Tag Archives: travel

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

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Dome of the Chain on Haram el-Sharif

The enigmatic building known as the Dome of the Chain was inaccessible and hidden for eight months by metal sheeting as the Waqf did some renovations on the structure. Just a few weeks ago the building was made accessible once again so I went and took these photographs.

Dome of ChainThe Dome of the Chain is not a mosque or a shrine and is one of the most ancient buildings on the Haram. It was probably built in 691 during the Umayyad period by Abd al-Malik who also built the Dome of the Rock. Some think the structure, because of its position in the precise center of the Haram, existed prior to Islamic rule in Jerusalem and refers back to the days of the Jewish temple or at least to the traditions that surrounded it. There is a tradition that the Dome of the Chain is the site where King David hung a chain that could not be grasped or touched by anyone deceitful, unjust or wicked and where his son King Solomon administered justice.

With the Crusader conquest it became a Christian chapel to St. James, restored as an Islamic prayer house by the Ayyubids and has been renovated by the Mamluks, Ottomans and the Palestinian-based waqf. It seems that the Mamluk sultan Baibars renovated it, refacing the mihrab with marble and reducing the number of outer columns. The ceramic tiles were added in the time of the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent.

Dome of Chain interiorOne of the most unusual things about the structure is that it combines an interior hexagon defined by marble columns with open arches supporting the dome surrounded by an eleven-sided polygon of columns with eleven open arches. Note that each of the column capitals is different. In the southern wall one arch has been closed as a mihrab. It is the third largest building on the Haram after the mosque of al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock with a diameter of 14 meters.

Dome interior

Closeup of Hanging lantern

Lantern hanging from the dome of Dome of the Chain

 

Ein Karem and Barluzzi’s Church of the Visitation

When you’re in Jerusalem take some time to enjoy walking around and exploring the village of Ein Karem (Hebrew of Spring of the Vineyard), today a neighborhood of Jerusalem and when you get hungry check out one of the restaurants (see below). The spring made it possible for settlement there dating from the Middle Bronze Age. According to Christian tradition,  Mary, pregnant with Jesus, met Elizabeth, pregnant with John at the spring.

There are two churches named St. John the Baptist, one a Franciscan church built in the second half of the 19th century on the remnants of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches and an Eastern Orthodox church built in 1894 (restored in 1975), also on the remnants of an ancient church. Inside the Franciscan church are the remains of a Byzantine mosaic floor and a cave where, according to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born. Below the building a mikve or Jewish ritual bath was found dated to the Second Temple period.

The Franciscan Church of the Visitation is located across the village from St. John. The ancient sanctuary there was built against a rock slope, the site where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived and where Mary visited them. An ancient cistern from which, according to tradition, Zechariah and Elizabeth drank, can also be found in the church; the stone next to it is said to have hidden the two from Herod’s soldiers. Tradition attributes its construction to Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother.

Barluzzi Church of VisitationOn the wall of the courtyard are ceramic tiles bearing verses from the Magnificat (the Canticle of Mary from Luke 1:46-55) in forty-two different languages. On the church’s façade is a striking mosaic commemorating the Visitation.

Visitation church InteriorThe lower level of the church was built in 1862, the upper level was begun in 1938 and completed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1955. The upper hall is dedicated to Mary, and its walls are decorated with many paintings in her honor. The interior has Italianate frescoes depicting the Visitation, Elizabeth hiding her son John the Baptist, and Zechariah next to the altar in the Temple and beautiful mosaic floors. In one of the frescoes, there is an image of none other than Barluzzi himself.

Interior 2

Visitation church mosaic floor

Located up the hill is the Russian Orthodox Church, part of the Gorny monastery, nicknamed Moscovia by the locals, begun in 1905 and only completed in 2005, with its classic gold onions.

Take the opportunity to walk or meditate in the tranquil garden of Notre Dame De Sion monastery.

Restaurants

Pundak Ein Karem “with a garden blooming in and around its stone courtyard specializes in pan-European fusion cuisine of the decidedly unkosher variety; free WiFi.”

