Israel's Good Name

Archive for the ‘Jerusalem’ Category

University Trip: IAA Warehouse & Rockefeller Museum

In Israel, Jerusalem on January 28, 2018 at 8:19 AM

Several weeks ago, just after my trusty LG G3 phone kicked the bucket, I went on another university trip to two sites in the Jerusalem area. As part of my “Early Ceramics” class, taught by Dr Eran Arie, we were to visit both the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) warehouse in the Bet Shemesh area as well as the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. Due to our status as students of archaeology, we were going to be taken to areas generally off-limits to the general public.

Some of the IAA’s outdoor collection

We boarded our minibus just outside the campus in the morning and drove directly to the warehouse, pulling up alongside the fenced-off compound. Very nondescript from the outside, we saw the first signs of IAA presence within. Huge outdoor shelves supporting large stone architectural elements on wooden pallets grabbed our attention, but we were assured that there were even more interesting antiquities to see inside.

Around the IAA table

Inside and upstairs, gathering around a large table, we were given a short talk about the history, techniques and struggles of the IAA’s endeavours in safeguarding the nation’s antiquities. The speaker, Dr Miki Saban, is the warehouse’s director and followed up his talk by taking us into the adjacent storage room, where thousands of articles are stored. From this side room we were taken back downstairs and into the cold main warehouse, where rows upon rows of large, sturdy metal shelving units awaited us. Divided by time periods, we instinctively wanted to explore unhindered, but we were visiting with a purpose. We were to be seeing early pottery vessels, from the various prehistoric periods as well as Early Bronze, and were ushered into the proper rows accordingly.

Filing card pulled at random

Eventually we were allowed to explore a bit, and I found many fascinating items, some of which are still unpublished. The problem with unpublished items is that the head excavator or archaeologist usually retains the rights to display said item to the world, and thus the item can remain in limbo until published. Regardless, we had a lovely time seeing the numerous ossuaries, vessels, columns, anchors, cannons and more from all the ages.

Fancy ossuary

Outside, when our visit came to an end, we left the compound and climbed back into our minibus. The drive to our next destination, the famed Rockefeller Museum, went by and before we knew it we were in East Jerusalem, in the shadows of the great walls of the Old City. We entered the museum’s complex and were taken aback by the beauty of the buildings architecture.

Rockefeller Museum

It wasn’t just the stone filled us with admiration; clusters of daffodils were freshly blooming in the front yard begging us for photographs. I took a bunch, but none of mine came close to the beauty of this photo taken by Orpaz, a fellow classmate of mine:

Blooming narcissus (photo Orpaz Horn)

Inside the museum, I felt swept away by the heavy stone architecture, an interesting blend of what looks to me as neo-Gothic and Islamic with Classical elements. We breezed past the temporary display in the foyer and the coat-check (a glorious reminder of a romanticised past), and made our way to the building’s central courtyard. There, Eran gave us an opening talk on the museum’s complicated history and its modern-day custodians, a joint effort by both the IAA and the Israel Museum.

Pooled courtyard

Just to summarise, the museum was built in 1938 by the British who controlled the Holy Land after WWI in order to house regional finds securely. It was built of white limestone of stately architecture, funded by American financier John D Rockefeller Jr. With the declaration of independence in 1948, Jerusalem found itself divided, with the Rockefeller Museum ending up in Jordanian hands. Eventually, in 1966, Jordan’s King Hussein decided that he wanted ownership of the museum and seized it as part of his nationalisation plan. This turned out to be a good thing for us Israelis, because East Jerusalem was reconquered in 1967 and Israel took control of the museum. Since then, the museum has been used to house a variety of important local finds, with everything kept just as it was back in British hands – a rather proper look.

Examining Seti I’s stela

Back into the arched corridors, we found the first of many very interesting items on display: the basalt stela of Seti I, an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled some 3,300 years ago. Another fascinating item was the partial skull of the “Galilee Man” from Nachal Amud, said to be the oldest human remains found in the Levant. Before long we met up with Allegra, who took us behind a closed door in the South Gallery. Inside the narrow, somewhat dusty room filled with old wood-and-glass display cases, we were introduced to even more early ceramic vessels and sherds that we didn’t have access to in class. Weak sunlight filtered in through the old windows (vestiges of the British) as we handled various pottery pieces.

Arched corridors

We had a good time in the narrow room, but there was much more to see. We were then guided through the museum’s different exhibits and galleries. We saw many fascinating items, yet I found difficulty trying to identify what I was seeing because everything is labelled with a simple number reference and laminated sheets located throughout the rooms hold the answers – not the easiest way to get answers when rushing through a fascinating museum.

Interesting character

One fascinating room contained a huge amount of decorative stone architectural elements from Hisham’s Palace in Jericho. I know so little about that site, but from the displayed remains, it must have been a very beautiful palace in its heyday. Another cool exhibit was the ancient wooden panels from al-Aqsa Mosque of the Temple Mount from its destruction by earthquake in the 700s CE. Then we were back behind closed doors, this time down a charming circular staircase. We gathered in the bunker-like underground storerooms, peeking about at the many interesting items on the shelves. One thing that particularly struck my fancy was the display of old tobacco jars and cigarette boxes from the British and Ottomans still being used to this very day to hold antique knick-knacks.

Rockefeller Library

One of the final stops in the museum was the rich IAA library, located in the northeast corner of the building. A charming room with huge neo-Gothic pillars (similar to those in the Column Hall in the Hospitaller Fortress in Akko) pockmarked by bullets from the Six Day War, I felt pangs of longing for the romantic days of heavy stone architecture and dusty, leather-bound books.

Timeline of ceramics

At last, we had just two small exhibitions to look at on our way out. The first was a showcase of potsherds as the ages go in an artistic long glass case–truly joyous to look at. The second, and final, was the temporary exhibition that we had skipped in the very beginning: a selection of curiosities from ancient Ashkelon. With that we left the fancy building and headed back to our minibus for the ride back to Givat Shmuel, ending yet another exciting trip provided by Bar Ilan University.

Jerusalem Aqueduct Archaeological Dig

In Israel, Jerusalem on November 12, 2017 at 8:41 AM

Several weeks ago, the day before my birthday, I had a day off from classes which had begun with the new semester mid-October and decided to participate in an ongoing excavation led by the Israel Antiquities Authority. My friend Ben joined in on the fun and we made our way to Jerusalem in the morning, heading for the dig located in the southern part of the city, below the Armon Hanatziv Promenade.

Approaching the dig site

Heavy rainclouds loomed overhead as we approached the construction site where our dig was taking place, where remains of the Greco-Roman aqueduct was found and a salvage excavation was opened up. We passed the hard-hatted workers and construction vehicles as we made our way to the black-tented excavation area. Meeting Yaakov Billig, the IAA director of the dig, we were briefed on the historical and archaeological situation of the aqueduct.

