This past Sunday I had to attend a little meeting at my home base just south of Haifa and then I had the day off. My father drove me down and we planned a series of little trips for the day – but we ended up going places altogether unplanned. Our first stop was the Mizgaga Museum in Kibbutz Nahsholim between Atlit and Caesarea. I had already been to neighbouring Tel Dor but didn’t visit the distinct “glasshouse “museum, despite seeing it, simply because I didn’t know it was a museum. This time I was better prepared.
The Mizgaga Museum is located in the old bottle-making factory built by Baron Rothschild in 1891 to supply the fledgling wine business started in nearby Zichron Ya’akov and Rishon L’Tzion. With a handful of Jewish workers, a French glass specialist and Meir Dizengoff (Tel Aviv‘s first mayor) as manager, the factory set out to produce glass bottles made from the sand just metres away at Dor’s beach. Due to several complications, the largest being technical difficulties which was attributed to this particular sand not producing a clear enough glass, the factory was shut down and abandoned in 1895. Baron Rothschild had sunk some 50,000 francs into this factory not only in building costs (which included imported French roof tiles), but also payments to the Ottoman Empire officials and to the local sheikhs of Tantura as well as the hiring of guards and a salary for the boat captain to transport the finished bottles once filled with wine.
But his money did not go completely to waste. The abandoned factory was fixed up and turned into a museum as it is today, showcasing the history of the factory, glassworks in general and a nice collection of historical artefacts found in the area – both on land and at sea. Parking just outside at a resort, we walked through the small garden to the museum entrance, pausing to examine various stone anchors, a Roman milestone marker and a sarcophagus outside. Once inside, we were led to a video about the museum and about the Baron’s dreams of creating a prosperous land for his Jewish brethren. In that very room is the sole remaining (verified) glass bottle produced by the factory which was found in wastewater not far away.
Due to the theme being glass, a brief history of glass and glassblowing was exhibited – I learned that glass was only mentioned once in the Bible (Job 28:17) due to its rarity and value.
As we left the impressive stone vaulted rooms dealing with glass, we entered the realm of history – we started with “Napoleon at Dor”. To briefly summarise the local history, Dor (now Tel Dor) was for a long time a very important coastal city until the need for deeper ports made the city defunct. The nearby port cities of Atlit and Caesarea, with their better natural harbors, became more important and eventually Dor was abandoned. With a rich history of Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Sidonians and later Crusaders, the ancient city of Dor experienced many centuries of quiet until 1799 when Napoleon made camp there.
Local Arabs had created a fishing village just south of the ruins of Dor, under the name Tantura (which is believed to be an Arabic corruption of the Greek Dora), and they appeared sympathetic to the French army. Having battled his way up the coast from Egypt and conquering Gaza, Jaffa and Haifa, Napoleon reached failure at Akko after an ineffective siege of the strongly fortified coastal city held by the Turks and resupplied by the British. Fleeing south with his army, Napoleon made his final camp at Dor/Tantura before ditching cannons and muskets into the sea to lighten his army’s load on their final stretch back to Egypt. In the room dedicated to Dor’s Napoleonic period, there is a cannon, a mortar and light weaponry on display.
The cannon was Turkish in origin, captured at Jaffa and the mortar was Spanish, made in Seville in 1793 from Peruvian copper, captured from one of the wars with Spain. The next room we visited was “Christian Dor”, largely focusing on Dor’s Crusader period. Home to the Merle Castle, belonging at first to the noble French De Merle family, Dor was one of many Crusader strongholds along the coast. In the late 1100s, the castle was handed over to the Templar Knights after being briefly captured by Saladin and his army. Although there is no record of it, it’s assumed that the Crusaders evacuated Merle around the same time they evacuated Atlit, the last Frankish capital in the Holy Land. While Merle Castle has been reduced to a few broken stones, many artefacts from the Christian periods have been found including part of an ivory sceptre once belonging to a bishop, knights’ swords and more.
The next room was about underwater excavations and salvages, showcasing a dive operation in 1982 of a Byzantine shipwreck. With a video of underwater footage and some of the finds displayed in the room, it made this field of expertise quite fun looking. Being that this wooden ship was a mere 3.5 metres offshore and at only 2.5 metres deep, I wonder how many more similar shipwrecks there are to be found. I just saw in the news that the largest hoard of gold coins discovered in Israel was just found underwater near Caesarea – sign me up! Continuing on with the museum exhibitions, we came upon a room of excavated artefacts including a collection of clay vessels from a variety of locations: Chios, Athens, Kos, Cyprus and more.
What we saw next came to me as a bit of a surprise… a room dedicated to the famous Biblical colour of “techelet” – a specific shade of blue. Although there are Jews nowadays who wear “techelet” in their “tzitzit”, the secret production process was lost generations ago and the ancient colouring disappeared from the world markets.
Today it is generally agreed upon that the colour comes from the Murex trunculus snail, which produces a clear secretion with the addition of oxygen turns purple-red which can then be turned blue with sun exposure. I’ve also read that wool that has been treated with an alkaline substance can be dyed blue with the chemical bonding of the snail secretion and additional oxygenation. I’m sure that the workshops held there at the museum can shed further light on this most interesting topic, especially as the sea snail can be found just offshore. Heading out of the museum, we took a minute to peer up at the expansive factory’s untouched upper floor where the furnaces for glass-making were held. Just behind the building is an ancient burial cave, and, after seeing it, my father suggested we head over to the beach. With overcast weather nearly identical to the day I first visited Tel Dor, I was disappointed from a photographic aspect. We walked along low tide’s lapping waves, looking down at the shells and sea glass that had washed ashore. We climbed up on a rough outcropping and marveled at the unique physical makeup of the reef-like rock.
We looked around at the small fishing boats and the small islands, which are actually a protected “park” area, and then noticed an old arched structure further along the beach heading south.
What we found was the remains of the Arab khan (caravanserai) for travelers built several hundred years ago. With that we headed back to the car, leaving behind the modern Dor and Nahsholim with their Greek and Turkish Jewish immigrants and their industries of banana, avocado, cotton and fish farming. We were headed for Zichron Ya’akov, founded by the very same Baron Rothschild who built the Mizgaga.