Israel's Good Name

Korazim

In Galilee, Israel on September 11, 2016 at 6:32 AM

About a month ago or so I visited the ancient city of Korazim, located just north of the Kinneret (or Sea of Galilee). It was a scorching day yet we persevered and toured the black basalt ruins, taking shelter under the scattered trees as we passed from site to site. We started on the paved trail passing the ruins of houses and then the ancient mikva (ritual bath) on the right-hand side with more ruined houses on the left. Shortly we reached the central attraction of the park, the ancient synagogue.

Peeking inside the ancient synagogue

Peeking inside the ancient synagogue

Korazim was founded in the 1st or 2nd century CE, around the time that most Galilean synagogues are dated (following the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus and his Roman legions). Jewish sources note Korazim as a place with good wheat while Christian sources mention the city as cursed, destined to be destroyed – which it was by an earthquake.

Multiple arches

Multiple arches

Most of Korazim’s ruins date to the 3rd and 4th centuries CE and the town was slowly restored in the following centuries. Settlement was resumed towards the end of the Crusader period, although on a much smaller scale. Archaeological excavations of Korazim began in 1905 and were taken up again intermittently throughout the century, the last taking place in 1983 before the park was opened to the public.

Classic Galilean-style synagogue

Classic Galilean-style synagogue

I had a university class about the late Roman and Byzantine eras and ancient synagogues were discussed. I learned the identifying characteristics of a Galilean synagogue and was pleased to be able to point them out as I explored Korazim’s ancient house of prayer. Some interesting features were the carved ornamentations in the building’s interior, the large basalt columns and a replica of the “Seat of Moses”, the original being held in the Israel Museum.

Broken conch decorative piece

Broken conch decorative piece

Leaving the ancient synagogue we took a short break under a nearby tree, refreshing ourselves with a water bottle. As we sat on a stone wall, nature resumed around us. Agamas scrambled around on the tree branches and various small songbirds flitted about; warblers and graceful prinias. In the skies beyond the tree’s foliage I identified a little swift for the first time, and then shortly thereafter what looked to be a flycatcher of sorts flying low over the basalt ruins.

Basalt ruins of Korazim

Basalt ruins of Korazim

Excited with my birding finds we continued along the path to the western quarter of the city, to the ancient oil press. Korazim might have been known for its wheat production but all ancient Galilean cities partook in the production of olive oil as well. This particular oil press is built of basalt, as is the rest of the city.

Inside the olive oil press

A relatively small national park, we then headed past the southern quarter of houses and looped around the central quarter of housing with a paved courtyard. From there it was the path back to the parking lot. Driving out, we saw the scant ruins of more Korazim houses on the hillside opposite the road – the northern quarter. Continuing on Road 8277 we then reached the Kinneret and turned onto Road 87 passing Capernaum before turning onto Road 90 – Israel’s longest road. Our next destination was the Yigal Alon Centre in Kibbutz Ginosar.

The Yigal Alon Centre

The Yigal Alon Centre

Inside the Yigal Alon Centre is the house of the Man in the Galilee museum and the Ancient Galilee Boat, also known as the Jesus Boat. We gained entrance and began by looking at the preserved 2,000-year-old fishing boat on display. In 1986 the Kinneret suffered a drought and the waterline receded, allowing the wooden boat to be found buried in the mud. A great restoration process was undertaken and the boat was chemically treated to extend its longevity, then presented to the public years later.

The Ancient Galilee Boat

The Ancient Galilee Boat

One of the things I found most interesting about this fishing boat with unknown origins was the breakdown of woods used in its construction. The bulk of it was made of Tabor oak and cedar with the addition of these following woods, to mention a few: carob, Aleppo pine, sycamore, willow and Atlantic terebinth. From the darkened room that holds the boat we then explored the Man in the Galilee museum. With just a few actual antiques on display I found the museum to be underwhelming but enjoyed riding up the Nechushtan-Schindler elevator and seeing the view of the Kinneret from the centre’s roof.

A view of the Kinneret

A view of the Kinneret

Wrapping up at the museum we ended the day of adventures, ticking these two sites off my to-see list.

Har HaTayassim & Latrun

In Central Israel, Israel on September 4, 2016 at 3:40 PM

Several months ago we celebrated Israeli Independence Day, a commemoration of the Declaration of Independence on May 14th, 1948. Two days prior to that we took a Mechina (a university preparatory program that I was attending) trip to Har HaTayassim, a memorial site located just outside of Jerusalem.