Jerusalem aqueduct archaeological dig

In short, during the late Hellenistic or Roman times an aqueduct was constructed to bring fresh water from reservoirs near Bethlehem to the Old City of Jerusalem. Many attribute the construction to Herod, as he was responsible for a huge building boom, but others prefer to credit the Hasmonean dynasty. Known as the Upper Aqueduct, the elevated structure sloped ever so gently down towards Jerusalem – important for identifying the intermittent sections found between the reservoirs and the capital. I don’t recall the exact height from the briefing, but according to various online maps I think that we were at 778 metres above sea level. Regardless, mapping the slow drop in elevation is crucial for correctly identifying remains of the same aqueduct.

Western meanders of the channel

In addition to the remains of the aqueduct, there was also what seems to be a large building and then a serpentine plaster water channel running perpendicular to the stone aqueduct. When our briefing ended, Yaakov handed us over to Rivka, the supervisor for the plaster channel area, and we were put to work on the far end. Our task was to further define the channel which had already been crudely exposed by a bulldozer. We armed ourselves with pickaxes, hoes and black plastic buckets and got to work. Just a few metres away was a small group of schoolchildren who provided us with fun music and conversation to which we worked.

Working alongside the schoolchildren

We picked, cleared and defined, moving slowly west down the channel, working gingerly around the delicate plaster. There wasn’t much in terms of artefacts, not even any interesting potsherds at first. Eventually we found some Roman-age ceramic roof tile pieces, but even more interesting was a rim piece of an ancient glass vessel, curled upon itself in a delicate manner.

Interesting piece of glass

At around 10:00 am we took a short break to examine the other areas of the dig, to eat and to do a little birding in the nearby grasses. I found a few stonechats, pied wagtails and jackdaws along with the regular Israeli city birds, and I rejoined Ben for some breakfast. The group of schoolchildren left shortly thereafter and we were relocated to a different part of the plaster channel. With the connection of the aforementioned building and the plaster channel still buried, we were given new instructions to define it better. I settled down with a small pick and got to work define the delicate sides while Ben wielded the big pickaxe, clearing away the area beside a bulldozed trench. Yaakov came over to chat with us, telling us that he attended Bar Ilan University as well.

East end of the channel

One of the hired Arab workers popped over to show us a rock that had broken in half, revealing a crystallised quartz interior. Then, as I cleared away the loose dirt I found myself holding a nearly perfect stone cube. Curious as to what it might be I waited for Yaakov to return, and was then told that it’s a mosaic tile – which makes sense due to the fact that on five of the six sides there was the remains of ancient cement.

Mosaic stone

The hours had passed before us and the hired workers began to pack up, another day at the dig coming to an end. We packed up as well, and said our words of farewell to Yaakov. But before we left, there was a special treat for us: a coin had been found earlier by the hired workers, and the dig’s assistant director, Rotem, took us to see it. I was surprised at how small it was, all encrusted and corroded, but it was clearly a coin with some sort of lettering that will be easier to identify after the lab finishes with it.

Yours truly

Leaving the site we headed back towards the heart of Jerusalem, specifically to the Machane Yehuda shuk (open market) as we were famished and waiting impatiently for some juicy burgers. We had our late lunch at Burger Market, washed down with bottles of cold alcoholic cider, before browsing the vibrant shuk.

Hatch brews

Our last stop was to the newly opened Hatch taproom, where a fun selection of fresh beers are available, in addition to creative sausages. After some samples I settled on a hoppy IPA, very similar to the popular NEIPA, and Ben had a Scottish ale. In added celebration of my birthday, Ben went ahead and ordered us one of the sausages, topped with a mango chutney and chopped onions. It was surprisingly tasty and we had a grand time eating, drinking and talking to the owner, Ephraim Greenblatt, about beers and brewing. At last, we said farewell and took a crowded bus back to Givat Shmuel bringing an end to a very fun and interesting day.

University Trip: City of David

In Israel, Jerusalem on August 13, 2017 at 7:29 AM

The day following our Bar Ilan University academic tour to “Moshavot” of the Galilee took us on another tour, this time of the famous City of David in Jerusalem – where we all had to meet at the given time. But, my morning was wrought with strange inconveniences, for when I disembarked at Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station and attempted to then board the light rail, I discovered that my RavKav public transportation pass had disappeared – stolen or dropped. It was an hour or so after the prearranged start time for the tour when I was issued a new RavKav and so I made my way to the City of David in hopes of salvaging what I could of the tour. Located just outside the Old City’s walls on the southern side, I elected to walk through the Old City – a pleasant walk. Making my way through the Armenian Quarter, I then passed the small and obscure archaeological park called Gan HaTekuma and I exited the Old City via the Dung Gate next to the Kotel (Western Wall). Turning east, I laid eyes upon the Givati Parking Lot Excavation site for the first time and then continued to the City of David.

Givati Parking Lot excavations

Entering the national park for the first time since 2008, I passed myriads of tourists and approached the ticket counter to explain my predicament that I was part of a group which had already entered. Believing my story, I was given a stamped ticket and allowed into the park – but it took a few minutes of confused wandering before I located my group in the excavation area of the “Large Stone Structure” (suggested to be King David’s palace) beneath the floor of park’s entrance area. I caught myself up as best as I could perusing the signs concerning the important finds uncovered thus far after which I focused my attention on our guide for the day, Dr Eyal Meiron, an expert on the City of David. We briefly inspected the Royal Quarter (Area G), a complex dating to the First Temple period, and then made our way to a nice lookout spot where we stood/sat beneath a sun umbrella to learn more about the city. The city is built on a mountain ridge in a mountainous area with the Arab village of Silwan on the adjacent ridge and the Mount of Olives slightly further away to the northeast.

Lookout towards Silwan and the Mount of Olives

To give a brief summary of the City of David, the excavated region was the original city of Jerusalem before it slowly expanded outward, from the revolutionary expansions of King Hezekiah in the 7th century BCE to its famous city walls of today, built in the mid 1500s by the Ottomans. It is believed that the first walled city was built during the Middle Bronze age, and then passed ownership a few times until King David conquered it in the Iron Age, approximately 3,000 years ago. King Solomon, the son of David, expanded the city and built the First Temple where the Dome of the Rock now stands. A couple hundred years later, after the Jewish kingdoms split, the Assyrians attempted to conquer ancient Jerusalem but failed. The Babylonians, however, succeeded and razed the city to the ground, destroying the Temple as well. In the Hasmonean and Roman times the city experienced a rebirth of sorts, until it was once again destroyed (along with the Second Temple) by the Romans in response to the Great Revolt. Eventually the city limits changed and the City of David, which found itself outside of Jerusalem, was largely forgotten about. Excavations in the late 1800s revealed the forgotten city and since then the City of David has been one of the most important archaeological sites in Israel.

