Israel's Good Name

Archive for the ‘Central Israel’ Category

Holon Dunes at Night

In Central Israel, Israel on September 16, 2018 at 6:11 AM

The other week I had an urge to go out and explore some of the local sand dunes before the summer ends. With the onset of the colder weather, and the accompanying rain, on the horizon, opportunity beckoned to comb the great dunes in search of insects, arachnids and reptiles. The dunes just south of Holon were recommended to me, and I reached out to my travel buddy Adam Ota to see if he wanted to come along. We equipped ourselves with cameras and flashlights (and a stick wielded by Adam) and set out for the bus as the sun began to set.

Sunset over the city

We arrived at the edge of Holon and made our way through a park and past a stadium, gearing up before we stepped out into the sandy dunes. Overgrown with small bushes and other sand-loving plants, we found many trails crisscrossing the dunes and chose those that took us further and further south away from civilisation. I had just been gifted a new camera from my parents – a Nikon P900 with an astounding 83x optical zoom – and, as such, was rather excited to test out its night-time capabilities.

Geared up

As we crested the first dune we startled a stone curlew, which flew off with calls of alarms, leaving us in silence. There was no moon to be seen, yet Mars and a few stars twinkled in the sky above us. Planes from the nearby Ben Gurion Airport passed overhead from time to time and our flashlight beamed danced illuminatingly in the relative darkness.

Elegant gecko

The first interesting find of the evening was a small elegant gecko, which ran swiftly to cover once being exposed. A brief stop at a bush some minutes later revealed a praying mantis egg case glued to a stick. Moments later we made an even more exciting discovery: a baby chameleon was asleep nearby, clutching on to a twig as he snoozed. We snuck up to it, eager to take pictures, and then noticed that there were even more baby chameleons nearby.

Adam holding a baby chameleon

We enjoyed the company of the baby chameleons, and then pushed on further to find more interesting wildlife. Personally, I had my eyes out for a snake, any snake but preferably either a viper or a sand boa, both of which dwell in the dunes. Instead we found more chameleons, giant beetles, ants, antlions, dragonflies and grasshoppers, all going through their nightly routines as we passed through their simple lives.

Tracking a snake in the sand

Another elegant gecko was spotted by Adam, hiding underneath a sheet of wood that we lifted up in search for critters. Next, we found the tracks of a medium-sized snake that had made its way up/down the sandy slope of a dune. Searching for the ends of the tracks produced no results, but it was shortly thereafter that we found another cool find. Noticing a slot-like hole in a sandy slope, we peered inside to see an African fattail scorpion waiting in ambush.

Our first African fattail scorpion

Actually a pretty dangerous scorpion, we had quite the time finding more of them in the sands, and taking their pictures proved to be most exciting. Taking note of the time, we decided to head back to Holon to catch a bus back to Givat Shmuel before it was too late. On the way, we crossed the old “Security Road”, which was paved in 1948, and visited the old water tower built in 1936 to service the local Jewish population.

Old water tower in a cloud of dust

We made it back to Givat Shmuel happy with what we succeeded in seeing, yet I still had a nagging feeling to go back to find a snake – any snake at this point. A few nights later I reached out to Adam and we set out once again in search of exciting dune lifeforms. We decided to comb a different area, starting just west of where we ended the time before, and began to search.

Holon Dunes as seen from above (Google Maps)

This time we found dozens of fattail scorpions, the tracks of many wedge-snouted skinks and those of a gerbil as well. A few more of the same sightings as last time, minus the baby chameleons, and we had seen all that there was to see. No matter how hard we tried we were unable to locate a snake, but there is still a whole lot more of the dunes to explore so hopefully next time we’ll be met with success.

African fattail scorpion ready for action

Until then we have many ripe days of birding before university starts up again, the fall migration kicking off to a lively start with thousands of shrikes, wheatears, eagles, honey buzzards, warblers and more just waiting to be seen and documented.

Ben Shemen Forest

In Central Israel, Israel on August 19, 2018 at 8:58 AM

The Friday after the Bar Ilan University field trip to Tel es-Safi and the Museum of Philistine Culture I went on a nice birding trip with my friend Adam Ota. He had reported to me that the Tel Hadid and Ben Shemen Forest area had some great birding potential so we set out that morning in high spirits. On the bus ride we already began to reap the rewards of our trip with a sighting of a black-shouldered kite and a golden jackal.

Ben Shemen Forest

Our bus dropped us off at the northern entrance of the park and we were surprised to see a huge number of cars disgorging cyclists all around us. Apparently there was a cycling event in the forest that day, and we just prayed that their presence wouldn’t interfere too much with the birding and nature-watching. Armed with our cameras and exploratory spirits we began our tour of the forest, deciding to start from the northeast corner and working our way southward.

Sharing the trails with cyclists

From the very start there was a member of the falcon family making appearances, yet refusing to allow us to get a good photograph. It was probably a common kestrel, but Adam had spotted a hobby nearby the previous week so we were keen to see one. Circling a field that yielded no interesting species, we ignored the plentiful Eurasian jays and entered the woods.

Pensive Eurasian jay (photo Adam Ota)

It wasn’t long after starting on a dirt trail and encountering many cyclists that we decided to go offroad a bit and try our fortune there. We had picked the perfect place to explore, for we had come across an ancient stone quarry, the clean cut marks being a clear indication of human activity. But there wasn’t just stones to look at, Adam had found a distinct-looking flight feather which once belonged to a barn owl.

Male chukar standing guard (photo Adam Ota)

While we were traipsing through the piney undergrowth we were brought to attention by the call of a male chukar, a species of partridge common to Israel. We stood stock-still and scoured our surroundings, trying to locate the sound. At last, after some silent stalking, Adam succeeded in finding the chukar, perched up on a boulder and providing us with a great sighting.

Owl fly detail (photographed with my phone)

Some songbirds, including the frequently-spotted Sardinian warbler, put up a good show and then we moved on. We next found a few Polyommatus genus butterflies and then Adam stopped our progress through the grass to take a photograph of an adult owl fly (Bubopsis andromache), a close relative of the antlion. I joined in on the party and the owl fly stood motionless on a stem as we took dozens of photos with the different photographic devices we carry.

Adam photographing the owl fly

From there we headed further south, towards the dry streambed of Nachal Gamzu, and encountered even more cyclists. Eventually we caught sight of a bird of prey passing by overhead, identified as a short-toed eagle – quite common in Israel during the summer months. Reaching the southwest corner of the forest we made our way towards Tel Gamzu, which was to offer more than just a nice view.

