restored in 1948 by Barluzzi. The adjoining Church of St. Catherine is built in a more modern Gothic revival style. Beneath the church is a series of caves where St. Jerome lived and worked on the Vulgate, his translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Latin (having previously translated portions from the Greek Septuagint which came from Alexandria) from 384 CE.

From Bethlehem you can drive east through Beit Sahour to Shepherd’s Field, the site where the shepherds saw the Star of Nativity. There are two rival locations, one Greek Orthodox and the other Franciscan. Both sites have been excavated, and there have been churches and monasteries on both sites since the 4th century. This area is also believed to be where Ruth the Moabite gleaned in the fields of Boaz behind the harvesters. Ruth married Boaz and had a son Oved, the father of Jesse who was the father of King David.

The Greek Orthodox site is at Kanisat al-Ruwat and includes a cave used as a church from the 4th century, of which the barrel-vaulted roof (5th century) still survives; today, a new large church has been built on top. About 600m to the north is the Franciscan site with a low natural cave or rock shelter that is used as a modern chapel. Above is a modern church built by Barluzzi in 1954, shaped like a tent and decorated with a beautiful bronze angel by Duilio Cambellotti.

Shepherd Field Church

If you continue east, perched on the cliff above the Kidron valley is the Monastery of Mar Saba dating back to 483 CE.

Solomons Pool

West of Bethlehem are three large reservoirs from the Hasmonean period, called Solomon’s Pools, that stored the water from two aqueducts from springs in the Hebron Hills. From these pools the Upper and Lower aqueducts continued via Bethlehem, Armon HaNatziv, Abu Tor to the Old City (remains of the aqueduct can still be seen along the route); another aqueduct was built by King Herod to bring water to Herodium. The Palestinian Authority have built a large conference center with a restaurant and small archaeological museum overlooking the pools.

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.


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.

Site Map update

An opportunity to take a few moments to review where things stand and what has been accomplished. January 2015 also marks 7 years that I have been guiding and blogging. I’ve built a website about Israel to market my guiding services, including a comprehensive blog and an online store [update, the store is no longer active]. I am using a blog theme called Twenty Twelve, a clean, modern design with more capabilities. I have now over 300 blog posts. There were over 82,000 page views in each of the last two years. There are currently 308 people who have subscribed to my blog and another 334 via Facebook.

Here are some of my favorite posts from the last couple of years.

On November 20th a rocket from Gaza landed just 6.5km from our house in Jerusalem while I was writing a post about the Jerusalem botanical garden during Operation Pillar of Defense.

Because I studied computers and worked in High Tech before becoming a tour guide, I wrote an article about how the museums in Israel are using technology to share their collections with the world.

Based on an email exchange with a pastor in England asking about the sycamine tree mentioned in Luke 17:6 I researched and wrote about it.

Starting on August 5th every week on Sunday I’ve posted one of my photographs of Israel as a Photo of the Week.

I wrote two blog posts about early photographs taken in the Holy Land, by Francis Bedford on the 1862 visit of Edward, Prince of Wales and by photographers of the American Colony at the turn of the century.

There were a number of sites that were on my list: Mar Saba, SebasteMount Gerizim and Omrit— I visited them and wrote them up on my blog.

I built an HTML site map:

“Top Ten” Jerusalem Sites

The first 3 must see sites in Jerusalem are associated with the 3 monotheistic religions that make up Jerusalem’s religious fabric:

1) the Western wall (Judaism) built by Herod 2000 years ago during his renovation of the Second Temple,

2) the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Christianity) built originally by Emperor Constantine and extensively rebuilt by the Crusaders in 1149 and

3) the Haram el Sharif, with the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque (Islam) built originally in the 8th century by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik.

Here is my personal list of 7 other sites not to be missed. Add a comment to suggest sites you think should be in the “Top Ten”.

4) For a unique view of Jerusalem, take the Ramparts Walk starting at Jaffa Gate where you actually walk on the stone walls built in 1540 by the Ottoman Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent for a birds eye view of the city. Check out the 8 gates in the city walls, including the remains of the Roman gate below today’s Damascus gate.

5) Visit the Church of Santa Anna in the White Father’s compound, the ruins of a Byzantine church and a Crusader chapel resting on a dike between two pools (there’s no water in them today). This is where Jesus performed one of the two miracles he did in Jerusalem, curing the cripple of 38 years (John 5). There is also a complete Crusader church with incredible acoustics (try it out by singing Amazing Grace or other liturgical melody).

6) Visit the archaeological park at the Davidson Center and see the massive stones that were hurled down onto the Herodian street by the Romans and the steps to the Temple Mount where Jesus would have walked, the Umayyad palaces from the Early Arab period and Byzantine and Crusader ruins.

7) Reserve a Western Wall Tunnel tour and see a model of King Herod’s Second Temple (there is also a model up on the roof of the Aish HaTorah building and a model of Jerusalem in 66CE including the Temple on the grounds of the Israel Museum) and walk 488 meters under the city along the Western Wall on the Herodian street to the spot closest to the Holy of Holies, the holiest site to Judaism.

8) Tour the ancient City of David to understand the importance of water in the history of Jerusalem. Bring “water” shoes and a flashlight and walk 45 minutes through Hezekiah’s Tunnel a manmade canyon cut in the limestone with water up to your knees – quite an experience. The tunnel brought the water of the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool, inside the walls of the city. This is where Jesus performed the second miracle in Jerusalem, curing the blind man (John 9).

9) After extensive renovations the new Israel Museum has been open a year and one million people have visited – the Archaeology wing has been completely redone, the Ethnography section has been expanded and the Art gallery includes a new section on Israeli art. The museum includes the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts from Qumran are on display. Beside it is the 1:50 model of Jerusalem in 66 CE just before the Jewish Revolt against Rome which led to the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by TItus. Walk around and enjoy the Billy Rose sculpture garden designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

10) Take a guided tour of the Mahane Yehuda market or participate in a scavenger hunt. More than an outdoor vegetable market, it is a great place to walk around to get a feel for the characters and local cuisines of Jerusalem. You can request a detailed map of the market at