Ottoman wall of the Old City

We left our lookout area to go underground to the Warren’s Shaft System, a carven well in the rock which was believed to be used to draw water from the Gihon Spring. An important part of every city, fresh water was readily available to the inhabitants of the City of David gushing from the Gihon Spring, yet due to its low setting the defensive walls were built excluding the spring. The issue of providing water under times of siege during the Canaanite times was answered first by the Warren’s Shaft System and later by a tunnel and fortified pool which jutted out from the city walls. While we were stopped at the top of the shaft it was curious to note how many of the passing tour guides both knew and admired our guide, who had apparently educated many of them in matters concerning the site.

Dr Eyal Meiron pointing beside the shaft

Continuing along underground along the Secret Tunnel, we reached a large open area which housed the remains of the Canaanite Pool and surrounding fortifications. Walking on metal walkways with the occasional glass panel to view the ruins below, we skirted the excavated area and marveled at the size. Unfortunately, due to the cramped angles and low lighting, none of the photographs that I took properly document the sights that I saw underground. I thus turned to Eyal who has been so kind as to share this illustration of how he imagines the pool and fortifications to have looked during the Canaanite era.

Canaanite pool fortifications (reconstruction: Eyal Meiron, illustration: Leonardo Gurevich)

Emerging into the sunlight for a few brief moments, we quickly headed for the Canaanite Tunnel – one of two parallel passages that cut through the karst bedrock from the Gihon Spring underground to the Shiloah (Siloam) Pool at the far southern end of the City of David. The famous Shiloah (Siloam) Inscription that was found in 1880 towards the end of the other passage, the Hezekiah Tunnel, has been kept in Turkey’s Istanbul Museum after being cut out of the rock wall despite Israel’s repeated requests for its returned ownership. The three-dimensional aspect of our tour makes it somewhat complicated to explain but in essence we were more-or-less heading south and down in elevation from the beginning of the tour till the end. Within the 115 metre long Canaanite Tunnel, we encountered tight squeezes and small amounts of flooding – which I later found out was sewage water!

Within the Canaanite Tunnel

Being as that we chose the shorter, “dry” route through the bedrock, we emerged once again into the blessed sunlight and found ourselves looking at the original walls of Jerusalem – a truly ancient construction.

Walls of ancient Jerusalem

The tour officially ended there but some of us carried on along the cobbled road towards the Shiloah Pool, passing several sites of interest along the way including the Amanah House and the Meyuhas House – some of the first modern Jewish houses outside the Ottoman walls of Jerusalem. Before long we reached the Shiloah Pool and waited there for the shuttle to take us back up to the Old City wall.

The Shiloach (Siloam) Pool

Deposited at the Dung Gate, I thanked my Arab driver and entered the Old City, making my way back along the same road toward the Jaffa Gate. Seeing the Tower of David, and feeling inspired to finally visit this long-overdue site, I quickly learned that I had come too late. Angling for just a little bit more adventure, I contemplated visiting the area where the Hospitaller Knights of Crusades were headquartered but decided against it due to the fact that it was the end of Ramadan and prayers had just let out – I didn’t want to venture off alone through the crowds.

Harpist in Jaffa Gate

Leaving the Old City, I settled with taking a quick visit to a Jerusalem beer and beer supply store where I enjoyed a cold glass of Lindemans Cassis Lambic, a naturally fermented Belgian beer flavoured with blackcurrants – quite tasty and quite refreshing! A short ride on the light rail and I was back on a bus to Givat Shmuel, ending yet another successful adventure.

Bible Lands Museum

In Israel, Jerusalem on April 30, 2017 at 10:38 AM

The other week, before the holiday of Pesach (Passover), I took a trip to Jerusalem with several goals in mind. The morning began at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, which I had visited for the first time several weeks prior. I was determined to spectate – and maybe even participate – in the daily morning bird banding, and I wasn’t disappointed. Not only did I get to watch and learn about the banding, I also saw a handful of new species for me, including: nightingale, collared flycatcher and my personal highlight, a wryneck.

Wryneck in the hands of Amir Balaban

After the morning banding sessions ended, I settled in the blind to watch for birds and met some birder-photographers whose photos I’ve been seeing for a good while now on Facebook. The highlight was a lone hawfinch which landed near the water’s edge; the cameras clicking away madly as everybody attempted to get a worthy shot. When the clock struck noon I decided I was done at the observatory and made a snap decision to go visit the Bible Lands Museum, on the other side of the Knesset. Opened in 1992 by Dr Elie and Batya Borowski, this museum is the only one of its kind specifically dedicated to biblical history. When I announced myself as a student of archaeology, the girl behind the front desk told me that I was entitled to a discount and that I had come to the right place. And so I gained entrance and began my tour of the museum with the first of twenty galleries on the main floor, taking my time to examine the interesting showcased artefacts. Progressing clockwise in convenient chronical order, the first galleries were of the rise of civilisations and writing – with interesting artefacts including this bearded worshipper of limestone and lapis lazuli from Sumer, Mesopotamia:

Innocent face of the bearded worshipper

I have an affinity for the comical facial expressions interesting pieces as old as this characteristically have, so I was pleased to see next another bearded man, this time of alabaster and hailing from Mari, as well as a particularly hasidic-looking “bald bearded man with sidelock” inlaid in shell also from the Mari area. But there were more than just humourous humanoids to be examined, for some fancy necklaces of gold, lapis lazuli and carnelian next caught my eye, followed by a bronze chariot of sorts being pulled by bronze bulls originating from southeastern Anatolia.

Pre-Hittite bronze chariot

Indeed, the further I advanced into the darkened recesses of the museum, the more interesting the displays were (at least for me). I marveled at a painted cedarwood coffin from Egypt and stelas from Aram city-states, those of biblical mention. At certain displays I felt a behind-the-scenes connection with the touristy representation of the artefacts, being as that I have numerous archaeology classes on the history and legacies of the listed locations.

Stones of Aram

Another feature that struck me as interesting was the model of old Jerusalem, not exactly the same land as the modern Old City. When I had visited Jerusalem last, I was on a tour with Prof Faust (one of BIU’s leading scholars on biblical archaeology) and learned a lot about the walled confines of First Temple-era Jerusalem.

Model of ancient Jerusalem

From then the galleries followed the standard Holy Land list of successive conquerors, namely the Persians, Greeks and Romans. I particularly enjoyed the model of the royal audience hall of the palace in Susa (or Shushan as mentioned in the Book of Esther), a few small gold coins from Greece and the sarcophagus of Julia Latronilla from Rome. Completing my circuit of the main floor galleries, I ventured downstairs to see the temporary exhibit on Khirbet Qeiyafa called “In the Valley of David and Goliath” passing some nice Roman mosaics on the way.