Agama lizard on the run

We approached the hill from the east and climbed it, the change of landscape scenery giving us new hope for interesting species. True enough, Adam caught an agama lizard that had run into an old military bunker and released it back into the wilderness after a few photos. The tel had started as an Bronze Age settlement and then, in modern times, served as a strategic point for IDF soldiers during Operation Danny in 1948.

Off-roading fun

Atop the tel we found a nice lookout over the coastal plains and sat down to lunch, a pair of common kestrels and a handful of bold mynas keeping us company. When we had finished our break we continued back down the hill, stopping to watch a group of people with their 4×4 SUVs engage in some off-road fun.

Old Arab cemetery on Tel Gamzu

Descending via the northern slope, we passed through the abandoned cemetery that belonged to the Arab village of Jimzu (which preserved the ancient name of Gamzu) and then found ourselves walking alongside olive trees. At one point, while we were poking about looking at huge funnel spider webs, Adam had a bit of a run-in with a sleeping jackal, which dashed off into the wilderness to never be seen again (by us, at least).

Yours truly photographing insects (photo Adam Ota)

Getting back on a proper trail, we passed a couple on horseback – this forest drawing humans on all forms of transportation – and then found something cool. On the side of the trail we found rock-hewn graves, each comprised of two burial chambers excavated on either sides of a coffin-shaped hole in the rock. I had seen these exact grave types nearby at the “Graves of the Maccabees” with Dr Eyal Baruch so I knew how to identify them – particularly the fact that these weren’t Jewish graves.

Thai pagoda

Moving on, we next encountered a fenced-off ornate pagoda built by the government of Thailand in honour of Israel and Thailand’s King Bhumibol the Great, who died two years ago. Impressed by the structure we took our leave and headed for the park’s entrance, near where we had entered several hours ago. We found a lookout tower and took a short break before heading off to the bus stop, stopping along the way to buy freshly squeezed juice to revitalise us, thus bringing an end to our nice tour of Ben Shemen Forest.

Nachal Soreq & Palmachim

In Central Israel, Israel on April 8, 2018 at 5:25 AM

Just over a month ago I went on a Friday adventure with my friends Adam and Efrat. We had four destinations planned, covering interests such as botany and archaeology. Adam and I set out from Givat Shmuel and were picked up by Efrat in Rishon L’Tzion, and together we began the trip. Our first destination was the wildflower-covered Chumra Hill located on Road 4311 just before reaching Road 4.

Tel Aviv stork’s bill (photo Efrat Guli)

We pulled onto the dirt access road and parked atop the hill, surrounded by the spring blossoms. Knowing that it was the height of iris season, we came to see the dark purple coastal irises, and we were not disappointed. Here and there we spotted clusters of dark iris flowers, looking quite distinct in the blanket of red, yellow and blue flowers. We briefly explored the graffitied ruins of what seems to be a British Mandate-era house and made a circular loop of the hill, admiring and photographing the many species of wildflowers.

Coastal iris (photo Efrat Guli)

Leaving Chumra Hill, we headed over to Nachal Soreq, just minutes away on the other side of Road 4. We first attempted to explore the northern side, but were informed by some official-looking folk that the site was undergoing an ecological renovation and is temporarily closed. Instead, we parked at the southern side and began our walk alongside the calm, murky-watered stream.

Syrian woodpecker (photo Adam Ota)

It had rained earlier in the week, so the trails were rather muddy, which provided tell-tale signs of the wildlife visiting the area in the form of footprints. Even the occasional frog provided entertainment, jumping into the trail puddles as we approached.

Walking the sandy trails (photo Efrat Guli)

We continued along the stream until the rushes blocked our view of the water and the trail morphed into a dry, sandy path set among plant-covered dunes. It was quite a drastic change of scenery but we stuck with it knowing that there are some interesting ruins to see further along the way. There wasn’t much nature to see, other than some stonechats and other regular birds for the time and place, but the location was interesting enough.

Old well (photo Adam Ota)

Before long we reached the first ruins, which appear to be Ottoman-era antilia wells, long since filled in with sand. These wells would have served to provide water for pilgrims to the nearby holy site, the tomb of Nabi Rubin. Even though I had researched the area a wee bit in advance and knew that there was this tomb, it wasn’t until I was staring at the building and the painted Hebrew name “Reuven ben Yaakov,” that I realised this was meant to be the grave of Reuben, the eldest of the Children of Israel.

Reverse side of the grave

We entered the rectangular complex from the northeast corner, and explored the interior. Having the appearance of a traditional Muslim maqam (shrine), with the courtyard, large trees, arched structures and mihrab (prayer niche), it makes sense that this complex was a Muslim holy site for many hundreds of years. In fact, it was only in 1991 that the minoret was torn down, and the site became a kever (grave) of Jewish importance. Looking for a nice place to eat lunch, we climbed up into the large tree that adorns the centre of the courtyard and pulled out our food.

Courtyard of the complex

Sated, we put our backpacks back on and left the Nabi Rubin complex, heading back toward the car, but taking a slightly different route through the dunes. This was a wise decision because it led to us seeing a very cool dung beetle racing over the sand ripples, a business of little flies resting on its back waiting for some dung to be found.

Dung beetle with hitchhikers

That excitement carried us over to the next destination, just a few minutes drive: the famous beach area of Palmachim.

Palmachim Beach (photo Efrat Guli)

We parked and got out to explore, starting with some ancient quarries (which sound more exciting than they were in person) and the incubation cage for sea turtle eggs. To add a touch of macabre to the story, we found a semi-decomposed sea turtle far up on the beach, a sad sight to say the least. Next we walked along the surf, heading southbound and pulling interesting shells and potsherds out from underfoot.

Part of a mosaic floor

Before long we reached the beginnings of the ruins of Yavne Yam, an ancient port city which was abandoned during the Crusader period some 900 years ago. Wall portions and even part of a mosaic floor are exposed to the elements and visitors. Signs warning people to stay away from the beach’s cliff edge due to the danger of falling stones, many of which belong to the ancient structures.

Fortress of Yavne Yam

We didn’t just enjoy the archaeological aspects; there were a few jellyfish to be admired as well as some great cormorants and some gulls, including lesser black-backed gulls and a Heuglin’s gull. Having fun in the sun, we eventually pulled ourselves away from the waves and headed back to the car to our very last destination, the fortress ruins of Yavne Yam, inaccessible from the beach due to its location on the craggy promontory. With only a little bit of time to spare before we had to get going (since Shabbat was approaching) we parked outside the ruins and took a quick tour of the site.

