Tag Archives: Judean desert

Photo of the Week – Wadi Qelt

There are deserts in Israel and exploring them with a guide is a special experience. If you’re interested in photography, you will get some great photo opportunities. In the Negev I’d recommend the Large Makhtesh and the Small Makhtesh, unique geological forms and farther south the mountains around Eilat. For an area close to Jerusalem the area to explore is the Judean desert. This morning we headed out at 5am to reach an overlook of Wadi Qelt in time for sunrise – first photo was taken 6:23am. Here are some of my photos.

The technical details, these photos were shot with a Nikon D90 DSLR camera with a 18-200mm Nikon zoom lens.

Sunrise Wadi Qelt 65mm, F9 at 1/160 sec.

Sunrise over Cypros ISO 200 65mm, F9 at 1/160 sec.

Overlook of Wadi Qelt ISO 250 18mm f/8 1/60 sec.

Overlook of Wadi Qelt ISO 250 18mm f/8 1/60 sec.

Green of Wadi Qelt ISO 250 42mm f/8 1/60 sec.

Overlook of Wadi Qelt ISO 250 42mm f/8 1/60 sec.

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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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A Glimpse of the Tomb of Moses

Driving from Jerusalem to Jericho or the Dead Sea there is a road sign with the words “Nebi Musa”, the prophet Moses. As the landscape flashes by outside your window you may be able to make out a low stone building with white domes that appears fleetingly between the hills. To explore further, take the exit and follow the curving road past a Muslim cemetery on the slope in the desert, an interesting location to photograph in black and white or color.

Nebi musa

Nebi Musa cemetery B&W

Nebi Musa cemetery 2 B&W

From this point you can look across the Jordan Valley and see Mount Nebo where according to the last chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses ascended the mountain to view the land of Israel, that he would never enter. According to Jewish tradition Moses died and was buried in an unknown valley in Moab; according to Christian tradition and some Muslim traditions, Moses was buried on the mountain. 

The Nebi Musa site off the Jerusalem-Jericho road goes back to 1269 when the Mamluk sultan Baybars built a small shrine setting a precedent for others. Over the late medieval period (between 1470 and 1480), accommodation for travelers was added next to the shrine. Gradually, the lookout point for Moses’ distant gravesite beyond the Jordan was confused with Moses’ tomb itself, laying the groundwork for the cultic importance of Nebi Musa to Muslims. Around 1820 the Ottoman Turks restored the buildings which had over the previous centuries fallen into a state of dilapidated disrepair.

The Turks promoted a festive pilgrimage to the shrine that goes back to the time of Saladin that coincides on the calendar with the Christian celebration of Easter. This ‘invention of tradition’, as such imaginative constructs are called, made the pageantry of the Nebi Musa pilgrimage a potent symbol of religious as well as political and national identity among Muslims from the outset of the modern period.

Nebi Musa 2

Nebi Musa Judean desert

Nebi Musa

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

 

Photo of the Week – Nahal Peratzim

A popular day trip from Jerusalem is to do Masada and Ein Gedi and then end the day with a float in the Dead Sea. I guided a family on this route last week. In thinking about it I want to suggest a different Judean desert trip. Visit the pools and waterfalls at Ein Gedi but instead of doing the crowded Nahal David (a nahal is a dry stream bed) hike to the hidden waterfall in Nahal Arugot, do Masada in the afternoon and end the day with a walk through Nahal Peratzim as the sun sets and the moon rises, a great family hike. This photo is Nahal Peratzim, a canyon between high walls of lissan marl. 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.

Nahal Peratzim

The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon point and shoot camera in April (ISO 100, 8mm, F7.6 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.

Photo of the Week – Judean Desert

Solitude in the Judean desert – for visitors today as for monks and prophets. This image reminds me of Genesis chapter 1 where God made the firmament that He called heaven on the second day and then God said “… let the dry land appear and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth… and God saw that it was good.”

Wadi Qelt

The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon DSLR camera (ISO 800, 27mm, F11 at 1/500 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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Prince of Wales Pine Tree

I was visiting with friend and fellow tour guide, Tom Powers, in Bethlehem and we were talking about our interest in photography and what you can learn by comparing photographs taken 100 years ago or more with the same scene today. I mentioned Francis Bedford’s photographs from Edward, Prince of Wales visit to this area in 1862 and my guiding for the BBC to Mar Saba and my blog post https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/mar-saba-and-judean-desert-revisited/. This reminded Tom of a photograph from the Matson collection, image #00776, titled “Prince of Wales Tree near Palestine Museum” (link to the image online at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/matpc/00700/00776v.jpg).

Prince of Wales Pine Tree

Tom did the research and wrote the captions for several hundred high-resolution photographs taken between 1898 and the 1940s in the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. The complete set of photographs, some 4,000 images has been produced as two DVDs by Todd Bolen – http://www.lifeintheholyland.com/49_matson_american_colony_8_volumes.htm
Here is the writeup for the Prince of Wales Tree:

The area pictured lies north of the northeast corner of the Old City. The view is to the southeast, with the Russian Ascension Tower on the Mount of Olives visible on the skyline (left). The Rockefeller Museum buildings, if they are visible at all (through the trees), would be in an early stage of construction.
A late 19th century observer describes this area as “a large field on the north-east side of the town, which extends from the town-ditch [rock-hewn Crusader moat at the Old City’s NE corner] to the splendid pine tree near an oil-press worked by the Moslems. This region is known by the general name of Kerm esh Sheikh [the Sheikh’s Vineyard]”
— Charles Clermont-Ganneau in Archaeological Researches (1899), Vol. 1, p. 248
The “Sheikh” was Muhammad al-Khalili a prominent member of an aristocratic Muslim family from Hebron who settled in Jerusalem in the 17th century and owned this plot of ground. In antiquity it was a cemetery, whose many documented burials stretch back to the Hellenistic period, and in Crusader times it served first as the staging-ground for Godfrey de Bouillon’s successful assault on the nearby city wall on July 15th, 1099, and later as a farm called by the Crusaders “Belveer.”
Muhammad al-Khalili, who served for a time as Mufti of Jerusalem, built a two-story summer residence here in 1711, the structure seen at right, which came to have the name Qasr el-Sheikh. It had an olive press on the ground floor and living quarters above and was one of the first buildings ever erected outside the Turkish city walls. Such buildings were especially useful for guarding the agricultural fields that covered the area, and the property of “Karem esh-Sheikh” was planted with olive and fig trees, date palms, and of course grapevines.
As for the tree, it is said that Muhammad al-Khalili brought the pine seedling from Hebron, wrapped in his head-covering, and planted it here. When it was grown, the venerable pine seems to have become a well-known local landmark, and over the years numerous dignitaries, including members of the British royal family, enjoyed its shade. Among them was Edward, Prince of Wales (later to be crowned King Edward VII) who visited Jerusalem in 1862 and made his encampment here, hence the tree’s name. In 1865 Prince Arthur likewise camped at the site.
In the late 19th century the Muslim Rashidiyah School was built on part of Karm el-Sheikh and it remains in use today as part of Jerusalem’s public school system. At the beginning of the 20th century the Arab neighborhood of Bab a-Sahairah, named after the nearby city gate (Herod’s Gate), grew up in the surrounding area. Then in 1919 the Mandatory government selected the site for the construction of an archaeological museum, although it was only in 1930 that the eight-acre tract, Karm el-Sheikh, was purchased from the al-Khalili family and the cornerstone was laid. Construction was completed in 1935, and the museum officially opened to the public in 1938.
At the time the Rockefeller Museum was coming into existence, the old “Prince of Wales Tree” still stood here, just to the west of the main museum site. In fact, the original architectural plan called for a rear (western) courtyard surrounded by cloisters, which would communicate between the historic villa structure, Qasr el-Sheikh, and the main museum building. And the old pine tree, at the suggestion of Rockefeller himself, was to have pride of place at the center of this court, as “an ‘organic’ counterpart to the imposing tower” at the front of the building. This meant, in concrete terms, that the central axis of the entire museum complex was aligned on the tree!
Rockefeller museum model
In the end, the envisioned rear courtyard was never realized, nevertheless the venerable tree — through all the vicissitudes of British, international, Jordanian and then Israeli control – stood as a silent witness behind the museum. In its later years it was actually propped up by a special concrete buttress, however by 1988 the so-called Prince of Wales Tree – then close to 300 years old – had finally died and had to be cut down. The great stump is still visible behind the museum. As for the historic villa, Qasr el-Sheikh, much of it remains intact; restored and modernized, it today houses the Restoration Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Rockefeller museum and pine tree

Sources:
  1. A. Mertens, “Who was a Christian in the Holy Land? (Edward VII)”, an on-line resource at www.christusrex.org
  2. West Meets East: The Story of the Rockefeller Museum (2006), by Fawzi Ibrahim; excerpt online at http://www.imj.org.il/rockefeller/eng/index.html

Mar Saba and Judean Desert Revisited

I received an email a few weeks ago from Kevin with the BBC in England that he gave me permission to share here.

Dear Shmuel,

I’m producing  a BBC radio series, presented by the British broadcaster John McCarthy. We have been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to make a series of ten 15 minute programmes to follow in the footsteps of Edward Prince of Wales who toured much of the Middle East in 1862.  I’ve been looking at your blog, and saw your excellent entry Photography and Visitors to the Holy Land about his time in Israel.

As you know, he visited Egypt, the Holy Land, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Greece. His journey and the sights along the way were recorded by the photographer Francis Bedford. This was the first time that a royal tour was captured by the still new medium of photography.

As you are clearly interested in this tour, I would very much like to discuss our recording with you, perhaps with a view to interviewing you as a part of the programme.  We will be intending to visit each of these sites, to take a new photograph to match the old one, and to discuss the changes over the intervening 150 years in each location.

Very best and thanks for your time.
Kevin

Here are another few Bedford photographs.

Tiberias-Sea-Galilee-Bedford

Tomb of Absalom

Mar-Saba-Kidron-Bedford

In reviewing the photographs taken by Bedford in Israel and talking with Kevin we decided to do Mar Saba, the monastery in the Judean desert.

Jeep tour

So we met up with Raanan, a great jeep driver, who took us off-road across the Judean desert to the overlook of the monastery in the Kidron valley. The desert is very green after the winter rains we had this year. We saw sheep, goats, donkeys and camels grazing on the plants and wildflowers. I took the opportunity to photograph some wildflowers (but that’s for another post).

Our challenge was to try to shoot a photograph that matched the one Bedford took 150 years ago. Bedford’s is a very interesting image because of the angle. Bedford had a good eye and chose to shoot the monastery complex cascading down the cliff, focussing on the channel of the Kidron stream between the two cliffs. Here is my image shot March 18, 2013 with a Nikon D90 digital SLR camera and 18-200mm zoom lens (ISO 200 50 mm f/10 1/320) in black and white and color.

Mar-Saba-Kidron-B&W

Mar-Saba-Kidron-Browns