Category Archives: Water

Jerusalem Park: Lifta

This week we went to Lifta, a ghost town that was an Arab village on the side of a steep hill at the western entrance to Jerusalem. The site has been populated since ancient times because of a natural spring located there. In the Bible, the village is mentioned as Nephtoah (נפתח), on the border between the Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

Lifta

In the last official land and population survey In 1945 Lifta’s population was 2,250, all Arabs, and the total land area was 8,743 dunams. The farmers of Lifta marketed their produce in Jerusalem’s markets. The population was driven out/fled during the Arab-Jewish hostilities of 1947/48 during the efforts by the Haganah to relieve the siege of Jerusalem. Today 55 of the original (more than 400) stone houses are still standing but the village has never been repopulated.

 

Lifta 2

Lifta is on the edge of the newly developed Jerusalem Park, made up of 4 parks, a greenbelt that extends over some 1,500 hectares (3700 acres), surrounding Jerusalem to the north, west, and south. This is a great place for visitors and Jerusalem residents to explore, with walking trails and bicycle paths. You can get a map of the park at Emeq HaArazim, just below Lifta at http://www.jerusalempark.org.il/download/files/park-arazim-hires.pdf.

 

The plan is to maintain existing woods and forests including ancient cedar, arazim for which the park is named, and olive groves and to restore and plant orchards and indigenous broad-leafed tree species.

Anemones at Lifta

Further inside the park at Einot Telem, the ancient terrace agriculture typical of the area with its irrigation system will be recreated at the site of a small Jewish settlement – Bet Talma. The land (60 acres, 23 hectares) was purchased in 1906 and a two-story building intended for a soap and oil factory was planned (but not completed). In 1922 five Jewish families settled at Einot Telem, naming their settlement Emek HaArazim (the Valley of the Cedars). The site was abandoned during the 1929 Arab Riots and further settlement attempts were unsuccessful.

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Magdala on Sea of Galilee

Magdala Nunayya (Magdala of the fishes) was an important Jewish city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee established during the Hasmonean period, centuries before neighboring Tiberias. In Christian tradition, it is the birthplace of Mary Magdalene and where Jesus went after he fed the five thousand (Mark 8:10).

Q: What do you get when you cross a hotel, a new spiritual center and an archaeological site at the historical location of Magdala/Tarichaea overlooking the Sea of Galilee?

A: The Magdala Center, a new tourist and pilgrim destination.

The original excavations at the site were done by the Franciscan Corbo in the 1970s. Paved streets and a large colonnaded square typical of a Roman city were found, along with buildings with mosaic floors. On the floor of one urban villa an image of a sailing ship, a type of Mediterranean vessel, modified for the lake was found in mosaic. Scholars think that boats like this were used to transport goods between Magdala and the Decapolis on the eastern shore of the lake. The shape of the hull and the additional cutwater (forward curve of the stem of a ship) resembles the features of the boat discovered in the mud near Ginnosar.

In excavations from 2007 carried out by De Luca large portions of the paved Cardo and the Decumanus were uncovered. Underneath these streets were drainage channels which fed numerous wells and fountains, part of the city’s sophisticated water system. In 2008 thermal pools were discovered. The water supply system serves primarily the large thermal complex east of the Cardo and the large Quadriporticus which served as palaestra (rectangular court surrounded by colonnades with adjoining rooms) for the visitors of the thermae. The newly discovered harbour of Magdala includes in situ: massive foundations of a tower with casemate, a Hasmonean wall built of ashlar stones with dressed margins, ramps for recovering ships, a staircase, a large L-shaped basin with breakwater and six mooring stones incorporated in the painted plastered wall – the largest and best preserved harbour on the Sea of Galilee discovered so far. Everywhere in the excavations De Luca encountered damage caused by the First Jewish Revolt in which Magdala played a major role (as recorded by Josephus). Plans are to re-open this site in the near future.

In the most recent excavations by archaeologists Avshalom-Gorni and Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority as part of a salvage dig a building that covers about 120 square meters with simple mosaics covering the floor and frescoes of colored wall panels was found. The building has stone benches along the walls and columns that would have supported the roof and has been identified as a first century synagogue.