View from the ruins

Crossing into the ruins of the Early Arab fortress, built over a thousand years ago, we encountered the bathhouse, built in Roman style with the double floors and heat piping. The other ruins were unmarked, though interesting nonetheless, and the view afforded from the end of the promontory was rather enjoyable as well. Although we could have spent longer, time was running out and we called it a day, pleased with the fact that we managed to visit all four places on our list and already looking forward to exploring even more in the future.

North Tel Aviv Coast II

In Central Israel, Israel on March 4, 2018 at 7:22 AM

Since our first birding trip to the North Tel Aviv Coast back in October last year, my friend Adam and I had planned to revisit the coastline again, but this time heading north towards Herziliya. Being that it’s still the tail-end of winter, and not the spring migration, we weren’t sure what we’d see in terms of birds, but it’s always worth a shot. To take advantage of the morning activity, we left at first light, taking buses to Tel Aviv and then up the coast to Glilot Junction, where we got off and walked towards the open stretches of land that were waking up from the chilly night.

Early morning light (photo Adam Ota)

The morning started off with a handful of juvenile gulls flying in from the sea, but we weren’t able to identify them successfully. Merging from the paved road to one of many dirt trails that crisscross the open land, we began to scour the area around us for interesting birds. We saw tons of the regulars, such as stonechats, sunbirds and more, but nothing exciting for the first twenty minutes or so. At last we spotted a small flock of Spanish sparrows, which always excite me.

Chiffchaff (photo Adam Ota)

Another twenty minutes of scouring, whilst walking slowly northward, until we saw our next fun bird: a male blackcap. Moments later a Sardinian warbler made an appearance, and then a male common kestrel. Turning east to examine a row of tall eucalyptus trees, we came across extensive caterpillar webs, covered with innumerable drops of dew.

Dewy webs

Entering the shade of the eucalyptus we found nothing but hooded crows — a lot of hooded crows, watching us with a collective suspicious eye. Swinging ever northeasterly, we watched a chiffchaff flit about in a bush, and then something surprising happened. I was casually looking over a flat area when a large bird emerged from the verdancy. At first I thought it must be a crow, and then I saw it was a common buzzard, so I got Adam’s attention and together we watched it fly off.

Adam in action

Deciding to start heading for the coastline, we walked along a trail and spotted a flock of cormorants flying over the Mediterranean. Seeing even this common aquatic bird filled us with hope that we’d see something interesting. When we reached the cliff overlook the beach, a common tern flew by, challenging us to photograph it while it dove in and out of the surf hunting tiny fish. This was my first time seeing a common tern, so I did my very best to capture a decent record shot.

Common tern in flight

Several more common terns joined in on the fun, and we were reluctant to keep walking. Unfortunately, it was a Friday and I intended on traveling up north to Ma’alot for Shabbat, so time was an issue. We pushed onward, heading for Tel Michal just outside the Herziliya marina. Nearly immediately we were greeted by a trio of kestrels and a few crows who thought it necessary to harass the poor kestrels. A blanket of yellow wildflowers paved the way for a small vernal pool, complete with a sign explaining the importance of these pools to the ecosystem.

Tel Michal’s vernal pool

While we were distracted by the pool, peering in to see if we could find anything curious, we noticed a long stone wall atop the nearby ridge, complete with a path leading up. Needless to say, we made a beeline for this old structure, which we identified as a Roman fortress shortly thereafter with the aid of a sign. A large stone building complete with a tower, constructed on the rough kurkar ridge, served the purpose of watchpost by day and lighthouse by night. From the Roman coins found on-site, the fortress was active during the first half of the 1st Century CE, shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. To date, this has been the only Roman fortress to be found on the coast.

Approaching the Roman fortress

We entered the fortress, examining what there was to be seen, and enjoying the view of the open land to the east and the marina to the west. After visiting, I read a short publication on the 1977 excavation of Tel Michal and learned that they had discovered a hoard of Ptolemaic coins, dating from the successions after the reign of Alexander the Great, as well as a grim Persian period burial featuring a child inside a ceramic jar.

Roman fortress and the modern-day marina

Overall, the tel saw occupation starting in the Middle Bronze Age, continuing into the Iron Age until being repopulated in the Persian period. Then began the Classical times, the Hellenistic and Roman period, ending off with the site being used as a military observation post during the Early Arab period.

View to the northeast

After spending a good twenty minutes or so in the fortress ruins we made our way back down the hill and headed for the closest bus stop to be taken back to civilisation as they call it, planning to go on more adventures as soon as possible.

North Tel Aviv Coast

In Central Israel, Israel, Tel Aviv on October 29, 2017 at 6:50 AM

The week after my trip to Shiloh I rejoined my adventurous friend Adam for yet another adventure. This time it was for some early morning birding and more along the coast just north of Tel Aviv. We took a very early bus because we wanted to be out in the dunes by the time the birds start to stir. With just a tiny busing miscalculation we reached the fields just inland from HaTzuk Beach, roughly halfway between Tel Aviv and Herzliya.

Starting with sunrise

The sun was just peeking over the horizon as we entered the scrub fields, walking along sandy paths that crisscrossed the area. Almost immediately we had an incredible sighting. A quail burst up from underfoot as we stood scanning the vegetation, its characteristic flight giving away its identity as it disappeared rapidly. This was my first time seeing a quail in the wild, and it was something that has piqued my interest for a while now. In addition, a sparrowhawk was spotted flying high up near one of the several hotels in the area and shortly thereafter we started seeing shrikes, whinchats and wheatears flying from bush to bush, presenting themselves nicely in the early morning light.

Scanning the area

We continued walking south, passing through the vegetation in relative silence, keeping a keen eye for wildlife of all varieties. We came across some interesting plants as well, from the sea squill to the sea daffodil, and later, blooming beach evening primrose growing directly in the sand itself on the dunes.

Sea squill

But it wasn’t just birds and flowers, Adam, more knowledgeable of bugs than I am, caught and showed me a queen ant that had lost her wings. There were also some antlion larva pits in the sand, dug to trip up unsuspecting walking insects on the loose grains.

Queen carpenter ant

We pushed southward, the terrain becoming nicer and nicer as we walked, with songbirds showing themselves all over the place. Occasionally we’d take different parallel paths, scouring the land from two different angles. A hoopoe, our national bird, walked along several paces in front of me, poking around in the sand for insects to eat.