Plane crash memorial

Plane crash memorial

In the days predating the Declaration of, and subsequent War for, Independence, a tragic story happened over the Judean Hills. Unfortunately, even though our tour was guided, there were far too many attendees and thus I found it difficult to absorb all the information that was given. We walked along a dirt trail from stop to stop, accompanied by families of the fallen airmen, active-duty IAF personnel including pilots and other interested groups of individuals. We did chance upon these interesting ruins, of which I know absolutely nothing.

Ruins in the area of Har HaTayassim

Ruins in the area of Har HaTayassim

After passing a lovely lookout over the gentle, and nicely wooded, Judean foothills we reached a clearing and gather under a large tree. An elderly man, who turned out to be an old Palmach fighter, spoke of his experience in the years before and during the War for Independence.

Crowding around to hear an old Palmachnik speak

Crowding around to hear an old Palmachnik speak

From there we departed and continued to the site of the memorial (pictured above), nestled in a small lot between houses. There we heard the story from family members of one of the fallen airmen, one of the women running the Mechina among them.

Splayed cannon with flag

Splayed cannon with flag

The next day we went to Latrun in the afternoon – to Yad L’Shiryon, a memorial and museum of the Armoured Corps. In the grounds outside the museum’s gates was a multi-faceted military exhibition with weapons, vehicles, technological gadgetry and more on display, complete with uniformed soldiers to give explanations and wow children. Entering the museum, I walked up and down the rows of armoured vehicles seeing specimens such as the Renault R-35, Marmon-Harrington Mk IVF, M48A3 Patton and, of course, the Israel Merkava tanks. Looping around the perimetre, I approached the impressive Tegart fort which crowns the hilltop and climbed the stairs to the top.

View of the exhibitions from atop the Tegart fort

View of the exhibitions from atop the Tegart fort

Leaving the fort, I encountered the memorial wall with the names of all the fallen Armoured Corps soldiers. I spent a few minutes there out of respect and then turned to leave. Passing a tour group it suddenly dawned on me that the names of the soldiers who were killed in the mortar attack on our field camp during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 were probably on that wall (for the war story see HERE). I scoured the most recent names and my eyes fell upon their names listed one after the next; Meidan, Niran and Adi. A grim feeling set in which lasted the rest of the day, bringing personal meaning to the bitter purpose of Yom HaZikaron which was to start at sundown. We slowly made our way to the outdoor theatre where the large memorial ceremony was to take place and found seats next to the booths where live translations were to be given in a multitude of languages.

The ceremony begins

The ceremony begins

The evening began with a military honour guard mounting the stage in preparation for the Yom HaZikaron siren. Next, the mother of Ezra Schwartz (a American teenage volunteer who was killed by a terrorist) went up and lit the memorial torch.

Torch lighting

Torch lighting

Following that, politician and chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky gave a short speech about being a gulag prisoner in Siberia and finding hope in the story of Yoni Netanyahu, brother of the Israeli Prime Minister who was killed in a commando raid in Entebbe, Uganda. The current number of fallen IDF soldiers was then announced – 23,447. Wreathes were then laid by various dignitaries and guests and then the Yizkor prayer was said.

''Lu Yehi'' with the wreathes

”Lu Yehi” with the wreathes

The ceremony highlighted six individual stories of fallen soldiers (plus Ezra Schwartz) with speeches given by family members and then a song played by the band on stage. There was one particularly interesting story of a Sgt Yohan Zarbiv where the photo of him was the last one taken, his camera being mostly destroyed in an explosion several hours later while on duty in Lebanon. Another sad testimony was that of two brothers who both fell in battle, one in 1998 and one in 2010 – the emotionable song “Katonti” by Yonaton Razel was then played. The evening ended with a summary of the legacies of those who fell and the crowd then dispersed in relative silence, affected emotionally by the displays of bitter loss and mourning. Our group gathered around and returned to our bus for the ride back to the university, the end of a thought-provoking evening.

University Trip: Caesarea & Nachal Taninim

In Coastal Plain, Israel on July 10, 2016 at 6:57 AM

Two months or so ago I joined fellow archaeology students on a tour of Caesarea and the further ends of its iconic aqueduct. Boarding the bus at Bar Ilan University we drove up north to the national park and began our tour overlooking the surf in relatively comfortable morning weather. After a fantastic video (reminiscent of my favourite childhood computer game, Civilization III) summarised the historical successions of the ancient Roman city, we popped on over to the aqueduct remains on the coast.

Caesarea's iconic aqueduct by the sea

Caesarea’s iconic aqueduct by the sea

In one of my courses we spent a class or two learning about this particular aqueduct, of which there are actually three subsequent water systems – Roman construction by both Herod and Hadrian built side-by-side and then Crusader on top. Bringing water in from springs near Zichron Ya’akov, the aqueduct supplied the Roman city Herod built in the name of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar, his sovereign leader.