Karma “will have you eating like a Buddhist monk fallen off the wagon, a genre-defying culinary quality, with a traditional Middle Eastern taboon stone oven at its spiritual center.”

Café Inbal “small bake shop has a nice selection of classic light Israeli fare, kosher.”

Charlotte for those with a passion for a variety of grilled meats and delicious side dishes, kosher.

Esti and Perla “run by and in the home of two ladies by the names of Esti and Perla, who have resided in Ein Karem for over 50 years serves high-quality dairy food, specializing in Moroccan fare, kosher.”

Photography and Visitors to the Holy Land

The Crimean War from 1853-56 was the first reported by daily newspapers and documented by photographs. Hungarian-Romanian photographer de Szathmàri took photos during the war and created albums which he personally offered in 1855 to Napolean III of France and Queen Victoria of England. British photographer, Roger Fenton was sent on assignment to the Crimea for 4 months in 1855 and managed to take over 350 large format photographs.  The Crimean War weakened the Ottoman Turkish empire that had been in power for almost 400 years. European countries recognizing the “sick man on the Bosphorus”, came to visit and stake their claims.

When guiding I point out how the 1860s were pivotal in Jerusalem’s development. In 1860 the British philanthropist Mose Montefiore had Mishkenot Sha’ananim built, the first apartments outside the walls of the Old City. The introduction of steamship travel made it easier to visit foreign countries and with the advent of photography it was possible to bring back images from your travels. One of the earliest such trips was a visit in 1862 to the Holy Land by the 21-year-old Prince of Wales that was documented by the photographer Francis Bedford.

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives, 1862 Francis Bedford

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives, 1862 Francis Bedford

Mark Twain reported on his travels to Europe and the Middle East in 1867 in Innocents Abroad and while in Jerusalem stayed at the Mediterranean Hotel at the same time that the British explorer, Charles Warren was there. The year 1869 marks the opening of the Suez Canal, Thomas Cook escorts his first tour group to Egypt and Palestine and the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph visits the Holy Land, the first crowned head of a Catholic country to visit since the Crusades. In 1873 a group of German Protestants that had already settled at Haifa and founded the German Colony there bought land in Emeq Refaim in Jerusalem to build their colony. Christian Arabs left the Old City and built new homes creating the Greek Colony and Katamon neighborhood. Just before the end of the century, in 1898 the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Augusta Victoria visited the Holy Land; the logistics were arranged by Thomas Cook & Son. The year 1898 is widely accepted as the start of the American Colony Photo Department which documented the Kaiser’s visit, although one of its members had produced photographs earlier.

Let’s go back to February 6, 1862 just eight weeks after his father’s death when Edward, Prince of Wales, and his entourage left England for Egypt. The group crossed Europe to Venice by train, where they joined the royal yacht Osborne for the journey to Alexandria. This was the starting point for the well-planned itinerary that had been chosen by Edward’s father Albert in consultation with a group of scholars and politicians, an extensive tour of the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece, part of the process of preparing him to be a model modern constitutional monarch. The group travelled on horseback, camping out in tents. Dr Stanley, spiritual advisor and Dean of Westminster, acted as tour guide because of his extensive knowledge and experience traveling in the East. He would provide a running commentary of both the history and Bible references as they related to the places they visited. Specifically, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Capernaum and Nablus were all names that were particularly significant because of their association with the Bible. The Prince, heir to the throne, would also be guardian of the church so these were places to know about.

April 3, 1862: Our tents were struck at 8.30am and we started at that time (on horseback of course) for Bethlehem, which we reached in about a couple of hours time, stopping on the way at Rachel’s tomb, and it was ascertained for certain that the tomb is on the site of the real one.