Two harriers and a crow

Then, as we stood there, we spotted three bigger birds up in the sky coming in from the north. Activating my convenient 21x zoom, I was able to distinguish two birds of prey and a crow, the flagship mobbing bird, always annoying other species. Making note of the long and narrow wings, with the narrow tail, I knew we were looking at harriers even before they passed right over our heads. This was my first time seeing a Montagu’s harrier, and what a sighting! The “new bird” excitement carried over to the next cool sighting. A corncrake popped out of cover just in front of us, seeking refuge towards the sea. We attempted to follow it, to get a better sighting, but we were unable to relocate it and didn’t want to waste too much time poking about all willy-nilly.

Exploring the dunes

At this point the terrain was changing from the yellowish sandy flats to proper dunes with reddish sand, at times red clay loam. The vegetation became sparser, mostly short bushy plants and the aforementioned beach evening primrose. The contrast of the reddish sand, the green plants and the blue sky made a beautiful scene for our eyes to behold. Lots of tracks crisscrossed the sand, and we made our own tracks as we walked up the highest part of the dunes. We looked out over the Mediterranean Sea, taking in the views as we took out our breakfast. Eating as we kept an eye out for seabirds, we talked about how beautiful and remote this place was, even so close to such urban areas. To highlight the proximity, military aircrafts passed us both before and after breakfast: a C-130 Hercules cargo plane and a Blackhawk helicopter, both with camo paint-jobs.

Tracks

Just after breakfast, heading back down the dunes but still making our way southward, Adam spotted a common kestrel on a nearby clump of loam backdropped by the gentle waves. We watched it, taking pictures as we creeped forward. Unfortunately we ended up scaring it away but that gave us the opportunity to press onwards, heading towards an even taller hill: Tel el-Rekkeit.

Beach evening primrose

Crowned by an abandoned IDF military base, the tel once was the host of prehistoric settlement. Seemingly nobody bothered to use the hill until WWI when the Ottoman army established an artillery base to shell British troops approaching from the south. Once the Ottoman base was conquered, it was converted into a British base, and subsequently an Israeli base. We climbed the hill and looped around the western side of the base fence, arriving at the entrance with the access road. Finding the site to be completely abandoned we ventured in, wondering if we’d find drug addicts or something similarly unpleasant.

Abandoned army base

We stepped gingerly over the large amounts of garbage and building supplies that covered the ground, including terracotta roof tiles imported from France. We poked our heads into the different buildings, not seeing anything interesting, until I heard rustling in the bushes up against the eastern fence. Motioning to Adam, I crept closer and spotted two foxes making a quick getaway through a gap in the foliage. There wasn’t much else to see within the base so we headed back out, attempting to find the old Arab graves that are on the eastern slope. Instead we found a tiny cliff which didn’t afford passage, and the decayed remains of a dog or jackal.

Red-backed shrike

We continued south along the dunes, seeing a lot of ice plants covering the sandy slopes, and some thorny bushes – the preferred hangouts for shrikes. One beautiful red-backed shrike, singing from his perch on the thorns, posed for me quite close by. It was a lovely experience, and I was sad to see him fly off.

Tel Baruch Beach

Shortly thereafter, on the final stretch of the dunes area I found a ₪10 coin (worth $2.85 USD at the current exchange rate), and then we made our way down to the Tel Baruch beach. Having planned for this, we packed swimwear and towels and changed into our beach garb. We headed for end of the tiny artificial bay, up against the rocks of the breakers, and entered the warm waters. Nearly immediately I felt sharp little bites on my feet and remembered hearing about the sargo fish who have been a bit of a terror to beachgoers this summer. Then, I realised that a common kingfisher was perched on a pole right in front of me, watching the water for small fish to nab for lunch.

Common kingfisher

Thankfully Adam brought his mask with him and we took turns peering into the underwater world, admiring the sargos and other little fish swimming around us in the shallows. Having brought his fishing rod, Adam was looking forward to fish and so we also scrounged around for some “natural” bait, namely little crabs and limpets which we harvested from the rocks. Factoring in the mask, we decided to try fishing from within the water, head underwater to see where to dangle the hook. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much success. Well, no success at all.

Adam fishing

We left the water to try fishing from the breakers and had a continued lack of success. When returning to the water, I noticed that there was a large area that seemed darker than normal. Getting a little closer, wading my way in, I realised that a huge school of sardines came by to visit us. We spent the next while swimming within the school of sardines, marveling at the up-close experience as we watched them underwater with the aid of the mask. At one point, I was underwater and the aforementioned kingfisher plunged into the water less than a metre in front me, but sadly I missed seeing it due to the fishy distractions all around me. Hours passed with us playing around in the water, exploring the sandy seafloor and identifying several types of different fish species, including a type of blenny. At last I remembered that I had to be back in Givat Shmuel later that afternoon and we packed up and left, heading the long way back via the bike trail that runs along Sde Dov Airport. We reached the Reading power plant at the Yarkon River and grabbed a bus back home, bringing an end to a very adventurous day.

Apollonia (Arsuf)

In Central Israel, Israel on October 1, 2017 at 4:52 PM

A week after I finished volunteering at the Horvat Midras archaeological dig, where I participated in clearing Israel’s only pyramid, I took a fun trip with my friend Adam. In the morning we headed to a coastal Crusader castle Apollonia (or Arsuf) at the northern end of Herzliya, busing our way via Tel Aviv. We made our way to the park after disembarking a few blocks away, noticing a large piece of glass laying on display at the entrance, testimony of Apollonia’s ancient glass industry.

City ruins

In Apollonia’s earliest years, when the so-called Phoenicians ruled the coastal area, a small port city was founded. They called this city Arsuf after their god of war and storms, Reshef. When Hellenistic influence overrode the locals, the city’s name was changed to Apollonia, in honour of Apollo, the Greek equivalent of Reshef.

Ice plants decorating the scenery

The Roman times saw an enlargement of the city, with several different communities of inhabitants. During the Byzantine era the city became important, reaching its height of development and a sizable glass industry was created. We noticed lots of ancient glass bits littered about the path area towards the end of our visit, which brought us great excitement.

Details of the castle moat

But it was the Crusader times and ruins that intrigue me most about Apollonia, when the site was renamed to Arsuf or Arsur by the Muslim and Christian forces, respectively. Thankfully there are ruins of this period still standing for us to see, the centerpiece of the park.