Aerial view of Khirbet Qeiyafa looking south (photo: Skyview)

Having been to Khirbet Qeiyafa, and having dug with Prof Garfinkal (albeit at Khirbet Arai), I felt a connection of sorts whilst perusing the displayed finds and watching the short video about the excavations and subsequent research developments. Debatably associated with the biblical city Shaaraim, based on the fact that two gates were excavated, the region was the buffer zone between the Jews and the Philistines during the Iron Age. It was in the valley below the fortified city, known as Emek HaElah, that the iconic battle between David and Goliath took place. I inspected the inscribed ostracon (broken pottery with inscriptions) and the miniature temple-esque building, among the artefacts, and then settled down to examine some of the academic books written about the place. Browsing through the bibliography I found several of BIU’s archaeologists, and when that satisfied my curiosity, I continued over to the last two temporary exhibitions: “The Classic Court” of Etruscan, Greek and Roman art; and “Gods, Heroes and Mortals” of Ancient Greek pottery.

Snake detail on an Ancient Greek gold armlet

When finished I refilled my water bottle and headed over to the bus stop where I was to be taken to the Machane Yehuda shuk (open market) to meet an old friend, and then off to the Jerusalem Craft Beer Festival – where we sold our first bottle of beer as homebrewers, a 500ml bottle of Arx Meles Stoutus I.

University Trip: Old City of Jerusalem and Ramat Rachel

In Israel, Jerusalem on April 9, 2017 at 5:46 AM

A few weeks ago, after visiting the Jerusalem Bird Observatory and some archaeological sites in and under the Old City, I went on a university trip to Jerusalem, the nation’s capital. Prof Faust, of Bar Ilan University’s Tel ‘Eton archaeological dig, led the trip to some important Bronze and Iron Age remnants found in Jerusalem. Riding in a minibus, we entered the capital from the north and made our way to Jaffa Gate where we continued on-foot to the first site of interest: the Broad Wall in the Jewish Quarter. Built over 2,600 years ago, this wall is indeed broad – seven metres wide in the excavated area – and likely served as part of the northern wall of ancient Jerusalem in the First Temple period. The Old City of Jerusalem as we know it today is surrounded by an Ottoman wall built in the mid 1500s, as the city limits shifted north from its original extent.

Jerusalem’s Broad Wall

Then the professor pointed out something that I never noticed; in some sections of the Old City there are red and black tiled stripes on the stone floor. These red and black stripes depict a suggested continuation of respective First and Second Temple Period walls found far below the strata of construction. Nearby, alongside the Cardo (the north-south street in Ancient Roman cities), we gazed down glass-covered shafts to see remains of both First and Second Temple walls.

Windows to another world

From these shafts we walked over to an open excavated area with more ruins from the Temple Periods, and then we made our way to the Israelite Tower. In the map of the Jewish Quarter (click HERE), the Israelite Tower can be found just north of the Broad Wall. Built in the First Temple period, the tower would have been a typical four-chambered bastion of the aforementioned Broad Wall protecting Jerusalem’s northern border. Usually closed to visitors, we as a group of budding archaeologists were allowed in to the locked area underground.

The Israelite Tower

Within, we looked at the merge between the First and Second Period walls of the tower, the earlier wall suffering damage from the campaign of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. I rather enjoyed the spectacular photographs of the excavations in the 70s and 80s, Jerusalem looked quite different even back then. Leaving the Israelite Tower, and closing the gate behind us, we retraced our way back through the Cardo and witnessed a Bar Mitzva procession to the recently rebuilt Hurva Synagogue – the lad playing what looked like a clarinet à la the Pied Piper.

Bar Mitzva at the Hurva Synagogue

We then made our way through the Jewish Quarter until we reached the Kotel Plaza area and the Dung Gate, there we gained entrance to the Jerusalem Archaeological Park (which I visited last post with friends). But, Prof Faust was only intending on showing us Bronze and Iron Age ruins, so we breezed through the majority of the park.

Spring flowers at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park

We stopped at the Ophel area, a complex of fortifications including walls, towers, cisterns and rooms. The discovery of what appears to be another four-chambered gate, Jewish construction characteristic of the First Temple Period, was the highlight of the recent excavations, perhaps having been built by King Solomon himself. Another neat discovery was that of twelve large clay jugs known as pithoi, one with a Hebrew inscription, which are dated to the destruction of Jerusalem by the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

Inspecting the Ophel ruins

While listening to the professor, with the incessant sermonising of the Al-Aqsa mosque imam going on in the background, I was keeping a sharp eye out for interesting birds hoping that I’d spot the blue rock thrush again. Though I did not it again, my eye caught a smallish black bird flying about one of the ancient windows of the Temple Mount walls. Using my 21x zoom, and then zooming in the picture, I noticed the orange patch on the wing identifying the bird as a Tristam’s starling – a bird I had only ever seen in the Masada and Dead Sea areas.

A mess of stone ruins

Hurrying back out of the park, we rushed to the minibus parked near the Dung Gate because it was Friday afternoon and we still had two more sites to visit. The next site on the list was the ruins of Ramat Rachel just south of Jerusalem, including remains of a Roman and Byzantine village with ruins such as a columbarium and mikvaot (ritual baths) dating from the Second Temple Period. In addition, many agricultural elements were discovered such as both olive and wine-presses from various periods of antiquity, some with mosaic floors.

Ramat Rachel excavations

Passing the agricultural section, we took a quick look at the Byzantine church area before moving on to the Roman villa and Byzantine village. Lastly, we examined the Ancient Tower Lookout and then headed to the edge of the hill where we enjoyed the view of southern Jerusalem and the nearby Mar Elias Monastery (built in the 6th century). In 1956, while a group of some 500 conference participants gathered at the newly excavated Ramat Rachel dig, Jordanian troops opened fire from the outposts near the monastery killing four and wounding seventeen.

Mar Elias Monastery

Interestingly enough, one of the most recent discoveries at Ramat Rachel was the uncovering of a skeleton wearing a helmet – presumed to be a Jordanian soldier. There was a pleasant presence of nesting jackdaws and an abundance of wildflowers such as lupin, hairy vetch and prickly alkanet as well as blossoming Judas trees which brought joy to us all. But the clock was ticking and it was time to venture on over to our final destination, Rogem Site.

Nesting jackdaw

One of a series of mysterious tumuli (or mounds possibly covering graves) in the Jerusalem area, this Rogem Site is the biggest of them all. Surrounded by rock-hewn caves and agricultural installations, this mound can be found in the neighbourhood of Ganim Bet and is covered with some really great wildflowers including scarlet pimpernel and stolonous gold-crocus. While climbing the hill I noticed a particularly beautiful called barbary nut which were all shut – however, in the half hour or so that we were on the hilltop, all the flowers opened wide. This explained the common name in Hebrew for the flower: afternoon iris.