April 21, 1862: We lunched under a fig tree at 12 o’clock on the site of where once the city of Capernaum is said to have stood + Mr. Bedford photographed us ‘en groupe’

     – extracts from the Prince’s journal

British photographer Francis Bedford (1815-1894) was invited to make a photographic record of the tour, his most important Royal assignment. Some of the equipment could be taken with him but most had to be sent ahead, to be collected at Alexandria when they arrived. On the tour itself, Bedford would have needed porters to carry all the equipment, a large heavy camera, 10×12 inch glass plate negatives, chemicals, portable darkroom. Many of the materials were fragile and unstable, especially when exposed to extremes of temperature. For each photograph, Bedford had to coat and sensitize the plate, position it in the camera while it was still wet and then expose it. Once the image was captured the plate had to be developed and fixed, while excluding all light; lastly, the plate had to be washed. The photos are remarkable when you consider the conditions and that photography was in its infancy having been invented 21 years earlier.

Valley of Jehosaphat, 1862 Francis Bedford

Valley of Jehosaphat, 1862 Francis Bedford

 Garden of Gethsemane, 1862 Francis Bedford

Garden of Gethsemane, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford

Dome of Rock, 1862 Francis Bedford


For those who can be in Edinburgh, the photographs from the Prince’s visit in 1862 taken by Francis Bedford, which belong to the British Royal Collection, will form part of a new exhibition Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, from March 8, 2013.

Tel Aviv Historical Walking Tour

Between 1887 and 1896 Jewish immigrants from Europe from the First Aliya settled north of Jaffa building the Neve Tzedek neighborhood which was the beginning of modern-day Tel Aviv. In 1906, on the initiative of Akiva Arye Weiss a group of Jews from the Second Aliya and residents of Jaffa got together to plan another neighborhood. To circumvent the Turkish prohibition on Jewish land acquisition, Jacobus Kann, a Dutch citizen and banker, helped to finance the purchase and registered it in his name. Kann perished during World War II in the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt. In the spring of 1909 sixty-six Jewish families took possession of building parcels by lottery and erected the first buildings among the sand dunes, vineyards, and orchards in Kerem Djebali along the coast north of Jaffa. There they established a “garden suburb” called Ahuzat Bayit (“Homestead”) which was shortly thereafter renamed Tel Aviv.

Building parcel lottery 1909 photo by Soskin

Avraham Soskin, on his most famous iconic photograph:

“One day, it was in 1909, I was roaming with the camera in one hand and the tripod on my other arm, on my way from a walk through the sand dunes of what is today Tel Aviv to Jaffa. Where the Herzliah Gymnasium once stood I saw a group of people who had assembled for a housing plot lottery. Although I was the only photographer in the area, the organizers hadn’t seen fit to invite me, and it was only by chance that this historic event was immortalized for the next generations.”

The name Tel Aviv is from Sokolow’s translation of the title of Theodor Herzl’s Altneuland (“Old New Land”) based on the name of a Mesopotamian site mentioned in Ezekiel 3:15: “Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel Abib, that lived by the river Chebar”. It embraced the idea of a renaissance in the ancient Jewish homeland. Aviv is Hebrew for “spring”, symbolizing renewal, and Tel is a mound made up of the accumulation of layers of civilization built one over the other symbolizing the ancient.

First kiosk & water tower 1910 photo by Soskin

First kiosk renovated, corner of Herzl

Walking along one of the first streets of Tel Aviv, leafy Rothschild Boulevard (did you know that the street was originally named Ha’am Street?), is like visiting a historical museum that lines both sides of the street. We start our tour at the corner of Rothschild and Herzl Street [another idea for a tour: the stories behind street names, the people and events important in the history of Israel] where you can savor the espresso at Tel Aviv’s first ‘kiosk’ (the second kiosk is also on Rothschild at the corner of Nahalat Binyamin; can you find the third kiosk?). The Eliavsons, one of the 66 founding families built their house on the southwest corner of Rothschild and Herzl in 1909; in the 1930s a 4-story Bauhaus building was built there which a few years ago became the home of the Institut Français.

From Google Streetview

Weiss built his house at 2 Herzl Street and at the end of the street stood the Gymnasium Herzliya until is was demolished in 1962 to make way for the Shalom Meir Tower. It seems ironic that this landmark lives on as the logo of the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites. Weiss  continued with many other private initiatives — he built the first cinema (Eden) and the first post office in Tel Aviv and founded the Diamond Club which became the Israel Diamond Exchange.