Aqueduct feeds

Aqueduct feeds

Examining the varied constructions from an academic standpoint, we then walked along the beach to see the engraved plaque stones marking the building and dedication of the aqueduct. We then walked to the lesser known smaller aqueduct, built during the Byzantine times, which brought water from the marshes several kilometres north – a project that was abandoned before it finished.

Within the smaller, Byzantine aqueduct

Within the smaller, Byzantine aqueduct

We climbed up into the aqueduct and crouch-walked our way a bit through the water tunnel before continuing on southward towards the ancient city ruins of Caesarea. The walk was a bit of a doozy but along the way I found the base of an amphora washed up ashore, one of many pottery finds.

Amphora base and a footprint in the sand

Amphora base and a footprint in the sand

We stopped just before the northern city wall from the Roman era and listened to a brief lecture looking over the surf.

Lecture over the surf

Lecture over the surf

As we stood in the hot sun listening I noticed a few pied kingfishers hovering above the surf, a bird I love watching.

Pied kingfisher

Pied kingfisher

Once through the northern gate we passed ruins and a small sampling of a mosaic floor, one of many in Caesarea. Crossing the Crusader-era moat and sloped city wall, we shortly entered the heavily-commercialised city centre – transformed into a tourist trap with restaurants and shops. We took a break from walking and had lunch just outside of the Roman nymphaeum – a public fountain with its statue of a Roman goddess.

Crusader harbour from the higher Herodian port

Crusader harbour from the higher Herodian port

Walking over to the Crusader port, we passed temples and various administrative buildings and climbed the Roman citadel to look down on the ancient harbour, watching another fabulous animated film about the harbour area. In one of the local buildings we came across the exhibit for the gold coin trove that was discovered in the spring of 2015 by scuba divers underwater – the largest hoard of gold coins found yet in Israel.

Fatimid coins of pure gold found underwater

Fatimid coins of pure gold found underwater

Heading inland we watched some ongoing archaeological dig and restoration work of the Herodian harbour vaults while looking down at the Crusader citadel and neighbouring Bosnian mosque minaret. Continuing ever southwards we entered the Roman bathhouse complex and marveled at the marble pillars and extensive tiled floors.

Within the Roman bathhouse complex

Within the Roman bathhouse complex

Looping back a bit, we entered the long dirt-floored hippodrome, a Grecian stadium for horse races. Passing the Mithraeum and other public buildings we reached the far end of the hippodrome and ventured over to see the meagre remains of Herod’s palace, built jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea.

Meagre remains of Herod's seaside palace in Caesarea

Meagre remains of Herod’s seaside palace in Caesarea

From there we headed straight for the Roman theatre which, as wonderfully preserved and lovingly reconstructed as it is, continues to provide entertainment for the populus as a premier location for concerts. I took the liberty of snapping a photograph of myself sitting on the stage.

Caesarea's Roman theatre and I

Caesarea’s Roman theatre and I

Despite the length of our tour thus far, we were nowhere near finished. Boarding the bus we were then driven to Nachal Taninim, the marsh area which supplied the water for the smaller of the two aqueducts entering Caesarea from the north.

Manmade water channel carved out of the bedrock

Manmade water channel carved out of the bedrock

The name Nachal Taninim, which literally means Stream of Crocodiles, originates from the now-extinct population of crocodiles that lived in the stream and marsh’s brackish water. Thought to have been originally imported for entertainment by the Romans from nearby Egypt, the last crocodile was killed by the British approximately 100 years ago. In the 300s CE, a city was established on the banks of the stream under the name Crocodopolis – my favourite ancient city name.

Byzantine waterworks at Nachal Taninim

Byzantine waterworks at Nachal Taninim

The Byzantines took the large marshy area and built dams and a regulatory system to control water flow, in efforts to power mills. A park ranger took us to the dam and showed us how the reconstructed waterworks was used in ancient times – the simple power of water always amazes. We spotted crabs and frogs in the water, and several waterbirds as well, as we made our rounds through the national park. From Nachal Taninim we boarded the bus to see one last sight, the Roman aqueduct bend at Beit Hanina which includes a dedication plaque etched into stone.

Dedication words and mark of the Tenth Legion

Dedication words and mark of the Tenth Legion

We finished up the long day-trip with a wall along the top of the aqueduct, admiring the clay piping laid into the rock. From there the aqueduct continues into the modern Arab village of Jisr al-Zarka and then along the coast where we started the day.

The bend in the Herodian aqueduct

The bend in the Herodian aqueduct

We headed back to BIU sunburnt but having had a wonderful time exploring the much-discussed ruins with the professors, looking forward to the next trip.