Barbary nut

The professor told us about a theory that these mounds were built to host cultist bonfires, if I understood correctly, but there is much skepticism. Leaving the wildflower-spotted hill and back in the minibus, we had a merry conversation about the hallucinogenic ergot fungi, which one of our party members found on a stalk of wild grain. Within a short while we were pulling up at Bar Ilan University and everybody disembarked to head their separate ways, bidding each other a “Shabbat shalom!”

Jerusalem: Quarries and Archaeological Park

In Israel, Jerusalem on April 2, 2017 at 8:38 AM

Carrying on with the Jerusalem trip I took with friends Adam and Daniel Ota, we had first visited the Jerusalem Bird Observatory and then the Machane Yehuda shuk (open market). Our next destination was intended to be the Rockefeller Museum, an archaeology museum in East Jerusalem. However, we dallied along the way, pausing to admire the historical buildings of Jerusalem. One particularly interesting building was the Italian Hospital, an impressive Renaissance-style building completed in 1919. Upon reaching the walls of the Old City, we were making our way into East Jerusalem after passing the ornate Damascus Gate when we spotted something intriguing at the base of the wall.

King Solomon’s Quarries

An opening of a cave, with a sign stating “King Solomon’s Quarries (Zedekiah’s Cave)” – and with a name like that we just had to investigate. The moody guard attending the entrance post admitted us after we paid the nominal student fee and our explorations began. At first we imagined that the maw-like chamber was the whole extent of the cave but as we walked further and further along the lit path, we realised that this was quite an impressive cave.

O’ glorious cave

The cave was originally a natural cave and was enlarged into a large subterranean quarry approximately 2,000 years ago – around the time of the Second Temple. According to the report by the Israel Antiquities Authority, a ceremonial stone mallet with Freemason markings and the words “King Solomon” was found, in addition to pottery and coins from various periods. Stone blocks hewn from the cave were used to build houses and buildings in Jerusalem and, with the Old City built over it, the cave was forgotten and the entrance covered up. One wintery day in 1854, an American scholar named Dr James Turner Barclay accidentally discovered the cave while walking his dog and secretly surveyed the cave, announcing his discovery shortly thereafter. Deeper and deeper we walked, the air becoming damp while the occasional drops of water falling around us from the cave ceiling. We next passed through a large cavern named “the Freemasons Hall”, where Freemason ceremonies took place in the years after the cave’s discovery.

Within the Freemason Hall

Leaving the cavern we heard the noise of running water and found a crack in the cave wall dripping water into a small pool, a site named “Zedekiah’s Tears”. On the other side of the cave we found a chained-off area with a sign claiming that the area ahead was a “challenging trail”, but, being the explorer that I am, I naturally ignored the pesky chain and explored the damp darkness. What I found was a hole in the cave floor with what looked to be a passage below – I did not venture any further. Heading back out of the cave, pausing to comment on the charcoal graffiti dating 1889, we expressed our marvel of this virtually unknown place of interest. Just to express the cave’s size, the maximum length measures out to about 230 metres, with the width reaching over 100 metres at the widest point. All-in-all the cave is 9,000 square metres with the average height of fifteen metres throughout – an illustration over the satellite image of the Old City demonstrating the underground reaches can be seen HERE. Rain was drizzling down when we left the muggy comfort of the cave and we made our way to Rockefeller Museum, which had unfortunately closed for the day twenty minutes prior.

Iconic tombs in the Kidron Valley

And so, to salvage the rest of the hours of daylight, we decided to loop around the eastern side of the Old City and found ourselves looking across at the Mount of Olives and down at Kidron Valley with its masses of Jewish graves including the iconic Yad Avshalom and the so-called Tomb of Zechariah. Our view then turned to the Arab village of Silwan and then we made our way to the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, just inside the Dung Gate.

Jewish ‘graves’ and Silwan

We paid the discounted student entrance fee and began with the Davidson Centre where we breezed past descriptions and explanations of Jerusalem’s rich yet turbid past. Leaving the visitors centre, we first feasted our eyes on the gardens of the Umayyad palace before crossing over into the Ophel Walls area with it numerous strata of construction. Houses, communal structures, ritual baths and cisterns all build one atop the other; the archaeological work must have been dizzying.

Strata of ancient construction

Unfortunately, while the rain had stopped minutes earlier, the skies were still gloomily overcast. With sunset approaching, we hurried through the ruins and I spotted two fun birds with colourful names: a black redstart and a blue rock thrush (my second one ever). Here is an interesting Byzantine mosaic floor that reads “Happy are the inhabitants of this house” in Greek:

Byzantine mosaic floor

One thing that I find difficult with sites such as this (and also Bet Shean, for example) is the sheer quantity of things to see. When one sees a singular ancient building or the ruins of a small complex it is easier to process, but when confronted with the huge amount of ruins and artefacts to examine… some of us get a little overwhelmed.

Cloudy sunset over the Old City

We made our way to the staircase of the Hulda Gates, entrances to the Temple Mount that were sealed up many years ago. There is a Latin inscription visible above the western Hulda Gate, dating to the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian, and a façade from the Umayyad period.

Looking up at the façade and inscription

Walking along the southern wall of the Temple Mount, we reached and climbed the remains of the Crusader tower (the famous Templars were based out of the Temple Mount, thus the name) and enjoyed the view. Above us, beside the dull silver dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, there is a Muslim archaeology museum of sorts – sadly off-limits to us.

Crusader tower behind the tree

Leaving the tower, we continued along the impressive wall and reached the corner where an interesting inscription is on display as well as multitudes of enormous broken blocks from the Roman destruction of the Temple nearly 2,000 years ago. There, the famous Robinson’s Arch was discovered fallen, with small stores at the opposing base.

Robinson’s Arch

Darkness settling in, we hurried through the last section of the ruins and then popped over to the Kotel (or Western Wall) for a quick visit.

Posing at the Kotel

Despite the gloomy, grey skies that the day offered, twilight was actually quite beautiful and I was able to take a rather pleasing photo of the Kotel:

Kotel at twilight

Leaving the Kotel, we boarded a bus back to Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station where we had dinner (schnitzel in a baguette for me) and then boarded a bus back to Givat Shmuel to bring an end to a very long but very adventurous day. Little did I know that I was to revisit the Jerusalem Archaeological Park a mere two week later with fellow Archaeology students in the form of an academic tour – coming up next…

Jerusalem Bird Observatory

In Israel, Jerusalem on March 26, 2017 at 8:16 AM

A few weeks ago, before all the fun of Purim, I took another trip to Jerusalem with my friend Adam Ota, and this time his brother Daniel tagged along. We were headed for the Jerusalem Bird Observatory to watch the morning bird ringing, but unfortunately had a later start then planned. Arriving in Jerusalem, we walked into the Government complex, passing by the Supreme Court of Israel and then one of the entrances to the Knesset when we turned off-road. Right there, nestled in the trees and rose bushes, is the Jerusalem Bird Observatory with its ringing station for bird identifications and record tracking.