Crusader castle of Arsuf

I had read a lot about the battles that took place in and around Apollonia, as well as learned about modern techniques in research to verify theories with archaeological findings. Dr Rafi Lewis of Haifa University explained to me one evening his process towards identifying the battleground location of the Battle of Arsuf between the Ayyubids under Saladin and the Franks under Richard the Lionheart, which was described as being partially fought at the edge of a forest. Unfortunately, the Ottomans cut down most of the trees in the Holy Land to fuel their impressive rail system, so the forest is no longer. However, a veritable line of medieval arrowheads was found and, using a clever method of using data gleamed from shooting recreated Ayyubid bows, the arrow flight distance was calculated. Measuring the length of the flight backwards from the arrow line gave an approximate location for the place where Ayyubid archers hid in ambush to cut down the Frankish troops. I found that to be absolutely fascinating and, since then, yearned for the day to visit Arsuf.

Path along the sea

Returning to our adventure, we entered the park and began along the paved path. We gaze upon the southern moat and wall of the Crusader city and then the excavated remains of a Roman villa as we headed in the direction of the sea. The Mediterranean looked mighty fine that day, with a scattering of wispy white clouds in the rich blue sky. Walking along the sea cliff, parallel with the beach down below, we passed Byzantine water cisterns and reservoirs.

Adam at a cistern

We continued north until we reached the Ottoman lime kiln, a stone-lined furnace, and then swung inland a tad to walk around the Crusader moat. With moats come castles and this time was no exception. We gazed upon the stony ruins, imagining a time long since passed. The castle at Apollonia was built in the mid 1200s after the city had been in and out of European rule since 1101 when it was conquered by King Baldwin I with Italian naval support. When the city was gifted to more private hands, those of a noble family, the castle was built. However, this was short-lived because the Mamluks were on their campaign from the south and, in efforts to save the region, Apollonia was given to the Hospitaller Order. But even the famous knights couldn’t stem the tide of Muslim conquest under the leadership of Baibars and the castle fell in 1265 after a forty-day siege.

Artist’s rendition of the Mamluk siege

Since then, no locals or conquering forces have made attempts to rebuild the coastal fortress and so it stands today, a bastion of ruin surrounded by a deep dry moat. We then passed the site of the original bridge, long since fallen, and crossed via the “new” land bridge on the bright, paved path.

Greetings my lords

A smartly dressed Crusader knight greeted us on approach, bidding us entrance to his home. Inside, we found ourselves in the courtyard of the fortress, surrounded by different rooms. We chose to visit the ground floor of the keep first, and to gaze out towards the sea from within the vaulted room. Continuing on in a clockwise manner, we visited the kitchen next, and then the dining hall and adjacent food-related chambres. I noticed how small the dining room was, say, in comparison to the Crusader castles at Akko and Belvoir.

Within the keep

Heading from the north end of the fortress’ interior to the south end, we entered the Burnt Room, named such after the visible burn marks from the Mamluk acts of destruction. Within the rooms at the south end we found many piles of ballista stones, which were used by the knights to counter the siege, as well as marble Corinthian column capitals.

Looking north

We climbed to the highest ruins of the keep and admired the view, looking down at the shore below to see the remains of the Crusader port. After some relaxation time in the shade we left the castle and made our way to the far northern end of the park. There we sat on a bench and talked about life’s complexities, losing a whole bunch of sandwich cookies to the sand below us. We watched the sea and its guests, and the military helicopter that flew over us. At last we took to the path once more and explored an unmarked excavation area with a simple mosaic floor.

Ancient piece of glass

On and around the path we found tons of ancient glass shards, even the rim of a small bottle, as well as an adult antlion flying through the dry vegetation. With that we walked our way back to the park’s entrance and left, briefly exploring the high-tech area of Herzliya before parting ways, bringing an end to yet another successful trip.

A special thank you to the talented Rebecca Zami who has been skilfully editing my blog for the last couple months!

University Trip: Toron des Chevaliers & Nabi Samuel

In Central Israel, Israel on July 9, 2017 at 7:34 AM

The day following my three-day trip to the Golan and Galilee had me up and active early in the morning, on a Bar Ilan University’s Archaeology department trip to some Crusader sites in the Jerusalem area. Obvious sites would be Aqua Bella (Ein Hemed) or Castel, of which I have visited neither to date, but we were specifically going to more obscure ruins. The first on our list was the Crusader castle at Latrun, known as Toron des Chevaliers (French for “Castle of the Knights”), and our bus brought us to it with no delay.

Toron des Chevaliers (Latrun)

We sat outside the modern Latrun Monastery (built in 1890) while our guide, Dr Jonathan Rubin, gave us the necessary background material to accompany the tour. While we were sitting I noticed a curious monument dedicated to three medieval characters from the three Abrahamic religions: the Jewish sage Rashi, the Christian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux and Muslim sultan Saladin. From there we started on the short trail to the ruins, fire-fighting planes and a pair of falcons flying overhead, the morning view spread out before us as we climbed the gradual hill. We took our first stop at a standing structure that was reworked with concrete sometime during the last century, an outpost of the Jordanian army.

Great Hall of Toron des Chevaliers

Walking among the golden-dead vegetation we identified a handful of the original Crusader ruins, occupied by the Templar knights and eventually surrendered to the aforementioned Saladin who had the castle razed to the ground. Unfortunately, after the destruction of 1191 the castle was never rebuilt and many of the building stones were removed as spolia (or re-purposing stones for later construction). Armed with fragmented plans we retraced the overgrown ruins, the highlight being the above arched wall and the vaulted great room – the sunlight streaming in made for an ethereal scene.

Light filtering in

While exploring I spotted a Sardinian warbler on a dry plant, but nothing else interesting in terms of fauna. Circling around the southern edge of the ruins, we stamped our way through the thorny undergrowth on our way out for we had other ruins to see that day. Whilst waiting for all at the bus, one of the esteemed members of our group gave us a brief lecture on capers, which he found growing along the trail. I have made the mistake of confusing the caper blossom with that of a passiflora (ie passionfruit), and when researching them both online, I found that even their fruits look quite similar. Boarding the buses we were then driven to the next site on our list, the Church of the Crusaders in Abu Ghosh, held within the confines of the Benedictine Monastery.

Church of the Crusaders in Abu Ghosh

While Abu Ghosh is perhaps most famous for its hummus, the Crusader ruins (restored in the early 1900s) were quite impressive. The monastery grounds were quiet and well-kept, and the few Trappist abbots walking to and fro in their spotless white robes. As we settled in a secluded corner to learn about the site from Dr Rubin, I had plenty of distractions with a healthy number of songbirds flitting about, filling the air with their sweet song.