Synagogue 1st C at Magdala aerial

from IAA

from IAA

Perhaps the most interesting find is a nearly 3-foot-long limestone block found on the floor in the center of the synagogue elaborately carved on the sides and top. On one side is the first and only pre-70 Galilean depiction of a seven-branched menorah between 2 amphorae and fluted columns (another early menorah is the drawing in plaster found in a mansion in the Herodian quarter in Jerusalem). The precise function of the stone remains uncertain – it may have been used as a table on which Torah scrolls were rolled out and read. Perhaps less impressive but still very interesting is a series of mikva’ot (ritual baths) that have been uncovered that fill from underground springs.

Mikva at Magdala

The excavations have also found the fish market and some pools used for holding and sorting the fish brought in by the fishermen, attesting to the importance of fishing to the economy of Magdala.

In the plans, besides the hotel, a church or Spirituality Center is being built called “Duc in altum” based on the words from Luke 5:4 that Pope John Paul II chose, “Put out into the deep” to say, that with God’s help, anything and everything can be accomplished. The building is in the shape of an octagon which is usual for a martyrium as opposed to the traditional Byzantine basilica (rectangular, central nave with apse, and two or more aisles). Not only the shape is reminiscent of early Orthodox churches but the interior of the main chapel is decorated with paintings of holy figures like in an Orthodox church, in the spirit of ecumenism. The area of the altar has a replica of a wooden boat so that as you sit in the chapel, you face the boat with a view of the lake behind it.

Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, Jesus asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  Luke 5:3

Duc in Altum sanctuary

There are 4 smaller chapels off the main hall, each decorated with beautiful mosaics by artist Maria Jesus Fernández depicting scenes from Jesus’ ministry: the resurrection of  Jairus’ daughter, Jesus calling the disciples, the exorcism of Mary Magdalene and Jesus calming the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Below is an ecumenical chapel where the floor paving stones are from Magdala’s first century market.

Nahal Prat or Wadi Qelt

Nahal Prat (nahal: נחל=stream bed) or Wadi Qelt (wadi: وادي‎=valley) flows from west to east across the northern Judean Desert, from near Jerusalem to Jericho, a distance of 28 km, from 770 meters above sea level to where it flows into the Jordan River at 395 m below sea level. Hiking trails follow the stream bed, which has water all year around fed by three springs, En Prat, En Mabu’a and En Qelt. My blog post about Wadi Qelt and the St. George Monastery is one of my most popular so I want to tell you about another destination in the area, the Nahal Prat nature reserve. Take highway 1 from Jerusalem towards the Dead Sea and then a left onto road 437 towards Ramallah. Turn right to the Jewish settlement of Anatot (the Levite city mentioned in Jeremiah 1:1), now called Almon (from Joshua 21:18).

Tomb ibn Taymiyya

Ruins of the Jewish Iron age village, time of Kings is at the turning, with the 13th century Arab tomb of Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya (תָקִי אל-דין אבו אל-עבאס אחמד בן עבד אל-חלים בן עבד אל סָלאם בן תימיה אל-חָרַאנִי) on the hill. Drive through Almon to the entrance of the reserve and descend the winding road to a parking lot.

Ein Prat

I took these photographs of En Prat, the valley formed by the steep limestone cliffs and the pools within the reserve.

Fallen Rocks Ein Prat

The remnants of settlements, monasteries and palaces are scattered along the stream, as are signs of stream-based cultivation. A number of aqueducts were found along the stream, the earliest of which dates to the Hasmonean period, used to channel water to the winter palaces near Jericho. These channels continued to be used through the Roman, Byzantine and early Arab periods. This enabled the growing of fruit trees like fig, pomegranate, date and citrus.

Ruins of a later water-operated flour mill can be seen on the ascent to the Faran Monastery, originally founded by the monk Haritoun in the 3rd century, believed to be the first monastery in the Judean Desert. This area, in the desert and not far from the holy city of Jerusalem, with many natural caves, springs and abandoned Second Temple period fortresses, attracted monks seeking seclusion.

Today, for the same reasons, the area is a popular recreation site to hike, picnic and swim in the natural pools.