Jerusalem Bird Observatory

Since we arrived a tad late the ringing was over but we were shown into the centre by Sara Dudovitz, a friend of my family, where we watched a short film comprised of footage of wildlife in urban Jerusalem. Amir Balaban, the director of JBO and consummate nature videographer (see his YouTube videos HERE), made an appearance and then was off. After the short film I marveled at the minute size of a stuffed little owl and we were then given a short tour of the closed ringing station.

Springtime blossoming

Looking out the big picture windows, I spotted my first lesser whitethroat hopping about on the ground twenty or so metres away. Moments later, a Syrian woodpecker landed on a nearby tree and began examining it – followed by a great tit flitting by. Convinced that this was the place to be, I intended to settle in for some birding, but Sara knew better and took us to an even better spot – the observation room with its open windows to a small nature area with a tiny waterfall and pond.

Peering into nature

Armed with my camera and its 21x optical zoom, I joined Adam and his old Russian military monocular in scouring the outlying views of our post for birds. I was amazed at the sheer quantity of wildlife mere metres away; blackbirds, European robins, greenfinches, a white-breasted kingfisher and two Caspian turtles basking at the waters edge.

White-breasted kingfisher

As I was watching a whole bunch of sparrows, chaffinches and greenfinches feeding in the grass 2-3 metres away, I noticed that there was one who didn’t fit in. It was a bird I had never seen before, and it took me only a few seconds to realise what it must be: a female brambling. Minutes later it was joined by a male brambling, a songbird of striking plumage. My photos didn’t turn out too amazing so I was fortunate to secure a nearly identical (yet far superior) one from talented photographed Ilan Ramati who visited the JBO on the following day.

Brambling (photo Ilan Ramati)

Shortly thereafter, as the three of us continued to notice new birds appearing in our field of view, one of the women who work at the JBO went out to refill the seeds in the bird-feeders and to string fresh lines of peanuts. Keeping my camera focused on one of the bird-feeders I tried time and again to capture a great tit snatching sunflower seeds, but to no avail. I did, however, catch this Eurasian jay perched on the peanut line moment before he wrestled one off for consumption.

Eurasian jay

One of my favourite songbirds, the European robin, was only spotted in the shade to the right side of the observation deck which made it hard to photograph. I adore how despite their dumpiness and overall simpleton demeanor, their warbling song is commendable to say the least. And so we stayed in the observation deck for a couple more minutes before popping on to the living roof – the first one in Israel – and then departing via Gan Sacher, the backside of the JBO preserve.

Almond blossom

We saw an interesting thorny tree and the plentiful blossoming of anemones, Persian cyclamens and almond trees as well as a few jackdaws as we walked out of the park. We were headed for Machane Yehuda shuk (open market) where we had a lunch of pasta before heading to East Jerusalem, in search for archaeological wonders.


In Israel, Jerusalem on March 5, 2017 at 6:27 AM

Continuing from our tour of the Ramot Forest in northern Jerusalem, where we saw gazelles and ancient winepresses, my friend Adam and I headed for the nearby ruined village of Lifta. Located just outside the main western entrance of Jerusalem, between Roads 1 and 50, the abandoned houses and buildings belong most recently to an Arab village.

Lifta from afar

Lifta from afar below modern Jerusalem

First, the village was a Jewish one by the name of Mei Neftoach during the time of the First Temple, and was subsequently destroyed by the Romans under Titus and Vespasian. During the Byzantine period settlement resumed, the village going by the name Nephtho – changing to Clepsta under Crusader rule. Lifta reached its peak in the late 1880s and since the 1950s the ruins have just been a part of the landscape, good for both tourist and research purposes.

Almond blossoms

Almond blossoms

Walking down from the Ramot area, we passed a few blossoming almond trees as well as a few startled gazelles and some songbirds. After the Tur Sinai farm we made our way across the land bridge over Road 1 with a vantage point of the stone ruins of Lifta on the opposite hillside. Winding down the backroads, we passed a playground park and then found the offroad path to Lifta, with its blue trail marker.

Interesting trail marker

Interesting trail marker

We stopped every so often to take photographs of the beautiful blossoming almond trees dotting the hillside. Shortly we were walking below the houses and buildings of the northern end of Lifta, yet we continued on until we found a better place to climb up.



We started with a house and then the olive mill – unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a straightforward source to identify what the different structures are, although some are obvious. In my searches for site identifications I found a really interesting collection of 3D scans of a handful of Lifta’s structures (see HERE).

Inside the olive mill

Inside the olive mill

Standing at the northern end of the old village’s nucleus, we were surrounded by stone walls, almond trees, cacti and an abundance of green grass growing everywhere. Within the village we explored the lower street heading north, so overgrown that we passed over, around and even through houses to progress further.

Exploring the ruins

Exploring the ruins

Pausing every now and then to marvel at the magnificence of the ruins, as well as the spotting of a black redstart perched on a nearby tree, we eventually made it to the end of the lower street area and climbed up to the upper street area, where a formidable building with ornate lintel inscriptions commanded our attention. If I’ve understood the Israel Antiquities Authority’s report correctly, the building is Ottoman era built on more ancient wall foundations, perhaps Crusader.

Looking out the windows

Looking out the windows

Entering the upper floor of the building we found the encampment of a homeless, but no homeless in sight. One of the things that we noticed in many of the two-floored structures was a large hole in the ceiling/floor – probably intentional to discourage potential dwellers. Reading antiquity reports, I learned that most of the two-floored houses in Lifta were of the “traditional rural house” design: the bottom floor for storage and livestock, the upper floor for the human residents.

The view from Lifta looking west

The view from Lifta looking west

Making our way back to the village nucleus along the upper street, we explored the various structures and then headed for the other half of the northern end of village. We looked down at one particularly interesting building with a grassy roof, which may have been the village’s mosque. With so many more impressive buildings it seems unusual that this would be a mosque, but the village mosque is described as a one-story structure with a walled courtyard, such as this one. We didn’t venture inside, so I wasn’t able to confirm with the presence of a mihrab (prayer niche).

Interestingly overgrown building

Interestingly overgrown building

Bearing in mind that it was Friday afternoon and we still had to get back to Givat Shmuel before Shabbat, we decided to put some pep in our step and breezed past many interesting – and curiously impressive looking – structures.

Too sunny for proper smiles

Too sunny for proper smiles

At one point I commented that it felt like we were walking through a medieval village, just without the people, the noise and the most likely offensive smell. One grassy set of stairs going uphill really found favour in my eyes.