Greenfinch eating from a pinecone

The building’s origins date to the Roman times when a large cistern was constructed over an underground spring, an eared tablet citing the Tenth Legion (which was camped in the area outside Jerusalem) still visible in the wall. A thousand or so years later a Frankish church was built over the cistern, which was subsequently turned into the crypt, and extravagant frescoes were illustrated on the walls. Controlled by the Hospitallers, a fellow Order of the Templars, the church was conquered by Saladin but not destroyed. Since restored, the church has been instilled with new life, with visitors of all religions visiting to see the original Crusader-era frescoes on the walls in the Gothic-vaulted chapel. Leaving the dominion of the church, we passed the old mosque of Abu Ghosh and then rode our tour bus out of the village, passing the expansive Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque – Israel’s second-largest mosque, a $10 million project largely funded by the controversial ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Our next stop was Nabi Samuel located on a hilltop just north of Jerusalem, not far from Ramot Forest.

Nabi Samuel

Disembarking outside, we gained entrance to the national park and began our tour by breezing through the northeast corner – the “high place” composed of structures for hosting pilgrims and more. According to all three Abrahamic faiths, the biblical prophet Shmuel/Samuel/Samwil was buried on this hilltop and thus there are aspects of all three religions at the site. Sitting underneath olive trees at the edge of the site, Dr Rubin gave forth the necessary information for us to continue exploring the site – focusing on the unique architecture (especially the Crusader church of St Samuel being cross-shaped) and the importance of the site throughout the Middle Ages for all three faiths. In class, Dr Rubin told us about a Renaissance Jew by the name of Meshullam from Volterra visiting Nabi Samuel in the 1480s, and of course, the famous Medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela visited Nabi Samuel as well.

Vaulted Crusader ruins

Continuing back around through the ruins, under the glaring Friday noon sun, we explored the large “parking area” of flat bedrock where pilgrims could camp out and the waterworks to support them, with channels, cisterns and more. We swung around the the west side of Nabi Samuel to admire the vaulted ruins of the Crusader fortress which once encompassed the church. There, behind the hewn rock of the quarry – which is unusually close to the building site – we examined the restoration of fallen arches.

Hellenistic and Roman ruins

From there we continued along to the exposed layers of ruins dating from the Hellenistic and Roman (Second Temple) eras until we reached the point where we started. With the exterior loop completed we turned our attention inward and crossed the modern bridge over the hewn dry moat, connected to the flat area where the pilgrims would camp. We approached the central building of Nabi Samuel which was built by the Muslims after banishing the Christians, keeping, for the most part, the cross-shaped layout. We entered the structure, making note of the characteristic Islamic-green door and window frames and shutters, as well as the Arabic plaque over the doorway.

Muslims to the left and Jews to the right

Inside, standing in a tall domed chamber of Gothic construction, we surveyed our surroundings which included Muslim features such as shelves for shoes, green glass in the windows, a mihrab (prayer niche) at the southern wall facing Mecca and a hard-to-see flag of the Islamic Waqf for the mosque. Straight ahead was the door to the Muslim shrine, where worshipers were in various stage of prayer facing a Mamluk-themed mihrab of green and white ablaq. To the right there was a small door which took us to the Jewish site, the kever of Shmuel, located in a small underground crypt. Standing in reverence, I took out a Tehillim (Book of Psalms) and opened to a random page, as is my personal tradition, intending on saying whatever chapter I come across. More times than not the chapter I randomly select mentions either something going on in my life at that time, or something that was mentioned to me or by me or in my head in recent times. Sure enough, I reached a verse with the word “abirim” which is Hebrew for knights (ie Crusaders). However, the actual translation of this verse is different, the word “knights” becoming “bulls” due to a literary rule that my Hebrew-language major roommate explained to me: “Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?” (Psalms 50:13).

View from the roof of Nabi Samuel

Leaving the Jewish section, we regrouped at the entrance and made a quick loop around the exterior of the structure, where Dr Rubin pointed out interesting features such as mason marks and blocked up doorways. To put a final flourish on our trip we re-entered the building and took the narrow stone staircase to the roof where we stood beside the minaret and roof domes admiring the views of the surrounding areas both near and far. Descending back down the stairs, we made our way back to our bus and then back to Bar Ilan where we said farewell to one another, wishing a peaceful Shabbat for all.

Yavne

In Central Israel, Israel on June 18, 2017 at 10:37 AM

The Friday after our wonderful Ramla adventure, Adam Ota and I were joined by more friends, Ben Yablon and Efrat Guli, to take a trip to the Yavne area. I had never been to Yavne so I enjoyed searching for interesting places to visit in advance using the remarkably useful Amud Anan map. Adam, Ben and I boarded an early bus out of Givat Shmuel and met up with Efrat and her car in Rehovot. We popped over to a local bakery to grab some baked goods for breakfast and from there drove to Yavne, a few minutes away to the southwest. On the road we made note of the first site of interest – the old Yavne train station – and before long we were at Tel Yavne located at the southern end of the city.

View of Tel Yavne

Parking not far from the House of Arches, which was the house of the local sheikh in the 1930s, we looped around the tel to find the unmarked trail leading upwards. Pausing to examine a dirt wall rich in potsherds and other archaeological treats, we found ourselves greatly distracted in the pursuit of antiquated trinkets. Other than some pottery vessel handles and bases, some of us pulled out ancient glass shards, the age indicated by the silver weathering which leaves an iridescent coating – something I had learned about at a special glass exhibition at the Israel Museum. Browsing the Antiquities Authority’s reports, I found that the glass samples found at Tel Yavne during a salvage excavation in 2008 were dated to the Late Roman and Byzantine periods. As we reached the top of the hill that is Tel Yavne, we noticed the lone stone tower at the far end of the hill – a Mamluk minaret belonging to a bygone Mamluk mosque.

Mamluk minaret

But presently we were to examine the stony ruins of houses and other buildings possibly dating further back, to the times when Yavne was an important ancient city. Biblically, the city was known as Yavne’el and it was subsequently conquered by the Philistines who ruled the southern coastal area of the Holy Land, including important cities such as Ashkelon, Gaza and Gath – where, God willing, I will be excavating this summer. Fast-forward to the Roman times, when the city was known by its Hellenised name of Jamnia, the Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme council) found its sanctuary upon the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Yours truly examining the ground amongst the ruins (photo Efrat Guli)

Later, during the Crusader period, Yavne/Jamnia was conquered by the Europeans and the castle built thenceforth was named Ibelin, the name synonymous with one of the most powerful Christian families in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Mamluks, in their pursuit of conquest of the eastern Mediterranean lands, converted the Ibelin church into a mosque and a minaret was constructed. Interestingly enough, most of the sites of interest that we were to explore that day date to the Mamluk period.