From Google Streetview

Meir and Zina Dizengoff were assigned plot 43, the precise location where the group was standing in Soskin’s photo, today 16 Rothschild Blvd. Dizengoff was the first mayor of Tel Aviv and did much to develop the city. The residence is best known as the site of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14th, 1948; now it’s a museum with exhibits on the history of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. You can listen to the historic recording of Ben-Gurion declaring the State of Israel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZDSBF5xtoo&feature=related.

Google Streetview

In 1919 Yehuda Magidovich arrived in Israel and soon became the city’s chief engineer, his office was in the first city hall in the old water tower on Rothschild Boulevard. Afterwards he became one of Israel’s most prolific architects building 500 buildings in Tel Aviv, a number of them along Rothschild Blvd. The first public building designed by Magidovich in 1921 was the first luxury hotel in Tel Aviv (called at various times the Ben Nahum Hotel and the Ginosar Pension). Today you can see the newly renovated building (on the corner of Allenby Street) with its Magidovich signature tower. Historic buildings often owe their existence to adjacent office towers, part of Tel Aviv’s preservation and development policy — the city agrees to increase the height of the building if the developer agrees to renovate and preserve a historic building in the complex.

Related articles

Israel 10 day tour

I guide a lot of 1 day tours but it is a very different experience to create a multi-day tour for a family or group and then be with them guiding for a week or more – it’s an opportunity to go deeper, to get to know each other and this land. For people planning a trip to Israel I would like to share a 10-day tour that I created for a small group. In general, hotel accommodation in Israel includes a buffet breakfast; this tour also included dinner except for Saturday night. The group got to experience a lot and visit some places less travelled.

Some participants’ comments:

Thank you for all your efforts to arrange a trip as diverse as Israel itself. You were always there for us and that allowed us to focus on the subjects at hand. Because of you we learned much more than we could have expected and your personal touch enriched all of our lives. We will think of you and your family every time we recall our experiences in Israel. A.B. Irvine, CA

It was much much more than we ever expected. Thank you for taking the time, preparation and sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm, history, variety of both places and people. Thank you again for a wonderful picture of Israel. Much love. EB and RG. San Rafael, CA

Here is the itinerary I worked out with them. I am happy to do the same for you.

Day 0 airport pickup and transfer to hotel in Tel Aviv

Day 1

  • drive to Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Nature Reserve
  • drive to Tel Aviv-Jaffa and walk along the beach
  • explore Old Jaffa and the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek
  • dinner in Neve Tzedek and dance performance at Susan Delal center
  • overnight in Tel Aviv

Day 2

  • morning walk in Yarkon park
  • visit the Eretz Israel museum in Ramat Aviv
  • Palmach museum
  • Tel Aviv port
  • Holon Design museum
  • overnight Tel Aviv

Day 3

  • travel north along the coastal highway
  • explore Akko: underground Crusader city, multi-media presentation in old Turkish hamam, tour of British prison
  • Lohamei HaGetaot Holocaust museum
  • Bahai gardens and tomb of Bahá’u’lláh outside Akko
  • overnight Kibbutz Ein Gev guest house

Day 4

  • watch video of famous battle of 1973 Yom Kippur War on Golan Heights, Oz 77 and Emeq HaBacha
  • visit the site and monument to the battle
  • Hula Nature reserve for bird watching
  • overnight Kibbutz Ein Gev

Day 5

  • drive to Katzrin and visit Museum of the Golan
  • wine tasting tour at the Golan Heights winery
  • drive the Jordan Rift valley to Jerusalem
  • Mahane Yehuda market before Shabbat
  • overnight Jerusalem

Day 6, Shabbat

  • day of rest
  • afternoon visit to the Israel museum
  • Israeli folk dancing
  • overnight Jerusalem