Grassy stairs

Grassy stairs

Before long the dirt trail turned into one of stone tiles and we noticed water gurgling to the right of us. Up ahead we set eyes on the famous Lifta spring, with its two pools. The outer pool was covered in a green layer of duckweed, with floating trash here and there. The inner pool was relatively clean with a small stream of water emanating from a walled spring, where some youth were preparing to swim.

Spring of Lifta

Spring of Lifta

We didn’t have enough time to explore the western side of the village, but thankfully the bulk of the interesting sites were where we were. From the spring we took the road up to Jerusalem, climbing at a rather steep angle to reach the road. Feeling a mite peckish, we then walked to the Central Bus Station and got schwarma wraps before catching the absurdly packed bus back to Givat Shmuel an hour of so before Shabbat began. Stay tuned for our next Jerusalem adventure!

Jerusalem: Ramot Forest

In Israel, Jerusalem on February 19, 2017 at 7:02 AM

The other week, on the Friday before Tu B’Shvat, I went on a nice guided tour of the Ramot Forest in northwest Jerusalem with my friend Adam Ota. Provided by Ramot for the Environment, a group dedicated to preserving the natural areas outside the Ramot neighbourhoods, this trip was under the guidance of Hilary Herzberger, a local resident and activist, and Shmulik Yedvab, a zoologist from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (or, SPNI).

Ramot Forest with Ramot in the background

Ramot Forest with Ramot in the background

We gathered that morning at an interesting hedgehog-themed childrens park and then had an introductory talk before setting off into the urban-surrounded wilderness. We were all expecting to get a glimpse of the seventy or so mountain gazelles that call the park home, yet there was much more to be seen. We started off with glimpses of Eurasian jays, Persian cyclamens and then the upturned dirt mounds of an subterranean mole-rat in the area wooded with pine trees.

Persian cyclamens

Persian cyclamens

Leaving the pine trees, we ventured onto a dirt trail skirting the terraced land with planted olive tree saplings. Recently I learned that a large portion of the land surrounding Jerusalem is terraced for agricultural purposes, hard work done throughout history. Shmulik informed us that he had scouted ahead and found a small herd of gazelles, which we were heading to see, but paused along the way to show us elongated heart-shaped tracks in the soft orange-brown dirt.

Shmulik Yedvab showing us gazelle tracks

Shmulik Yedvab showing us gazelle tracks

We learned about a project that Shmulik was involved in with the setting up of trail cams in this area to document local fauna, with an infrared option for nighttime documentation. What surprised the researchers the most was the discovery of wild boars, which is interesting because wild boars are quite common is many parts of the country, yet hadn’t been spotted in this area before the trail cam footage reveal.

Branched asphodel

Branched asphodel

It was shortly after this that I pieced together who he was, and that I’ve been seeing his posts on the Israel wild mammals Facebook group for a good while now. Only three days before this trip, Shmulik posted a trail cam video clip with footage of a Blanford’s fox – an extremely elusive fox species that was only discovered in Israel in 1981, somewhere out in the Negev wilderness (see HERE). Speaking of videos, there’s a beautiful nature video of this very area from two winters ago, filmed by the talented Amir Balaban, naturalist and founder of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory (see the video HERE).

Our group of wildlife enthusiasts

Our group of wildlife enthusiasts

It was along this trail that Hilary pointed out the parasitic mistletoe adorned some of the trees. There was a bush fire a year or two before and, as a result, many of the trees were burnt and mistletoe seized the opportunity to flourish. Despite being Tu B’Shvat, and the plethora of blossoming seen all around the country, most of the almond trees that we saw were burnt beyond repair, some with burnt almonds adorning their blackened branches. Approaching the terraces on the right, with pine trees on the left, we spotted the small herd of gazelles grazing – with the dominant male on guard.

Gazelles on the move

Gazelles on the move

We learned about the importance of staying on the trails with these skittish creatures – and a tragic incident when a photographer ventured too close and scared off a male gazelle which “escaped” into the territory of a different male, and thereby met his death. We didn’t scare off any gazelles right then and there, but I did notice a fine looking male chaffinch in the pine trees.

Male chaffinch among the pinecones

Male chaffinch among the pine cones

Continuing around to skirt the Neftuach lookout, we passed a few chukars, fennel plants and other interesting flora before reaching the end of the trail, with a view of the new rail bridge for the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line, passing over Nachal Soreq.

Flushed chukar

Flushed chukar

To the right of the bridge in the Arab village of Beit Iksa, which we learned may have been named after the Roman Tenth Legion (or, Legio X in the original Latin) – the name meaning “House of Iksa” in Arabic, and “Iksa” meaning “X”.

New rail bridge entering Jerusalem

New rail bridge entering Jerusalem

It was there that we said farewell to Shmulik and Hilary, and were taken over by another guide to see ancient ruins in the so-called Biblical Garden, in the pine forest area. We started with the first of six winepresses that date to the First Temple period – approximately 2,500 years ago. To make matters even more exciting, a Hasmonean coin was found in this particular winepress when rock-clearing was done to clean up the site.



The group settled down to hear more about the site, but Adam and I were still itching to get our adventure on. So we asked for directions and parted from our group to hike on over to the next site: the abandoned village of Lifta. But, before that, we owe a great thanks to Ramot for the Environment for providing us with a great morning trip full of wildlife sightings and information – we wish them much success in their ongoing battle with housing development projects in keeping the park a wildlife sanctuary, like the way it is now.

Israel Museum

In Israel, Jerusalem on May 1, 2016 at 5:55 AM

Several weeks ago I took the opportunity to visit the famed Israel Museum in Jerusalem, for the very first time. Not to be confused with the similarly-named Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, the Israel Museum is considered Israel’s national museum and is highly regarded worldwide. I bypassed a large group of soldiers and paid the necessary fee to gain entrance to the museum, excited to see what all of the fuss is about.

Anthropoid coffin lid

Anthropoid coffin lid

Slightly confused with the layout, I first inspected an extensive, ancient mosaic floor from Bet Shean before heading to the archaeology wing. Beginning with Egyptian-influenced anthropoid coffins I took a self-guided, and very disorganised, tour of the section. If I were to relay a play-by-play review of my visit this blog post would be far too long and tedious, therefore, I shall simply list some of the items and exhibits that I found most interesting – highlights of my trip.

Burial of a woman and dog (cast) from the Hula Valley

Burial of a woman and dog (cast) from the Hula Valley

Within the archaeology wing I found a small exhibition dedicated to ancient glassware, where I learned about iridescence in ancient glass, simple deterioration resulting in what is known as silver weathering. Moving along, I came upon a collection of painted clay ossuaries (burial chests) dating back thousands of years discovered in caves around Peki’in, just minutes from my house in Ma’alot. A copper crown and sceptre from the Cave of the Treasure in the Judean Desert caught my attention next, likely used in cultic ceremonies thousands of years ago.