Purported Crusader ruins

However, the aforementioned old train station, and a concrete pillbox located beside the train tracks, were constructed during the British Mandate period. Alas, despite the Antiquities Authority reports and other source materials online, I am unable to provide exact dating to the stone ruins located on the hilltop and so we move on. Passing the large swathes of bone-dry milk thistle and blooming wild carrot, we approached the minaret and made notice of a fine Arabic inscription which dates the construction to 1337.

Climbing back down the tower

Ben, an intrepid member of our small party, decided to climb the ruined wall and check whether or not we’d be able to explore the inside of the tower. Finding the small green gate open, we took turns climbing up and subsequently mounting the circular staircase to the roof, quite reminiscent of the Mamluk-built White Tower in Ramla that Adam and I had visited shortly before. Breaking through to daylight, we surveyed our surroundings from the safety of the tower and I borrowed Efrat’s DSLR camera to try and capture swifts in flight overhead.

Common swift flying overhead

Climbing back down the tower, and then back down the hill, we came upon a delightful scene of red-rumped swallows gathering mud for nest building. As I was creeping forward to get better shots, an unsuspecting greenfinch landed mere metres from me for a quick drink and, noticing me looming overhead, flew away in a great panic which elicited a mischievous smile on my bearded face.

Red-rumped swallows gathering mud for nest building

Leaving the tel, we drove into modern Yavne for a cold treat at the Ben & Jerry’s factory. I enjoyed three scoops of ice cream in a cup, of the following flavours: salted caramel, peanut butter cup, and my favourite flavour, chocolate chip cookie dough. When our sweet break was over we appreciated the brand-associated cow bench outside and got back into the car for a very short drive to our next destination: the kever (grave) of Rabban Gamliel, one of the leaders of the aforementioned Sanhedrin.

Kever of Rabban Gamliel

The tombstone is contained within a Mamluk period mosque commemorating the tomb of Abu Hurairah, a companion of Muhammad whose purported grave is also a hilltop in the northwest Negev (as we saw during an academic tour earlier in the school year). We were at the Yavne grave in Jewish capacity but it was interesting to note the clearly Mamluk construction with added Corinthian columns, an extensive inscription over the kever room’s doorway and a mihrab (prayer niche) on the southern wall (facing Mecca). I recently had a class that dealt with Mamluk architecture and building design which made me wish that I had paid better attention to detail in these sites when we visited.

Elaborate Arabic inscription over the door

Inside, beside the tombstone, I said a chapter of Tehilim (Psalms), as is tradition, and rejoined our party outside where we examined the rear of the mosque and then an ancient sarcophagus at the edge of the park.

Kever of Rabban Gamliel from behind (photo Efrat Guli)

From there, leaving Yavne, we passed by the arched Mamluk bridge spanning Nachal Soreq and then back to a Rehovot bus stop after we had a quick glance at an old IAI Mirage jet on display near the public library. I was pressed for time because later that Friday afternoon I was to be taking a bus to Yerucham in the Negev. As part of my job working at a school in Givat Shmuel, I was to accompany the 8th graders for the duration of Shabbat – but in the afternoon I braved the heat and sun to walk over to Yerucham Lake for some lens-less birding. Unfortunately, because I was lens-less, I missed out on possibly spotted a pink-backed pelican that was reported there the day before – a rarity in Israel, ordinarily living in southern Africa. Pelican or no pelican, great trips were had and there are many more to be had in the future!

Ramla

In Central Israel, Israel on June 11, 2017 at 8:30 AM

This past Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), commemorating the reunification of the capital city at the culmination of the Six Day War, I debated whether to go to Jerusalem or perhaps somewhere else less crowded. In the end I decided to visit Ramla, an oft neglected city in Central Israel neighbouring Lod and Rehovot, and I invited my friend Adam Ota to once again join me on the adventures-to-be. It was late morning when we boarded the bus for Ramla with a vague understanding of several sites that I mapped out in advance. Disembarking in the middle of the city, we first examined a sculpture park including a depiction of General Yitzhak Sadeh, whose house and mobile HQ we had visited the week prior on our trip to Yafo (Jaffa) for the Open House Tel Aviv event. From there we walked down a side street to the first site on our list, the famous White Tower, passing an ancient Arab cemetery and an old parked Studebaker on the way.

White Tower of Ramla

Greeted by a custodian, we paid for multi-pass tickets to include the other sites on our list and gained entrance to the site. Standing lonesome in a plaza, the White Tower loomed over us as we first previewed the archaeological ruins of the White Mosque and intricate water system of cisterns and aqueducts. These ruins date back to the early 700s when Ramla was first built, by the Umayyad Caliphate – in fact, the first Arab-built city in the Holy Land. The 30-metre tower is a minaret, which was added to the mosque at a later date (during the Mamluk period), and there is a long Arabic inscription etched into grey marble over the doorway. Entering, we climbed the 111 steps passing arrowslits and interesting windows until we reached the top where we joined a few tourists surveying the view around us.

View of ruins and modern Ramla

Enjoying the view, but knowing that there was a lot more to be seen, we took leave of the majestic tower and, passing the skull of a mole rat, we made our way to the next site. The Pool of Arches is one of the most curious sites in Israel to see photos of, and I have been wanting to visit for many years for obvious reasons. An underground cistern, the arch-roofed structure is large enough to accommodate rowboating which we did gleefully. On the way down into the cistern’s humid belly, we passed an Arabic inscription with fancy lettering carved into the rock wall.

The Pool of Arches

Getting into our rowboat, we got acquainted with the other boat drifting about and settled down to explore the cistern by boat. According to the PEF survey from the late 1800s the cistern measures approximately 25×23 metres and a schematic can be seen HERE. After a good amount of paddling to and fro, crashing gently into the thick columns every few minutes, we returned our rowboat and departed from the site our faces likely flushed with excitement.

Paddling underground

Boarding a bus to take us to the southeast end of the city, we got off at the shuk (open market) area where the famous weekly Wednesday shuk was closing up in the dusty area beside the Great Mosque. We passed through, inspecting briefly the huge amounts of items for sale and their unique salesmen. With the mosque in the background the scene looked decidedly Arabian. Interestingly enough, the Great Mosque was originally a church built by the Crusaders – Ramla being the first Holy Land city conquered on their quest for Jerusalem. In 1266 Ramla was reconquered by the Mamluks and the church was converted into a mosque, but retaining some of its Frankish architectural characteristics such as the Gothic doorway.