Day 7

  • walking tour of the Old City:
    • Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque
    • Davidson Archaeological park
    • synagogues in the Old City: Hurva and Ohel Yitzchak
    • panorama from roof top
    • Church of Holy Sepulcher
  • overnight Jerusalem

Day 8

  • Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
  • desert botanical garden at Kibbutz Ein Gedi
  • Masada
  • Dead Sea spa
  • overnight Ein Gedi

Day 9

  • visit the Joe Alon Bedouin Culture museum
  • Bedouin life and hospitality (lunch) at Women’s Center in Lakiya
  • Ben Gurion’s hut at Sde Boker
  • evening walk to edge of makhtesh
  • overnight in Mitzpe Ramon

Day 10

  • jeep tour in Makhtesh Ramon
  • Ayalon Institute
  • tour of Weizmann Institute
  • farewell celebratory dinner in Tel Aviv-Jaffa
  • depart for airport

How much do you estimate a 10 day tour in Israel costs? Of course it depends on the size of the group, hotel accommodations chosen, itinerary and meals; it also depends on the expertise of person doing the arranging. I can organize and guide a tour like this (not including airfare), customized to your interests from $2500. per person.

Hiking Israel

Hiking throughout Israel is a national pastime – youth groups, the scouts, the army connect to the Biblical land with their feet. School classes have a tiyul shnati, an annual hike. Many young people who have just finished their army service reconnect with friends by hiking together on Shvil Yisrael, the Israel Trail, a 945 km trail that crisscrosses Israel, from Dan in the north to Eilat in the south. There is also a Golan trail, a Jerusalem trail, the Jesus/Gospel trail, a hike Sea to Sea from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. If you want to really experience and understand Israel you should take to the trails. Hiking takes you off the beaten track and besides the beauty of nature you will often come across archaeological ruins from thousands of years ago. If you don’t have a lot of experience hiking in Israel it’s recommended you hire a guide. Besides guiding you on the trail I can suggest what to bring, help with logistics, transportation and explain the nature and history and archaeology on the hike.

Israel is a small country which means you don’t have to travel far to start your hike. But although small in size there is incredible diversity so there are many different hiking experiences. Living in Jerusalem I know some hikes that are very close by, for example shvil hamayanot a trail that takes you to natural springs and pools that are particular to the hills of Jerusalem. A hike in Nahal Katlav (a nahal or wadi is a dry stream or river bed) in December is an opportunity to see wildflowers like crocus blooming after the first winter rains.

Jerusalem is a great base for day hikes because of its location in the hills and on the edge of the Judean desert and only a half hour drive to the northern edge of the Dead Sea. For starters I’d recommend hiking Nahal Og, desert landscape, narrow canyon, iron rung ladders – a really classic Israeli hike. Nearby is Wadi Qelt with a hike that takes you to a monastery hanging on the cliff. There are two wadis at the Ein Gedi reserve, Nahal David is the one most people hike and Nahal Arugot; you can choose trails, from 20 minute family hikes to challenging 4-6 hour hikes that will take you to pools and waterfalls in the middle of the desert.

If you are planning to be farther south there is hiking at Mount Sodom, a salt mountain or try a night hike by the light of the full moon in Nahal Peratzim. The Negev south of Beersheva is another desert with its canyons, mountains and springs to explore. Unique to the Negev is a geological phenomenon called the makhtesh or erosion crater that should not be missed. Probably the most picturesque hike in Israel is a short hike that is appropriate for the whole family not far from Eilat called the Red Canyon where erosion has sculpted the red and orange sandstone cliffs.


In the north of Israel there is a hike in the Mount Arbel reserve, where you descend the steep cliffs and then climb back up with great views of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan. Just a little farther north is the Nahal Yehudia reserve with a whole variety of hikes, Meshushim (hexagonal basalt) pool, Nahal Zavitan, Gamla.

For good hikers there are two hikes that are legendary, in the north it is Nahal Yehudia and in the south Nahal Dragot. If you want to test your mettle against the real Israeli experience, these are the hikes. For recommendation on some dozen other hikes, click on this link https://israeltours.wordpress.com/category/hiking/