Pine Ein Prat

Tamat Pool

 

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

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways

I read photographer Jeff Sinon’s post Photography 101: Finding the Best Shot in which he discusses whether to shoot a scene in landscape (horizontally) or portrait (vertically). I tend to use many of my photographs of sites in Israel on my website and I find that horizontal photos fit better on my web page. But there are subjects where you pretty much have to shoot in portrait, such as cascading water. Jeff posed an interesting challenge:

The next time you’re out taking a picture, capture the scene horizontally and vertically. Then, ask yourself: does one shot work better than the other? Do you recognize why?

I was driving down to the Negev, about a 2½ hour drive from Jerusalem, to go stargazing in Makhtesh Ramon on Thursday night. I planned an early morning hike, from nearby Sde Boker to Ein Akev, a spring and pool in the desert.

Divshon Ascent vertSo with Jeff’s challenge in mind I took the same shot, two ways – this is part of the series, Through My Lens. All the photographs were taken with a Nikon D90 DSLR camera with 18-200mm zoom lens.

The two photographs displayed here were taken at the beginning of the hike, on the climb up the Divshon Ascent with a view of the Zin valley below. The technical details – ISO 800, the vertical photo 82mm, F/11, 1/640; the horizontal one 26mm, F/13, 1/800.

 

Divshon Ascent horz

Afterwards we hiked into the nature reserve at Ein Avdat. There is a 250-year-old Atlantic Terebinth (Pistachio Atlantica) tree at the entrance, with gnarled roots holding it firmly in the rocky ground – another shot, two ways.

 

Terebinth Ein Avdat vert

Terebinth Ein Avdat horz

Probably the classic photo at Ein Avdat is a scene of the white limestone cliffs and blue sky reflected in the pools of water – a great shot, two ways.

Ein Avdat reflection vert

Ein Avdat reflection horz

I’d love to hear your comments, what you think about each pair of photographs. 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 a print of one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

From the Golan Heights

Yesterday I was up on the southern Golan Heights near Kibbutz Meitsar, less than 2 km from the border with Syria and looking east at the point where Israel, Syria and Jordan touch.

Golan map

The Rokad river valley separates Israel from Syria – the ridge in the middle of the photograph below is in Syria and the Yarmuk river valley behind the ridge is the border between Syria and Jordan. You can see the new border fence that Israel is building, given the fighting in Syria – in fact, we saw some plumes of smoke to the north, billowing upwards in the distance. Across from where we were standing, near UN post OP55, one of seven observation posts in Israel, is a UN post, one of seven in Syria that monitor the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel.

Golan Heights

Down below in the valley is Ein Aya, a natural spring that fills a pool, great for a dip on a hot day. Golan view

Across the border in Jordan is a two-story stone building with a red tile roof, one of the German railway stations along with the stations at Beit Shean, Tzemach and Al-Hamma (Hammat Gader) for the Jezreel Valley (Rakevet HaEmeq) line that connected Haifa with Daraa (Syria) in 1905.This is the third branch of the ambitious 4000 km Berlin-Baghdad rail project started by Oppenheimer and Meissner after Kaiser Wilhelm II’s 1898 visit to the Holy Land. The Haifa station today houses the Israel Railway Museum that provides an historical overview of railways in the Holy Land and their part in the development of the country – worth a visit.

Golan train station

Coming up the Jordan valley after Beit Shean you can see the remains of the German rail line and some of the bridges that supported the tracks. At Gesher, next to the station, is the Mujami Bridge, destroyed on May 14, 1948 by the Israelis to impede the advance of Iraqi and Jordanian troops, the lowest rail bridge in the world at 257.5 meters below sea level.  The Naharayim station, in Bauhaus style, was constructed near the hydroelectric power plant built in 1927 by Russian-Jewish engineer Pinhas Rutenberg. The site was chosen because it is where the Yarmuk river flows into the Jordan river.

Gunter Hartnagel has posted a wonderful set of his photographs of the railroad built by the Germans on Flickr.

Photo of the Week – Nahal Darga

A limestone canyon formed by water erosion over many years beckons – Nahal Darga runs to the Dead Sea. Water fills depressions in the stone floor of the canyon so there are places on this hike where you have to swim across pools of water. Make sure to put your camera (I brought along a smaller one on this hike), car key and cell phone in a watertight container so they won’t get wet.

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Nahal Darga

The technical details – the photo was taken with a Lumix (point and shoot) digital camera on March 26 (ISO 80, 4.1mm, F3.5 at 1/100 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.