Tahunian mask from the Judean Hills

Tahunian mask from the Judean Hills

A collection of flint arrowheads from all over the country piqued my interest, as I am currently taking a class in technology and typology of flint tools. Next, a selection of ancient Tahunian masks made of limestone or chalk, believed to be the oldest masks in the world. Recalling my trip to the Ohalo site as mentioned in my first Kinneret post, preserved grains of wheat and barley as well as the reconstructed hut was on display in the same room. I then came across remains of ancient fauna, including hippopotamus, deer, tiger and ape bones and a set of horns belonging to an ancient bull. A full elephant tusk and molar brought back memories of the Golan Archaeological Museum where I had first learned about elephants roaming the Holy Land so long ago.

Bronze cuirassed statue of Hadrian from the Bet Shean Valley

Bronze cuirassed statue of Hadrian from the Bet Shean Valley

I entered a temporary exhibition on the Roman emperor Hadrian, and then found myself in another room looking at ceremonial dress of birth and death in different Jewish societies. I photographed a painted wood Torah scroll case from Maharashtra, India and then a wood and felt burial carriage from Hungary before continuing on to the next exhibit. Browsing the magnificent items on display from various foreign empires and cultures of antiquity I was surprised to see that the Israel Museum has such a rich collection of foreign artefacts, including a Akkadian bronze sword from Iran, a limestone relief featuring Iddin-Sin, King of Simurrun from Iraq, and ancient Egyptian funerary figurines of painted wood and stone – to name but a few of the fascinating items. But the local artefacts were also of great interest, including a stone inscription by Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent commemorating the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 1535-38, the same walls seen today surrounding the Old City.

Mosaic of Greek goddess Tyche from Bet Shean

Mosaic of Greek goddess Tyche from Bet Shean

Entering a section dedicated to relics of the Crusader period, I found some wonderful things: a marble slab with the coat of arms of Sir Hugh Wake discovered in Ashkelon and a lithographic stone for stamping leather featuring the arms of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order which was found in my favourite Crusader ruins, Montfort Castle. Articles of warfare from Tiberias and Akko were also on display, as well as a section of a Christian wall painting of plaster and pigment from a Crusader abbey in Jerusalem.

Greco-Roman remnants in the Holy Land

Greco-Roman remnants in the Holy Land

It was at this point that my camera battery died and I was forced to continue documenting my trip with my phone camera, arguably better in terms of photo quality yet lacking any real zoom (which worked out okay for museum photos). I entered a two-storey room with idolatrous statues, painted tombstones and funerary busts from the Greco-Roman period on the top floor. Descending, I spotted a familiar mosaic on the wall above me – the mosaic from the ancient synagogue at Wadi Hamam that I visited not long before – visible, albeit blurry, in the above photo.

Aramean idolatry

Aramean idolatry

With exhibits on Samaritan artefacts and ruins, ancient Jewish synagogue mosaics, the floor of a Roman dining room in Shechem (Nablus) and even the birth of coinage, there’s simply too much to write about and so I will continue on with the next selection of antiquities, including weapons of war from numerous empires, and the scatterings of pagan idols and idolatrous devices, such as an Edomite shrine found in the Negev. In the photo above, a carved basalt slab featuring one of two pagan gods was found just north of the Kinneret at the ruins of an Aramean city gate. Another object of interest was a silver goblet featuring an artistic mythological design that was found at Ein Samia, a site in the Shomron that I had visited just two days prior.

Inside the Fine Arts wing

Inside the Fine Arts wing

I then ventured across the main hall and entered a temporary exhibit titled “Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story”, which I found quite interesting. Having visited a large handful of ancient sites throughout Israel I have noticed traces of Egyptian rule, something which isn’t always addressed when it comes to the standard “who’s who” in Holy Land chronology. There is no denying the influence brought about by the Ancient Egyptian culture and, to further cement in their historical importance, compelling relics were put on display (including a reconstructed sandstone gateway façade of a fortress of Ramesses II in Yafo, or Jaffa). For fear of being too long-winded, I shall end the archaeological report here and focus on the other wings of the museum, starting with the Fine Arts wing where I found some agreeable works by Hodler, Van Gogh, Monet, Pissarro and Corot. I browsed the Arnold Maremont Gallery of Pre-Columbian Art (of which I had seen I very similar collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts several months prior), and then the exhibit “Costume and Jewelry: A Matter of Identity” which covers traditional dress of Jews the world over.

The Tzedek ve-Shalom Synagogue, Paramaribo, Suriname

The Tzedek ve-Shalom Synagogue, Paramaribo, Suriname

Entering the Wing for Jewish Art and Life, I was blown away at the incredibly rich and extensive collection of all things Judaica. It’d be quite a difficult undertaking to even list the highlights of the exhibit so I shall simply cover my favourite section, “The Synagogue Route”. Featuring four reconstructed synagogues, each to a different degree of restoration, the section really interested me from a religious and cultural, as well as architectural, standpoint. I first entered the sandy-floored Tzedek ve-Shalom Synagogue from Suriname, a small Caribbean country in South America just north of Brazil. Built in 1736 by Portuguese Jews who lived in the Netherlands before starting a new life in the New World, the synagogue has influences from both European cultures. Next I visited the Kadavumbagam Synagogue from Cochin, India, with its large carved wood aron (holy ark) and balcony. In terms of opulence, it was the small yet grand Vittorio Veneto Synagogue from Italy which was completed in 1700 that took the proverbial cake – a masterpiece of Italian Baroque style, reminiscent of an aristocratic palace. The final synagogue is the Horb Synagogue from Germany, which sadly didn’t stand the test of time since being built in the early 1700’s. All that remains are the walls and elaborately painted wooden ceiling, dating 1735 by Jewish Galician artist Eliezer Sussman, which is the last surviving synagogue artwork of its kind.

Detail from the Horb Synagogue's painted wood ceiling

Detail from the Horb Synagogue’s painted wood ceiling

Leaving the phenomenal Judaica department, I walked, and at times nearly ran, through the ghastly contemporary art wing – only a mere few pieces holding any redeeming value in my critical opinion. I dashed for the exit and passed some sculptures in the Art Garden outside as I made my way to the Holyland Model of Jerusalem, a 1:50 scale-model of what Jerusalem might have looked like during the Second Temple Period.

Holyland Model of Jerusalem

Holyland Model of Jerusalem

At last I reached the most iconic feature of the Israel Museum, the Shrine of the Book containing the Dead Sea Scrolls under a meringue-looking white dome. Unfortunately, photography is forbidden within the building and so I have nothing to show for, other than my [written] word itself. And so, after enjoying a look at the famous scrolls found in caves in and around Qumran, I bid farewell to the famous museum and rushed back to Bar Ilan University for a computers class…