Ramla’s Great Mosque

From the Great Mosque we made our way to the regular Ramla shuk where stalls and open-fronted  shops lined a long covered alleyway hawking goods, but largely fresh produce and food. Adam paused at one street food restaurant to get a quick Turkish borekas – a heavy filled pastry sliced open and filled with hardboiled egg and served with a spicy sauce.

Ramla city shuk

We then continued until we had seen the entirety of the shuk and found ourselves in search of a very small tourist attraction, a British Mandate post box painted bright red with the letters GR clearly visible (standing for Georgious Rex, or King George). Missing it, we ended up exploring a neglected, yet curious, area near Emile Zola street full of rubble, broken buildings, old churches, stray dogs and a barn swallow perched on an electrical line. Seeking help from the locals, we were directed to the post box and, upon having set our gaze upon it, we left the shuk area.

Within the Ramla Museum

Next up was the Ramla Museum located inside of an old British administrative building. Inside we found an orderly description of the city’s chronology as well as an exhibition of old coins found in and around the city. Ending at the museum just minutes before closing time we decided to walk a bit along the main street of Ramla in hopes of chancing upon something interesting.

Hoard of gold coins

We passed the Tegart fort police station and a few churches, including the Franciscan Terra Sancta church which was built in 1902 after hundreds of years of Franciscan presence in the city – in fact, stemming from the purges of the local populace due to the Black Plague in 1347. With that we agreed that our adventure was to come to an end, but not without murmurs of yet another adventure ere long.

Open House Tel Aviv

In Central Israel, Israel on June 4, 2017 at 10:39 AM

Some Fridays ago my friend Adam and I took part in the annual Open House event in the sprawling metropolis of Tel Aviv. The concept of Open House is to make available houses and buildings that are generally closed to the public, and I knew I had to seize the opportunity. And so, I mapped out a feasible day-trip incorporating a handful of interesting sites all located in the Yafo (Jaffa) area, more or less. Leaving Givat Shmuel early in the morning, we arrived by bus at Jaffa Port for the first item on our list – a guided tour of the port. Having arrived early we were free to explore the area before the tour began, so we watched a night heron fiddle with a fish he had caught while a jealous little egret and an opportunistic hooded crow attempted to steal his catch.

Night heron with fish

After some exploring, we joined the tour gathered together beside Hangar 2 and we began the day in its official capacity. The guide proceeded to give us explanations of the port, its location and its historical importance – being one of the oldest cities in the world. Unfortunately, I had already visited and researched Jaffa Port, as seen HERE, so there wasn’t too much insight for me.

Jaffa Port

But I still found great interest in wooden downers built on the flat-faced seaside buildings, something that makes me think of 18th century Commonwealth towns and pirates. Also, when peering over the edge of the seawall I managed to get a nasty fishing hook embedded in the sole of my shoe – which was removed by the deft hand of Adam. The final thing that intrigued me was the old British national height point, from which they measured elevation for the rest of the country when engaging in cartography and other sciences involving such specifications.

Tour at the port

Leaving the tour shortly before it ended, Adam and I headed for a nearby street in the neighbourhood of Ajami to catch a bus to a location somewhat further south within Yafo. We were headed for the French Ambassador’s Residence, however, when we approached the walled villa we were dismayed to see that there was a ridiculously long line waiting to gain entrance. The patrolling gendarmerie did not seem to wish to slip us inside so we gave up and headed for the next site on our list – even further south within Yafo.

Overlooking the Mediterranean

Disembarking from the bus we popped into a curious Arab mini-market with an array of interesting imported products, such as Fayrouz Pineapple, a non-alcoholic fruit beer from Saudi Arabia and Sultan Cola from Austria, with a special halal certification mark on the bottle. Continuing along, we arrived at the old house of General Yitzhak Sadeh, the old commander of the Palmach and one of the founders of the IDF.

The Sadeh living room

There was a small crowd forming outside the house’s gate and after some drama the homeowners flung open the gate and gave us a special tour of the house and grounds. We began with an introductory speech by son Yoram Sadeh in the front garden and then moved inside to see select rooms in the carefully preserved house. Outside again we toured the cliff garden overlooking the beach and the Mediterranean Sea, and visited Gen Sadeh’s old wartime caravan which served as his mobile headquarters.

General Sadeh’s mobile HQ

Bidding farewell to the Sadehs, we headed back for the bus and made our way back to the northern part of Yafo where there were still several locations to visit. First up was the Saraya, the Ottoman house of government – of which there are several scattered throughout the Holy Land. The Saraya was built in 1880, blown up by Lehi operatives in 1948, restored and now open to the public thanks to Turkish government who reclaimed ownership in recent years. It was enjoyable to sit in the luxuriously appointed great room with the Turkish flag hanging limply beside the wall.

Saraya great room

Leaving the Saraya we paused to admire the famous clocktower (of which there are several scattered throughout the Holy Land), the main post office (built in 1934) and then found a nice Tripolitan restaurant by the name of Gueta where we had delicious plates of savoury Libyan food for lunch. Sated and ready for more adventure, we then headed for the next sites in the American-German Colony. First up was the Maine Friendship House, one of the original pre-fab wooden houses brought over from Maine in 1866 by a group of Christian would-be colonist settlers.

Jean Holmes of the Maine Friendship House

Heading first downstairs, we watched a short video about the trials and tribulations that this group had once disembarking off the Nellie Chapin on the coast of Tel Aviv. What was left of the American colony was eventually sold to a wave of German Templers who added new houses and public buildings to create the German colony. The British deported most of the German colonists with the events of the First and Second World Wars and the colony fell to disrepair. The house we were visiting was purchased, restored and renamed by Jean Holmes and her late husband, Dr Reed. It was Jean herself who took us on the tour of the house and gave us a glimpse of a history that few know.

Jaffa German Colony as seen inside the Immanuel House

From the Maine Friendship House we walked across the street to examine the archives room in the Immanuel House, a building that was once a luxury hotel, a hospital and now a missionary guest house. From there we passed the neo-gothic Immanuel Church and other historical buildings from the American and German colony periods.

House in the American-German Colony

Despite being in the heart of the city, these few streets were charmingly hushed and seemingly detached from the urban symphony of the big city. Leaving the area we boarded a bus to take us back to Givat Shmuel, bringing an end to our Open House adventure.